You’ve been telling your friends, your family, and strangers in bars about blockchain technology and its potential. It should be obvious that those bags under your eyes and the immense amount of coffee you have everyday are a direct result of your obsession. But people don’t seem to get it. By now you might’ve given up explaining the factor inducing your insomnia when you talk to your friends.
What is it about the blockchain space right now that keeps you up at night?
Or keep scrolling
The thing that keeps me on the edge of my seat is the exact same thing that keeps me up at night: Is humankind prepared for the consequences of our insatiable desire to push the limits of technology?
Blockchain represents the vanguard. Never before in the history of civilization have we been able to coordinate in a Byzantine Fault Tolerant way. It's such a foreign concept to our institutions and how we’ve been raised that often times the reaction is akin to system shock. We are paralyzed in awe and don’t know what to do with this new tool.
It’s a fascinating discovery, and those that become enthralled inevitably fall down a rabbit hole of research: seeking answers to questions we had never considered previously. We envision solutions and dream of ways that the world could be. Ways that the world should be. It’s a tool that gives dreamers hope for a better tomorrow.
At the same time, blockchain technology has a duality to it. In order for the blockchain to enable long term, positive change, it must retain properties of immutability, censorship resistance and decentralization. These properties can just as quickly become tools of coercive force and violence.
Indeed, much of the blockchain ecosystem has showcased the worst traits of our human desires: greed, envy, freeloading, exploitation, tribalism and constant spreading of misinformation.
With the bad, also comes the good. In blockchain communities I have witnessed openness, and inclusion with a focus on progressive, transparent, data rich systems. I know there is a community of technologists whose goals are to strengthen the connections of our global village and lift up those in need.
Edge of my seat?
The potential for this technology to unleash massive global change, ushering in a Digital Renaissance connecting the entire world.
Keeps me up? We squander the opportunity.
When I first discovered the Ethereum blockchain, all the information I could find was about “ICOs” and tokens. I knew there is always hype that follows the introduction of new technologies (see the internet), so I decided to knuckle down to learn the amazing things that Ethereum could do, and how it could empower the poorest people in the world who do not have access to technology and power.
One of the many things that I think about most of the time is how in the Ethereum ecosystem, there is ongoing talk about empowerment, but no true action is taken to implement this, especially in Africa.
Most dApps are built for people with access to technology and power, and their creators assume a one-size-fits-all solution.
Devcon3 was the first time I had access to the wider ecosystem. I noticed a trend that focused on technology for first world economies. I also realised that I was the only female African attendee. After much thought and discussion with different people, the following conclusion came to mind:
There is a lack of African content in the Ethereum ecosystem.
This is because we have failed to do the following:
Educate diverse people globally
Hear the world view and stories of these people
Use this data to define the assumptions we make when developing use cases
To help this happen, I have decided to start speaking more about Ethereum and the world view, stories and challenges that Africans face, especially the poorest communities.
I am also encouraging others to visit Africa and learn more about its special use cases and how their previous assumptions would fail in the poorest communities in Africa.
I believe that all this will help spur development in and for Africa, helping the Ethereum ecosystem truly walk the walk and talk the talk when it comes to empowering the poorest people in the world who do not have access to technology and power.
For me it’s all the fear and uncertainty of the complexity that emerges from millions of monkeys building pieces of their own personal visions for a “decentralized future”. Just like any new tool at our disposal it can be used for the subjective “good” or “bad”. However with blockchains we’ve now added the consequences of “unintended” and “unstoppable”.
I see hundreds of highly-funded blockchain projects today with the best of intentions, but whose decentralized platforms could very easily emerge into unintended and unstoppable dystopias.
Cryptoeconomics is a god-like weapon for social engineering on a global scale.
And while I’d much rather individuals have that power than central banks, we need to be extremely careful with what we tokenize and how these monkey-designed economic incentive networks evolve.
