World Peace Using Social Networks

W3C Future of Social Networking Position Paper

Will Holcomb

20 November 2008

Social networking is in the process of fundamentally altering the nature of human interactions. There are an innumerable possible futures, the question isn't which is going to happen, but, since science is the product of human actors, which are we going to choose to work toward.

I am an American and, as I compose this paper, the following if true of my country and world:

Technology has been extending the average lifespan for the last three thousand years. With the advent of nuclear weapons and large-scale manufacturing we have reached a point where our capacity to affect the environment means our children might not live as long as we do.

These are not statements meant to alarm or chastise the reader, but simple facts which strengthen the argument that peace is becoming a necessity.

What role can social networking play in bringing peace to the world?

One contributing factor to the lack of peace is the scarcity of resources. Well-fed people are significantly less prone to aggression. Except the issue is not simply a lack — there are quite a few resources in the world — there are distribution issues that cause localized scarcities.

When examining the networks for resource distribution, one of the characteristics that impedes their efficiency is the use of conspicuous consumption as a signaling method. If, for example, I'm a single guy and interested in meeting a young lady. If I go to the store and spend $50 on a new shirt it will increase the probability that my endeavors will be met with success. Not because women are shallow and materialistic, but simply they're not psychic. Given the basic unknowability of people we meet, clothes, cars, race and possessions give meaningful social signals as to our affiliations and likely characteristics.

As our mobile technologies become more ubiquitous, social networks have the potential to provide an alternate signaling method that is fairer and, essentially, free.

What about current social networks prevents them from acting as a useful signaling method? It's privacy. When I go and look on someone's Facebook page, I am able to see the picture of themselves that they have created. I have no way of verifying, however, what negative characteristics they managed to keep secret. Even if my Facebook identity was associated with me in the real world, people would still need secondary signals.

Imagine a peer-to-peer network for the distribution of cryptographically signed XML documents. The traditional model for the web is based on the placement of the information followed by its discovery. This pool would focus on a publish/subscribe model where nodes intelligently distribute information to consumers that have previously broadcast their interest. Reliability of authorship comes from the cryptographic signature rather than the originating server, so intelligent caching can be used throughout the network to improve efficiency.

Now imagine an application built on that network which inserts signed associations between terms and URIs, essentially a universal tagger. Now, imagine an interface that allows a search on e-mail addresses. I search for all documents matching smtp:// and I can find out what people think about the President.

This could then serve as a reliable signaling method. When I pass someone on the street their phone is broadcasting a signed certificate that allows me to identify them and software can tell me what people around them think of them. It's not a perfect method, but it'll be more reliable than clothes and cars.

There is, of course, the openness of the system to attack. Identity theft would be a much more serious crime since damage done to a reputation doesn't simply go away when the identity is recovered. A variety of social and technological components can be designed to deal with attempting to mitigate that problem.

A simple one is a program that takes the modern practice of picture sharing and makes it useful. When someone presents their ID, a program on my computer draws three pictures tagged as matching that identity by other people. This means that someone can steal my id, but unless they also compromise the keys of a significant portion of my friends as well, the pictures won't match.

This assumes that somehow there is one, or a small number, of virtual identities per physical person. One way to create this characteristic is to make identities expensive. Not expensive in terms of money since $1,000 is three weeks work for me, three years salary for a Mauritanian soldier, and three tenths a second for Bill Gates. Make them equally expensive in terms of the currency roughly equally scarce for everyone: time.

Metaorganizations could certify charities as trustworthy. At the end of a period of volunteer work, the charity and the worker would release a cosigned document into the pool specifying that a person worked the given amount of time and asked this identity to be signed. It's in the organization's interest to not lie, since they get workers to long as they are trusted. It is the prerogative of the worker to give their time to certify someone else's identity, but there will be a strong disincentive against giving out control of one's key.

Alice then is in a bar and has said, "I trust X,Y and Z as certifying organizations." Bob comes up to Alice and asks to buy her a drink. Bob and Alice's handheld devices handshake and verify their respective identities. Alice's handheld sends the ID to a server that is maintaining a huge cache of tags. It finds tags associated with Bob and forms a composite cloud weighted on the reliability (in hours) of the identities that added the tags.

Alice then gets some pictures of Bob to verify he actually owns the identity, and she gets a tag cloud based on the impressions of people who know Bob. It doesn't matter now what clothes Bob is wearing, he can't escape his reputation. This isn't only to his disadvantage. If Bob happens to be shy or awkward, but genuinely caring to those who know him well, this hidden positive characteristics will come out as well.

The entire point in attempting a replacement signaling method is to give the other party as accurate a picture as can be formed from the information in the system.

This seems unrelated to world peace. It isn't however since broad social change must ultimately happen in terms of individuals. The overall effects of this system will be large and chaotic, but one can reasonably predict that the survival benefit of conspicuous consumption will decrease. Essentially, the networks for the flow of material resources will become more functional and less symbolic.

There is a second part to the plan then to take advantages of those resources which people should have looser attachments to. The entire plan, in some detail, is at In brief, once the identities are in place, modernize research collaboration using the peer-to-peer network and then create a profit-donation research business to kick start a pool of venture capital.

If you have any criticisms, please contact me. I'm somewhat occupied as a graduate student in robotics at the moment, but I'm going to do the XML network as my Master's thesis. After that, I've got $8,000 in the bank and I'm going to work on this until finances force a change my plan.

I would like to come to the workshop in Barcelona, but I'm about to be jobless and staying that way for a while, so I can't really justify the expense. If any of the amazing architects of the web attending the workshop happen to have comments, I would welcome them. Perhaps I can say this without sounding sycophantic, but this type of work is only possible because of the infrastructure that scientists have created in the last ten years. It's in your footsteps I am attempting to follow.

Thank you for your time,

Will Holcomb

20 November 2008