Rebooting the Web of Trust, Barcelona

Rebooting the Web of Trust, Barcelona

By Philip Sheldrake


March 03, 2019

In her book, A Question of Trust, Onora O’Neill writes:

Each of us and every profession and every institution needs trust. We need it because we have to be able to rely on others acting as they say that they will, and because we need others to accept that we will act as we say we will. The sociologist Niklas Luhmann was right that "A complete absence of trust would prevent [one] even getting up in the morning."

The Digital Life Collective outlines why introducing technology complicates this natural, social mechanism, concluding:

We know that if we cannot trust our tech it's increasingly difficult to trust ourselves. And if we cannot trust ourselves, we cannot trust each other.

It doesn't really get more fundamental than that in underlining the imperative for a 'web of trust'.

The opening circle for RWOT8, Barcelona The opening circle for RWOT8, Barcelona

I'm in Barcelona this weekend for the 8th Rebooting the Web of Trust meetup. If you're not familiar with the phrase 'web of trust', it was coined in the early 90s by Phil Zimmerman, creator of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption software.

While it originally related to a specific technical execution, the term is invoked more generally today to describe the prospect of a private and secure peer-to-peer / person-to-person / agent-to-agent network, i.e. one that does not require a centralized intermediating service. And needless to say, the aspiration is to make it scalable and a beautiful user experience to drive mass adoption, requirements that haven't yet been achieved — hence the need for a rebooting.

The perfect (if that's the right word) dystopian example popped up in the news during proceedings on Friday:

China has blocked millions of “discredited” travellers from buying plane or train tickets as part of the country’s controversial “social credit” system aimed at improving the behaviour of citizens.

If we get this wrong, we will deliver accidentally, by emergence, the very social engineering developed deliberately in China. We must be sensitive to the evil potential of reputation systems.

Decentralized Identifiers

A good part of this community's work is dedicated to Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs):

… a new type of globally unique identifier. … the core component of an entirely new layer of decentralized digital identity.

… DID infrastructure can be thought of as a global key-value database in which the database is all DID-compatible blockchains, distributed ledgers, or decentralized networks. In this virtual database, the key is a DID, and the value is a DID document [that describes] the public keys, authentication protocols, and service endpoints necessary to bootstrap cryptographically-verifiable interactions with the identified identity.

DIDs are integral to the engineering needed in pursuit of the AKASHA Foundation's purpose — nurturing projects helping individuals unlock their potential through open systems that expand our collective minds at local, regional, and global scales. Such systems will necessarily be decentralized, secure, and private, and must also facilitate the meaningful aggregation of data for real-time and verifiable sense-making by the participants involved and those effected.

Expect to hear more on this front in the not too distant :-)

Thanks to Christopher Allen, Joe Andrieu, Kim Hamilton Duffy, Manu Sporny, Heather Vescent and Sam Chase, and the wider Rebooting team for hosting this weekend and the community in general.

Christopher Allen and Joe Andrieu Christopher Allen and Joe Andrieu

Mitzi László, Sam Chase, Elizabeth Reneiris Mitzi László, Sam Chase, Elizabeth Reneiris

Matt Stone and Eric Welton Matt Stone and Eric Welton

Adrian Gropper presents the first demo — HIE Of One Adrian Gropper presents the first demo — HIE Of One

Barcelona image credit CC BY 4.0

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