So while the future will lie somewhere on a bell curve, here’s three of the really bad and really good end-game scenarios I’ve been thinking about in the blockchain space:
Global crypto authoritarianism. The existing corporate and government institutions in our society decide to leverage blockchain technology to advance their own goals in ways which further entrench their power and control. Central banks issue and control their own sovereign cryptocurrencies pegged to their national currency. Through mandating backend use by commercial banks, these cryptocurrencies are the first to reach mainstream “adoption”. Governments and companies upgrade to blockchain-based systems to consolidate surveillance, automate human labor and maximize profits before merging into a global corporatocracy.
Tokenized economic dystopia. The entirety of the Earth’s natural resources, human society and individual attributes have been tokenized and quantified into a single, comparative global economy. Despite the best intentions this has resulted in the commodification of the human species, hyperinflation of basic living costs and hyper-centralization of wealth. Humans compete hopelessly with AI to regain control of their time and attention within decentralized marketplaces predicated on the tokenization of their gaze and labor time. A single digital avatar of a cat is valued at ten thousand times the value of one hour of any human labor.
Unstoppable criminal activities. With the advent of fully decentralized marketplaces and accurate oracles it becomes possible to operate global criminal activities permanently beyond the reach of the legal authorities. Decentralized assassination marketplaces offer crowdfunded bounties, child porn networks can never be deleted, sex trafficking marketplaces have untraceable transactions, self-funded DAOs buy weapons to fuel never-ending wars, and decentralized autonomous AIs siphon funds from gaming the financial markets to offer never-ending bounties to manufacturers of paperclips.
Global networked P2P society. Having long-ago solved scaling and interoperability issues, the greatest machine humans have ever built becomes a single decentralized operating system for Earth. All data is open and semantically linked, all storage and computational resources are free, while a global meshnet connects everything and everyone. All humans have full autonomy and self-sovereignty, freely joining dynamic service networks where power and wealth are impossible to amass. Void of any silos, competition becomes unnecessary and inefficient as modular solutions can be collaboratively built just once, and then run consistently forever.
Tokenized humanity and purpose. By enabling individuals to tokenize their own value metrics, skills, interests and passions, we broadcast self-awareness into the decentralized hivemind. With marketplaces of AI algorithms, individuals are instantly connected to the right content, service or peers to rapidly achieve daily tasks and personal goals. Algorithms, plants, animals, objects and the entire biosphere become their own self-sovereign entities able to communicate and vote using the universal economic language of tokens. Collective governance, decision-making and resource allocation result in global shared wealth and purpose.
Unstoppable collective species. Unshackled from the exploitation of violent nation states, hierarchical power structures and competition silos, humanity becomes a fluid networked civilization capable of adapting to any existential threat. Having evolved beyond proof-of-stake we’ve designed decentralized operating systems for the Earth and Mars colonies which are capable of resisting 51% attacks from AGI. And with the advent of advanced brain-computer interfaces we’ve successfully merged with the global decentralized hivemind to become the neurons in its prefrontal cortex. Together as one, we pierce the singularity and expand inward.
Hopefully there were a few nuggets of novelty in there for you. After eight years in this space I’m still excited and terrified by everything that is happening at such an exponential pace.
For us to maximize the chances of a positive decentralized future it’s incredibly important that we make this a highly collaborative and diverse journey. We need more people in every corner of the planet building and sharing solutions to their own local problems for everyone to reuse.
If you can, please teach free workshops, produce free educational content and share your knowledge widely. Help newcomers and encourage people who aren’t developers to contribute their skills. And if you are a developer, build tools that make it easier for everyday people to build their own dapps and smart contracts. We’re in a unique period of human history where together we can #BUIDL a solution once and share that value, forever, to everyone.
When I was first asked to write this article, I struggled for quite a bit. “What is something related to the blockchain space that either keeps you up at night, or on the edge of the seat?” Loaded question, guys…
I’m a very careful person, ask my colleagues. I’m always looking for what can go wrong. They hate it. At first I thought that’s what I would write about, so much could go wrong. Can we actually achieve self sovereignty? Is decentralization an experiment doomed to fail? Who the hell actually thinks putting markets everywhere is a good idea? Personally, I don’t think hyper-capitalism would be that great.
This is where I wanted to go, but honestly we’ve all read too many of those articles. I’m still in this space because I believe, despite all my concerns, we have a tool with which we can change the world. More importantly, I’m surrounded by people who share that belief.
