Why Now?

A new infrastructure layer is coming into being for people on the web. Digital identity technologies have great potential to put people in control of and at the center of their digital lives called Self-Sovereign Identity. They have been incubating for the last 10+ years and finally several key developments have synergized and early pilots and prototypes are being created.

Having control over your digital data is a ongoing conversation in tech. Many tech companies allow users to login and share their content as they wish. But they actually don’t have full control over their digital identity nor their data while logged in. Self-Sovereign identity can change that. Users (ie. individuals) will be able to have more control over their information, data and ultimately their digital identity.

Who is at the table early on to define the first applications and tools to shape the future of this next iteration of technological infrastructure. This will determine if it can really serve a broad and inclusive group of people.  

The human condition is not as fully present as it could and should be in technology communities developing these protocols. We have reached a crisis point at which prioritizing tech knowledge over people knowledge has risked the possibility of democracy in the US.  The lack of accountability of Big Tech is reaching Congressional levels of pressure and a massive failure of public confidence. Images below that reflect the demographics of who is centered and showing up to design the future of these techno-social systems. This isn’t good enough.

The political moment is now to convene this and support the emergence of the next generation of social tech. Social tech was originally built with algorithms automating the social part of tech. Now tech needs to start with the social and human aspects first to build the tech.

We need a cultural change in the world of tech and the prioritization of human-ness and the complexity of human identity and lives at beneath the development of the protocols and technology.  We need to be able to share digital space and communicate with each other safely and as our full selves. We need public open web options for people to congregate and communicate and to enable us to have the technical possibility to *really see and hear each other* in a way that puts our humanity first.

Yes Now!

While developing this proposal we learned about this call for the technology industry to develop a moral compass.

And now it’s time for the technology industry to be disrupted — and come to terms with a new, more humane future that it’s impossible to turn away from.

Meanwhile, Tech Humanism — the school of thought that puts people and society before technical possibility — is gaining momentum: Kate O’Neill has written a Tech Humanist Manifesto; and in the last week, technologist Dan Hon gave a great call-to-humanism at FooCamp, Glitch developer Jenn Schiffer spoke on the same topic at #ffconf, and Jaron Lanier has said we need to “double down on being human”. There is something in the air. But if it’s going to change the industry, Tech Humanism can’t be seen as a way to be good; it needs to become the new normal, a bar below which it’s impossible to drop.

We also saw a the first convening of the Zebra’s gathering at DazzelCon in November 2017. This is a movement of technology companies that seek to be profitable and improve society. They are often founded as they not in their manifesto by women and other underrepresented founders.

The World Economic Forum released a press release during their January annual meeting “Digital Identity – Why It Matters and Why It’s Important We Get It Right” calling for a multi-stakeholder convening this spring to include the following incredibly large organizations and companies: UNHCR, World Bank, World Food Programme, Consumers International, Omidyar Network, the Linux Foundation, FIDO Alliance, GSMA, Hyperledger, ID2020, Open Identity Exchange, Sovrin Foundation, World Identity Network, Accenture, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Mastercard, Microsoft, Sedicii and Visa. This technology is coming and so the questions is of who gets access to learn about and build tools with it early on. Without the type of convening we are seeking to organize it will not be women and people of color.

It is critical to deliberate on who should create, control and benefit from people’s identity information. To empower individuals, identity systems need to enhance security and convenience, preserve privacy and uphold individual rights and freedoms. Adoption of shared principles, standards and practices, alongside innovations in technologies and implementation frameworks, will be important to support these goals.

At the same time enormous sums of money are flowing into this area right now.

“We estimate it will take $12 billion to achieve identification for all. The World Bank will secure over $750 million investments in ID-related projects in the next three years and we will strive to mobilize more financing from other sources,” said Kristalina Georgieva, Chief Executive Officer, World Bank