October 18, 2021

Why Machines Need Self-Sovereign Identities

Machines, vehicles and devices do all kinds of things for us. Giving them Self Sovereign Identities (SSIs) will allow them to do much, much more. As the world becomes even more connected and more machines are hooked up to the internet, the ability for machines to move, trade and interact securely and efficiently becomes increasingly important to life and business. Today’s centralized networks do not enable this. Machines today exist on closed, permission-based environments which massively limit which other machines can be interacted with, what machines can do and where they can go. 

Some machines today have identification numbers. Vehicles, for instance, have identification numbers. The two main issues with this sort of machine identity are;

  1. It is centrally controlled - which means that one corporate, government or consortia limits what the machines can or can’t do in terms of provision and rendering of goods and services.
  2. It is one-dimensional - which means that it serves only to identify the machines and their specifications but does not leverage their identity to enable movement, service authorization, trade or payment - drastically limiting what any given machine can create or provide to society.

Giving machines SSIs aims to tear down these barriers and allow them to move, trade and interact with minimal friction in terms of time, risk and costs. SSIs are the critical first building block for a decentralized Economy of Things - an economy where machines can provide and render goods and services to each other and to us - without the need for corporate intermediaries.

Assigning machines their own SSIs is the first step we take at peaq when developing  solutions such as decentralized charging, peer-to-peer parking or anything else. Machine SSIs are machine-owned digital identities that exist on an unalterable distributed ledger (/blockchain) where people and other machines can directly verify anything with them - from their specifications to authorization rights for travel or provision of services.

Why is this something to strive for? In giving machines their own SSIs we are enabling them to seamlessly interact with one another and with us - without the need for intermediaries - which as of today come in the form of large corporations which charge hefty fees and hoover up and sell data. Tech companies will no longer have a monopoly on the data and value we and our machines create and share. This will allow us and our machines to manage and share this data and value more freely, securely, transparently and at a lower cost. 

Despite Machine SSIs being a new and exciting technology with lots of unexplored potential, it is technology whose success will be measured by its invisibility. When it works, the user will not need to be made aware of what is happening behind the scenes. Nevertheless, it is definitely useful and advisable to understand how this technology works considering the huge extent to which it will transform life, work, business and society in the decades to come. In order to understand why giving machines SSIs is important and beneficial we must first understand what SSIs are. We covered this here, so we’ll quickly jog your memory and then apply it to machines.

SSIs give you autonomy, or sovereignty if you will, over your identification data, such as your birth certificate, for example. It also enables you to choose exactly which information you wish to disclose. Specific information like a birth certificate, linked to your SSI, is known as a verifiable credential. You are not your birth certificate, your birth certificate is one of several identification documents - or verifiable credentials - that make up your SSI.

The paradigm shift at play here is that your data is not controlled by a third party, but only by you. All information rests with you - via the blockchain - and you do not need corporate or government permission to share or monetize it. There is no intermediary to slow you down, charge you fees, or take,  use and manipulate or sell your data. You are free to move, trade and interact with your environment on a direct, or peer-to-peer, basis.

We are applying this same principle to machines. Vehicles, machines and devices are already extensions of ourselves. Their data is our data and vice versa. Security and privacy are already critical. SSIs ensure this, while also enabling machines to do more for us in less time.

As previously mentioned, the Economy of Things is an economy where machines can provide and render goods and services to each other and to us, on a peer-to-peer basis.

In the Economy of Things any given machine will seek to provide a service to another machine or person in as little time as possible, at the lowest cost, with the least risk. Granting machines SSIs enables them to achieve all three of these objectives allowing them to efficiently maximize their economic potential to the benefit of their owners, their users and themselves. 

peaq is committed to granting machines independent control over their identities and data as the all important first step towards a truly decentralized Economy of Things. Machine SSIs are the means by which machines will request, grant or deny access to goods and services between themselves and people, as well as the means by which they will authenticate and pay, or be paid, for goods and services in a decentralized, peer-to-peer economy. They will allow us to efficiently extract many times more value from our machines, in a plethora of ways, while being fully secure and ready for the next internet, the decentralized Web3, to take root. 

As we rapidly move from the semi-autonomous (or automation) age to the autonomous age, our machines will soon be able to provide and render services without involving us. They will be able to make money autonomously by providing services to people instead of standing by idling at home. Think of a car today versus an autonomous car. An autonomous car will be able to deliver packages and give people taxi rides while you’re at work. It will earn money and use part of that money to maintain itself by for example charging itself. One car will be able to do a lot more, for more people. 

This sounds good on the surface, but it also means that more and more power, money and data will be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Would you rather live in a world where these machines are centrally controlled by a corporation, or one in which you and your neighbours have decentralized control and ownership over these machines, and what they do and where they go? At peaq, we’re working to make the latter our collective reality.

Want to build the Economy of Things? 

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