I’m not talking just talking about the engineers, or the “regular” blockchain people. Look at all of the individuals this tech has engaged. People from every business sector, from the conservation world, from the humanitarian sector. I’ve spoken to people in Colombia, Kenya, Estonia, Vanuatu, and just about every other inhabited place on earth. They all see blockchain as a tool with which they can improve the lives of others.
In the past year, we’ve seen the World Food Program leverage blockchain to increase efficiency in aid delivery. The World Wildlife Fund has fought illegal tuna fishing in Fiji. That’s awesome (Hope this is an acceptable use of the word, Neil Degrasse Tyson).
Maybe we are a long ways away from self-sovereign identity for the global population. Maybe we won’t achieve complete decentralization, and yeah we will probably see some harmful blockchain enabled markets. But we are also going to see a lot of really impactful blockchain solutions too. They’ve already started to pop-up all over the place.
I just spent a week in Australia working side by side some brilliant folks from a totally non-blockchain organization. This was not an organization the average person would suspect is heavily interested in emerging technologies. Yet they are so bought into the belief that we can leverage the tech for the benefit of the planet, that they don’t just want to create something that solely helps their organization. They want to to give it to the world. I can’t wait to show you what we build.
This is what inspires me so much about this space – every week it feels like I hear of a new concept, or project, that absolutely blows my mind (ok, I also hear a lot of really boring/bad ones too. Stop trying to tokenize trees / carbon credits, and for the love of god please don’t tell me that a tokenized economy for a low infrastructure region is a good idea).
As we continue to engage with new people, the learnings we as blockchain people, and vice-versa, will take away are limitless.. I can’t wait to see how we start to interact with other emerging technologies this year. The community is the most powerful tool the blockchain world has. As it grows more diverse, as we engage with new (and seemingly unrelated) sectors, the new projects that arise in the space are going to be unlike anything we have seen so far. The innovation is going to expand to a whole new level.
So, what is it about the blockchain space that keeps me on the edge of my seat?
It’s the people.
Horizontal meme transfer via the blockchain mind virus
Horizontal gene transfer is the movement of genetic material between organisms other than by reproduction. Horizontal _meme_ transfer is the movement of ideas between communities not reproducing with each other.
My work today with fathom is to create structures to redefine learning and the creation of knowledge. A huge motivation for this is the informational silos that loom large in today's society. I'm not talking about the data silos of the Web 2.0's social behemoths, but the equally or more insidious barriers between mathematics and humanities, science and politics, computer-science and social science.
These silos are terrifying because they're not just arbitrary definitions of subject matters, but ways in which people and communities define themselves. Powerful ideas that emerge in one field, can't be integrated and developed in others, nor can they be refuted or advanced.
My chief concern is with the memes that have stem from computational systems. These ideas are _powerful_, they not only have changed the world, but the way individuals view the world and themselves. However, they're limited, stuck under the label of computer-science or programming, and are failing to broadly disseminate in society. The vision of computational literacy as the next step in the foundation education every human being deserves is dormant.
I think that blockchains can be carriers for these powerful ideas, and in their society infecting potential can disseminate them everywhere.
We talk a lot about how the ideas percolating in this space have the potential to change the ways we transact and conduct business, but much less has been said on what I think is the more sobering and exhilarating potential they have to change the way we think and learn.
Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas
Much of my excitement for the potential of computational thinking stems from Mindstorms, a book by Seymour Papert. Papert was a computer-scientist, psychologist and educator, a combination that enabled him to present a visionary perspective on the future of learning. He proposed Constructionism, a learning theory centered around an individuals construction of mental models to interpret and change the environment around them. At the center of this is computers, which are incredibly powerful environments for constructing models, which can change how children learn, how they think about knowledge and construct new ideas.
It's all too easy when reading Mindstorms to get taken up in the excitement and potential and to forget that it was published in 1980, nearly 40 years ago.
Did this vision come to fruition? Computational systems have changed how we communicate, and how we organize, and I think they _have_ changed how _some_ people think. The hackers who grew up tearing apart and building anew the computational systems they played with have different ways of approaching the world hugely influenced by the computational models they work with. This is evidenced in constant conflict between hacker culture and the current social institutions.
