The Architecture of Identity

Phil Agre, Department of Communication, UC San Diego

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University May 1, 1998


Privacy issues arise, according to the traditional analysis, when computers are used to capture and circulate individually identifiable information. Unfortunately, this theory leads to intractable political controversies because it only offers two extreme options: complete identification and complete anonymity. It is well known that new cryptographic protocols provide a complicated space of options between these two extremes. Before we can make reasoned political and technical choices about the adoption of these technologies, however, we need a much fuller understanding of the "natural history" of identity in face-to-face and computer-mediated interactions as they already exist. In this talk, I will sketch some of the cognitive and institutional aspects of identity. Then I will apply this analysis to various questions of economics and Internet architecture.


Phil Agre teaches in the Department of Communication at UC San Diego. He is perhaps best known as the creator and editor of the popular on-line information source, the Red Rock Eater, which provides a wide range of material on computing, technology, and society. He is also the author of Computation and Human Experience (Cambridge University Press, 1997), co-editor with Doug Schuler of Reinventing Techonology, Rediscovering Community (Ablex, 1977) and co-editor with Marc Rotenberg of Technology and Privacy : The New Landscape (MIT Press, 1997).


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