Proof of personhood and identity

Worldcoin has been in tech news recently. Launched nearly a year ago, Worldcoin is one of many providers of digital identity at the age of AI and offers tokens for new sign-ups in exchange of, well, putting one’s faith in the identity proof technology and trusting that their personal data is well guarded. The shiny orb will scan the user eye iris and the user will get in addition to verified identity a gift. What’s wrong with that?

Scanning persons iris and calculating a hash is definitely a way of identifying a person and reducing identity fraud. Many competitors and privacy watchdogs are taking a different view, however. They see scanning a person’s iris as an unnecessary intrusion and in case of an identity theft it’s nay impossible to reset your digital identity (on that network). German privacy watchdog has launched a probe into its practices as of last week. Michael Will of Bavarian State Office for Data Protection Supervision says “These technologies are at first sight neither established nor well analysed for the specific core purpose of the processing in the field of transferring financial information.” Britain’s data regulator has also publicly announced they will examine the Wordlcoin’s privacy policy. If the provider is focussed on possible future uses and opportunities that currently feel like sci-fi, their promises are similarly vague.

Etherum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has gone into lengths here highlighting the risks related to this nascent industry’s hardware, legal and fraud aspects. It’s an interesting and highly advisable read.

Quartz is reporting on criminals exploiting the vulnerable people hoping for easy payout and getting a fraction of it. In the process the also give up their identity for potential second tier fraud. Not a good deal, but absolutely predictable. Is it also avoidable? Vitalik provides some thoughts how it could be done in his post above.

Whilst I welcome such initiatives to get more people participating safely in a Web3 digital economy (which is still evolving and figuring out the business models), handing out tokens (that can be traded for money) in exchange to grow the user base may not be the best strategy. In this case the provider will soon discover that new users had different motives from theirs and the promise of verified personhood has little to do with those. Tying the identity to UBI will definitely be boon to tech providers and their supply chains as countries need many contact points to roll out the identity validation systems.

It’s plausible that as the digital identity ecosystem continue to evolve, there will be similar pledges that were made by the AI companies recently. Hopefully the politicians will have had time to think and require more concrete pledges, backed up by regulation. Vague promises are just that.

Regulators must not focus on just one company – Worldcoin – to be extensively scrutinised and others falling through the net. I would hope that regulators hire experts who understand both legal and technological aspects, and provide appropriate guidance, which in turn will be included in GDPR and other similar legislation. Equally I hope that in this case the decision makers will not give into the providers pressure to do something but nothing much to make everyone feel somewhat content. Our identity must remain unique and secure and current systems need a massive overhaul to even start to enable thinking of a unified, globally trusted identity. And it shouldn’t be the corporates that run it but rather a decentralised network validated by a UN type body.

Or do you think otherwise?

Future of tech, workplace and us in news – May 15

An interesting peek into the future of content generation and publishing. At which point will the customers of the ‘content mills’ stop caring about the human touch? Is it when they can’t distinguish between human and machine created content or when the deluge of AI-generated stuff always beats theirs for the attention? AI is already writing books, websites and online recipes – The Washington Post

DALL-E prompt “chatbot in the style of dali”

Regulation is all the rage this spring. And for a good reason, as race to the bottom gains momentum. And what about the US-China rivalry in the space as the roadblock to regulation? Will the US be driven by the FOMA or by the prospects of angry out-of-job mobs on streets? AI Regulation Fever Sweeps EU, US, and China (

Fear not, the future is bright and we must embrace, rather than try to avert it. Then again, herr Schmidhuber saying these words is on UAE payroll and their views may differ from that of EU and the US. Rise of artificial intelligence is inevitable but should not be feared, ‘father of AI’ says | Artificial intelligence (AI) | The Guardian

New technology needs new tools and approaches to managing data. This is done using Vector db. Vector database startups raise over $350M to build generative AI infrastructure – CB Insights Research

As I search for this, Bing retrieves information and I won’t bother looking any further. Is that good or bad?

