Relational identity

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Model and terminology

Carl Ellison&#39s use of a notation to capture the relativistic aspects of identity reminded me of a paper I wrote a couple of years ago that went very much along the same lines.

I presented it to my friend David Vaskevitch, who is a CTO at Microsoft. He liked and understood the ideas, but made a great number of quite funny jokes at my expense about my introduction of greek symbols into the conversation.

A few months later we had a meeting with Bill Gates where Bill, as is typical of him, began to drill deeply into our technology proposals. Within minutes he was posing questions which were related precisely to the problem of identity and “relativity”. Someone piped up that we needed Kim&#39s greek equations. I said that David had made me throw them out. Bill said, “Why did he do that – I love equations.” And so on we forged!

I think Carl&#39s use of english language characters may be a big step forward. But here is how I put it at the time:

The problem of representing people digitally is sufficiently complicated that we require a model and terminology in order to describe and solve it.The model in Figure 1 decomposes the problem into three components of representation.

·Alpha (the first in a series) is the object’s representation of itself – for example, a person’s representation of himself.

·Theta ( somewhere in the middle of a series) is the representation of the object by a third party, derived at least in part from an alpha, but not conclusive.

·Omega (the last in a series) is the representation selected by an observer.This is based on zero or more alphas and zero or more thetas, and may be persisted as a new theta that can be consumed in constructing other omegas


The model can be expressed symbolically as Omega = Phi (Alpha, Theta), where Phi () is some function of alpha and theta where either alpha or theta can be null.A given phi is one of a set of many possible functions, most of which have conventionally been performed manually using organizational policies.

For the masochistically inclined, I have posted some more of this document here – with greek characters that actually work.

Good news from Carl

Meanwhile, Carl&#39s response to yesterday&#39s posting means we are converging some more:

You&#39re right, Kim. I was talking about O&#39s view of P rather than P&#39s view of P (which is as close as I can get to P&#39s real identity). I hadn&#39t been thinking of a person who selects different views of him- or her-self to disclose to different people or in different situations. That&#39s something some people do (I know – almost everybody) so we had better pay attention to it and its effects.


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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.