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You think that you understand technology but when you arrive at The Known World, you discover a land where software pirates sail the seven seas, Derek the Rocket Scientist holds a communal barn raising to install his solar roof, and the future of technology policy is perpetually debated by the Society for the Promotion of Goodness and its rival, the Association for the Prevention of Bad Things.  These are some of the people and institutions that populate The Known World and help explain the nature of society and technology.

This blog contains the essays of David Alan Grier, which appear each month to discuss the ideas, the culture and the stories of the digital age. These blog postings and podcasts come from the column of the same name in Computer.

This podcast is brought to you by Computer magazine, the flagship publication of the IEEE Computer Society.

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Entries with tag Identity.

We are Our History

Is the only secure form of our identity our history?  I tried to ask that a question last year in this column and found that I wasn't quite able to phrase the question in the right way.  Hence, the essay didn't quite get the response I wanted.  I have just found that an article in the most recent issue of Security and Privacy deals with this issue in a sound technical way that should help advance the discussion of data provenance, or the history of our data.  You can find it at DOI: 10.1109/MSP.2011.27.  While it goes at the issue in a different way than I approached it, the essay makes a sound case that we will increasingly have to deal with the history of our data as we advance.  


A Good Name 2: Do we need to fix our identity?

 My Dad used to talk about an identity that he had in the early days of data processing.  He was confused with someone who had the same last name and a local credit card number that differed by one digit.  (It would have been a a lovely paradox if it had been the father of the other David Alan Grier, but I don't believe it was.)  Dad was charged with a $106 bill that should have been on the other individual's credit card.  As Dad knew the person who ran the data processing center for the credit, he was quickly able to find someone who could adjust the bill.  However, the bill didn't stay adjusted.  The $106 was removed.  Then interest was added.  Then the interest was removed.  Then the $106 returned.  It took almost 8 months to fix the bill, even though Dad knew the data processing chief.  

As Dad was in the position of promoting computing equipment, he used this incident to illustrate how human action affects the precision of an engineered system.  

If that kind of incident had happened recently, we might be tempted to draw the lesson that modern systems still lacked good means of validating identity.  The recent issue of security and privacy argued just the opposite, that a better means of handling identity won't be able to fix such problems.  

  "Although we don’t know what a solution might look like, we know where it has to fit—and it isn’t in the box labeled “identity.” (see DOI:  10.1109/MSP.2010.71)  


The Value of a Good Name

Many of you have noted that I am not the only David Alan Grier in the world. A few of my enterprising correspondents have discovered that I am also not the only David Alan Grier from Detroit and not the only David Alan Grier born in the year of my birth. (Why should I give you the year when a very public government database will give you the birth days of both of us?)

Needless to say, such a coincidence has sparked lengthy discussions about the meaning of a name, the nature of identity, and the importance of our history.

 In case you are looking for the other David Alan Grier, you can find his web site at: http://www.davidalangrier.net/

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Blogs of Note

Out Of Print: Notes from the IEEE-CS Director of Publications and Services

IT History: A blog by Paul Ceruzzi of the Smithsonian

David Alan Grier

David Alan Grier is a computer scientist, an established observer of the technology industry and a writer on issues of science and society.  In addition to producing The Known World, he has written two books,  When Computers Were Human, (Princeton University Press, 2005), which is the story of the workers who did scientific calculation before we had electronic computers.  In addition he has published Too Soon to Tell: Essays for the End of the Computer Revolution, (John Wiley/IEEE Computer Society, 2009).  A video of When Computers Were Human can be found here while a brief talk about Too Soon to Tell is found here. 

He is currently an associate professor at the Center for International Science and Technology Policy at the George Washington University.  

Despite sharing a common hometown and a common birth year with David Alan Grier the actor, he is an entirely different person.