But while the general public has reaped huge benefits, and we've all undoubtedly gotten better at manipulating digital systems and devices, this paradigm shift has not propagated throughout society. There hasn't been the transformation of education and learning the Papert described.
The Mind Virus
The scene is familiar. Someone you know has just discovered blockchains and now every time you disagree they're saying you should just fork. They're probably referring to themselves as Bayesian machines, and keeping talking about ketosis.
Scary as it is, blockchains are infectious. The idea itself spreads and carries with it a host of other memes ranging from economics to psychology to neuroscience.
Individuals infected with the virus start interpreting the world through it's lens, thinking about consensus and stake whenever they see political systems. They think about network effects and network messaging whenever working with organizations. And within all these ideas and perspectives is the meme of computational thinking.
If a tiny amount of the potential we think this technology has is realized it will pervade all aspects of modern life. Governance, finance, social systems, education, all will be built on a foundation of decentralized computational systems. And slowly, there is the potential for those using the systems to soak in the memes they carry, for the systems in changing their lives to change their minds.
It bears saying of course that this carries as much danger as potential. Blockchains could be carriers for terrifying ideas as well as exciting ones. They could alienate and oppress people who don't assimilate and accommodate their concepts. They could be a force of evil as much as good.
Think of the Children
I'm especially excited/interested/terrified by what happens in another 40 years when children have grown up in a world dense with the meme of computational thinking. How will they think of themselves, and others? How will they organize and collaborate? And most importantly how will they _learn?_. Will the ways of constructing knowledge reflect the massive computational and information systems that power their societies? Will having grown up in that environment prepare them for interacting with Artificial Intelligences as collaborators and peers? Or will their be a movement to separate the human mind from the tyranny of computation that permeates society?
What keeps me up at night, and on the edge of my seat, is thinking about humans moving to the next frontier—outer space—and worrying that the species will repeat most of the same mistakes we've made on Earth. As commercial activity in near-space becomes a near-future possibility, even in the next decade, the question of responsible development takes on a new urgency.
My favorite tweet of recent memory was one I saw in 2016. I've never been able to find it since, but it went like something like this:
Imagine you are an alien looking down on Earth from space. Beautiful blue planet, multicolored green to brown to white landforms. You find out that hairless apes have drawn imaginary lines across the surface of the Earth...and in order to cross those lines you must present papers...and if you’re on the other side of the line without papers, other hairless apes will kidnap you.
Since the dawn of history, and likely much earlier, humans have formed social groups, oftentimes held together by elements of coercion and force exerted by other stronger/older/more powerful humans against the weaker. Elements of good can, and sometimes do, come from this typical norm of hierarchy in human society. Parents guide children; often lovingly, but using force of various forms. An organized group of strong and armed persons may deter aggression by outside entities that might intend to take something by force, an all too common occurrence in our long history.
But harm can and has also come from the social norm of allowing the exercise of legitimate force by a government over its citizens. The democides of the twentieth century, where governments caused the deaths of 100+ million of their own citizens, are but one example. This is all born of the epoch of nation-states, where, at least since the Treaty of Westphalia in Europe (1648), states have been forcing “their” people to pay for “services.” These “services” are often merely a fee collected to allow people to carry their own stuff from one country to another, across one of these lines. Or consider the global problem of rent seeking: powerful elites who use position and state power to obtain economic gains for themselves without offering any productive benefit back to the rest of society, often by forming factions between state entities and corporate or other private groups.
When I look at the next frontier of humans expanding our society to the stars, it seems likely to me that we'll repeat the same old patterns. We will naturally and unthinkingly tend to extend our traditional practice of drawing lines, separating peoples, and creating legal but highly inefficient “businesses” which allow a too-small number of people to earn a payday by enforcing petty “rules” that restrict free trade and free movement of free peoples.
I have a deep voluntarist nature. I find that that outcomes emerging from voluntary human action, constrained in minimalist ways but with widely-accepted social norms against force and fraud, typically bring forth a remarkable flowering of human betterment.
