Distributed digital identity

Ever since I read George Dvorsky's 20 crucial terms every 21st Century Futurist should know I have been thinking about one particular term he featured. His mention of the Substrate-Autonomous Person got me thinking about what possible applications should could have for education in the future. Here's a quote from the article:

In the future, people won't be confined to their meatspace bodies. This is what futurist and transhumanist Natasha Vita-More describes as the "Substrate-Autonomous Person." Eventually, she says, people will be able to form identities in numerous substrates, such as using a "platform diverse body" (a future body that is wearable/usable in the physical/material world — but also exists in computational environments and virtual systems) to route their identity across the biosphere, cybersphere, and virtual environments.

"This person would form identities," she told me. "But they would consider their personhood, or sense of identity, to be associated with the environment rather than one exclusive body." Depending on the platform, the substrate-autonomous person would upload and download into a form or shape (body) that conforms to the environment. So, for a biospheric environment, the person would use a biological body, for the Metaverse, a person would use an avatar, and for virtual reality, the person would use a digital form.

Yes, a futuristic, transhumanist concept this may be, but in an age where we are increasingly projecting our identities across vast spaces and to huge potential audiences, we need to take note of the nuances of this kind of thinking. Autonomy connotes personal choice. Each of us will have the capability to inhabit as many virtual worlds and adopt as many personas as we wish, and yet we each remain one person. Selfies and simple avatars are merely the beginning of this digital identity transformation. Along with the idea of the quantified self, the concept of distributed digital identity has the potential to be transformational and liberating. It could also be calamitous for our sense of community, society, and for the mental health of many. The advances being made in bio-engineering and genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology - our transhumanist futures - can play out in many ways. We have yet to see what specific contributions any of these might make to our educational futures. 

Once, where traditional education was the only option, learners had to be co-present with their teachers. The along came various forms of distance education, where learner and teacher were separated by geographical distance and conversation was mediated through technology. Blended forms of traditional and remote education followed. We now find ourselves in a transitionary phase where we are just beginning to come to terms with the ways technology might mediate our virtual, social and cognitive presence in synchronous and asynchronous spaces. The recent rapid advances in connecting infrastructures, processing speed and mobile, wearable interfaces could lead to a bewildering array of future pedagogical possibilities. Some of these might enhance and enrich our future learning experiences, but some may be accompanied by serious risks we have not even started to consider. 

When we are liberated from our physical and temporal constraints, everything becomes possible, but not everything is always desirable. 

Photo by Freya Bigg

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Flipping the teacher by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


David Hopkins said…
So, Bruce WIllis had it right in Surrogates then when he had his "substrate-autonomous person" do the hard work (before he got shot up and had to resort, shock-horror, to being real again).



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