I just came across with Don Tapscott’s TED Talk titled “How the blockchain is changing money and business” 1.

In it, he talks about 5 potential use cases of blockchain technology that may result in transformations for a prosperous world. They are:

  1. Protecting rights through immutable records, e.g., land title. In many places in the world, government official just comes to the landowner to confiscate the land saying they are not the rightful owner.
  2. Creating a true sharing economy, e.g., B-AirBnB — Uber, Airbnb etc. are prosperous precisely because they are not sharing information.
  3. Ending the remittance rip-off, e.g. high transaction cost of traditional money transfer mechanisms.
  4. Enabling citizens to own and monetize their data, e.g., Self Sovereign Identity
  5. Ensuring compensation for the creators of value, e.g., smart contract protecting a song generating income for her rather than for the “middlemen”.

 

(Source) Don Tapscott: How the blockchain is changing money and business, (2016) TEDSummit

While the details need to be flashed out, I kind of agree to the general idea.

What details? Well, while Blockchain may be a suitable technology for some of them like 1 above, it may not necessarily be for some others such as 3 and 4.

For example, having land title recorded on an immutable timestamped records that are copied all over the world and a government cannot destruct would help the tenuous land title problem that 70% of the landowner of the world in some ways. This is arguably the number one issue in the world in terms of economic mobilty.

Did you know that 70 percent of the people in the world who have land have a tenuous title to it? So, you’ve got a little farm in Honduras, some dictator comes to power, he says, “I know you’ve got a piece of paper that says you own your farm, but the government computer says my friend owns your farm.”This happened on a mass scale in Honduras, and this problem exists everywhere. Hernando de Soto, the great Latin American economist, says this is the number one issue in the world in terms of economic mobility, more important than having a bank account, because if you don’t have a valid title to your land,you can’t borrow against it, and you can’t plan for the future.
— Don Prescott: How the blockchain is changin money and business (2016) TEDSummit

However, blockchain infrastructure does not necessarily make it cheap to transfer money from Canada to Phillipin. The international wire transfer cost in many cases are expensive but the technical infrastructure is not the case for it. It only costs around 10 cents to transfer money technically. The remainder of the transaction cost by reputable banks are spent on anti-money laundering processes, so replacing the current money transfer infrastructure with blockchain does not help. (Creating an efficient KYC system may help though.)

5. is also an interesting concept that has been explored at least for two years now. Like Don talks, it is becoming incredibly difficult for musicians to monetize their work. Most of the profit that has been distributed to the artists in the past are now shared by technology giants and consumer. Don says:

25 years ago, you wrote a hit song, it got a million singles, you could get royalties of around 45,000 dollars. Today, you’re a songwriter, you write a hit song, it gets a million streams, you don’t get 45k, you get 36 dollars, enough to buy a nice pizza.
Don Prescott: How the blockchain is changin money and business (2016) TEDSummit

I am really concerned with this. It may stifle the art and music in a long run. If smart contracts can help artists by disintermediating the middlemen, that would be great.

Speaking of “identity”, many concepts around “Self Sovereign Identity” is shared with OpenID Connect’s “Self Issued Identity” and its pre-cursor, Infocard. You can probably get a rough idea about Self Sovereign Identity from this presentation about uPort.

You can download the slides from google drive. The basic functionality of uPort seems to be pretty much the same as the “Self Issued Identity”. Page 6 of the presentation talks about 3 aspects of the blockchain identity and three aspects of the collection of data.

(Source) P.6 from “What is a uPort Identity?” by @paulkhls

 

While I still need to find out what the significance of Self-sovereign identifier as a smart contract, much of them actually are the same with the characteristics of the “Self Issued Identity (SII)”.

A permanent Self Issued Identity

  1. Self-sovereign identifier: Your identifier in SII is the hash of the public key of the key pair that you have generated.
  2. Collection of data credentials: In the aggregated claims mode, you store the signed tokens as part of your Self Issued Identity and use it. (We use the term “claims” instead of “credentials” because we use the term for another purpose.
  3. Controlled by the user with a private key: Private keys are typically stored on “key-chain”. if you can use HSM, even better.

A collection of data

  1. Verified data or claims: Signed JWT tokens that include claims.
  2. Standard schema: JSON based schema for claims.
  3. Represent a person’s reputation: Transaction history works as a kind of pseudo-reputation system2 .

On a signed JWT, the timestamp is represented as iat, the recipient ID as aud, Issuer ID as iss, Claim data as various standard claims such as email, name, etc., and the issuer signature as the third segment of the JWT token.

So, they seem to be pretty similar in concept.

The difference is that the later is using the data structure that is quite ubiquitous and does not even rely on a blockchain.

Having said that, there is almost no take-up of SSI nor Infocard to speak of. Information card (aka Infocard, i-card), under the brand “CardSpace” even got shipped with Windows Vista and 7 but still did not get adoption. I would expect the same sort of challenge for Self-sovereign identity. I plan to discuss these issues at the forthcoming European Identity and Cloud Conference 2018.

For the technical aspect, I plan to host a session at the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) this April to further discuss and understand the similarity and the difference. I am hoping that will identify some of the ways that would help us achieve the goal this time around.

Footnotes

  1. Don Tapscott: How the blockchain is changing money and business. TEDSummit. <https://www.ted.com/talks/don_tapscott_how_the_blockchain_is_changing_money_and_business/transcript#t-1111567>
  2. Reputation system is really hard. It is often vulnerable to gaming etc.