I recently read a paper by Kierdre Kiorgaard and Ann Huthwaite that I heard about on Catalogablog, entitled "Authority control in AACR3." The paper describes the efforts underway to address the issue of authority control explicitly in AACR3, in a manner more explicit than in AACR2. The statement in this paper I find most interesting is this:
"The definition that is likely to be included in AACR3 is: 'the means by which entries for a specific entity are collocated under a single, unique authorized form of a heading; access is provided to that authorized form from variant forms; and relationships between entities are expressed.'"
Authority control for names certainly fulfils the collocating function described here, and, conversely, a disambiguation function by creating different headings for different people with similar or identical names. But in today's information systems it can and should fulfil another function - helping users to decide if the name heading displayed to them is for the individual they're interested in. But I believe only the first goal is served by a system where the uniqueness of a person is represented only by the form of the heading. Name authority files also don't completely disambiguate names; there are many cases of duplicate names in the authority file when no information other than what appears on a publication is available to the cataloger.
I can't help but wonder if we're missing an opportunity here to move to a structure that can more easily fulfil both goals. Information that would help a user decide if a person is the one they're interested in is frequently added to a name heading, but not always. If all of that information, plus any more that may be of use, is made available to the user in a flexible manner, rather than just the data necessary to disambiguate one name from another, the second goal would be much more easily served. Perhaps this is not the time for this sort of change to be made. I do think we as librarians and system designers should be open to changes of this sort, continuing to focus primarily on the task we want to accomplish, and leaving the mechanics of accomplishing that goal as a later step.