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Creating digital identities to leverage global knowledge

Professor Hossein Rahnama stands in a hallway

Professor Hossein Rahnama uses big data gathered from social media to create online identities that can inform artificial intelligence. (Credit: Nation Wong)

Within the Faculty of Communication and Design and Ryerson’s Centre for Cloud and Context-Aware Computing (RC4), researcher Hossein Rahnama is creating virtual identities that he hopes will transform “the internet of ME, into the internet of US.”

Professor Rahnama has already been in the spotlight for several of his entrepreneurial endeavours, like Flybits (external link)  and Augmented Eternity (external link) , fueled by his fundamental research in machine-learning conducted at Ryerson and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He’s now looking at how machine learning can be applied in new ways in order to create digital identities and contribute to the formation of a scalable global knowledge base.

“Flybits is very much about personalization of data,” he said. “My latest project takes us from the ego-centric internet, where it’s all about me, to an internet of others, where things can become more sociocentric.”

“We are reaching a level of data maturity where we can represent someone’s identity, and reliably predict responses,” said professor Rahnama, noting that data can be generated from how people interact over social media, online, through text messages, and more. The speed at which computing analyzes data has reached a point where information can be pulled from various datasets to formulate responses to questions or to solve problems.

“The foundation of my work for the coming years is to create a space where we all control our own data through more secure and distributed data repositories, such as blockchain technology, and we can share identities and expertise with the purpose of building a collective intelligence,” he said.

He gave the examples of how borrowing identities or accessing personal knowledge bases could be applied for consumers. “If I am a student and I can’t afford a lawyer, I could borrow the digital avatar of a lawyer to give me legal advice,” said professor Rahnama. Or, a person could choose to access a celebrity or politician avatar and view a new city through their recommendations and perspectives. “We will be able to choose people we trust to give us practical advice on day-to-day problems.”

Another example of using rich datasets to create identities is in professor Rahnama’s Augmented Eternity project, which uses datasets from individuals who are deceased to predict how they would respond to questions, allowing loved ones to maintain an ongoing interaction with the deceased and their knowledge about the world.