1. . Evolutions of Society & Technology
- The Nature of Humanity
- Agriculture Revolution and Rise of City-States
- The Industrial Revolution and The First Superpowers
- Liberating Technology and The Digital Revolution
2. Democracy 2.0
- Rebirth of P2P Economy
- Social Physics and Data Sharing
- From Centralized to Decentralized
- Social Contracts and Digital Governance
- Freedom of Association & Quantum Democracies
3. Building Utopia in The Cloud
- The Reverse Diaspora
- Founding Populations and The Little Country That Cloud
- Digital Constitution & Bill of Rights
“If I were now to rewrite [Brave New World], I would offer the Savage a third alternative. Between the Utopian and primitive horns of his dilemma would lie the possibility of sanity…Science and technology would be used as though, like the Sabbath, they had been made for man, not (as at present and still more so in the Brave New World) as though man were to be adapted and enslaved to them.” -Aldous Huxley
“[Our] parents’ generation (and their parents’ generation) grew up accustomed to confiding their trust in infallible governments, fail-safe banks, and reputable degree-granting academic institutions to which they paid decades’ worth of savings so that their children would have a better chance in society.” -Omar Metwally
The Nature of Humanity
Our early ancestors formed mobile, social networks based on kinship and trust. These groups became the first societies. In addition, mutual exchange and sharing of resources gave rise to the first “p2p economy.” Ultimately, these egalitarian societies were one of our most successful adaptations, occupying at least 90 percent of human evolution.
Agriculture revolution and Rise of City-States
To sustain increasing population growth, foraging societies around the world developed agricultural technology to increase production. As populations increased, we exchanged goods, knowledge, and culture. The Agricultural revolution led to a surplus of wealth and a new social organization: centralization. In order to organize and coordinate this explosion of information and resources, our ancestors created centralized systems like governments, markets, and courts.
The Industrial Revolution and The First Superpowers
During the Industrial Revolution, at the turn of the 20th century new technology and forms of production shifted power to industrial Nation-states and created the world’s first global Superpowers. As a result, when Aldous Huxley and George Orwell wrote Brave New World (1931) and Nineteen Eighty Four (1948), respectively, they imagined a world where the future technologies would reinforce existing societal structures rather than reinvent them. Alphas at the top, deltas at the bottom, and Soma & Telescreens to keep everyone in their place.
Liberating Technology and The Digital Revolution
However, technology is agnostic. In fact, the nature of technology is one of decentralization: as new technologies make things more efficient and cheaper, more people have access. This democratizing effect can be seen throughout the Digital revolution. For example, over the last 110 years we went from huge mainframe computers only affordable by governments and elite institutions to far cheaper and faster smartphones. Thus, a person with a smartphone in a developing country has more computational power than the President of the United States had less than 15 years ago. Consequently, Digital technologies like the Internet and GPS are reconnecting the world globally in real-time.
“Most of the services you use today have something in common: they are centralized. For example, when when you deposit money at your bank, you trust them to be honest, be secure and be independently audited. The same is true when you post pictures on Facebook, or an important document on Dropbox. History has proven time and time again that this model is flawed.” -Vitalik Buterin
“Reasoning about markets and classes may get you half of the way there, but it’s this new capability of looking at the details, which is only possible through Big Data, that will give us the other 50 percent of the story. We can potentially design companies, organizations, and societies that are more fair, stable and efficient as we get to really understand human physics at this fine-grain scale.” -Alex Pentland
“We have an incredible opportunity. We can shape the next one and one hundred years of human connection. A free, open Internet is a force for change, creativity; the backbone of a society where citizens are stakeholders, not data sets.” -BitTorrent
Rebirth of P2P Economy
Today, smartphones are making Internet access more affordable and social networking services like Facebook are bringing back a networked social layer based on trust. Together these technologies are scaling peer-to-peer interactions like the P2P economy. If the Agricultural revolution began the Age of Centralization, the Digital revolution marks the Age of Decentralization, increasingly enabling anyone to self-organize information and resources. Sharing services like Airbnb let anyone rent their home to anyone else or Lyft, where anyone can use their car to drive a stranger around or Kickstarter, a crowdfunding service that allows anyone to fund projects of complete strangers. The P2P economy has introduced business models based on decentralization into established, traditionally centralized markets. This surplus of information and resources existed before but these technologies are lowering barriers to entry, reducing transaction costs, and providing new opportunities for peer to peer economies of scale.
