When we play the computer game, The Sims, we create virtual people who are ultimately defined by the digital characteristics we give them. We name them, build their lives and simulate their daily activities - even their personalities are digitally programmed at the start of the game.
Up to now, the distinction between digital simulations and the humans creating them has been relatively clear. However, as more and more of our 'human' lives are digitised, could this line be starting to blur?
Digital by default?
Of course, many of us are no strangers to having a digital identity. These days, there are around two billion social network users across the globe and our identities have become the pictures we upload on Instagram and the personal information we store on Facebook profiles. What's more, the benefits of e-commerce - speed, cost, accessibility of goods and services globally - mean that it has become increasingly difficult to avoid the need for an online identity.
But this idea of digital identities is now extending beyond the realm of social media and online transactions. Just last year, for example, it was announced that technology is being developed to allow travellers to store their passports on their smartphones. Acting in a similar way to mobile boarding cards, tourists would be able to pass through an airport without the need to carry any physical documents. Similar efforts are also being put behind the development of a digital driving licence. With a mobile driving licence, drivers would be able to update their information such as change of address, organ donor status and any changes in driving status - in real time.
As well as our formal identification documents, our NHS patient records, too, will become a series of noughts and ones, under the 'Paperless by 2020' initiative. As a result of this digitisation, information about us will be more accurate and quicker to recall, making processes and procedures faster and slicker.
The darker side
However, there is also a dark side to our digital identities. Hackers are continually honing their skills, with the sole objective of getting their hands on our valuable personal data. And they're getting pretty good at it too.
Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed there were around 3.6 million cases of fraud in a single year - making it the country's most common offence. In fact, fraud now accounts for nearly one in three of all crimes committed in the UK. It's sadly got to a point that you have to assume your identity will be compromised at some stage.
Unfortunately the internet and e-commerce has only made fraud easier. Individual's identity details are so much more accessible online than in paper records and we are seeing that those with malicious intent are increasingly mining social media accounts to defraud innocent individuals. Given that so many people have open profiles on social media, information such as your date of birth, your first school and even your mother's maiden name are now just a few clicks away. While this information may seem of little value on the surface, fraudsters can piece together other elements of your identity to set up fake accounts in your name. And the consequences can be disastrous.
So as our identities become digitised, businesses and individuals need to consider how they can stay one step ahead to protect valuable identity information. For the individual it's about being more vigilant with data; making sure you know where your name, address, phone number or date of birth are stored online and keeping track of where you put in your bank details. Close dormant accounts and change passwords regularly.
For businesses, it's about using data more intelligently to stop the fraudsters in their tracks and help identify who is the 'real' human behind the digital persona. The more transparent we can be with data, the more it can be used to gather insights and intelligence that will stop the bad guys in their tracks. Ironically, by using more data, analytical insights and triangulation of multiple identity proofing techniques, we can uncover who is the real human behind the screen, in a world where the lines between the human and digital world are blurring.