Is unambiguous communication possible?

Eric Norlin‘s post about the sixth law asks an interesting question. For those with more than one thing to think about in life, let me restate the law for you:

The Law of Human Integration

The universal identity system MUST define the human user to be a component of the distributed system, integrated through unambiguous human-machine communications mechanisms offering protection against identity attacks.

Eric says:

Of course, being “unambiguous” in that context would be a little tough. Which leads me to my question: i guess i'm hesitating at “unambiguous” – kim how are we supposed to get “unambiguous” about the ceremony of human-machine interaction? Isn't it the ambiguity that has always led to the creativity of unexpected consequences? (the internet, podcasting, nascar, napster, etc) By mapping out ambiguity, aren't we also putting rigidity into a relationship that -by its very history and nature – should be a little ambiguous?

or am i missing something?

I should have made it clear that I'm not commenting about machine-human interfaces in general. I am talking specifically about human-machine communication with respect to the identity system. I totally agree that ambiguity has sometimes led to creativity and unexpected consequences. But we don't need unexpected consequences when figuring out who we are talking to or when revealing personal identification information.

So now the question becomes one of whether we can achieve very high levels of reliability in the communication between the system and its human users.

Last night, flying to the Open Group conference on Identity Management, United Airlines gave me a set of headphones, and I stumbled onto channel 9 – which carried the conversation between the cockpit and air traffic control. Now the conversation on this channel is very important. And technical. And focussed. Participants don't talk about their love affairs or political beliefs – all parties know precisely what to expect from the tower and the airplane – and as a result, even though there is a lot of radio noise and static, it is easy for the pilot and controller to pick out the exact content of the communication. And when things go wrong, the broken predictability of the channel marks the urgency of the situation and draws upon every human faculty to understand and respond to the danger. The limited semiotics of the channel mean there is very high reliability in communications.

And that is exactly what must happen in the human-machine identity interface. We'll come back to this.

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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.