“Biometrics are our most unique physical (and behavioral) features that can be practically sensed by devices and interpreted by computers so that they may be used as proxies of our physical selves in the digital realm. In this way we can bond digital data to our identity with permanency, consistency, and unambiguity, and retrieve that data using computers in a rapid and automated fashion.”
Identity and Trust
There are countless things about us that, in concert, make each of us unique, such as our physical attributes, home address, birthdate, relationships, and our knowledge. The uniqueness of our physical embodiment and personal story is represented by what we commonly think of as our “identity.” In today’s interconnected, computer-powered world, there is ever-increasing utility in 1) correctly attributing digital information to an individual, and in 2) asserting our identity in a way that can be communicated and trusted. Our identity might be used simply to properly attribute information about us that is useful for some purpose in the future (e.g. a medical or financial record). But these types of records also enable us to demonstrate a historical pattern of behavior towards establishing trust, and in doing so compel personal accountability. We leverage this trust and accountability to earn privileges such as access to a device, digital asset, facility, or country.
For the purpose of access, the utility of identity is twofold: first, to communicate our trustworthiness and accountability, and later—upon attempting to transact upon our earned “trust capital”—to assert that we are in fact the same person with whom trust was earlier established. Conversely, our identity might be challenged in order to counter fraudulent representation, or used by someone else to assert mistrust upon us.
Our names and personal numbers offer a time-tested and relatively efficient means to represent our identity. Importantly, they can be interpreted not only by people but also by computers to bind digital information and trust- or mistrust-earning attributes to us, and this is clearly useful for many applications. A school transcript, a speeding ticket, and a credit history all serve this purpose. But our names and numbers are effective only to the degree that they are 1) unique, 2) permanent, 3) consistent, and 4) unambiguously bonded to our physical selves. We know they are not necessarily unique (e.g. John Smith), or permanent (e.g. Judy Smith née Johnson), and they are clearly not unambiguously bonded with us physically (e.g. a tattoo). This is where modern biometrics are useful. Biometrics are our most unique physical (and behavioral) features that can be practically sensed by devices and interpreted by computers so that they may be used as proxies of our physical selves in the digital realm. In this way we can bond digital data to our identity with permanency, consistency, and unambiguity, and retrieve that data using computers in a rapid and automated fashion.