A brief field trip into the future of identification systems
Top and middle photo: US soldiers in Afghanistan scanning the irises and fingerprints of Afghan civilians. See: neo-colonialism. See also: the white male gaze. See also also: the NOVA article I lifted these photos from, which describes biometrics as: “sufficiently advanced to be almost unremarkable. ”
Bottom photo: India has implemented a national ID system called Aadhaar. The prime objective of Aadhaar is to provide Indians with a lifetime digital identity which is verifiable instantly with biometrics, in a paperless way. Each person that is enrolled is assigned a unique 12-digit identifier, called the Aadhaar number, has their biometric information scanned (fingerprints, photo of their face, and iris images) and demographic information recorded. All of this information is digitized, and is stored in a centralized database. At its current rate, 1.25 billion people in India will be enrolled in the Aadhaar system by December 2015, rendering it the largest centralized database of biometric information, ever. Indian newspapers report that the system is not without error — thousands of people have reported receiving IDs with pictures of trees or dogs in place of their own.
Lastly, I stumbled onto a 2011 report called the Future of Identity, for the UK Government’s Office for Science, by Nick Bostrom, a professor of philosophy at Oxford. He explores the consequences of identification given advances in neuroscience, genetics, surveillance, and personalized health.
"Identity-less people have no formal identity or rely on identities that are not widely recognized. This group includes illegal immigrants, the homeless, and people with no identity documents. Since access to many social functions requires stating an identity, such people are excluded or are forced to rely on others to provide access (and hence become vulnerable to the demands of these gatekeepers).
Gaining the necessary social identity tokens (a phone number, an address, an email address) often requires demonstrating other identity tokens: bootstrapping a legal and social identity is a major project.”
"Having a personal identity – being someone, with a past and a future – and having a set of social identities – being someone to other people – is an important part of the human condition. Limitations to this ability are fearsome threats to most people. It can be argued that our fear of death is actually a fear of identity loss. Many people regard as the worst part of Alzheimer’s disease the gradual loss of narrative identity of the sufferer. Loss of reputation has motivated people to murder and suicide. People are willing to undergo major trials – whether participating in Big Brother on TV, study for a Ph.D., or undergo gender reassignment surgery - in order to gain an identity that is meaningful to them.
Future technology is unlikely to change this over the next 15 years. Even with truly radical future technologies it is unlikely that humans will want to use them if they involve unwanted changes to their identity. Instead, people will be interested in technologies they think will enhance their identities: broaden their social network and burnish their reputations, amplify personality traits they feel are valuable, and allow them to do things they consider to be expressive of their “true selves”.