Scenario: People interacting with their things or accessing spaces on the basis of a something they know or remember

Many of us need a password to open up their PC or laptop. Our mobile phones are often protected by a pincode. Some of us also need to type in a pincode or password to access their office or lab space. These are all situations in which we access a ‘stand-alone’ object; two developments suggest that this kind of interaction will disappear. First, with the emerging connectivity of ‘things’, the internet of things, as it is called nowadays, we don’t only access, for instance, our smart home, but also a range of services and transactions. Hence the distinction between objects and organisations becomes somewhat blurred. Second, knowledge based authentication is increasingly problematic because of the ever larger set of transactions where authentication through a password is required, and while single-sign-on authentication is gaining popularity, the vulnerability of the password remains.

What is expected or explored for the future

  • Visions for the future include remotely controlled androids, robots or avatars are premediated as ‘tokens’ that make it possible to interact with others in distant space. Predictably this has been a standard ingredient of pop culture and science fiction, as for instance in the film Surrogates. As in almost all forms of pop culture that deal with identity management the stories present dark visions of the future and totalitarian abuse of IM technologies.
  • In real life, experiments with remotely controlled tokens are usually part of research into innovations that would make interaction and communication easier and more effective. A EU funded project Beaming’, for instance, explores ‘embodied’ teleconferences with robots as the source of long-distance communication rather than phones or screens. Such experiments also raise problems of authentication (is the avatar representing her original person, or has it been hijacked), and issues of criminal responsibility of the android/avatar. The problems usually form the main angle for news reports.
  • Other tokens that are being explored widely as carriers of authenticating information, are smart textile and jewellery, especially in the context keeping track of vulnerable family members, like children and Alzheimer patients. There are, for instance, GPS enabled smart shoes that warn the primary carer when the patient moves out of his or her ‘safe zone’. While current usage is for such tracking purposes rather than for identity management, health applications have been seen to function as trailblazers for new technologies of identity management.

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