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Not Valid Unless Signed

Te dx technologies of identity
View more presentations from Faris Yakob.
So I did a little talk at TEDx Silicon Alley.

As is usually the case nowadays, we were asked to talk about technology and creativity and that.

The specific brief was unexpected uses of technology.

As I suspected people were mostly talking about widgets and API and so on - all of which is groovy but I wanted to be non-obvious.

So, riffing on a point I've made before, I point out the most important human technology is writing.

Write tech
It's the only truly pervasive technology - the only one we use inside the operation of our own minds to help us thing, which is a staggering idea. 

[For a while I thought we thought only in words, but now I don't.

That school of thought is called Linguistic Determinism.

However it's not entirely true, I don't think, since we do think without articulation, but we find it difficult to articulate those thoughts, for very obvious reasons.

Feelings, for examples, are clearly a kind of thought that doesn't articulate itself linguistically as we experience it.] 

Writing was invented, probably a few times in different unrelated places

[this is a cultural form of Covergent Evolution]

but definitely in ancient Mesopotamia

[which means 'between two rivers' and is a toponym for the area of the world between the rivers Tigres and Euphrates, mostly in modern day Iraq, which was the true cradle of modern civilisation, lest we forget]

in about 3500BC. 

This form of writing was very simple: marks in clay tablets, known as Cuneiform.

Based on the records we have, it seems likely that it was invented for inventory management - to know how much stuff people had, for trade and taxation purposes.

As soon as it was invented, it created a new problem, the solution to which was the very first unexpected usage of technology.

To whit, they created clay databases, and as soon as you have data you need to be able to authenticate it.

And so signatures were invented.

Signature scroll
Signatures were an identity technology that authenticated the writing - originally they looked like the seal thing above - they were rolled into the clay to create a unique pattern.

They rapidly evolved into:

John hancock

And, 5 and half thousand years later, they are still essentially the same. 

It should be understood however that a signature is not the same thing as an autograph.

[The word autograph originally meant anthing written [graph] entirely in your own hand [auto] - but now refers to an artistic interpretation of your signature that does not have the same legal status.


Because, your signature has a legal status.

Your credit card is NOT VALID UNLESS SIGNED.

Valid until signed
Signatures remain the dominant technology of identity.

In fact, according to a retailer's deal with credit card companies, they are NOT ALLOWED to ask for any other form of ID - because: 

Credit card sig

Your signature the only form of ID you need - it is a legal form of ID and an anti-fraud mechanism, because signatures are highly stylised and hard to copy.

When I moved to the USA, I noticed something found really odd: they ALWAYS give you your card back before you sign.

In Europe, you sign, they compare your signature to the one of your card to see if it matches.

This helps prevent fraud.

[Now, I realized algorithims are also helping to prevent fraud based on behavioral profiling.] 

Regardless, we sign here and no one checks. 

Which led me to start the Signature Project.

In essence I sign my credit card slips with different names, or pictures, or whatever, take a picture, and post it to a Tumblr, to highlight this cultural anachromism. 

Sigpro slide

Sometimes I write what I was buying:

Sigpro bunch
Or simple affirmations:

Yes sig
And sometimes just doodles:

Face sig
You get the idea. You can see lots of them on the site. 

Then I talk about identity, about the idea that it's contextually fluid and digitally distributed.

But that, increasingly, your signature is being functionally replaced on the web by your Facebook Connect login - Facebook is an identity broker. 

Connect sig

And that it brings all your friends along with you as the social graph. 

Social graph

Upon which graph, you are a node [in Facebook's conception] - but what struck me is how like a fingerprint it looks. 

Unlike a fingerprint its dynamic, but it is always completely unique.

Then I started talking about how the internet is allowing us to tap into deployed capital surplus by enabling frictionless informations and transactions.

To whit, we've been renting out our living room on Airbandb - an entirely unexpected use of the internet.

But that this use itself created a subsequent identity problem, just like writing, except this is one of trust.

How can I come to trust a complete stranger and feel comfortable letting them into my home, especially when I'm not there?

But your networked identity provides a solution.

Because on Facebook I can see who you are in totality - across all your friends - and on Linkedin I can see where you work - I'm comfortable enough in your network to trust you.

And if you aren't on there - then I can't.

Networked identity

So we did it and had some very lovely guests to stay and pay. 

And, unexpectedly, one of them even sent us a thank you note, in the mail and everything.

Thank you note

Signed at the bottom, to authenticate it, because a postcard, like a credit card, is not valid unless signed.

And then I said thanks.

 All in 18 minutes.