Joe Rogan Learns About Blockchain Technology With Dr. Ben Goertzel

Revisiting the basics of blockchain technology, Ethereum, and smart contracts, on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast.

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6 min readDec 6, 2018


It is very interesting, but it is also very promising…I have high optimism about cryptocurrencies.

- Joe Rogan

Joe Rogan & Dr. Ben Goertzel on Blockchain (episode snippet)

Joe Rogan has gotten his fair share of characteristically “mind-blowing” moments from receiving specific knowledge about diverse topics throughout his podcaster’s career. Today, we hope he and everyone who listened, left with a similar mind-blowing realisation of the potential for decentralised control and censorship resistance offered by blockchain technology.

On Tuesday, Joe was confronted to the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which he so often enjoys, but from a new angle: AI structured through blockchain technology. Dr. Ben Goertzel explained that:

“if you are making a very powerful AI that is ‘growing up’ to be more and more intelligent, this AI should be able to engage with a large party of people and AIs in participatory decision making; it should be able to store information in a widely distributed way; and it should be able to use security and encryption to validate who are the parties involved in its operation.”

Coincidentally, these are all the key elements behind blockchain technology.

In an attempt to detail the foundation of building benevolent Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), Ben laid out the essential mechanisms that were uncovered in blockchain technology initially and the added value provided by the Ethereum blockchain later on.

Blockchain Technology

Find the full comic series here.

First of all, contrary to the term “open source”, “blockchain” is not self-explanatory and might not be the best term to capture its actual meaning. Thus, Ben contends that it is useful to start with the analogy of a distributed ledger when thinking about blockchains. More simply, think about a “distributed excel spreadsheet” — just a store of information — where multiple copies of the same spreadsheet are held by multiple people in different locations and whenever the copy of one person is updated, all others need to be as well.

Different iterations or “bells and whistles” as Ben calls them, of blockchain technology can be found that alter storage and distribution. For example, Sharding, which has become an essential solution to some blockchain’s scaling issue, consists in further fragmenting storage and distribution of information between owners of a copy.

For Dr. Goertzel, what makes blockchain technology interesting is really the decentralised control it grants. Going back to his example of “copies”: to update copies held by different people, there needs to be a consensus among the number of individuals to perform the update at hand. Consensus is reached through a programmed democratic voting mechanism that will coordinate the votes and the update across all individuals involved. This holds the great advantage of relying on “no one controller” in that system who could force an update, alter data, or detrimentally impact the whole system by their sole deviance. He also notes that no one actor can be threatened into affecting the whole network for long, contrary to centralised systems.

On top of all that, you have cryptography. Basically, explains Ben, it allows for the anonymising of the ID of the person participating (voting) in the network, while confirming that their authenticity. In other words, it allows anonymising the individual by replacing her/his ID with a string of numbers while always being able to verify that the same individual -or string of number- is behind different votes.

The exact term “blockchain” comes from the fact that “it is a data structure where to store the data in this distributed database (or spreadsheet), it is stored in a chain of blocks where each block contains data”.

Ethereum, smart contracts and ICOs:

Joe Rogan: What’s Ethereum?

The first generation of blockchain technology was Bitcoin. Ethereum is simply another cryptocurrency that appeared some six years after Bitcoin with a “really nice software framework”; it is not just a digital money like Bitcoin is.

Ethereum’s characteristic is that it has a programing language called Soliditythat lets you writesmart contracts. Let’s unpack this:

A smart contract, it really is just a programmable transaction. You can program a legal contract or program a financial transaction for example. So a smart contract is a “persistent piece of software that embodies a secure encrypted transaction between multiple parties”. This is basically what goes on in the back-end of: banks, websites, a transaction between two companies online, a purchasing relationship between you and a website online. All this can be scripted in a smart contract in a secure way and facilitate automation.

Ethereum emerged from the vision of Vitalik Buterin and its other founders, which was to “make the internet into a giant computing mechanism rather than an information storage and retrieval mechanism” which is mostly what it does today, according to Dr. Goertzel. This world computing mechanism would thus have a really easy programming language — Solidity — for scripting transactions between different computers and parties on the internet, and the aforementioned layers of encryption and democratic decision making and distributed storage of information inherent in blockchain technology.

Joe: How popular is this?

Ben: It’s very popular.

The Initial Coin Offering (ICO) frenzy that characterised the past couple of years in the crypto world originated mostly from the Ethereum blockchain. As Ben contends, “people realised you could used this Ethereum programming framework to create a new cryptocurrency, a new artificial money to get people to use your specific [service]”. In other words, ICOs are the process by which different teams can create their own cryptocurrency and perform crowdfunding.

To conclude, Ben made the crucial reminder that the creation of artificial money is but a small fraction of what blockchain technology can be used for. It is a mere “detail of history, just like the fact that the internet began as a nuclear early warning system”. The real worth in this technology, is in making the world’s computer; in scripting with simple programming language all sorts of transactions and exchanges of informations; it is about decentralised voting mechanisms; about AIs being able to send data and processing for each other and pay each other for their transactions; it is about automated supply chains, shipping, e-commerce; and so much more.

“Just like computers and the internet started with a few sets of applications and then pervaded almost everything. It is the same way with blockchain technology, it started with digital money but the core technology is going to pervade almost everything, because there is almost no domain of human pursuit that could not use security through cryptography, some sort of participatory decisions making and then distributed storage of information.”

Next Steps

You can watch the full video of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast with Dr. Ben Goertzel, here:

The Full Joe Rogan Episode

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