I frequently talk to myself.  I think that this is mostly OK, except when I have an argument.  The other day, I asked myself, “Who am I?” and I was surprised with the answer.  It turns out that this is not a simple question, especially if the one asking is a computer (of course, they would ask the more correct, “Who are you?”)

In my little self-talk scenario, the answer comes back as a series of memories, mostly pictures, of things I have done, people I know, people I love, and all of the experiences that have gone into making me who I am.

The more scientific answer would take the form of DNA sequences which, in the case of twins, would only be half the story.  It turns out that even personal identification really requires two factor authentication for twins (DNA and experience).

As more of our lives move into the digital realm, it will become essential to figure out a way to identify people without relying on the silly questions that are asked, the answers to which can be found on people’s social media pages.  A very interesting paper published by Google shows how these questions are very ineffective, even when we lie to try and confuse the bad guys.

As I have written in the past, most security breaches are the result of compromised accounts – essentially, the computer asks, “Who are you?” and you can, very effectively, lie.

It turns out that lying to a computer is pretty easy. They cannot see your body language – the sweaty palms, the shifty eyes, the way you cover your mouth – there are lots of ways that you can tell if someone is giving you the business.  Unfortunately, the poor computer can only ask you the dumb questions.

Two factor authentication (something that you know, and something that you have), while not perfect, greatly reduces the probability that the person on the other end of the keyboard is a complete fraud.

Here is the next problem that I see coming:  We are all in a position that some government somewhere THINKS they know who you are, and they all want something from you, probably your money.  It turns out that governments are using the same pesky computers to run things, and they have the same dumb questions.

This year, there were lots of people who went to file their income taxes, only to find out to their surprise that they had already filed them, and had received  a refund to boot!  The government is the final arbiter of who you are (I vaguely remember having my foot stamped on a piece of paper after a trip down a long and dark tunnel). That paper was my first identification document, not that I have any idea where it is today.

At some time in the near future, I can visualize a point where all babies will be given a token at birth, which may or may not be implanted. Then, at some point, when a computer asks,

“Who are you?” they can answer.


Leave a Reply