Why is Web3 facing an identity crisis?
Why does Web3 have an identity crisis?
If we do not design an architecture for digital identity, we will never know who we are interacting with on the network, and AI will overwhelm humans.
By Richard Smith
Translated by DeepTechFlow
Anyone who has interacted with ChatGPT has the unsettling question in their mind: “Is this thing a human or a machine?”
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Essentially, this question is the long-awaited failure of the Turing Test.
For decades, we have been unwittingly using the Turing Test as a proxy for online identity. Through this test, we can clearly understand whether we are interacting with a person or a machine online.
However, with the emergence of ChatGPT and generative AI, we can no longer rely on the Turing Test to prove “I am human.” And digital personalities ultimately need a way to determine whether we are dealing with real people.
The digital identity vision of Web3 relies on decentralization and the Turing Test being able to say, “I am human, and I control these digital assets.” When ChatGPT breaks the Turing Test, it tells us that decentralization alone is not enough to achieve digital identity.
If we take digital identity seriously, we should take digital identity seriously.
What makes us human?
Many people may be surprised to find that there is a figure in the digital identity movement who is similar to Satoshi Nakamoto, who wrote the famous Bitcoin white paper seven years before Kim Cameron wrote his authoritative white paper on digital identity.
In 2005, Kim Cameron published a landmark paper, “The Laws of Identity,” which outlined the concept of identity management for everyone.
Although Kim is not as mysterious as Satoshi Nakamoto, his work on digital identity is just as decisive as Satoshi’s work on decentralization.
Kim proposed a problem statement about digital identity, which is as simple, clear, and concise as Satoshi’s problem statement about decentralization. Comparing them is enlightening.
Kim’s identity problem statement (2005): The Internet was built without a way to know who you are connecting to.
Satoshi’s decentralization problem statement (2012): Commercial transactions on the Internet almost entirely rely on financial institutions as trusted third parties to process electronic payments.
Although these two issues are very different, they are inextricably intertwined. We must know who we are connecting to online (Kim/identity), and we must be able to do so peer-to-peer, without intermediaries (Satoshi Nakamoto/decentralization). This applies equally to the digital world and the physical world.
However, in a post-Turing test world, the identity issue becomes more urgent as machines become increasingly capable of mimicking humans. If we do not make digital identity our top priority, we will not be able to fully enjoy the benefits of decentralization.
In the final stages of his life, Kim gave us another way of thinking about the challenge of digital personhood. In a speech, he said that in our online lives, “content is our identity, it’s part of our identity, but we don’t own it, we can’t retain it, we can’t control it. We lack a digital refuge that provides the basic privacy we have with our homes.”
In short, we are homeless in the digital world.
Just as homelessness in the physical world can harm personhood due to a lack of privacy, digital homelessness can similarly harm digital personhood.
Digital personhood needs a digital home – a digital place where we can decide when and how to share which parts of our digital selves with others. The digital home is inseparable from our digital identity.
Decentralization is not the only rule for solving digital homelessness. If we don’t design architecture for digital identity, we will never know who we are interacting with on the network, and AI will engulf humanity.
Previously, we could rely on Turing tests as proxies for our human identity. However, those days are gone with the advent of large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT.
Kim Cameron has passed away, but his “Laws of Identity” still exist. All those who yearn for true digital personhood should remember that Kim came before Satoshi Nakamoto, identity came before decentralization.
As Kim said, in the online world, “content is us.” Now that generative AI has made content almost free, we should ensure that we have an alternative way to evaluate and identify personhood in the digital world.