Being frightened when you’re successfully flogged your firm to Google and ready to retire is OK. Yann LeCun counterargument doesn’t fill anyone with pure joy either “I completely disagree with the idea that machines will dominate humans simply because they are smarter, let alone destroy humans.” “Even within the human species, the smartest among us are not the ones who are the most dominating,” says LeCun. “And the most dominating are definitely not the smartest. We have numerous examples of that in politics and business.” Geoffrey Hinton tells us why he’s now scared of the tech he helped build | MIT Technology Review

When you start tackling the question that may frighten few influential, you’ll focus on what matters to many – restoring sight instead of altering reality as we know it. The Bionic Eye That Could Restore Vision (and Put Humans in the Matrix) – CNET

Happy with the position of tech firms with regards to your data and privacy? Gideon Lichfield from Wired interviews Signal’s Meredith Whittaker in a “Have a nice future” podcast episode “Can we get a little privacy?“. Recommended listening.

Google has taken a bit more cautious approach compared to Microsoft gong-ho about the AI search. Now the search giant is rushing out the announcements left and right. Google drops waitlist for AI chatbot Bard and announces oodles of new features – The Verge, Join the waitlist for Google’s generative AI tools, including search, Project Tailwind, & MusicLM ( All of the developments can be filed under two categories – competition (with Microsoft) and user lock-in. The latter means giving its user base free built-in tools that tie them more tightly onto Google’s ecosystem.

And so does Meta with its newly launched tools for advertisers. Enticing your users to remain on the platform is the key as with others. Meta announces generative AI features for advertisers | TechCrunch

Accuracy high % is good for the business and not so for the (frontline) workers. As LLM developers are packaging their services as PaaS, developing yours will be even easier. Wendy’s to Test Groundbreaking AI at the Drive-Thru | QSR magazine

Interesting use case for a chatbot, and a bit worrying. As an experiment, try asking these chatbots for an opinion on a PM of a not so friendly neighbouring country. Push it a bit and read the responses. People, whose main connection with the wider world is their smartphone, are especially susceptible to the messages the machine tells them. ChatGPT is spawning religious chatbots in India – Rest of World

An excellent NewYorker essay byTed Chiang exploring the bleak aspects of capitalism and how the AI race feeds the aspirations of said systems owners. “Today, we find ourselves in a situation in which technology has become conflated with capitalism, which has in turn become conflated with the very notion of progress. If you try to criticize capitalism, you are accused of opposing both technology and progress. But what does progress even mean, if it doesn’t include better lives for people who work? What is the point of greater efficiency, if the money being saved isn’t going anywhere except into shareholders’ bank accounts? We should all strive to be Luddites, because we should all be more concerned with economic justice than with increasing the private accumulation of capital. We need to be able to criticize harmful uses of technology—and those include uses that benefit shareholders over workers—without being described as opponents of technology.” Agree or not? Will A.I. Become the New McKinsey? | The New Yorker

Kliendikogemuse ja kaubanduse lähitulevik

Lugesin hiljuti Columbuse blogist kliendikogemuse trendidest mis sel aastal võiksid jalad alla saada. Lugesin ja mõtlesin kaasa. Paar mõtet on allpool.

Ühendatud kliendikogemus suunab tõenäoliselt veel ühte suunda kaubanduses. Suured brändid muudavad suure tõenäosusega oma senised kauplused digitaalse brändi füüsiliseks esinduseks. Seda on näha juba Londoni suurimat ostutänavat, Oxford Street’i pidi jalutades. Need on kohad, mille eesmärk ei ole müüa maksimaalselt karpe, vaid luua kliendile võimalusi tutvuda võimalustega ning brändi ekspertide abil endale isikustatud tooteid looma (highly personalised co-creation), maksimaalselt kahepäevane kojutoimetamisaeg, võimalus näha oma toodet valmimas ning brändi sotsiaalmeediakanali on selle kogemuse kohustuslikud osad. Kui aga klient otsustab standardmudeli kasuks, ei pea ta kotitäit karpe ise koju tassima, vaid need jõuavad talle koju sama päeva õhtuks. Kogu suhtlemine väljaspool ostutemplit toimub aga veebi või äpi abil.

