Roland Dürre
Wednesday November 1st, 2017

About Authenticity and Identity in a Real and Virtual World.

 

A Tightrope Walk

 

Stone mask from the pre-ceramic New Stone Age around 7,000 before Christ. One of the world’s oldest masks (Musée Bible et Terre Sainte, Paris)

In this article, I formulate ideas I got during my current work on “block-chain technologies” in general and “crypto currencies” like Bitcoin in particular. Actually, my own ideas rather surprised me. Because many things that had not been clear to me before have become clear during the process.

Let me start with terminology: WORLD, REAL and VIRTUAL.

For me the WORLD is all that is around me – humans, social systems, … My dealings with the WORLD are through interactions and transactions. My activities not only touch me, but also instances from WORLD. On the other hand, events from WORLD also concern and touch me.

For me, the REAL world is always what I can see, touch, feel, experience. Or what I can eat. The same is true for the firewood I feed into my oven in order to get a cosy warmth in the room. The warmth from the central heating was also REAL for me. After all, I know its origin, which is either from the outside as long-distance heating or from my basement. Even money was REAL for me – but is that true?

I would say that everything I could picture myself was the REAL world for me. But newspapers were also REAL for me, and the same was true for telephone conversations. Even watching TV was part of the REAL world for me. Is that still the case?

The VIRTUAL world included what was “socially” offered, along with the products of the digital WORLD, the creation of which I myself took part in. There is no need to go as far as a mental concept of “second life“ or similar things. My first VIRTUAL worlds were forums and chat rooms where diverse, often technological, topics were discussed.

Today, social media, such as twitter, facebook and many more, could do that job. Or is all of this also REAL?

Let us now consider the terms AUTHENTICITY and IDENTITY. The first thing I learned here was how careless I (and our entire society) treat the term IDENTITY. I used to believe that the identity of a person is a singular thing. At least as far as the VIRTUAL world is concerned, this is nonsense. Because (so far) you have anonymity in the virtual world.

Anonymity means that 
a person or a group cannot be identified. If you want more or less the same meaning as anonymous, you can also say incognito. You will also find unknown, camouflaged and nameless (Wikipedia 10/2017).

Consequently, a person who wants to hang around in the internet “anonymously” (for instance as a bitcoin owner in the respective money community) needs more than one identity! He will need more or less one for every purpose. There is always only one person behind all these identities. It is one unique and undoubted existence. But none of the identities will lead to it. So there are singular images of the “authentic person” leading to diverse identities, but no way back – i.e. it is impossible to find the person behind the scene through the identity. I find that rather exciting!

For me, authentity is something like an exceptional form of identity, i.e., the unique and true “original identity” that is hidden behind several identities. Incidentally, I cannot find the term AUTHENTITY in Wikipedia, but I can find Authenticity. Since it is so important for the topic I discuss, let me cite it:
Authenticity (from gr. αὐθεντικός authentikós “true“; spätlateinisch authenticus “reliable”) concerns the truthfulness of origins, attributes, commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions. (Wikipedia 10/2017).

Consequently, I would say that identities are nothing but anonymous alias instances for one singular authentic instance that I would call authentity. In the VIRTUAL world, they are just masks or Avatars . The owner of the mask/avatar remains anonymous and you cannot find out who he/she is, yet he “automatically” (guaranteed through technology and algorithm) has ownership of everything that belongs to his mask/avatar as part of the “community”.

For a Bitcoin, you would have the following scenario: all bitcoin owners are part of a special community of identities, all of which are anonymous. The surprising thing about it is: it works (or is supposed to work) through “peer2peer” interaction. So you have no central instance!

However, the used (necessary?) technology costs a lot, which means this currency is rather impractical as a means of payment. Which means that bitcoin will only be used for speculation (betting). On the other hand, what is special about that? After all, more than 90 % (99 %?) of all currency business, such as the exchange between EURO (€) and DOLLAR ($) and vice versa, are only made for reasons of speculation. They have nothing to do with the exchange of goods! Maybe normal money is also a VIRTUAL commodity today?

Back to the topic: I used to believe that my IDENTITY is actually my AUTHENTITY. But now I know better. The opposite is true: in the internet, I hide my AUTHENTITY behind various IDENTITIES. And no way must lead from them to my AUTHENTITY.

The AUTHENTITY is as unique as my DNA. It would be a good “key” (as a biometrical data set), since the probability of two identical DNA’s is practically zero (due to the quasi endless quality of DNA-s.).

So far, for instance, I still have to fill in the registration form at all hotels, i.e., I must give my surname, first name, place of birth, nationality, home address and passport number. As an entity, these data make me uniquely identifiable. I testify to their truthfulness by showing my passport and giving my signature. …
🙂 The hotel, too, has an address, although it would probably be more precise (and easier?) to just take the GPS coordinates.

