Output: White Paper from the 2nd Wolfson-HAT Symposium on the Digital Person

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The Digital Person
: The State of the Art and Science

A White Paper from the 2nd Wolfson-HAT Symposium on the Digital Person

Executive Summary

In the digital era, what we do is to a great extent reflected in the digital world. We are now physical persons with a digital twin; in short, a digital person with digital personas entwined with the physical aspects of our lives. The digital person has the right and freedom over how we choose to portray ourselves in the digital world, be it truth or fiction. Thus, the digital person could become very controversial. The focus of the Symposium was to elicit a conversation on the challenges and opportunities brought about by being a digital person. This paper reports the discussion of the 2nd Wolfson-HAT Symposium on the Digital Person, held on 31 May 2018. The symposium was chaired by Professor Irene Ng, representing the social sciences, Professor Jon Crowcroft, representing the sciences and Professor John Naughton, representing the humanities.

The symposium defined a digital person as ‘personal data (1), personalised’. Companies depend on personal data generated to understand what is real about individuals, and what motivates individuals to behave in certain ways. Personal data has become the new fuel in the 21st century, feeding our digital economies even while enabling individuals to interact online. While technological advancement has seen the development of new data science tools and methods such as AI and machine learning, their increased application on personal data has an impact on identity, privacy and values. These challenges often arise from the lack of clarity and understanding of personal data and its capabilities.

Personal data has been defined and studied through different disciplines and perspectives such as technology, law, economics, sociology and humanity, but in order to address the challenges and opportunities of personal data, a trans-disciplinary approach was needed in its manifestation of a digital person (2). The Symposium sought to enhance the understanding of the digital person and its impact on society. Hence, it discussed the issues, opportunities, and tensions arising from personal data from three main perspectives – humanities, science and social sciences. The Symposium consisted of three segments focused on the issues from these three perspectives, eliciting discussions among panellists who raised further issues to be explored in future symposiums and in future research. Implications and recommendations for the digital person from social, legal, economic, business, technical, and policy perspectives were also discussed.

From the Sciences

This segment of the symposium focusing on the sciences explored data analytics, data science and technology. Key points include:

  • Privacy issues were largely caused by centralisation of personal data

  • Decentralised technologies now exist to emerge a better model for data sharing

  • Centralisation of data that resulted in “big data” creates issues of privacy, fairness and transparency, and usage of data will entail trade offs between them.

From the Humanities

This segment of the symposium focusing on the humanities explored digital personhood, freedom and democracy. Key points were:

  • Identity needs to be reimagined as our digital and physical worlds become more entangled

  • Surveillance capitalism is now the dominant form of capitalism

  • Self sovereign identity will soon be a reality

From the Social Sciences

This segment of the symposium focusing on the Social Sciences explored value, economics and markets. Key points were:

  • Personal data “signals” face market failure and society needs better data sharing models

  • Decentralisation create new models for data sharing

  • Identity is an “assemblage” of digital and socio-material that creates value for person or firms

  • Privacy is a function of value

The symposium then discussed the issues and implications and provided recommendations on personalisation and digital trust; creating equal opportunities and a better digital culture; engaging both sides of the divide, promoting clarity and addressing the taxation of data.

(1) Personal data refers to data about a person or data generated by a person, the latter also known as Human Generated Data. Data labelled as personally identifiable data would be deemed as a subset of personal data.

(2) In computer science, personal data is a bitstring; in information systems, personal data is stored information; in the study of sociology or behavioural sciences, personal data is behaviour; in economics, personal data is an asset; in humanities, personal data is a record of our personhood.

About the Symposium

The 2nd Wolfson-HAT International Symposium on the Digital Person on 31 May 2018 was organised by the HAT Community Foundation and supported by Wolfson College Cambridge and the University of Warwick.

HAT Community Foundation (HCF) pioneers thinking about the digital person and personal data and manages the “Hub-of-All-Things” (HAT) Ecosystem for personal data sharing and regulates the HATDeX platform. HCF’s mission is to enable first-party data rights and ownership of data for better sharing of data, thus empowering everyone, everywhere to get the full value of their personal data and to have a voice on the Internet. HCF regulates the introduction of commercial and non-commercial participation in the network for the benefit of HAT owners and partners globally.




Susan Wakenshaw and Lalitha Dhamotharan, University of Warwick

For further information contact

Jonathan Holtby at HAT Community Foundation, jonathan.holtby@hatcommunity.org

To cite

Wakenshaw, Susan and Lalitha Dhamotharan (2019), “The Digital Person – the State of the Art and Science,” The 2nd Wolfson-HAT Symposium on the Digital Person, a HATLAB White Paper. Published on 18 Jan 2019