How to teach digital money to see people

Solving the “Bitcoin-based Unconditional Basic Income” problem through a single, public “Facebook” application server run by 11 separate companies.

Centralized identity system and centralized monetary system

The technically simplest way to pay an Unconditional Basic Income for everyone on the planet is to simply convince Facebook to do so. Facebook has around one billion human users. Six more to go, and they can know everyone that is alive with a high degree of accuracy, and use that information to pay people with a new Magic Internet Money construct that they themselves can centrally operate.

If a single central company knows the identities of everyone alive, they can host a ledger with a democratic monetary system on it. They can pay an equal, democratic income of a fixed quantity of a digital money like, say, 1.0 Zuckers (ZUK) per person per day. To keep the monetary system with a fixed supply and in steady-state, just like with Bitcoin, Facebook would make sure all ZUKs depreciate at 5% a year. After getting that implemented and deployed, which probably would cost less than the car that Mark Zuckerberg drives, it would then be up to the Free Market(TM) to determine the trade value of the Zuckers. Whatever non-zero value that would be, it would provide the first Unconditional, Universal and Democratic Income of a digital asset to all persons on Earth. If the value was high enough, it could even fulfill the role of a Basic Income, that is, effectively covering for the basic, physical needs of every homo sapiens alive by enabling each one of them to pay their society for their basic, physical needs.

But the problem with Facebook, or any other single person, organization, server farm or “website” doing so, is that in the event the currency attached to the identity service (the “social network” operator) gains popularity and trade value, the service itself would amass huge social power, as they would become a threat to the existing debt-based monetary systems and other related power hierarchies of this world. And the completely centralized company, person, organization or service would become a huge social target.

That is, in the end, the great innovation and the great product of the “blockchain” technology of Bitcoin, Ethereum et al.: the social decentralization of the power to manipulate a global ledger of trade-able symbols (i.e. a “monetary system”). In a “blockchain” system, there is no one central person, organization or location the power structures (or enraged “customers” that lost their digital cash due to mistakes) can raid to get their digital points back (or revenge).

The problem with a blockchain system is that it does not know which actual human persons exist on this planet. Not knowing that, blockchain-based networks cannot pay an Universal Basic Income (or a Democratic Income, which is a superset of the UBI concept) to actual persons. Instead, they have to settle for approximations of persons, such as “miners”: perceiving people through their ability to spend computing power, or through their transaction patterns.

Centralized identity system and decentralized monetary system

One simple thing we could do is build a Facebook that solves the identification problem, and have the digital money and ledger hosted in a blockchain network. However, that central Facebook is still a single entity that has to be trusted, not to mention a single entity that can be legally repressed, raided and shut down. That system is not decentralized in a meaningful fashion. There is a single entity to trust, and there is a single entity that can be brought down.

Decentralized identity system and decentralized monetary system

The existing blockchain systems (e.g. all Bitcoin clones and current pre-Serenity Ethereum) all replicate the entire ledger and transaction history among all replicator nodes. That is an open-membership, large-scale social and computational decentralization mechanism. Anyone can join and add yet-another-replica to the massive replica set. As of June 2017, Bitcoin seems to have over 7,300 replication nodes. You’d need to find and nuke 7,300 nodes to shut down the Bitcoin network. And even then, if anyone has a copy of the ledger stashed away somewhere, they can fully regenerate the network!

Having a fully decentralized, peer-to-peer “Facebook” network with 7,300 that can reliably reach a consensus on identifying (and securely maintaining the profiles of) all living persons is a very hard problem. Perhaps that problem can be solved somehow.

A Facebook service split into N=[3, 21] distinct, public operators

However, there is an easier way that is a compromise between the single-central-Facebook solution and the 7,300 anonymous shards of a decentralized Facebook. It requires an odd number, between 3 and perhaps about 21 at most (I like “11”), of persons or organizations that are geographically dispersed and that want to cooperate to provide a multi-party identification/profile service. A geographically disperse coalition of public, trusted entities that want to solve the identification/profiling problem for everyone else on the planet to benefit.

