Trust Over IP

How Digital Trust will Change the World

We Have Liftoff

May 5, 2020 marked the official launch of the Trust Over IP Foundation, a new Linux Foundation project aimed at:

And while this launch may only mark the beginning of the work to be done, it represents a significant moment of maturity for many of the big ideas and imaginative models related to digital trust that have been evolving within groups like IIW and ID2020 for years, even decades.

So what is it about this momentous launch that justifies such a loaded title? After all, those who know me are aware of my aversion in anything resembling hyperbolic clickbait. I use change the world very intentionally here. Not to feed the trolls but because I believe it to be possible, if not probable, and at Learning Economy, we too have rather aspirational intentions to change the world. If not us, who? If not now, when?

Lest We Not Forget

At this point, we’ve all heard the broken record reverberating around the world. We’re living in unprecedented times. The months ahead will define the new normal. The world as we know it will never be the same…and on and on. While all of this may be true, I’m much more interested in working from first principles to understand how and why we’ve landed in the precarious position that we have. Whether it’s people, politics, propaganda, or pandemics, it seems undeniable that TRUST (or a lack thereof) sits squarely at the center of nearly all that ails us.

Enter Trust over IP (ToIP). For the first time, an accessible path towards objective, Internet-scale digital trust is emerging. Through a combination of machine-based cryptography and human-centered governance, ToIP, and perhaps more importantly it’s underlying ethos, is catalyzing a global community and movement. Much like TCP/IP and VoIP have become indispensable Internet protocols, ToIP too is poised to surface as a required (r)evolution if we’re to avoid an irreversible slide towards societal collapse. Lest we not forget, the future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved.

Critical Emergence

With ToIP, a new substrate has emerged; one allowing us to imagine new tools and networks for which trust is inherent as opposed to assumed, and let’s be honest, there are a few rather obvious problems that accompany systems built upon assumed trust. Sorry Prof. Pinker, I’ve tried to find the better angels of our nature, but left to our own biological devices, we humans seem more than capable of spoiling a perfectly good civilization.

So then, what does a Cambrian explosion of digital trust look like? What are the tangible effects a common citizen like you or I might expect to see or experience? I should first point out that this work, though largely unknown, has already begun in earnest. The Province of British Columbia manages the Verifiable Organizations Network (VON), CULedger offers Memberpass, Mastercard is behind ID, and many other founding members (Accenture, IBM, MITRE, SICPA, etc.) have major ToIP-based projects in mind or underway. What might grow from the seeds being planted by these early pioneers, and given our current trajectory, do we have any other choice but to lean in?

ToIP will take our hand and lead us into the second half of the digital age; a transition from the internet of information to one of digital trust and value. This will facilitate a future free of intermediaries — that’s right, no more passwords. Gone will be the days of centralized monopolies claiming to know what’s best for all of humanity. Devastating data breaches and identity theft could become rare, if not obsolete. ToIP also opens the door to entirely new systems of frictionless credential transfer (i.e. self-managed proofs), and for those of us watching a novel virus stress-test our already brittle education system, this new paradigm may have arrived just in time.

Trust Networks & the Internet of Education

Still unconvinced of the world-changing potential? Let’s explore how ToIP might be applied to the very foundation of democracy itself. At the root of any network reliant on trust lies the basic exchange of data, and the system of education is no different. At its core, the entire enterprise of education is nothing more than a protocol of value and data exchange; one nearly all of us have likely been a part of but also taken for granted.

Whether it’s grades, degrees, certifications, or individual units of learning, there are only three parties of consequence: Issuers, Verifiers, and Owners. And while ToIP can help to define a much more complex and interdependent relationship of technologies and governance frameworks, the simple “trust triangle” below (along with some fancy new cryptography) is really where we find the world-changing magic of Trust over IP.

Issuers

Within the context of education, we’re all familiar with one, if not many, issuers. These are the respected ivory towers many of us look to, invest in, and (hopefully) graduate from. Issuers represent the “trusted” authorities we spend much of our lives aspiring to be associated with in order to help us grow and achieve our unique goals.

Institutions early to embrace ToIP will be infinitely more accessible, allowing a broad spectrum of students the ability to flow fluidly in and out of their courses and programs with a simple scan of a QR code. These issuers will also gain a competitive advantage as students help to signal significance to the employment marketplace. Keep in mind, this also opens the door to an explosion of new education providers (i.e. value centers). Existing brands like Nike, Apple, Hershey, and LEGO will all look to play a role, further bringing into question the value of a traditional degree. It’s worth noting that while no schools have directly leveraged the full ToIP stack, there are institutions like the University of North Texas who have taken bold steps in the right direction.

Verifiers

In sticking with the theme of education, a typical verifier would be an employer or recruiting agency. They look to ensure that a credential provided by an issuer is valid and representative of the skills and abilities a potential job applicant is claiming. Trust here is critical, which is why we find unicorns like Guild Education blossoming at the intersection.

Verifiers would also be wise to explore the implications of ToIP. Employers willing to rethink legacy recruitment and hiring processes can have seamless and immediate access to highly-tailored candidate pools. Trust being inherent as opposed to assumed is critical when lost time means lost money. At an average cost of $4000 per new hire, every potential verifier stands to benefit from introducing cryptographic trust connections, both with issuers and owners. The impending Internet of value will be intimately connected to the Internet of education.

Owners

When it comes to ToIP, this is where things get interesting. Historically speaking, owners (i.e. individuals) have been handcuffed, if not entirely excluded from expressing agency and control within these networks. Students have to constantly work through gatekeepers and intermediaries in order to effectively interface with issuers and verifiers. Anyone who has transferred schools or attempted to secure a transcript is well aware of the maddening friction that exists. So how does digital trust change the game?

Digital trust networks allow individuals to reclaim sovereignty and be empowered to make personally relevant choices along a boundary-free continuum of earning, learning, and living. By introducing automated digital trust, alongside novel human social contracts (and perhaps a new contract for the web), we can start to reengineer individual freedom. Every personal data point of value, be it a medical record, election vote, identity metric, or exam score, can be accounted for, secured, and individually owned.

A Call to Action

With the new frameworks being pioneered by the ToIP community and its members, we’re on the verge of seeding a powerful new infrastructure where issuers, verifiers, and most importantly, owners, all stand to benefit. This new paradigm will also give rise to entirely new marketplaces. The learning economy will soon be open for business. An array of digital wallets are already surfacing and will continue to gain prominence, allowing for trusted and verifiable flows of individually-owned data. Personalized learning and skills libraries (think Duolingo) will establish trusted connections to these wallets, redefining global learning boundaries. Soon, everyone will be tuning their unique “Learner GPS” as they navigate, with digital trust and integrity, the new Internet of Education. Come help us build a better tomorrow on the back of Trust over IP.

Curiosity piqued? Read further press and reflections from the Linux Foundation and other founding members including: Evernym, IdRamp, SICPA, Cloudocracy, Dhiway, and Lumedic. Interested in learning more about ToIP and how it will change the world? Please get in touch: taylor@learningeconomy.io

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