In the late 1980’s at Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) in Reston, Virginia, Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf were involved in various projects relating to infrastructure research and development including technology for managing information represented in digital form and its deployment in the Internet. One CNRI project focused on the design and deployment of mobile programs in the Internet to perform tasks on behalf of users. This mobile programming technology provided a type of software defined operating capability organized around the management of dynamic units of information that were identifiable within a given network environment. A part of this work was later separated out and went on to become what is known as the Digital Object (DO) Architecture (overview of the DO Architecture is available at http://www.cnri.reston.va.us/papers/OverviewDigitalObjectArchitecture.pdf).
A key component of the DO Architecture is the unique persistent identification of information represented as or converted to a machine independent data structure consisting of one or more elements in digital form; these structures are known as digital objects or, more abstractly, digital entities. The term digital entity is a key conceptual element in an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Recommendation approved at a meeting in Geneva that is focused on identity management information, but would apply more generally to many different types of information in digital form. The Recommendation X.1255 on “Framework for discovery for identity management information” is now available in English at http://www.itu.int/rec/T-REC-X.1255-201309-I, and will soon be released by ITU in the other official UN languages.
Unlike today’s Domain Name System (DNS) that is used to name specific machines in the Internet, where the names resolve to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that identify ports on hardware components such as computers, a digital object has an associated handle, or more generically a digital object identifier, that resolves to state information about the object itself. This state information can be assigned by the creator of the object to include location information, authentication information, public keys (which are useful for validating individuals and systems, as well as other resources), and, more generally, the kinds of “stated operations” that may be applied to specific objects. Stated operations must be described in a deterministic way so that you (or in reality programs acting on your behalf) can actually use the information in a productive way.
While it may be less apparent, a result of the approval of this ITU Recommendation also provides a means of achieving inoperability across heterogeneous information systems. This capability has the potential to solve many important issues involving distributed information systems.