Ideally, space could become a genuinely new frontier, where the borders, pettiness, and inefficient modes of governance of Earth societies do not carry over. The tools of blockchain and web 3.0 present a uniquely powerful opportunity to open up new possibilities for humans to do more direct and decentralized exchange. I'd certainly like to see those benefits accrue to all people, to think that maybe we will have gotten it right when at last we are out there, beyond Earth, where my imagined aliens were looking down in the first place.
The reason why I stay up late at night with my glasses on and computer open isn't insomnia, rather it's my love and passion for my work. I believe that my mission in helping to develop blockchain technology is my way of helping to make the world a better and safer place for all humankind. So what is it that I do? I am a cryptographer, security, and blockchain engineer. I seek to implement privacy by design solutions using blockchain technology so that the world can enter the web 3.0 era.
For the last few decades, very powerful institutions and governments have tried to tamper with people's lives, monitoring them and making decisions on their behalf by collecting all types of data on those people and then exploiting it (political opinions, sexual preferences, health issues etc.). How do they collect data? by listening in on people's phone calls and monitoring internet surfing, emails, social network habits, and locations. This generates a digital doppelgänger of each person that is easily manipulated and controlled without their consent.
Data exploitation isn't just an inevitable part of technological advance and we don't have to accept it. We need to gain back control over our lives and become our own masters. I always think back to what Edward Snowden said about privacy, “arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy, because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
Blockchain is a revolutionary technology designed to run any type of decentralized applications using automated trustless smart contracts. This technology seems to deliver the promise of the truly decentralized web where there will be no need of centralized services such as Amazon, Google, or Facebook. Any type of sensitive data will be stored encrypted and only the user can access the decryption key to recover data or give permission to applications with their knowledge and control.
Blockchain gives back the basic human right of self control and privacy by design.
It is the solution we accept today, which will be the mandate of tomorrow.
Now that you know about all that is running through my head, surely, you can expect that I lose some sleep at night.
My question for you is, will you contribute to this revolution and help us truly impact the world?
What keeps me up at night?
The internet has completely transformed the way society functions over the last 30 years. If you think about how much the internet changed the world, and consider that blockchain does for money what the internet did for information, ask yourself, what impact could blockchain have on the world? How massive will the change be?
Napster decimated the record industry in the punctuated equilibrium that was the internet because songs can now be composed as mp3s. If our jobs can be composed as a series of smart contracts that manage our compensation and responsibilities, it seems clear to me that blockchain will change the way we think of careers.
I think that the future jobs economy will be more fluid than today’s economy. This will clearly change the nature of the relationship between capital and labor, but in what way?
A traditional corporation’s relationship to its employees is one-to-many. In the future, the relationship might increasingly be many-to-many. I find myself imagining a future where credit and jobs are many-to-many, with actors in the network playing BOTH the role of capital and labor delegating jobs to one another with low overhead and low long term commitment. This would be a mesh network of jobs.
If we do this right, I believe finding work in Open Source Software will be as easy as it is for Uber drivers to find a ride today.
But what if we don’t get it right? This is what keeps me up at night.
In this new world, we need to build a bridge for services that were traditionally bundled along with jobs, like retirement investments, insurance, healthcare.
In this new world, we need to build systems that simultaneously allow projects to do more faster, and allow labor to have leverage over their lifestyle and to support their families.
In this new world, we must avoid dehumanizing each other. We need to scale community. We need to scale past dunbar’s number.
In this new world, we don’t just need a mesh network of jobs.
We need a mesh network of purpose.
After spending a year working in this ecosystem, I must admit that I still do not know the path we are going to follow. However, I do have faith in the band of brothers and sisters whom I will be treading it with, and that gives me hope for the new world we are BUIDLing together.
What keeps me up at night?
One of my mentors told me you’re either an investor or an operator. In order to be an investor you have to have a pessimistic perspective on things. In other words, you basically don’t believe in any investment opportunity until and unless it really wows you.
In order to be an operator you have to be extremely optimistic. You have to be able to say “I can” in the face of everyone (often times investors) telling you that you can’t.
For the first part of my professional life I was an investor. Basically not believing in anything that came to my table. Now, I find myself building a company. Therefore, I’m an operator. What keeps me up at night are my conflicting two personalities often clashing with each other in my mind.
