A Timely Proof-Of-Humanity

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Proof of humanity (PoH) is a protocol-as-a-product that emerged in late 2020 from Kleros, a decentralised arbitration service, with the aim to see the blockchain deliver its inceptions promises: a system to provide decentralised, democratic, and autonomous identity processing. To contextualise the solution, let’s appreciate the following proposals:

Artificial Intelligence protocols took over the mediatic landscape at the end of 2022 with the coming of ChatGTP3.5, now iterating at a rapid pace. Individuals and corporations alike have realized the potential that Artificial Intelligence technology provides for partial or complete automation of multiple areas of human production. Numerous intellectuals have raised concerns over the human effort being transcended by the AI curve. Here one could summarise it as “Human vs Robot”, with the natural question arising: “How to make the human space secure, and human efforts count”. In effect, while one may propose that global economic, financial markets and industry have reached levels way above communal human effort and understanding (hyper-objects), sustainable development narratives have recently been emphasizing over and about human-scales processes and procedures, safe human spaces, etc., as in: small is beautiful. A question arises: In an AI-driven world, how do you digitally prove the touch of humanity?

Blockchain protocols, a natural description: Some networks of computer engines combine cryptographic means to produce pieces of information in a chain-like manner (blocks), and validation protocol proposals to assert or confirm the state of chains of blocks / ie. blockchains. A lot of concerns and controversies have affected blockchain emergence and onboarding over its technology environment impacts, lack of decentralization; and democracy in to-be-marketed-as-decentralized endeavours (marketing verbalism ++). To address these concerns, multiple blockchain validation protocols have evolved from PoW (Proof of Work - whereby some computation powers solve complex algorithmic formulas (cost of infrastructure + energy)) to PoS (Proof of Stake - (cost of having crypto-finances on the chain)) with as a central objective to reduce running blockchain side-effects, both in terms of environment and economical impacts, while improving on-chain block processing performances. One could argue that today, however, while most of the blockchain is birthing from or adopting the new PoS paradigm, therefore where de-facto validators are the literal majority stakers (ie. amount considered big enough to provoke pain from its loss ), most of today’s PoS blockchain ecosystem has become predominantly dominated by plutocratic ruling, as in the ‘ruled by the wealthy’, replicating mining farms and/or throwing considerable staking amounts across multiple validators. The promise of a blockchain for democratic endeavors has yet to be normalized.

Authentication protocols: As the world is gradually moving digital, and further on-chain, so are most critical socio/economic/financial operations. That includes real people and their data. A predominant concern for most tech giants out there is proving the identity of their users, to provide ecosystem trust and security. And it is widely known: A recurrent problem yet-to-be-solved in the digital ecosystem is the lack of sybil-resistant identity systems. A quick recap on the formula: in typical settings, a Sybil attack uses one of many compute engines to operate multiple active fake identities (or Sybil identities) simultaneously, within a peer-to-peer network. This is an operation which usually holds clear intentions: contaminate a distributed or decentralized system. In Web 2.0, by creating a large number of identities that appear to be independent, participants of an ecosystem can generally create multiple accounts using different pseudonyms, email addresses, or whatever user inputs are needed to authenticate. In Web 3.0, AKA crypto-networks, this takes the form of an on-chain address, where when multiple combined, they can be used to gain disproportionate influence over ecosystems votes, receive rewards multiple times across Air-Drops, DOA governance power, and more.

In both Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, the direct consequence of these malicious efforts results in a lack of trust in a product (DOA, product, social platform, chain ecosystem). Strong anti-impostor measures are taken, sometimes leading to suboptimal solutions, to retain some kind of control, social order, or proposal legitimacy, ie. status-quo. In the Web 2.0 space, it pushed tremendous research on Person identification, in the form of Digital Identity Verification. (TL;DR: digital identity implies how you are represented and digitally documented online, sometimes through social login, work email address, or personal email ID). On one side, various hardware proposals have seen light in recent years, from the ID project ID2020 Alliance (a project that has addressed digital rights) to National Electronic Identity Card (CNI-e) for universal login, to recent top-ups to the ever-growing international patents to human microchipping ( research in this area is contentious but promising ), all as the next-in-line verification and authentication solutions of numerical identities. On the other hand, tech houses have had to select covert solutions as a potential source of identity, mainly to facilitate platform onboarding by not setting up invasive user experience. They achieve such with tracking, ie. flooding web navigation with identifiers for an ever greater data gathering, or as one could put it: asymmetric accumulation of personal data for ever more accurate profiling, to protect your interests, and theirs. Effectively, that is, to know who is connecting on the platform, and what people generally (exhaustively) are doing online.

There are identities and identifiers. As the Internet Society puts it: “An identifier is a way of referring to a collection of a person’s characteristics or what can be described as a partial identity”. One may think of it as a tag to reference pieces of data about oneself, which tags are gathered by (and on the market for sale by/to) most service providers to build a more extensive profile/personas linked to real users. This is to strengthen product security policy, pursue advertising revenue strategies, and/or the address above pains. But why would it need to be inconspicuous, should the identifier be immaterial? Could each of us, humans, have a transparent identifier, which certifies only that one is human, which ideally does not directly disclose any personal information about one, and which can be used to identify oneself across multiple ecosystems and products? What about an identifier to act as a proof of Humanity? The Proof of Humanity (kind of a trademark from Klero by now) concept would act as a blockchain-based verification protocol and registry. People can submit their profiles, assert the credibility of others, and raise suspicion of shady users. Think of it as a digital identity test to certify that applicants are human. Verification can be partially processed through human, analytical software, or even Artificial intelligence - overlooking sets of defined biometric and behavioral metrics including elements like facial recognition, fingerprints, voice recognition, palm symmetry, iris recognition, and more. Should other members of the community feel you aren’t real or believe you may have duplicate accounts, they can dispute your profile. That dispute resolution takes place transparently, and democratically.

The PoH project is set to become the “internet’s social backbone.” Its marketing copy goes something like this: “I may just push digital identities & decentralized governance to new limits with Sybil-resistant registry of humans and the potential for the democratically-governed digital and non-digital organization.” We are now seeing the very birth of the solution, and a lot remains to be discussed about theoretical and practical implementation. But it is promising. And its application is wide-ranging - here we name a few:

  • Universal Basic Income (UBI)
  • Universal identifiers and sovereign identities
  • Certification systems and reputation
  • Fair Decentralized Autonomous Organisation voting

We would ideally see the implementation of one-person-one-vote systems with confidential voting protocols using “zero-knowledge NFTs”, through which to ensure the legitimacy of a vote while keeping the person who cast it private. This may help to enable digital democracy.