Part I. Are you sure you exist? We are!

  • Identity is your physical body, as recorded in a database using a biometric record or a biometric hash.
  • Identity is a government record which gives you a unique identifier like a taxpayer ID number or a social security number.
  • Identity is a set of attributes attested to by a community, attached to a self-chosen name. This is often used interchangeably with the word “reputation” and may assume that a single individual has many identities, frequently called personas or nyms.
  • Identity is a username/password combination, where your ability to remember some fact records that you are the same person now as you were when you opened the account — essentially this is proof of memory.
  • Identity is a cryptographic key pair, where one is identified by the public key, and this identity is proven using the private key (usually by signing things.) SSH keys are a good example of this in its rawest form: you log in once and add a key, and all the system cares about is that you use the same key to get back in — not who you are!
  • Identity is a persistent sense of self or selfhood, or a semi-continuous narrative identity we call “I.”
  • Identity is some kind of metaphysical construct, a “true self” or soul, which shines out through the personality and into all of our actions.
  • Humans as things identified by their bodies, vs
  • Humans as intangible, ever-shifting narrative beings.

The Enlightenment Intensive — a quick experiment in identity

The turbulence of the every-day: Things are a lot weirder than you think.

1. Credit Ratings

2. Social Networks

3. Names

4. Surveillance databases

Part II. The Art of the Possible: What can we describe?

  • There’ll be a very well-defined role inside of a family, almost certainly.
  • There’ll be a government-issued birth certificate, probably — not in all cultures, but in most of the nations with strong central governments.
  • A hospital number
  • Relationships with attending physicians
  • An incubator number
  • A medical profile, with things like weight each day, diet
  • A medical history with a chronology of events, opinions and options
  • In countries without universal health care, insurance policy information — who’s paying for this care?

Usernames and passwords

Identifying Machines

Biometrics — nailing people to the meat

DNA: The identity you cannot hide

DNA as a Template for our Being

Biometrics and blockchains: oil and water, or oil and vinegar?

The First Option: Total transparency

1. Genetic Screening

2. Genetic Identification

3. Genetic Research

Getting used to the unthinkable

The second option: blockchains, biometrics, encryption

  • Touch ID and your fingerprint becomes Total ID, pulling everything from all biometric sources into a single ID package.
  • Bitcoin becomes Statecoin as your permanent record from High School becomes a fixed, permanent object as solid as the repositories that store the source code for the space shuttle.

The Third Option: As wise as serpents

  1. What does the world really need to know about us?
  2. What do specific agencies really need to know about us?
  3. Can we get through life revealing less about ourselves, using these technologies?

Part III. Identity we can (all) live with

  1. Profiles
  2. Actions

Managing the keys

  1. People will continue to lose their keys, and there will have to be schemes which allow recovery (i.e. key split 90 ways among your social circle, with 70 pieces required to reassemble it.)
  2. People will continue to leak their keys, and there will have to be schemes to kill the key and replace it with a new key while maintaining the old identity. These schemes are typically called “key revocation certificates” and can be managed much like a backup copy of your private key. Once your revocation certificate is published to the blockchain, your key is dead.
  3. Hardware which just manages keys — not being a web browser, not playing Angry Avians, not making phone calls — is likely to be necessary because operating system security sucks and is not likely to get better soon unless we go back to Object Capabilities or equivalent distrust-based systems.

Taking the short way home



ConsenSys is the leading Ethereum software company building MetaMask, Infura, Codefi, ConsenSys Quorum, Truffle, and Diligence. Visit

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store