I've received a number of notes from investigators and Ph.D. candidates in North America and Europe who want to focus on “digital identity management”. I think this is one more indicator that the importance of digital identity is permeating the intelligentsia. If I'm right about this, let the bells ring and the banners fly… How can we nurture their interest?
Academic research represents a great opportunity in our quest to “get identity right”.
We need the participation of the university. We need unimpeded research, review and contemplation. We need the next generation, born nearer to the world of virtual reality than many of us were, to start looking at identity technology as one of the key mechanisms for shaping and controlling a world which, no matter what, will be startlingly different from this one.
Jamie Lewis has generalized the idea of “cross-cutting concerns” used in aspect-oriented programming and applied it to digital identity. Refracting this into academia we can see that the study of digital identity should be cross-disciplinary.
So let's brainstorm. What about Identity Studies? Does it already exist? If not, I predict it will. We can be certain that software, robots, agents, avatars and many aspects of the built environment will learn to adapt to those who interact with them. At some point it will become obvious that we need people who understand the many implications of such technological innovations. Here's a first sketch…
Identity Studies: the discipline that grasps how who we are both changes and reflects the behavior of the world we inhabit – a theory of praxis, but one reaching beyond philosophy. It extends from understanding the mechanisms through which identity is acquired and transformed, to a theory of its protection, transmission, reception and perception. It looks at how different kinds of systems respond to – and evolve – through this perception, ultimately resulting in feedback and the transformation of identity itself.
Identity Studies will be founded by computer scientists, information theorists, cryptographers, privacy and security experts, semiologists, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, architects and designers, lawyers, criminologists, political scientists, and policy researchers. All of these disciplines have important insights to contribute.
There are already programs at innovative universities which could evolve in the direction of this new discipline.
Several people have asked me to give “guidance on sub-areas of DIM that, based on your experience, you will recommend for research”.
In subsequent postings I'll suggest a couple of specific projects. But before I do, I'm going to give a better answer: set up Identity Labs and drop your preconceptions. Ask what happens when your environment has been programmed to respond to you. What is that you? What is that programming? What assumptions drive the interrelationships? Will you be able to alter your environment's view of you? How?