But let us go step by step and start with the REAL world: the first thing I did was look for “truly anonymous identities” in the REAL world.

Here are the examples I found:

  • Numbered account: 
Formerly, and especially in Switzerland, it was possible to open an anonymous bank account. The account only had a number, but the bank did not know who owned the account (and the money deposited on it). Legitimation happened by giving a number (cipher). And everyone who visited the bank branch and had the account number and cipher could (anonymously) draw money from the account. It worked quite well for many decades.
  • Classified advertisements
    Formerly, you could publish classified ads, for instance personal ads, anonymously in daily papers. You had a cipher and said cypher was assigned to a key. With this key, the incoming replies were correlated with the advertisements (through the cipher).
    🙂 I remember how, at school in the 1960ies, we (especially the girls) were warned against marriage frauds that took advantage of this anonymity …
  • Car number plates, telephone numbers … 
If you think of traffic, car number plates come to mind. They, too, used to be anonymous – although there was a central agency (some kind of “man-in-the-middle“) who knew who was hidden behind the number plate. Today, only number plates for cars driven by federal security agencies and similar institutions are anonymous – even the police has no way of getting hold of them. The same used to be true for telephone numbers. Of course, the postal service, as “man-in-the-middle” knew who was hidden behind the telephone number. But if you had a good reason, you were not listed in the telephone book and could basically only be traced by being called.
  • Prepaid and Email 
In the REAL world, you could remain anonymous thanks to prepaid cards. And you could also open an email account without giving any personal information. But is that the definition of the VIRTUAL world? As I see it, there is currently a huge process of change, at least in Germany. These things can be done less and less easily. 
They want the darknet in the VIRTUAL world (?) to make less and less accessible. But that is not something I personally know. I would have to investigate in order to find out more.

So:
Currently, I cannot think of any existing anonymities established through identities in the REAL world. On the contrary: in my perception, ANONYMITY is not desired in the REAL world – and consequently it has been/is being more or less totally abolished by the legislators and the administration.

But then, is not the VIRTUAL world part of the REAL world? And isn’t the VIRTUAL world rather schizophrenic? On the one hand, everyone dreams of “anonymous currencies and communities” and on the other hand they do everything to abolish anonymity!

For instance, the postal service advertises its POSTIDENT-service, which, basically, has one goal: to abolish anonymity in the VIRTUAL world, as well.


Close to the customer – tailor-made identity management!

Here is the individual legitimation check for your customers – now online!
The Deutsche Post offers the tailor made identification concept for your business model. With our online and offline POSTIDENT method for legitimacy control, we identify your customers quickly, securely and without violating the statutes Geldwäschegesetz and Datenschutz (postal advertising).


Isn’t that hot stuff? Note that they use words such as – identity concept and legitimacy control.

But regardless, the service – which is definitely questionable and easy to abuse – is used by many internet providers who want to know who they are really dealing with.

For me, the following questions arise:

Isn’t it paradox if anonymity is completely abolished in the REAL world but can flourish in the VIRTUAL world? Regardless of the fact that the VIRTUAL world is basically part of the REAL world?

What if technological leaders like CHINA abolish anonymity? Would not the consequence be that, through the technology we import from them, we automatically forfeit our anonymity?

What sense does it make if the functionality of the “good old Swiss numbered account” is again realized through anonymous crypto currencies? Do we even want that to happen? Or isn’t it just a question of time before, for instance, the bank secret, too, will soon no longer be socially trendy?

Is it not so that the entire affair is just a special tool for speculation – just like “betting in the internet” becomes more and more popular and is already a massive business as far as turnover and profit are concerned?

As I see it, these issues should be discussed in the context of social ethics. But what do we do? We establish an ethics commission that deals with artificial intelligence and driverless cars. Yet we do not discuss the important question whether or not we should leave certain parts of society anonymous. We make noises about absurd data protection laws and get enthusiastic about it, although we know full well that it will not work in the way it was demanded, and in doing so, we get lost in a network of rules and laws that paralyze us and from which there will probably eventually be no rescue.

Incidentally, the solution to this problem is rather simple in my concept:
As soon as we have a (world-wide) guaranteed rule of law, anonymity is no longer needed. That is also true for an anonymous currency.

If and as long as, however, the rule of law is threatened or non-existent, we are well advised to keep “anonymous areas”.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
Now I hope what I said is more or less understandable. I would not wish to have confused you with AUTHENTITY and IDENTITY. And as a post scriptum, here is another story:
In my carelessness, it happened that my purse was stolen from me early this spring in Athens when I was riding an underground train. It contained EVERYTHING. Consequently, I also had to apply for a new passport. They asked me if I wanted it with my digital signature. It is free whenever you apply for a new passport, whereas, if you want it later, you need to pay 20 € extra.
Naturally, I asked what advantages this digital signature would have for me. My advisor at the municipality was unable to come up with very much – except a strange professional register the purpose of which remained unclear to me.
So I asked him if the signature would at least be an option for the electronic tax declaration (Elster). When he said no, I declined – perhaps out of defiance – and I believe this decision will not be detrimental.

