Charles and Ava Berner distilled a variety of Eastern and Western tradition sources into a practice called the Enlightenment Intensive.The procedure is pretty simple — rows of people facing each other, taking turns following the instruction “tell me who you are.” This sounds simple enough, but 10 hours a day for three or four days rapidly shakes many people’s faith that they understand themselves.Many experience a sudden break with their usual flow of life, perhaps along the line of what Zen practitioners would term “satori.” I’m not formally trained in either the EI process or Zen, so I’m not making a direct equivalence here, nor am I going to delve too much further into the technical details of the practice.

On the other hand, a liquid world in which defrauding Grandma on e Bay never, ever feeds back to a person’s dating profile, even after convictions.

Our job, as software engineers working on identity, is first to be philosophers — phenomenologists and epistemologists — to understand the abstraction that we hope to represent.

What is a person, and how do I identify one to a computer?

I always make myself immediately unpopular by asking them “what is identity?

” and, of course, everybody acts as if it is completely obvious from our mutual shared context, and I should already know.

Usually when people use the word “identity” their implicit definition falls into one of following buckets.

Our challenge, in creating software to enable people to use or manifest their identity, is that to do either job well results in problems.

It isn’t easy to see through the tangled mess of identity, although the search for it and the politics surrounding it is at the centre of so much of the modern world, from #Black Lives Matter through to Edward Snowden.

The ongoing search for identity systems that feel like who we feel we are pervades social networks (Facebook’s Real Names, Twitter’s Verified), but nobody seems to know how to define us in ways that work with how we define ourselves.

Is it possible to do better and give us an identity that works?

ore than a couple of times a year, I meet teams working on identity.