Näen et selline kliendikogemus kaotab lähiaastatel eksklusiivsuse ning muutub tavaks. Seda toetavad 3D trükitud toote omahinna langus, äriprotsesside automatiseerimine ning eelkõige (potentsiaalse) kliendi soov erineda ning silma paista.

See suund nõuab õigel suunal ning mahus investeeringuid nii protsessidesse kui ka tehnoloogiasse. Suurem osa ettevõtteid saavad võitjatena sellest situatsioonist väljuda aga ainult tugeva digipartneri abiga. Nõus?

Technology and future

Where have we come from?

The journey of personal mobile devices started in early 1980’s with first Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson phones. I would recommend looking up those funky handsets. They teach us a lot about ergonomics and evolution of microprocessors.

Basically, this is what our journey looks like:

Supply and demand over 30 years

Motorola DynaTak was first truly portable mobile phone for civilian use. It’s fortunately history by now and you may read more about it here.

Latest Android phone comes from Google, weighs no more than any other handset we have seen in past five years and replaces your computer. Other major OS’s are Apple iOS and Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile (somewhat dead in the water now). We had Blackberry OS, but that’s pretty much gone – all new handsets are running Android. We also had Symbian, but that’s completely irrelevant these days. Nokia is trying to reinvent its mobile business, though they seem to side more with Android than MeeGo. Although Nokia C1 is more of an urban legend – many rumours but no sighting yet…

But none of it would have not happened without underlying infrastructure. Taking the risk of investing very large sums of money into covering has paid off and benefits manufacturers, service providers and consumers alike.

Mobile phone communication standards evolution in time

Signal coverage in the UK is relatively good with most areas having voice signal. 4G is confined to mostly urban areas but is growing faster than 3G.

4G standard has many advantages over its predecessors – data speed and improved voice quality. 4G connectivity has also helped many mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) companies to enter the market. There are ones that piggyback to major carriers for both voice and data or just data. In second option user would need to install and use an app to make and receive calls and send text messages. This option bypasses phone OS native apps and offers a few advantages to the provider – provide additional services and sell in-app advertising to keep package cost low.

NokiaEricsson and others have been hard at work developing 5G communications standard. Don’t expect that anytime soon near you as devices that support the standard are still not in personal but rather in machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet-of-Things (IoT) market.

Where are we now?

It’s been an interesting journey people in most countries have been. In many places it has been led by technology rather than policy. And technology providers have been pushing their own (often proprietary) standards, which innovative at the beginning have caused countless hours of extra work to make it functional and integrate with other systems.

Most developed and developing countries have passed mobile phone revolution. Smartphones, however not taken over the mobile device market from feature phones yet, are on path to get there.

Smartphone vs feature phones shipments

I don’t fully buy into Statista’s perception that feature phone numbers are on permanent raise. It’s likely though that what’s classified as a smartphone today won’t meet that designation in 2020. There’s another view that seems more likely, and that was view in early 2015.

% of regional total connections (excluding M2M). Source: GSMA Intelligence

My personal view is that feature phone numbers start dropping in next 24 months as African and Asian countries keep growing. Once a human being has had a taste of a smartphone they’d rather give up other goods and services than this. And why? Technically you have a small computer in your hand that puts world’s knowledge at your fingertips.

It’s not surprising that Android OS dominates the market. You can see interesting correlation between Android OS and Apple iOS. Every time Apple launches something new, there’s a surge and corresponding dip in shipments of Android devices. Yet it plateaus off very quickly and even takes a tumble after initial craze has faded. The gap between the market leader and second option is too vast to close at ease.

IDC smartphone shipments tracker 2013-16

This dominance in turn gives Google enormous leverage over vast amounts of users. They are happy to share some insight with device manufacturers but all visible and hidden services of its client OS feeding information back to the company.

New gadgets, anyone?

Near Field Communication (NFC) has been on and off tech news. There are some services being adapted en masse now. Contactless bank cards? Check. Using your latest iPhone (or rather old Android and/or Blackberry) as bank card? Check. Having small contactless bank card companion chip (about square inch in size) attached to your old phone. Like this:

past present in the future

That’s now norm. But where to take this contactless future?