Social Physics and Data Sharing
The same technologies powering the P2P economy are being embedded in our daily lives through ubiquitous computing. Smart devices such as Nest, a smart thermostat; iBeacon, a GPS for indoors; Google’s self-driving cars; and wearable computers like Fitbit, collectively called the ‘Internet of Things’ are generating a plethora of data on people and the world like never before. Alex Pentland at MIT Media Lab and others are using computational social science or what Pentland calls Social physics to understand this data and how we can design better and more efficient systems from more walkable cities to reducing congestion and emissions to stopping diseases like H1N1 before they spread. This Social data enables us to reinvent how we organize society and our lives. For example, today Public health in the US is more like sickcare than healthcare. What this data sharing can enable is preventive measures for Public health which dramatically reduce costs and saves lives. Richard Hamming, who was a Researcher at Bell Labs, where he collaborated with Claude E. Shannon, said, “The purpose of computers is insight, not numbers.” We can apply these ideas to create smarter governance and policies as well. Imagine new policies A and B are proposed for Public service C. We can use social data to run digital experiments and test how these proposed implementations would work. This open data transparency would allow citizens to be informed about how existing and new policies will affect them both on a societal-level and on a personal-level. Are you saving X lives a year? Y dollars a month? By analyzing real social data we can increase the rate of political innovation where arguments are driven less by political affiliation and more by openness and data transparency.
“Everything that can be decentralized, will be decentralized.” -David A. Johnston
From Centralized to Decentralized
Despite the enormous benefits of data sharing, there are important societal questions to address: Who owns the data? Who has access? And how can we prevent Orwellian intrusions and abuse of power? We are at a critical point where we can decide to use Big Data to create a more democratic and open society or Big Brother. Recently, the Snowden revelations have highlighted the inherent danger of trusting data and sovereignty with a central authority. The solution to data security & privacy lies in individual sovereignty through decentralized & distributed technologies. The enabling innovation was provided in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto, in a whitepaper where he describes, Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. The underlying mechanism Satoshi invented the “Blockchain” or what I call “democratic consensus” enables you to transact with peers without the need to trust a central authority like a Bank, thus creating the first practical solution to the Double-spending problem. Today, the Bank uses a Ledger to keep track of accounts & balances. With Bitcoin, everyone gets a copy of the Ledger. Thus, the Blockchain is a Distributed Network so, there is no central point of control and no single point of failure. As a result, this elegant solution is one of the most robust architectures, mirroring that of nature: from the structure of the Universe, to colonies of ants, to the neurons that make up your brain. Building on Satoshi’s democratic consensus, we can create a Distributed Operating System (DOS) where we can build any Decentralized Application (DApp) such as an electronic cash system, decentralized Twitter, or Digital Governance. The foundation for a DOS relies on four decentralized & distributed technologies: Identity (eg onename.io, Namecoin), Storage (eg Maidsafe, Bitcloud, Storj.io), Connectivity (eg OpenGarden, Commotion), and Computation (eg Ethereum). Today these new and emerging technologies can enable new types of Social contracts and Democracies.
Social Contracts and Digital Governance
During the Age of Enlightenment, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau popularized the concept of a “social contract.” They believed that in order to have a civil society citizens had to surrender a certain amount of Freedom to a central authority or third party. For Hobbes it was the “Leviathan”, for Locke the “State”, and for Rousseau the “Legislator”. These ideas, especially Locke’s inspired The Founding Fathers, leading to many of the Freedoms we enjoy today. So how do we balance the security & privacy with the functions of Governance? Now, we can realize Locke’s idea of a social contract without the need to rely on a central authority. Just as the United States Constitution was written in natural language on paper, using a turing-complete computer language we can write a Digital Constitution on a DOS. A Digital Constitution is a collection of cryptographically secure, social contracts between members in a network. This idea of a self-validating agreements or smart contracts was introduced by Nick Szabo in 1997. A simple use case is a betting system: Two people can place bets on a sporting event, where a smart contract holds $10 (or any Digital money) from each party in escrow. After the game, the system would check the final score and distribute the funds appropriately. Advanced applications of smart contracts enable Decentralized Autonomous Organizations like Digital governance.
Freedom of Association & Quantum Democracies
In the case of Digital Governance, you create smart contracts between peers, thus Democracy is a function of your Social network rather than your GPS location. Furthermore, in the Economy of social networks and Trust: reputation becomes currency, property becomes data, and ownership becomes access rights. Consequently, a DOS removes the need for geographic borders. In these Digital societies, you join a number of individuals to form a Digital constitution, consisting of agreed upon social contracts. There is an important implementation detail for this to work: Freedom of Association, which guarantees any person can join and unjoin any network without privilege or prejudice. This means that each Digital network can have their own self-validating laws and by joining the network you agree to those laws. Thus we can use the Internet of Things and other smart property to implement Peer-to-peer law. If you want to change your laws you can voice your opinion, join another, or fork and create your own. This is a new solution to the scaling problem the Founding Fathers faced and enables Quantum democracies where anyone may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular. This enables citizens to choose their model of democracy: you can vote on every issue (Direct democracy), or place your voting power in the hands of a career politician or political party, and a knowledgeable friend or colleague (Representative democracy). And control could be programmatic. As Matthew Sparkes notes, “if you’re a cyclist, you could hand over voting power on all road safety matters to a cycling charity that pushes for better infrastructure, but retain votes on economic matters and leave everything else in the hands of your local Liberal Democrat office.” Similarly, clauses can be implemented for arbitration, where the entire network or a random group of members reach judicial consensus. So what happens if a citizen breaks a law? Because a citizen’s access to shared goods & services is a function of their reputation, Game theory offers a solution for cooperation based on mathematics rather than coercion. Robert Axelrod demonstrated this principle in The Evolution of Cooperation with his Prisoner’s Dilemma experiments. This is the foundation of Liberty and allows people to freely interact knowing trustfully that their interactions will be mutually beneficial.
“Utopia” means both no-place-land as well as good-place-land. -Thomas More
“Technology is enabling arbitrary numbers of people from around the world to assemble in remote locations, without interrupting their ability to work or communicate with existing networks. In this sense, the future of technology is not really location-based apps; it is about making location completely unimportant.” -Balaji Srinivasan
“The present time, likewise, is that peculiar time, which never happens to a nation but once. Namely, the time of forming itself into a government. Most nations have let slip the opportunity, and by that means have been compelled to receive laws from their conquerors, instead of making laws for themselves.” -Thomas Paine
The Reverse Diaspora
Software is reorganizing the world and making atoms more and more like bits. On a societal level it is giving rise to what my friend Balaji, CTO of Counsyl and General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, calls the Reverse diaspora, an emergent phenomena where people meet in the Cloud and come together to form a community. As we saw, digital technology is bringing communication, computation, and now with Bitcoin, value & property to our fingertips. Furthermore, robotics is reducing costs of production and transportation while digital fabrication tech like 3D printing is democratizing access to housing and infrastructure. An inherent property of a DOS is interoperability and because you own your data, you can freely choose which services you subscribe too—including governance. This reduces costs & friction thus lowering the activation energy of joining and unjoining networks thus increasing competition. In political science this is known as Exit and Voice. As the adage goes, “People vote with their feet” or, more accurately in a digital network, ‘with their handshakes’. Recently, real-time translation of signs, text, and speech are removing language barriers and facilitating ever more global and cross-cultural interactions. When combined, these technologies are making the formation of digital societies more practical and sustainable on a global scale. Furthermore, in the next 15 years we will not only be able to run our governance in the Cloud, will be able to live in it too. Both Ray Kurzweil, Director of Engineering at Google and Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus Rift the virtual reality company that was recently acquired by Facebook for $2 billion, predict that by 2030, we will be able to experience full-immersion, shared, virtual-reality environments. In the decentralized future, Cryptography is security and Robotics is safety. Ultimately, these Digital societies can be formed virtually anywhere, including globally recognized processes suggested by Larry Page, floating cities in international waters as proposed by Peter Thiel, a colony on Mars pursued by Elon Musk, and soon in the Cloud.
Founding Populations and The Little Country That Cloud
What if we could enable developing countries to leapfrog to Democracy 2.0, the same way they leapfrogged telephone lines to smartphones, and financial institutions to digital money? How would this start? In early human evolution we found it easier to survive by working together; two heads are, tautologically, better than one. The first group or founding population to cooperate easily outcompeted their individual rivals. Consequently, in order to compete with the Founding population, individuals joined or formed new groups. The US Constitution similarly, inspired members of other countries to either join or create their own democracy. A truly digital society would spur political innovation and regulatory competition like never before. One example of this is happening today in a country called Estonia. Once a routinely occupied country, Estonia has made important steps towards this digital society since its sovereignty in 1988. Citizens enjoy services like free and, virtually, ubiquitous Internet access. Moreover, Estonian citizens have a digital identity that they can use across government services like voting and paying their taxes online—they even back up their government! Not surprisingly, President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves is collaborating with neighboring countries namely Finland, Sweden, and Denmark to make their government digital. Imagine during the next Twitter revolution, the new country founded itself as a smart and truly democratic governance with the help of the United Nations or a decentralized Kickstarter? Why not? Unlike before, this decentralized governance is adaptive and virtually impenetrable and thus cannot be stopped or controlled by a wouldbe dictator.
Digital Constitution & Bill of Rights
This moment marks another important stage in our evolution as a society. If we look at the history of Thought, we can see its importance in how society was organized. Initially, writing was practiced by very few and mainly elites. After the invention of papyrus any free citizen could write and share their thoughts, a millennium later, the printing press spread the ideas of science and fought back against copyright, next it became the medium which architected the United States, and today it’s evolved to take us one step further to programming—writing in motion. Larry Lessig, says, “Code is law” and he’s right. And that code represents our values. We get to decide what those laws are. We can now write a Digital Constitution and Bill of Rights. Imagine a Github for government, an open source platform with the building blocks for creating your own Digital governance. This can inspire brave builders to dream up and share their Utopia. I have yet to explore all of the fundamental questions, but I think any digital society must value our natural rights. And we don’t have to start from scratch. To paraphrase, Isaac Newton we can stand on the shoulders of our Founding Fathers and other giants before us. Declare your independence. Download your Democracy. Fork a Constitution. What does your Utopia look like?
Special Thanks to Adrik McIlroy, Andy Bromberg, Balaji Srinivasan, Christopher Catoya, David A. Johnston, Grant Means, Henning Roedel, Howon Lee, Jack Maris, Josh Beal, Nathan Eidelson, Omar Metwally, Omar Rizwan, Rotimi Opeke, Ruben Harris, Vander Harris, Zavain Dar, and others.