I am the one that keeps myself up at night; well sort of.
It’s M. Shaikh vs. M Shaikh. 11 PM. Center Stage.
Can I do this? Can I change the way people think about real estate and engage with real estate? Is this the kind of technology that really brings the change that it promises? Can we solve all of the regulatory challenges within the space?
Of course I can. Look at the current state of real estate today. Look at all the friction and challenges that exist in executing a real estate transaction today.
Abruptly, this back-and-forth, Lincoln-Douglass debate taking place at center stage in my mind come to an intermission. Albeit groggy, I’m awake. What? that’s weird. It felt too real to be all a dream.
It is back to my 6 AM routine. I fire off some emails, read some news. Throw on my workout uniform. Pop in my headphones. Thinking to myself, I’m going to settle this debate IRL. I know I can.
The vision many of us share for Ethereum, as I understand it, is to expand opportunity, resource and information access, and abundance for as many people as possible across the world. All of us working in the space probably experienced some version of the same excited revelation, when the possibilities of decentralization and Web 3.0 became clear to us. Organized yet complex coordination between strangers, on a global scale! For me, it wasn’t a lightbulb moment, but gradual, and once I understood, I wanted to be a part of it.
I’m a writer and book editor, not a developer, and I was glad to find that there was room for those skills at ConsenSys: I joined first as a researcher and am now part of a decentralized transmedia storytelling project called Cellarius (cellarius.network). In my research role, my colleagues and I set out to understand the social construction of blockchain technology through early use cases. On Cellarius, our vision is to bring a range of new users to a creative Ethereum project in the near term—illustrators, painters, musicians, writers, filmmakers—and offer them a better way to reach their audiences, earn what they deserve for their work, and even disintermediate old media/publishing and copyright/IP models in the process. The enormity of that task sometimes keeps me up at night, not because it’s scary, but because I care deeply about getting it right.
Getting it right: I think that means building truly accessible blockchain tools that everyone can access and use. There are some amazing use cases already live, and many lives have been changed for the better already. But developing a diverse range of products and solutions to scale up by many orders of magnitude—how will we all do it? That’s what keeps me at the edge of my seat.
Digital technologies and Web 2.0 are decades old at this point, and they still aren’t truly accessible to everyone. Far from it. Much has been written about the “digital divide,” or the differential access and ability to use information and communications technologies between individuals, communities, and countries and the socioeconomic and political inequalities that result. The gap between tech haves and have-nots is already incredibly wide in every imaginable way, from network access to control of user data and assets to the immense wealth held by Facebook/Apple/Amazon/Google. This is certainly the case in the blockchain ecosystem, as well: 97% of Bitcoin is held by 4% of investors (hi, Winklevii), according to Credit Suisse. The top 100 Ethereum addresses control 40% of the supply. Even if these statistics are exaggerated, they suggest extreme centralization of wealth and power. This is not news to most of us, and many great minds are working to correct the imbalance.
But can we do it fast enough? The moment when adoption of a new technology begins to increase exponentially, called the “selection period” by social theorists, is incredibly important for solidifying the assumptions and conventions of how people use that technology in the future. When blockchain reaches that moment, will it remain a tool primarily of enterprises and financial networks, developed along the same old patterns of inaccessibility and exclusion? Will most of the value in tokens and cryptocurrencies still be concentrated amongst a small group of wealthy—probably male, probably not very diverse—individuals? Will we have shared its possibilities with vulnerable populations and empowered local communities across the world to develop their own blockchain tools that work for them in their own contexts?
I hope that keeps all of us up at night!
We have an unparalleled opportunity.
We need to make sure we’re actually empowering the many and not the few. The right solutions can’t happen where the power and wealth already are, from the top down, or we’ll build the same unfair, hierarchical world all over again. We have to share it now, and encourage something better to emerge.
The internet keeps me up at night. And I don’t mean browsing, sharing, Netflix and/or chilling. In those late hours, I find myself revisiting what the internet has meant for humanity, and more often than not, where it has fallen short of its promise.
