On Behalf Of

The internet was invented by Vint Cerf.

But it was made usable by Marc Andreeson. And what he did was simple:

He turned it into a VCR.

Now, it seems deeply ironic to me that most of the folks reading this post have probably never used a VCR, although they’ve most certainly used the Back, Forward, Stop and Play buttons on a web browser.

It was a powerful metaphor, and it made it possible for nearly half of the world’s population to grapple with the experience of traversing a directed, cyclic graph.

And in much the same way that we floundered in the world of Gopher and Finger protocols before Marc’s insight of metaphor, we’re floundering in the early world of IoT.

We need a metaphor. And it needs to encapsulate a deceptively difficult concept: - Agency.

Understanding Agency

My refrigerator may someday be able to detect when the cream has gone bad, and order more - either from Amazon, or from some local grocery store delivery.

Quite literally, my fridge will be acting on my behalf - an agent, if you will.

It will authenticate itself with my home wifi network.

And again with the grocery service, with a payment provider, and possibly with an independent shipping or delivery service.

Likely, though, the software that actually orders the milk, won’t be running on my fridge. Instead, it will be cloud-based, and acting on behalf of my fridge, which is in turn acting on behalf of myself.

In Search of a Metaphor

When I was young, I worked as an apprentice carpenter. Often, this included errands to the local hardware or lumber supply store. And usually, I was equipped for these errands with my boss’s credit card (as well as his truck).

Strictly speaking, proffering someone else’s credit card (and signing for it) is illegal, much the same as sharing the password or pin to your bank account. And yet, the image of a household robot, with an empty milk jug in one mechanical hand and a credit card in the other, is the best metaphor for delegated authentication that I can come up with. And it’s simply not good enough.

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