This system is an O(N²) public lockstep simulator. Each operator keeps the entire state of the system, just like in a public blockchain network.

Users do not log in to that collective Facebook with a password, but rather use the same public-key cryptography that blockchain systems use. This way, no one operator has to know any secret information. The user simply signs their messages with their private key, and any other entity on the network can check that the message is from them by validating their signature against their published public key.

Whenever an user wants to do anything, they sign a message telling what they want done and send it to the servers. When an user message is signed by over 50% of the operators, it can be accepted and executed. Messages include: changing an user’s public key, inviting another user into the system (by their public key), changing any item in the user’s profile, or voting in any sort of election.

When the operators get together, they decide on a few people that definitely exist: themselves, i.e. the actual people involved in operating the systems. They will be the root trust profiles of the system: profiles of people who definitely exist. They will then receive the ability to invite other users to create profiles.

When an user joins the system, through an invitation by someone who is considered to exist and is declaring that that other invited person also exists (because they know them in real life), the system does not readily trust that new user to be a real person. Instead, the operators will have to reach a consensus about a random sample of validated users from the system to vote on whether that new profile looks like the profile of a real person. Each operator contributes a shard of the random number seed used to select profiles, so no operator controls who the users who will be selected to vote on the validity of a new profile will be.

In this way, we would achieve a geographical and organizational (social) decentralization of a Facebook-like service that, in addition, completely crowd-sources identity validation so it is not Facebook deciding who does and doesn’t exist, but people themselves decide what people exist. All one can do to increase the chances their profile will be recognized as that of a legit existing person is to put sufficient, persuasive identification pointers there.

How expensive is it to run one operator?

Not that much. If every user profile is limited to, say, 16KB of data (possible if the profiles are mostly URLs to other public profile services such as personal websites or Facebook accounts), then the entirety of humanity fits into 120TB. This is within the range of a medium-sized business or organization. As for traffic, that would depend on whether this sharded service hosts only identities or is also intended to solve the UBI digital money problem too.

If this project was interesting for humantiy, we could definitely pay for it. It would not be expensive.

Does this number of operators solve the decentralization problem?

I think it does. If you have, say, eleven reputable organizations operating a decentralized identity service with a >50% consensus rule, you could use these identities as basis for one (or several) democratic/UBI digital currencies that pay money to all actual living persons on Earth. To bring the system down — temporarily — you’d have to destroy over half of them. And to collude to fabricate fake identities (which would indirectly cheat the money creation rule) it would take over half of them co-operating to achieve that. Even with a small number of distinct operators, if they are well-chosen, it becomes highly unlikely that they would want to publicly collude, let alone pull it off without getting caught. The security profile changes completely from the single-operator scenario.

As for where the digital currencies are hosted, I believe the identity operators themselves, of this sharded Facebook, could host their own Zucker currency, or a whole host of currencies for that matter. However, that is not necessary, if we fear legal persecution of these organizations. If they only provide a socially decentralized Facebook, they can publish identity creation and destruction events to one or more blockchains that are designed to pay crypto-currency UBIs to the published public keys of the valid, existing users according to the “oracles” of these blockchains. That is, these blockchains have as a “Genesis Block” (built-in, starting ruleset) the public keys of all the “master-server,” identity-server operators. When over half of them sign any kind of message, such as one that binds or unbinds a public key to a valid, existing person, the blockchain accepts and logs that message.

Ideally, we could have a network of 7,300 volunteer computers discover which persons exist and which don’t. I don’t know how to do that, mainly because having an arbitrarily-large number of nodes run a sampling referendum is a complete nightmare. The next best option is a private network of a limited number of public and reputable organizations solving the identity problem on behalf of all, and serving as an “oracle” to blockchains that want to pay humans — to serve as the “eyes” that allow the pure peer-to-peer networks of blockhains to see people, and to finally be able to pay them.

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