Odyssey hackathon to explore place of biometrics in new digital ecosystems

Odyssey hackathon to explore place of biometrics in new digital ecosystems

When the 2019 Odyssey blockchain hackathon takes place, 100 teams supported by partners and experts from a variety of stakeholder perspectives will take on 20 challenges including the safe communication of biometric data for international travel. How many of the other 19 challenges will involve biometrics is uncertain, but with challenge tracks including “next gen digital ID,” the ecosystems created could evolve into new markets for biometric providers.

The next-generation digital ID challenge is to support the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security’s DigiAkkoord approval application for formal requests. The application is meant to make government processes easier and less time-consuming, but also requires citizens to be able to prove their identity online with a high degree of trust.

Billed as the world’s biggest blockchain and artificial intelligence hackathon in the world, and now in its third year, Odyssey seeks to expand the traditional notion of a hackathon to “an incubator for ecosystems” to deliver social value, Odyssey and DutchChain Founder and CEO Rutger van Zuidam told Biometric Update in an interview. This means understanding the full context of challenges, including ethical and cultural considerations, and creatively engaging with them to, as van Zuidam says, “discover the future by actually building it.”

The winner of the first event in 2017 was a corporate team which created a self-sovereign refugee passport. While the development of the idea ended with the hackathon, the alternative narrative it created around identity was the real contribution, according to van Zuidam.

“Identity is not just a transactional thing, but it’s also a relational topic. When you look at identity from a more relational point of view, then awareness of where it could make a difference, and why it is important to build in this sovereign element, increases a lot,” he says. This also raises the question of whether the state would want to be responsible for people’s identity data. “Then the question becomes what is the relation of the government or the state be to that person, and that identity? How will it be established, let’s say the proof of origin. That’s where birth certificates come in, and stuff like that. Then how does it evolve?”

The incubation process begins in September, and continues through a series of meetings to take deep dives into all of the different topics related to each challenge. The hackathon represents the culmination of the process, where the ideas developed during the previous months are turned into prototypes, van Zuidam explains.

“What we bring to the table is the buy-in and support of all these partners; corporates, governmental organizations, and regulators,” he says. “We bring in over 200 experts from different fields, legal, biometrics, safety, security, smart contracts.”

Ultimately, the deeply collaborative and conceptual process could introduce new possibilities for digital public infrastructure. That infrastructure needs to be neutral and independent, van Zuidam believes, in order to maintain trust, while ensuring the safety and security of the biometrics and other identity data that back individual control.

“What we can learn from the internet is that protocols which are open, and which everyone can build on top of and are owned by no one, are used by everyone.” Van Zuidam draws a further analogy to email, which has spawned numerous new markets since it was adopted as a popular method of communication.

The same could be true of a new digital trust ecosystem, if one can be imagined which leaves behind the parts of the current one that are breaking down when the privacy and authenticity of online communications cannot be guaranteed.

The 2019 Odyssey blockchain and AI hackathon will be held from April 11 to 15 in Groningen, The Netherlands.

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