Ethics in the crypto space

The emergent crypto and blockchain space is full of potential and diversity, but also uncertainty and risk. It is in the best interests of all parties involved in this journey to clarify ethical guidelines and norms appropriate for its unique nature. Token economies, decentralisation, and the wealth of technologies innovation that make this space so interesting are just the beginning of what hopefully truly is the start of the next revolution to succeed the age of information.

What will grow crooked, you can’t make straight.
It’s the price you gotta pay ~ Thom Yorke

Although I’m sure Radiohead’s lead singer wasn’t referring to emerging markets, it is surprisingly relevant. The earliest stages in any process development are the most crucial, *especially* a particularly complex and decentralised process as relevant here. Both the plague of unethical and even downright scam ICOs, and the short-sighted culture often highlighted, attract crowds and responses that negatively impact the crypto space.

We don’t need people looking for a quick buck. We don’t need greed or regulation out of panic. We can’t rely on ‘outsiders’ for change, for it to happen by itself. If you are in any way benefiting from and involved with the crypto space, you have a responsibility. We alone are responsible to develop the right ethical and cultural norms that we can build upon to encourage this space to innovate, mature, fulfil its unexplored potential, all whilst minimising risk. As it deserves.

The crypto space needs people who can lead by example, however small the contribution. One particularly admirable initiative was taken by Christopher Allen in hosting virtual salons for the #tokenethics initiative, gathering active members of crypto communities willing to discuss and learn about this important issue.

I had the privilege of joining one of the virtual salons (which sincerely was really interesting and enjoyable). One of the conclusions was for ICOs and crypto projects to include an ethics section in their white paper, or at least express their views and policies on the issue, as standard practice. In absence of set rules or authorities, it cannot be understated how valuable transparency about an organisation’s ethical stances is.

What follows is a condensed version of our white paper’s ethics section (possibly one of the, if not the, first in the crypto space) for the Ananas Foundation. We hope this encourages others to do the same.

From the white paper — Ethics

In absence of an established code of ethics specific to this rapidly changing market and novel technologies, we believe it is of particular importance to declare our primary ethical stances and corresponding actions, as a contribution to the ongoing discussion, whilst setting a standard. This section which will be updated following feedback and further research by dedicated teams and partnerships.

Ananas is a non-profit organisation, and as such our policies and strategy will always be primarily to the pursuit of fostering societal well-being by safeguarding our cultural treasures from the past, present, and future.

Our approach revolves around counteracting societal division, promoting mutual understanding, and ensuring a healthy relation between humans and technology.

Ananas is thoroughly aware of the potential impact our platform, content, and technology can have on the market, society, and our users. As our mission is a collective one, the platform will aim to establish an increasingly decentralised governance and ownership, ensuring users will play an active role in development and aligning incentives.

Core principles and objectives

  1. Ananas commits to consistently align our policies and decisions with the ultimate objective of improving societal well-being, without bias towards any specific ideology or culture in any direction.
  2. Within the constraints of universal ethical codes, verified and established communities will have a level of independence and autonomy in their internal government, building to a polycentric governance of the platform.
  3. Ananas commits to act in the best interests of Ananas’ users, token holders, and communities, which are aligned with the improvement and development of the generated content and surrounding infrastructure.
  4. This entails protecting the ecosystem from external forces that conflict with the interests of Ananas, its users, token holders, and the general public. To this purpose, decentralisation and autonomy of Ananas will gradually increase as its ecosystem grows robust and resilient to assessed internal and external risks factors, and no longer depends on foundational intervention to do so.
  5. Ananas commits to actively ensure a healthy and sustainable token economy, its coupling with the growth and value of Ananas’ content and ecosystem, and its translation into benefit to those who most contributed to this growth (meritocracy).

Moral Imperatives

Loosely inspired by existing codes of ethics and conduct in technological and financial sectors, Ananas declares to commit to the following general moral imperatives:

  1. Positive and significant contribution to societal and human well-being is of first priority.
  2. Uphold moral integrity through fair, transparent, and trustworthy behaviour.
  3. Abide by applicable laws.
  4. Respect and act to protect the privacy and wishes of our users, partners, and community.
  5. Invest in critical and regular assessments of the possible risks related to our product and policies, to guide the development of ethical practice and disclose this assessment to the maximum extent possible within our legal requirements and without violating our commitment to users, partners, and community privacy.
  6. Allocate funds proportional to its benefit to the company’s capacity to grow in alignment with the users’ and society’s interests, and ensure salaries are proportional to market standards.
  7. Ensure credit where credit is due, in any form (intellectual property, community’s contributions, external support).
  8. To the extent that is practically possible, ground development and policies in relevant and unbiased research of a high standard of quality.

Ananas and the ‘digital commons’

Ananas’ mission can be summarised as counteracting the increasing problems with subjective knowledge and its relation with society. A basic premise shared by most is that everyone should have the right to reliable and unbiased knowledge. Of particular interest is subjective knowledge, which is not only particularly powerful in shaping identity and beliefs about the world (such as religion and political doctrines), but also particularly vulnerable to distortion and manipulation due to information and (tele)communication technology.

The importance of ethical and cautious governance of such knowledge cannot be understated, and underlines the need for a governing system immune to bias, and able to fully encompass the richly diverse nature of such content, whilst educating the public on the appropriate use and engagement with that knowledge. Without such a system, we risk deteriorating the quality of our shared knowledge due to social dilemmas augmented in the modern age.

Such views are strongly reminiscent of Elinor Ostrom’s work on ‘economic governance, especially the commons’, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics (2009). A quote from “Understanding Knowledge As a Commons” by Hess and Ostrom (2009):

“A new way of looking at knowledge as a shared resource, a complex ecosystem that is a commons — a resource shared by a group of people that is subject to social dilemmas.”

Ananas hopes to pioneer society’s transition away from the conventional market-based approaches to knowledge commons, of which the negative consequences to society are increasingly salient and show no sign of slowing.

We believe we can protect society’s shared knowledge from traditional and modern dilemmas in both an ethical and effective manner, by firmly grounding the design of Ananas’ ecosystem in high quality research and theory, such as Elinor Ostrom’s design principles for collective governance of the commons (linked is a revision by Christopher Allen).

Final word

Technology has always been a collective endeavour that builds on the shoulders of giants. Its potential explored by science, pushed to greatness by innovators, ultimately always with the same result: empowerment. After all, without technology, we‘re not much more than strange little apes.

A great diversity of technologies and sciences converge in the crypto space, reflected in the pace at which new concepts and words emerge within communities. Like many others, we at the Ananas Foundation are convinced that we have yet to see all the ways it will shape society, yet to discover all the doors it will open.

This does mean regular reminders to look forward and push out the noise. To remind ourselves of the responsibility we all share in this young, volatile, but ever so exciting space. To show our commitment to ethics, is the least we can contribute. To create something of not only great societal but also economic benefit, is our mission.

What will you contribute?