Following the example Mike proposes--I have a book on raising angora goats published in Spain by author Juan Gomez, and I see an authority record for "Gomez, Juan" with the title "Aerodynamics of paper airplane design" in a 670. A second look up tells me the 670 book is published in the US. The question is, are these the same person? While it's true that I can't definitively say they are different people without knowing some unique fact for both of them, e.g., that they have different birth dates, I can nevertheless use cataloger's judgment, which tells me that it's highly likely that these are two people. My contention is that our accuracy rate for correctly distinguishing people with common names would be significantly better if we had rules in place that enabled us to make and apply such judgments, rather than bundling persons we are virtually certain are different people onto undifferentiated authorities. In practice, it's rare to see anyone left on an undifferentiated authority when a date is discovered for the person. By Mike's reasoning, if I found the plane designer and the goat raiser sharing an undifferentiated authority and then found a date for the goat raiser, I could do nothing--I still wouldn't have definitive proof that they're different people. But in practice, such date discoveries regularly account for the creation of a new, unique authority, as the PERSNAME-L list attests. We do use judgment in these cases when the rules allow us to. Separating heading strings from differentiation would enable us to apply such judgment in all cases.
The advantage of moving to identifiers for managing the uniqueness of entities is that they provide a stronger basis for assembling linked data. For example, if OCLC modified its use of "controlled heading" links to enable an auxiliary display of bib data linked to a given authority, I could see more information about the plane designer noted above with my first look-up. The authority record could reach out and find a set of titles positively identified as being by my author by another cataloger. That would make my searching easier.
There are lots of ways this could work and could look, and ways it would still be vulnerable to careless data entry; but on the whole, I think we'd be better off.
Generally speaking I think worries about identity theft resulting from name authority work revealing persons' birthdates or fuller forms of their names are overblown. That doesn't mean that every author or other contributor wants their vital information shared and, having worked with more that a few authors who adamantly didn't want certain facts made a public part of their NAR, I sympathize with their desire to have some control over that information. As far as identity theft, though, it should be pointed out that the Mark Twain example is valid (as an example of finding useful tidbits for information theft) more because of Twain's fame than because he's dead. Granted most modern identity thieves would shy away from using a birthdate from the 1800s, but they's shy away from using a famous name even more. Some cases of identity theft do indeed using the personal information of dead people, just not famous dead people.
I routinely give birthdate information not needed to create a currently unique NAR in a 670 note, especially if requested to not use the information by the author. But regardless of how we create unique name authority records I don't see how Stephen Hearn's scenario really changes much: "Once the uniqueness of a person's authority record is switched to a machine-processable identifier rather than the current name heading, that identifier can be used more successfully to locate information about the person via linked data stores--e.g., affiliation, other authored titles, etc.--thereby making the decisions about who likely wrote what simpler."
How does that change make it easier to divine that the author with the common name who until recently wrote about the aerodynamics of paper airplane design has now moved to another country and taken up writing about raising angora goats? For at least the first title about the goats, we'd still have the problem with matching the author to his previous work and, thereby to the proper NAR.
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