Today, with so many of us connected online, the goal of 3.5 billion people frictionlessly sharing knowledge and collaborating is, in theory, an achievable one. So why hasn’t the Internet united us? Why is our trust in institutions — government, media, and business — eroding? Why is it so hard for us to make compromises to achieve the ends we desire?
There are, of course, many answers, but here’s a simple one: the Internet is broken.
The Internet democratized access to information in a way previously only the realm of science fiction. Texts, videos, and ideas became widely available, transmittable, and our ability to communicate with each other, organize groups, and choreograph our activities, flourished.
But just when it seemed like the world had opened up, we identified a new type of information—that of our most private moments, habits, and beliefs. It proved more valuable than any before, buit we stashed a lot of it away in private vaults. The Internet allowed us to generate, strategically collect, and deploy the richest data imaginable about people, programs, companies, markets, and societies. A small, exclusive group of users siphoned this data off, to store in guarded silos and leverage for private gain. It’s like we harnessed all the information about humanity into the size of a few small bytes, only to horde it for advertisers and political chicanery.
To resist the privatization of data, the open source community has existed as long as computing, beginning with cypherpunks and basement hackers. Their movement produced Linux, Wikipedia, and countless more platforms, tools, and projects that succeeded. But it lost the battle for control of the Web 1.0 and 2.0. The winners were personal data collectors, repackagers, and vendors like Facebook and Google.
Finally, though, the tide is turning. Today we have a chance at a new Internet, enabled by decentralizing technologies such as Ethereum, the world computer. Big players are recognizing the benefits of open source, and exploring the community-driven business models they bring. Creators and developers can take power again if we come together in time. We can build a new Internet that puts us, the users, first.
I lay awake at night thinking about value. Not like coupons or car leases, even dollar bills, but the joyous capital generated by creative human action, and why our economies of value are so limited to precious metals and faded paper.
There’s an uncomfortable tension online today. Contributors of songs, ideas, art, code, and stories want to enrich the public sphere, but they need to sustain themselves and get paid for their work. That work adds enormous value to our lives, makes them vibrant, and sometimes even saves them.
The problem is that the way we exchange money captures value in only two dimensions. In truth, value is being created everywhere. Let your eyes linger on an ad in the subway, and value has been created. Tweet a popular hashtag. Turn on the lights. Sign in using Facebook. Report traffic on Waze. Tell someone your secret.
There is a seismic shift coming in the way we use the Internet, from an Internet of information to an Internet of value, where we frictionlessly exchange and communicate with no intermediaries. In this new world, our value is something we carry around with us, that belongs to us and us alone (unless we opt to trade it). Value is captured in as many dimensions as reality. The representation of value that exists on the virtual plane becomes so rich with data that virtual becomes flush with real.
“In the end, our minds and their ability to create new ideas are the ultimate source of all human wealth. That’s a resource nearly without limit.” — Ramez Naam, The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet
Some nights, I lay awake thinking about trust. Not like what my partner may be doing right now or if my antisocial neighbors have the best of intentions, but why do we need major corporations to profiteer off of the trust required to transact value on the internet?
Perhaps we trusted one another when we lived in tribes. In a small group, it’s possible to remember everyone from birth and the characteristics that make up their identities. She’s warm-hearted. He exaggerates. She prefers to sleep all day. Today, we empower institutions to guard the trust. We pay them royally for that service, because without trust, there is no business deal, no stamp on a passport, no line of credit, and no peace treaty.
But what happens when we create universal identity — a common and accepted baseline of trust, that exists without need for authority? What if we build a system that is inherently logical, programmable, and safe? What if everyone could share it, access it, and help grow it, all at the exact same time?
There is a new Internet coming, and with it, a new reality. The architects of the future are already building these systems. But those systems are open source, which means if you help build them, they will be even better and stronger. Join some of the world’s most innovative technologists, entrepreneurs, and humanitarians at Ethereal Summit on May 11th and 12th in Brooklyn. Together, we can make the world a better place with just the internet, some value, and a bit of trust. Then, maybe I’ll get some sleep!
What keeps you up at night?
Right now is the time to tell your story. Today, this revolutionary technology is still in its infancy and the things we can do with it might (most likely will) change by tomorrow. Can you imagine where blockchain technology will be one year from now?