John Mclear was trying to get his NFC Ring off the ground using Kickstarter back in 2013. And what a marvelous idea it was! One ring, two functions – public and private. Public is the outer side of the ring, suitable for contactless payments and such. Inner side of the ring would be for authentication – as in handshake. No puns intended, though you could see two changing digital ID’s during physical handshake.

Then there are printable digital ID’s. These are the ones that can be tattooed or printed on the skin akin to 3D printing. Some films have featured characters with bar code tattooed to their bodies. That’s cool, but… what if your ID changes? Deliberately or not, but change is needed. What then? Well, you’d have to remove and replace old one. Rather painful exercise, I guess. Reprogramming embedded or printed NFC chip is not. And works perfectly so long as only certain authorities can do it. I’d rather travel without physical passport than with one.

Another example of this use – manufactured human spare parts. Ahem, organs and bones, that is. When I get into car accident and my leg gets crushed so badly that I need a new bone (provided that tissue is still usable) it should be crafted for me using suitable material and 3D printer. The cost of prosthesis manufacturing where and when it’s needed would go down radically and the only concern is how body reacts to it. Though manufacturing process would take into account personal characteristics minimising or removing potential negative effect completely.

Here’s to the future!

What should we consider?

With masses of data being sensed, collected, analysed and presented we need to be aware of what we give away to improve our lives. It would be nice to provide 20% of input and reap 80% benefits but 80/20 rule doesn’t really work here. There are really two reasons for it.

First, most smartphone users have dozens of apps on their devices. We are actually really dependent on our devices. Where average amount has been limited to their niche time spent on using the mobile apps has doubled over five years.Those apps as mentioned in previous part collect behavioural information and pass it back to the service providers. he more time we spend on our devices the fuller picture app / service providers have about us.

Secondly, AI and analytics algorithms are improving but are not smart enough yet to provide the service at the cost of contact acquisition. It won’t take too long considering Google AI improvements in navigating London Underground. I can see these services powering the user analytics and being integrated into personal assistants.

What lies ahead?

What should we expect from the connected future? Is it good or bad, and should we be worried or happy?

There’s been an explosion of apps and services designed for smartphone users. Many are duplicating each other, many are using open data, some mash together open and personal data, some work with data providers and others allow user to enhance their experience by linking together services that make up our digital footprint.

We tend to trust our service providers. Or we don’t but compromise as a means of using a particular service. Take Google, Microsoft or Facebook as identity providers. Now add everything these companies know about you – that’s often rather a substantial digital footprint and you need to know what do with it.

There are always privacy concerns related “free” services. Data misuse is a big deal and major organisations have taken steps to deal wit it. Though it manifests itself a bit like this:

When a service is free at the point of delivery the consumer is the product.

The consumer needs to be aware of what information they give away about themselves, who they trust and what benefits they receive in return.

Google wants to be my personal assistant. So does Microsoft with Cortana, Apple with Siri and Amazon with Echo. And plethora of other services that are always listening using the gadgets we have amassed in our homes.

So with that in mind, how can I benefit from their knowledge about me?

Consider a scenario when your city has been kitted out with connected interactive displays, let’s call them smart screen. Those smart screens are equipped with sensors and connected to each other. The devices we carry are technically beacons which also serve as ID providers. My smart watch is associated with one of my digital ID’s. The smart screen senses me approaching and gives me useful snippet.

Or if I’m rushing to catch my train and smart screen tells me there’s a delay with my train and I’ve got to fill 15 minutes somehow.

Useful? Frightening? Amazing? Whatever we feel about these services penetrating our everyday lives they are here to stay for the foreseeable future. And they are not going to be less smart. They will reduce complexity at the point of delivery making it easier for the users to go about their daily lives and adding useful layer of information.

Should we be afraid of future or jump up and down of excitement when today’s tech news highlights become part of everyday life next week?

I think we should embrace the technology, work with it and reap benefits. When parts of it become too intrusive, we need to make conscious decision to stop using those parts. Not becoming Luddites but understand what is good and what is bad for us.

Back to the future!