Thursday, March 12, 2009

Exercises in Identity pt. 3: Identity crises

I define an identity crisis as an event in which some element of a person's identity is in doubt. The most general form of identity crisis occurs when one element of identity does not correspond to another element of identity - they do not identify the same person.

One example is the use of an identification card to obtain some restricted but desired substance or item. In some Western countries, especially the United States, access to alcohol or tobacco is restricted to those over a certain age. Usually, one's age is proved by presenting a form of government issued photo identification complete with date of birth. This process can lead to an identity crises in a number of ways.

One form of such crisis is misrepresentation. The person presenting the identification produces an ID that is valid in all ways, but not that of the person presenting. The intention is to decieve, usually by using an ID bearing a picture that is similar to the presenter's face - their biometric identity.

In this form of identity crises, the misrepresenter hopes that the examiner of the identity will believe that the misrepresnters biometric identity will be misunderstood to correspond to the document identity presented. Failing that, the misrepresenter hopes that fear of a false positive during the identity examination will deter attempts by the examiner to confront the misrepresenter.

When the identity examiner suspects misrepresentation, it is common then to resort to other means to confirm the identity. The examiner may ask the identity user to state their name, address, birth date or other trivia, whose correspondence to the data listed on the identification card will be confirmed. Such trivia are intended to represent a weak form of data-point identity, where an identification card user will be expected to produce these data unrehearsed. However, in actual practice, a misrepresenting identification user can be assumed to have rehearsed or memorised the data, causing such recitation to become instead a weak form of codestring identity, albeit involving a codestring that is known by more than two parties.

Oddly enough, one more significant form of resolving this form of identity crises is to involve law enforcement, in many cases deputies of the local county's sheriff's office. Strikingly, such law enforcement has few tools in their arsenal unavailable to the earlier ID examiner. While law enforcement may use a magnetic strip or RFID reader to obtain information stored electronically on the card, such information only asserts the validity of the printed information on the card. On site examination still cannot prove or disprove the correspondence of the present person's biometric identity with the photo presented on the identification. Theoretically, more precise means of biometric analysis could be called into play, probably by digitally scanning images into a computer programmed to analyse them. Such a process is only as good, however, as the accuracy of the process involved, which cannot be experimentally confirmed to be 100% accurate.
Another form of identity crisis occurs regularily at the radio network at which the present author is employed. The nature of such work involves daily communication with a number of radio hosts over various forms of audio telecommunications equipment, or via computer text internetworking media. There is in the network studio no corresponding video or visual means of communication. Therfore, the radio hosts must rely only on audio or textual media for identity cues. However, many of the network employees sound similar to the common human ear. Their nominal identies must be commonly reaffirmed once per day, so the show hosts know with which network board-op they are interacting.

One apparent solution would to be to rely on codestring identity; that is, to give each network board-op a unique inernetworking (Instant messenger, e-mail, or both) identity, with a unique codestring attached (a unique login and password). However, pragmatic demands of scheduling and intra-board-op communication often requires their collective use of such assets, and so such media do not uniquely correspond to an individual board-op.

One possible solution to this recurrent identity crisis would involve narrative or stylistic identity. Given enough samples with which to work, it is quite likely that unique features of narrative style and content might be discerned for each individual board-op, and so each board-op might be identified by their unique features. To date, I do not believe that the process has been completed.
"In 1962, the Fogg Museum of Harvard University arranged an unusual art exhibit, in which some of the paintings were fakes and most were genuine: "experts" were invited to come and pick out the fakes. Among those who authenticated at least one fake were the chairman of the Art Department at Princeton and the scretary of the Fogg itself. Most of the guests kept their opinions private, just making otes, but when the truth was revealed they 'quietly crumpled their papaers.' " [Wilson, Robert Anton; Everything is Under Control, HarperCollins books, 1998. ISBN 0-06-27317-2]

It is a conceit of art critics and art historians that the works of many noted artworks may be identified by the hallmarks of the style of their creators. That is, a painting can be identified to be the work of a particular painter by examining the style of the work. This is a use of stylistic identity. Similarly, literary critics and analysts attempt to identify writing style when determining if a given work is by a known writer writing under a pen name. As well, a moderator for an online forum may attempt to discerne if a new poster may be an older poster working under a new screen name by analysing the style of anything written.

However, as the Fogg experiment demonstrates, actual use of stylistic identity to identify a unique individual is not necessarily accurate, and should be used with caution, even by acclaimed experts.
Nicholas Bourbaki

He was at one time hailed as a new polymath, producing excellent work in many fields of theoretical and applied mathematics, and publishing a number of journal articles. However, he was never seen to attend conferences or otherwise emerge into public. Many claimed (accurately) to correspond with him, but no one outside of a select few actually claimed to have met him.

Because Nicholas Bourbaki did not exist. He was the invention of a circle of French mathemeticians. Expressed in our terms of identity, Bourbaki enjoyed stylistic and narrative identity, as well as a nominal identity. He however lacked a biophysical identity, or a psychological identity outside of the conituity of memory of his "creators".


Lord Carnifex said...

I'd like to propose "bourbaki" as a neologism for "An online or textual identity shared by two or more persons." is a bourbaki, it is the the email address for the collected GCN board-ops. Email originating from that address may come from any one of a half-dozen distinct persons.

phaedrus said...

Interesting. I like it.

Out of curiosity, did Bourbaki produce any original work, especially that of a ground breaking sort?

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel