“Technology marches in seven-league boots from one ruthless, revolutionary conquest to another, tearing down old factories and industries, flinging up new processes with terrifying rapidity.” — Charles A. Beard
The Businessman vs. the Engineer
Beard, a prominent historian at Columbia University in the first half of the 20th century, was a contemporary of Thorstein Veblen, an economist and social scientist — they shared similar ideologies.
Veblen was born on July 30, 1857 on a farm in Cato, Wisconsin. His parents were immigrants from Norway, and he had eleven brothers and sisters. Veblen studied and taught at the country’s most progressive institutions — Johns Hopkins, Yale, Stanford, Cornell, and the University of Chicago. Despite this, he would not be able to find an intellectual home. So, he became one of the founding faculty members of the New School along with Beard and John Dewey.
One of Veblen’s books, The Theory of Business Enterprise, was published in 1904. He asserts there is an inherent conflict between (un-enlightened) businessmen and (enlightened) engineers.
Businessmen were driven by organizational profit before all else and would deliberately stop producing or act predatorily, something which goes against the natural order, if it meant making money. He theorized businessmen would then spend the proceeds in a flashy way, paying dramatically more than the rational value of goods and services, to demonstrate superiority over others — he coined the term “conspicuous consumption.”
Engineers, on the other hand, were motivated by developing the most effective outcomes above all else. Organizational profit — particularly quarter-by-quarter benchmarking — would give way to: are we making things better?
Veblen felt businessmen represented the older order, which was motivated by the maintenance of power. Engineers represented the new wave of innovators and entrepreneurs who would be rewarded by disrupting the inefficient structures of the older order.
The businessmen, he felt, would resort to predatory means to preserve power.
When the magnitude of the predatory acts peaked, culture would devolve. In his 1899 book, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions he asserts:
The predatory phase of culture is attained only when the predatory attitude has become the habitual and accredited spiritual attitude for the members of the group; when the fight has become the dominant note in the current theory of life; when the common-sense appreciation of men and things has come to be an appreciation with a view to combat.
Engineers, he argues, would fight back with innovation.
It would follow, as a general rule, if the vector of the engineers’ innovations were greater than that of the businessmen’s predatory acts, then innovation would win, and progress would be made.
Moreover, in rare circumstances, if the magnitude of innovation was significant enough and speed fast enough, the older order might not have a chance to punch back and be completely displaced. There would be a revolution.
The Platform Bitcoin and Ethereum Endowed Us with
Bitcoin gradually, and then all at once, brought the ideas of blockchain technology into the living rooms of homes across the world. Bitcoin is a straightforward application of blockchain technology to global value transfer. It’s a simple, but greatly impactful “fintech” innovation.
Ethereum is an application of blockchain technology to the administration of arrangements between parties — we could call it “policy tech” or “legal tech.” What makes Wikipedia work so well, will make Ethereum work so well: the power of people everywhere contributing data and determining, as a group, if it is accurate or not. Ethereum allows for a decentralized (no corruption) and technologically-driven ways (anyone can participate, anywhere, at any time; and automation is possible) for decisions to be made and for directives to be executed.
To see how impactful this technology could be — imagine if you could “Wikipedia-ize” your neighborhood coffee shop? There would be no single owner. Instead, its customers would collectively make the decisions on what to sell, for what price, etc. In order to have the power to make these decisions, they must hold a certain amount of Ether, the cryptocurrency of Ethereum. When they order a coffee, they would transfer Ether to the store’s “wallet,” which would pay for store’s operating costs — everything from the variety of coffee it orders to the people it employees — based on the consensus formed by customers. Some might argue whatever economic framework this is — let’s call it naturalistic economics — is significantly more efficient than capitalism and might drive the most universal prosperity.
beyond protocol — the Internet for the New World
beyond protocol stands on the shoulders of Bitcoin and Ethereum’s success — thanks to them, we have the time, space, and consciousness to take on the most pressing matter in modern technology: node-to-node communication. Everything stems from this base. The internet, AI, blockchain technology itself.
The internet as we know it today was born out of the ARPANET, a packet switching network, and the first network to implement the protocol suite TCP/IP. It all started with two nodes. The TCP/IP protocol suite was built on a single underlying idea — open architecture networking. The protocol’s unique design was the reason for internet’s meteoric rise. It allowed for something which previously was not possible.
According to the Internet Society:
The choice of any individual network technology was not dictated by a particular network architecture but rather could be selected freely by a provider and made to interwork with the other networks through a meta-level “Internetworking Architecture”. Up until that time there was only one general method for federating networks. This was the traditional circuit switching method where networks would interconnect at the circuit level, passing individual bits on a synchronous basis along a portion of an end-to-end circuit between a pair of end locations.
While there were other limited ways to interconnect different networks, they required that one be used as a component of the other, rather than acting as a peer of the other in offering end-to-end service.
Just like the days prior to TCP/IP, our devices — our watches, cars, some of the “smart” medicine we take, and the satellites in the sky — can talk to each other in silos, but not as a group. There are some approaches to bridge devices superficially, but, to do so in a way analogous to the way nodes would superficially communicate with each other prior to TCP/IP.
beyond protocol allows for all devices in the world to talk to each other as one universal, technology specie.
Welcome to the awakening.
Veblen moved to California to spend his last days. He died in August 1929, months before the Great Depression, a crisis he predicted in Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times.
Jonathan Manzi is Cofounder and CEO of Beyond Protocol, Inc., a stealth Silicon-Valley distributed ledger technology venture building “the next internet — the TCP/IP of the new era.”