A few thousand years ago, homo sapiens invented  the wheel and – a little later – the lever. It took us humans a few more millennia until the wheelbarrow was invented – although it is, basically just a combination of the wheel and the lever. After that, it did not take too long for such basic things as the crank and the gear-wheel to be invented. And the steam engine, the Diesel motor and electricity…

And with the information and communication technology, we really got under way.

This looks like they took me to the photo studio – and I was probably wondering what was going to happen.

I often wonder when our house had its first electric motor. I am sure it was no earlier than 1955, when we moved from the country to the city. I still remember that, in the late fifties, a spin-dryer for our laundry basement was a modern achievement – and it definitely had an electric motor.

As far as I remember, there were no other  electronic devices (Elektro-Geräte) in our household at the time. Until we got the first Märklin model railway. Then things really started to happen.

Up until then, the mechanical devices in our household all had a hand-crank. And complicated gear-wheels. For example the meat chopper, the coffee grinder, the machine for making cream. The drill, too, was hand-worked.
Consequently, I admired gear-wheels very much …

There came a day when our teacher took the class to see the Renk Zahnradfabrik
(it must have been in my third or fourth form)
– today, it is a stock-market enterprise and part of  MAN AG.

The school was next to St. Anton’s church and not far from the “Wittelsbacher Park“. In this park, you could see something special: the “Rudolf Diesel Hain“. It was a quadrangle that had the size of an allotment garden and cypress-like plants grew all around it. There was an entry and an exit and inside were huge rocks from Japan. On copper plates, one could read what the Japanese People had written to thank the Great German Rudolf Diesel for his invention of the motor (at least that is how I remember it) that saved mankind world-wide from debasing and hard physical labour. That is why they had made the City of Augsburg – where the great man had been born – a present of this rock.

The Rudolf Diesel Hain was a nice piece of nature that became my cherished refuge when I could not be bothered to attend weekly mass on Sundays.

For me, the tour of the plant was very exciting. It is definitely something special to see how iron is processed – and the people working in the business were just as special. After the tour, the tour guide gave our teacher a rather heavy gear-wheel (perhaps 20 cm in diameter). It must have weighed several kilograms.

I assume that the gear-wheel was a throw-away product. It seems that the wife of our teacher was not too enthusiastic about the strange thing he brought home.

When school started on the next morning, he put it on his desk and announced: now you all will write an “adventure report” about our trip. And the winner (the student who wrote the best report) was going to get the gear-wheel as prize.

I was absolutely over the top. Because I absolutely had to get this gear-wheel. To be sure, I was the total outsider, because writing was my Achilles’ Heel. Since I had learned to read before starting school and was already through with most of the Karl May books, I found the school books rather boring.

But what is all this if there is a prize you absolutely want to win? Nothing!
Consequently, this was an essay I wrote with more effort than I ever again did anything in my life. I wanted that gear-wheel, still remembered my fascination with the trip and wrote the script for the play. I even tried to avoid formal mistakes and took care of my punctuation – which were things that, in those days, I generally could not have cared less about. I even took special pains with my handwriting. I strongly suspect that those became the only pages in my exercise books that were not poorly scrawled.

Since that day, I know the meaning of the word “motivated”.

I had to wait a day or two, then came the decision. And – lo and behold – I came in first and won the gear-wheel. And I was the happiest person alive. I remained the happiest person on the way home. However, when I arrived at home, the only comment my mother had when she saw my good grade on the essay was “there you see: if you make an effort, you really can write a good essay”. The gear-wheel was not at all appreciated. On the contrary. The comment was: “What a peculiarity are you bringing home this time?”

Well, my teacher had probably met with the same indifference a few days earlier when he brought it home. But that was not really much of a consolation for me.

The gear-wheel got a special place in my room. It smelled nicely of machine oil.

I still remember how, perhaps ten years later, my mother forced me to throw it out. It was a really nice gear-wheel.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

Roland Dürre
Thursday March 2nd, 2017

My Friend, the Marten.

My Friend is Back!

 

Ermine (Mustela erminea) in summer pelt.

I have been driving cars since I was eighteen. And through all those many years, I had one arch-enemy: the legally protected marten.

Countless numbers of times, I wanted to start my car – and it did not start. Because that animal had bitten through a wire.

As the years went by, I spent quite a lot of money on the repairs. And there were also many things I tried in order to prevent it from happening! Every evening, I put a grate underneath the car (and in the morning, I had to remove it again). I tried quite a few voodoo methods, which were just as useless as high-tech in the form of small ultrasonic devices in the car. I truly tried everything in order to keep my enemy away from my car.

