GLIAnet FAQ Series, Part Three

 

Q.  So, help me understand what this new democratizing ecosystem looks like.

A.  OK. Here is some detail on four of the key elements of the GLIAnet ecosystem: My Lifestreams, My Avatar, My Cloudlet, and My Persona.

My Lifestreams:

I believe it is well past time for our society to have an earnest conversation about the very concept of “data.”  For starters, why do we simply buy into the notion of “data” as explained to us by those who profit most from its uses and misuses?  Data is a well-known term from computer science, written in the binary language of 1s and 0s. However, that concept has been imported into the real-world of human beings, without much consideration.  Each of our lives now is being represented in digital code by the MOPs and many others. But without proper context, and nuance, these binary bits have little true human meaning.

As typically defined today, personal data constitutes a relatively thin stream, based largely on my biographical profile and my past activities.  And from that data, the MOPS and others seek to build a virtual construct meant to represent me. Or at least, represent my value to them as a consumer of stuff.  To them, data is property, a resource, a line item on their balance sheets.

But isn’t a human life so much richer and deeper and more complex than that?  I prefer to think about my life as a unique bundle of experiences and relationships -- sure my personal profile, and my past actions, but also my present mindsets, and my future intentionalities.  My hopes and fears and aspirations. All of this is a far more accurate representation of my life than the MOPs are able to assemble about me, with all their surreptitious surveillance and data gathering and inference engines.

So, in short, if I choose to have a digital self, I want it to represent me as I truly am.  As vibrant, rich, ever-changing Lifestreams. And then, be fully in charge, on my own terms.

My Avatar:

So, I’m a fan of comic book superheroes.  One of the biggest of course is Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, played on the silver screen by Robert Downey Jr.  Do you remember Jarvis, Tony Stark’s personal AI within his Iron Man helmet ? Always with him, always representing him and his needs.  Few of us here are billionaire industrialists like Stark, but each of us can have a similar capability.

Indeed, why is it OK to have Siri and Alexa and Google Assistant perched in our living rooms, listening to our every word and ready to sell us something?  Why do we have no AI of our own to represent us in these interactions? And when we walk down the street, or go to a shopping mall, or stop off at a bar – what recourse do we have when IoT cameras and sensors and drones are all around us, eager to capture every bit of information about us?

In brief, the Avatar is another way to democratize tech -- in this case, AI for all of us.  Interacting in real-time with other AIs on our behalf, perhaps gathering information, or negotiating terms of data access, or blocking facial recognition cameras.  A virtual ally to represent us, online and offline. Think of it as combining, in one software bot, both a Right to Engage, and a Right to Be Left Alone. Once more, on your terms.

My Cloudlet:

So many issues about personal data today -- from opaque uses and misuses, to damaging hacks and breaches -- are due to the fact that it resides in the so-called cloud.  Which means, my personal information sits on server farms spread all over the world, where pretty much anyone can access it without my consent. This situation benefits no one but the MOPs, and their ecosystems, and of course the hackers out there trying to steal my private info.

Here’s a thought: Personal data should be local.  Period. Information about me should be held in storage facilities behind a virtual wall of strong encryption. My own Cloudlet.  In this scenario, computation moves to me.

Let’s look at the the Equifax server farm breach as one example.  In September 2017, Equifax was hacked into, and the personal records of some 145 Million Americans were stolen.  And as a consumer, I have zero recourse. Because I have no legally recognized commercial relationship with Equifax, I have no ability to respond.  Including getting back my data in the first place.

In hindsight, that situation never needs to occur.  Why? Because Equifax, as with countless other holders of personal data, don’t really need to retain it 24 by 7.  Instead, they have occasional need to access the data to run certain financial and credit scoring reports on me.

In the Cloudlet scenario, when Equifax or anyone else has a valid and authorized need to access my data, they would come to my TrustMediary, knock on the front door, and request access.  Assuming everything is validated, Equifax would interact with the data, use what they need to run their reports, and then retreat -- leaving the actual data behind. And that would be it.

The Cloudlet model has a number of other benefits, including increasing the attack surfaces to such an extent that widescale breaches should become a thing of the past.  All because we democratize tech, so that my data -- my Lifetstream -- stays securely within my own zone of trust and accountability.

My Persona:

So, just as the Lifestream can in theory contain the vast richness of who I am, I should also be able to control how I present myself, my personal identity, to the digital world.  Not reduced to a one-dimensional commercial figment by MOPs and their data brokering ecosystems.  Or, on the other hand, compelling me to become far more vulnerable online than I want. When I go to the open Web, I should have the ability to share as much, or as little, of myself as I want.  And, in turn, to take as much or as little from the Web that I want.

You can look at Pay Pal as one early days example.  With Pay Pal, you don’t need to post your credit card information to every website you visit.  Pay Pal gives you a way to complete each transaction, while hiding that billing information behind their encrypted paywall.

The same general principle would apply here, but in many more interesting ways.  Research demonstrates that such a self-sovereign identity layer is quite doable. With technologies such as “zero proof knowledge” algorithms, for example, an intermediary can represent to the Web discrete bits of information about the User.  

Say you want to take that Uber ride at 2 in the morning, but are nervous about the platform having access to too much personal information about you, including where you live.  By projecting your Persona, the platform would get only the bare minimum -- this individual is in good standing, can pay the price, and wants to go from Points A to B. If the platform desires more information, perhaps you can negotiate the terms.

Having a Persona avoids the take-it-or-leave-it, non-negotiable nature of too many interactions on the Web today.  The Web becomes much more of a two-way street. A “Mirrorworld” where I have some say over how the world reflects me and my priorities.

You can think of these capabilities -- and others like decentralized applications, modular devices, and individual network hot-spots -- together as constituting my “Digital Life Support System.”


Q.  Sounds really amazing.  But also super complicated.  How do we make it happen? How can I, as an ordinary Web user, get access to all that cool technology, but in a way that promotes me and my interests?

A.  With a new form of entity standing between us and the Web, that I call a TrustMediary.

Unlike in today’s Web, these TrustMediaries would have important fiduciary duties to me -- including duties of care, and of loyalty, and good faith, and candor, and confidentiality.  These are the basic, old-school rules of the marketplace that seem to be left behind with the MOPs and their ecosystems.

The key point is that I would get to choose that entity.  Based on whatever factors are important to me, including trustworthiness, or accountability, or simply cool empowering tech.  These entities could be anyone -- think for example broadcasters, newsrooms, credit unions, universities, small businesses, ISPs, libraries, unions.  Anyplace that has an existing place of trust in your life today. Far better to start there, and to layer the tech on top, rather than to be forced to accept whatever trust may or may not be present as part of your dealings with platform companies.

After all, not having an intermediary in other parts of life is unthinkable.  Imagine only getting medical advice from a drug manufacturer, rather than your doctor or a pharmacist.  Or, buying a house without a professional first inspecting it for radon, or checking the deed.

Why not have a TrustMediary for the Web?  An entity that, for starters, could help manage all your passwords, maintain your online subscriptions, set up your digital wallet, monitor your web searches for pernicious sites, engage with online terms of service, establish push notifications, and moderate content feeds.  Zealously guard your Lifestreams.

Then, layering on the emerging technologies, but for your benefit:  personalized Avatars, and Cloudlets, and Personas, and MOD devices and decentralized apps and access.

In short, a democratized Web.  Within the new GLIAnet ecosystem, I am no longer merely a User, a Consumer, the object of countless everyday pings as others try to make money from my life.  Instead, I am now a Client, at the very center of a decentralized tech universe. And in a very real sense, the TM is now my Server.

Richard Whitt