Proving You Are You in a Digital World
The question of who we are in the physical world has spawned countless years of soul-searching that have resulted in religion, science, and other unique systems for understanding our existential nature. Now, with the rise of the digital world, identity is becoming more complicated than ever.
You know how it goes online — every time you arrive at a new website or download an app, you’re prompted to create an account. For ten different apps you’ll generally need ten different accounts.
In a sense, each account is you, but since they lack continuity, you need to prove that you are still you each time you return to one of your accounts. Hence the endless username and password combinations that you’ve become artful at mastering (or perhaps you’ve just grown numb to clicking forgot my password).
As the world becomes more digital with each passing moment and more of your life happens online, the old system of disjointed identities that only work for specific apps and websites is quickly becoming inconvenient. The million-dollar question is, of course, what do we do about it?
That’s where digital twinning and self-sovereign identity come in.
There’s plenty of excitement surrounding digital twinning in the tech world — and for good reason. Digital twinning refers to the creation of a digital copy of something that exists in the physical world. Its major application rests in its ability to properly simulate real-world processes without actually having to physically do them.
By mapping an entire electrical system using a digital twin, engineers can troubleshoot potentially worrisome points in that system without running it live. Digital twinning is, therefore, not only extremely cost-saving, but provides the ultimate means for checking standards and safety in industrial applications.
For many, digital twinning is the key component in what’s quickly becoming known as the fourth industrial revolution — an era of hyperconnectivity and IoT machine-based omniscience.
In the current model, identity revolves around centralized platforms. Your Facebook identity is different from your Google identity is different from your Medium identity. You don’t carry your identity with you — instead, you’re asked to plug into the identity you have associated with those platforms.
Digital twinning flips that paradigm around by making identity user-centric. In the digital twinning paradigm, you carry your identity with you just as you do in the physical world, creating a decentralized identity paradigm wherein “you are you” both physically and digitally.
When you’re surfing online or toggling between apps, how will you prove that it’s really always you? In the physical world, you have face recognition to rely on — your identity persists because you persist, it’s as simple as that. You don’t have the same luxury online.
For the answer to that, we’ll need to a take a look at an emerging field in blockchain called self-sovereign identity.
Self-sovereign identity, or SSI for short, is a game-changing innovation being brought up within the blockchain field. It solves the how of digital twinning in regard to agent-centric identities.
In general, services don’t need most of the information they ask of you. Why does a car rental service need to know anything more about you than that you are qualified to rent a car? Do they really need your sensitive data to constitute your identity, and thus your eligibility to rent a car? The short answer is no.
SSI changes the identity paradigm from organizations getting to know everything to being on a need-to-know basis. Creating and managing your SSI is just like maintaining a cryptocurrency wallet. You have public and private keys that are used to share or safeguard your personal info and identity.
So, when you need to add information to your identity such as age, driver’s license qualifications, social security data, high school diploma, or anything else, you can use your private key to open the wallet and plug that info in. When you are traveling between apps or services, you can hand over your public key that is the same and persistent across all platforms.
A significant upside to this arrangement is that your data belongs exactly to you. In the current paradigm, organizations take as much data from you as possible so that they can use it to sell to data miners or for their own efforts in tracking what you (or others like you) want to buy.
With SSI, you only give what is absolutely necessary, so your data stays with you. That should pave the way to data marketplaces where you can convert your data for cash (for an early view of how this works, check out Brave Browser), but that’s another topic for another day.
How Does KYC and AML Figure Into Digital Twinning?
In the digital twinning era, you won’t have to fill out endless repetitive KYC and AML forms. KYC, or Know-Your-Customer, is the way you prove that “you are you” to STOs, exchanges, banks, and other financial services organizations.
With digital twinning and SSI, your KYC information will be effortlessly stored within your identity, and anytime you need to fill out KYC, you can just plug your identity in and will be good to go. The same system works for AML (Anti-Money Laundering) checks — that will all be stored within your decentralized identity, meaning you don’t have to enter any information aside from your public key.
Having your identity persist across the web is incredibly useful and time-saving, but most importantly, it empowers your digital self in ways that will become increasingly apparent with time. By shifting the balance of power away from centralized organizations and into the hands of individuals, digital twinning and SSI will lead to a tectonic shift in the way we interact with not only the web, but the world around us as well.