Here you can see a stone marten. Whereas the picture above shows a weasel, who also belongs to the marten family.

Now I finally won the battle. I no longer own a car. And that saves me a lot of money. And besides, I no longer have the problem that I despair in the morning because my car does not start.

Once in a while, I have a flat tyre when I want to climb my bike. That is not a problem, because I can easily take another bike. After all, I have several. And whenever I have a puncture, it is not because of the marten. Mostly, it is because of a glass splinter or a sharp piece of split or some small piece of metal.

Consequently, I made peace with the marten. At least that is what I thought!

And what happened yesterday? In the morning, my heating system notified me that my solar water warming panels are defunct. The mechanic said the damage is not covered by the maintenance contract because it was caused by a marten. He said this kind of thing happens quite often. And I had to pay.

Well, he is back …

RMD
P.S.
I took both pictures from Wikipedia.
The beautiful picture of the weasel (top) is from the central media archive Wikimedia Commons. Copyright is with James Lindsey, the source is 
http://popgen.unimaas.nl/~jlindsey/commanster.html
The stone marten image (Martes foina) is by Atirador.

In the autumn of 1985, I was the first to bring this book to Munich after having bought it at the Uniforum fresh from the printing machine.

A short time ago, I retrieved it. It reminded me of having been at Uniforum conferences with friends of mine in February 1985 (Dallas, Texas) and in 1986 (Anaheim, California). It was great. In those days, the Uniforum was the one and only UNIX conference in the USA. We were thousands of enthusiastic visitors from all over the world. I experienced a huge atmosphere of dawn at the time.

There was also a small sensation. Copies of the very new book on C++ by Bjarne Stroustrup (see left on the picture) right from the printing machine were delivered in the middle of the conference and sold directly from the palette. I bought a few of them and took them home. They were probably the first C++ books to ever reach Munich.

This brings to mind: in the 1980s, I constantly gave presentations on software development. At the time, the change in programming was the central topic, and the catchword used most often was OBJECT-ORIENTED.

I also wrote quite a few presentations on “OBJECT-ORIENTED” for IT managers. Among them was a “high-up” at Siemens AG in UB D at D AP (or was it already SNI at the time?). He was asked to tell his “team of leaders” what exactly OBJECT-ORIENTED meant. Afterwards, he said the presentation had been well liked – but it certainly did not really make a difference.

Today, everybody programs object-oriented. In fact, it is even a little too much for my taste.
Later, I gave up my “programming career” and became something like an “entrepreneur”.

Now I was no longer preaching the gospel of technology. Instead, I spoke about leadership and management. And in particular, I talked about the “smart” pentagram that consists of the terms “agile”, “digital”, “lean”, “open”, “social” and how they interact.

For instance, I related why courage and joy in those working for an enterprise is also a central requirement for economic success. And I also told the people how necessary mutual respect and appreciation of each other are (not only) in an enterprise. Why meeting at eye-level and shared participation and responsibility are the basic requirements for innovation. And why humans are not resources. And how change can only happen in an agile environment.

“Pro Agile“on the DOAG Podium /Yearly Conference in 2013.

I explained why processes, rules and bureaucracy are obstacles to the necessary change. I also explained what a huge damage Taylorist developments cause in an organization and how much waste (as opposed to “lean”) is created by an overwhelming administration and the rising bureaucracy in an enterprise as a consequence of those developments. And that it is totally useless to have endless meetings.

And that departments such as “human resource”, “customer relationship management”, “marketing”, “legal service” etc., basically do not guarantee the success of an enterprise. In fact, they come closer to endangering it.
And that the young and well-educated persons of today prefer working in an enterprise the central element of the culture of which is trust.

I can easily give you good reasons for all I said. After all, I myself was part of the scenario when we software developers made a (as I see it: central contribution) towards a new understanding of work that now spreads more and more to other sectors (#newwork). And this is how it helped to change the world.

I wonder if my call for “agile, digital, lean, open, social” as a “smart” pentagram will do any good? I am not sure.

I also got the impression that my audience mostly saw it in the same way. In fact, it would make me happy if we in the German Industry were to talk less about industry 4.0 and more about entrepreneurial culture. Be it 2.0 or 5.0.

Even the big bosses must understand that our enterprises and we ourselves can only survive well if we are prepared to question what we used to consider certainties and to change what we were used to.

Of course, I understand that it hurts to question hierarchies, cherished sinecures and structures you have become used to. Especially if you are the boss. But please keep in mind: we no longer live in the times of Henry Ford’s conveyor belts and even the prime time of the Chicago slaughterhouses is coming to an end.

RMD
(Translated by EG)

P.S.
I took the star from the central media archive Wikimedia Commons.