The Geodesic Income
Welfare For a Planetary Civilization
In a recent episode of Patterson in Pursuit the host, Steve Patterson, interviewed Satoshi Nakamoto candidate Phil Wilson, an eccentric New Zealander who makes for an intriguing possible creator of Bitcoin.
Over the course of the conversation, Wilson hinted at the idea that Bitcoin was a proof of concept technology for the foundations of what he called a planetary civilization, a new world without national identity, borders or traditional governments. Part of Phil’s vision for a planetary civilization was to create a GPS-linked overlay of triangular regions on the planet (a geodesic sphere) which would distribute bitcoin transaction fees to regions that need them most, essentially providing a replacement to the current distribution of national treasuries.
In this article I want to take the concept of a geodesic distribution of fees and explore how we can use technology available now and in the near future to implement a version of a geodesic civilization. However, instead of creating a new distribution of tax pools for “new governments” to oversee, my goal will be to see if it’s possible to create a new form of basic income created by cryptocurrency transaction fees where the money is automatically (algorithmically) distributed to regions that need it most.
In a world without tribes and national borders, it can be tempting to think that we’d organize as a massive blob of humans without a notion of imaginary regions. However, just as the imaginary construct of the firm is useful in creating boundaries between responsibilities and rights in the economy, humans are still likely to organize into collectives and zones. We don’t want something as arbitrary as national borders, nor as chaotic, transient and granular as private property borders.
Traditionally, before nations became formalized into nation states, humans organized either into concentrated cities or diffuse rural communities. The size of the land that is considered significant differs enormously depending on the context. In the countryside, a hectare is a small farm but in a city, it is a large neighbourhood. The fractal geodesic sphere mentioned by Phil would meet the following requirements for regional subdivision:
- It is predictable and easy to traverse logically using a computer (explained below).
- It is historically agnostic and bears no scars of prior conquest.
- The flexibility of the fractal design allows the distribution of regions and their scale to adjust dynamically
Imagine dividing the planet up into triangular regions as shown in the image at the top of this section. Each triangle has sides perhaps 100 meters in length and has a unique number. The first triangle picked arbitrarily somewhere on the planet has the number 1. The triangle to the adjacent and up is labelled 2, the next one adjacent up is labelled 4 and so on looping around the planet where each triangle is a unique power of 2. If you want to identify your location, you can just say “I’m at 32,768” and that will translate to a very precise triangular location on the planet with sides of length 100 meters.
Suppose however, you want to identify your location but with less specificity. Perhaps you fear criminals or an oppressive regime narrowing in on your location. Perhaps you want to identify the suburb you’re in but not the exact building or you’d prefer to zoom out even further to city level. In this case you can add up the numbers of the adjacent triangles to get a new unique number which represents the broader region. Consider the image below.
The value 16,398 (2+4+8+16,384) uniquely identifies the larger triangle composed of four smaller values. In this way, you can still identify your location using one unique number and because of the arrangement and numbering of the small triangles, you will be able to zoom out in this way while still remaining in a triangular region. There is no other contiguous set of triangles on the planet with numerical IDs that sum to 16,398.
We can overlay existing national and regional economic statistics to derive GDP per triangle. In this way, we can roughly tessellate the planet with values for how wealthy each triangle is. We can use all manner of traditional statistics to make statements like “Triangle 2,048 is twice as rich as triangle 32,768” or “Triangle 8 has 12% higher population density than Triangular region 50,114”.
Knowing Your Customer
Suppose we want to create some voluntary basic income scheme that uses the blockchain to distribute income to triangles according to the relative income of the people who live there so that triangles in Nigeria get more money than triangles in New York. We have to have a mechanism for proving that certain individuals live where they claim to so that we don’t have scammers in rich countries spoofing their location to be in poor countries and claiming the majority of the pot. We want this mechanism to be decentralized because decentralization should be one of the base axioms of an planetary civilization. The days of pyramidal societies are behind us.
Clearly there’s no way to stop individuals from pretending to live in certain triangles in a decentralized manner. We need two things to proceed: unique blockchain identities and a way to prove residence. In a sense, we need decentralized KYC (know your customer).
Blockchain identity services already exist and the complexity of attestation is fairly high but to my knowledge no one is working on or providing a way to uniquely identify humans so that we can transfer funds between people, rather than wallet addresses.
In order to provide unique identities in a decentralized manner we need to build out the following steps:
- Initial identity registration by an individual.
- Dispute resolution on initial registration to prevent identity theft.
- Linking identities to wallet addresses and allowing the owners to reassign wallet address at a later date.
- A step for owners who have lost access to their unique identity and want to re-apply for an existing identity while ensuring that this isn’t an vector for identity thieves.
Scrutinised By Humans
In a previous article I highlighted the importance of decentralized dispute mechanisms. Once again this will lie at the heart of the Geodesic Universal Basic Income because identity attestation and contestation will rely entirely on the functioning of a decentralized dispute resolution mechanism. As an example, users will upload photos to claim identity and when pushed to prove their identity, the attestors can require the user uploads new photos with unique traits such as “frown and bare your teeth”. Of course, as faking technology advances, so will attestation techniques. Once it is clear that the uploader isn’t just in possession of photos but can provide new photos on demand, the identity link is clearer. Outside observers can dispute the process through a decentralized court mechanism to keep the process trustworthy. This is why projects like Ulex are crucial for blockchain environments like Ethereum.
Once we have a trustworthy identification mechanism, individuals should be able to make claims about the triangles they occupy. Here users can choose the degree of specificity so that they can identify with large compound triangles or down to the smallest triangles, depending on their personal preference. Again a court system on the Ethereum blockchain will make this more manageable but the benefit is that as users begin to populate triangles, the attestation step becomes easier since new users can be required to be physically vetted by existing users in their triangular zone.
An Algorithmic Leveller
The final step is to algorithmically distribute funds to regions according to their average income. We maintain a running map of income statistics to triangles. Using a stable coin such as Dai, the solidity code might look something like this.
mapping (uint => uint) triangleDai;
mapping (uint => uint) trianglePopulation;
Again, we’d expect a decentralized court system to manage the curation of these lists.
Another smart contract would divide time up into epochs. In any given epoch there is a snapshot of the world where distribution of GDP is known down to the most atomic triangles and the number of unique blockchain identities and their locations are known. All the money collected in an epoch is divided among the identities that exist in that epoch according to their triangle, similar to how blocks on a blockchain summarize and aggregate all the statistics for an epoch of time.
To use a fictional example, suppose we’ve decided that an epoch is one day in length. In the first day, the only registered identities on the blockchain belong to Sarah and Satoshi. Satoshi is proven to live in triangle 5,436 and Sarah is proven to live in triangle 3,347. A number of dApps exist that channel their transaction fees into the UBI pot contract which will be used to pay out unique identities. By the end of the day, the fees paid into the pot total 150 Ether. This means that in the first epoch (day one), there is 150 ETH to be distributed between Sarah and Satoshi. It is also known by the end of the epoch that the average income in triangle 5,436 is twice that of triangle 3,347. In this way, it is calculated that Sarah is entitled to draw 100 ETH from this epoch and Satoshi is entitled to draw 50.
Tomorrow a new user joins, Janet from a very poor triangle, 777 where the average income is half of the income in Sarah’s. This means that the ratio of distributions of income in the second epoch will be 4:2:1 for Janet:Sarah:Satoshi. The fees paid into the second epoch is 70 ETH. This means Janet is entitled to 40 ETH, Sarah to 20 and Satoshi to 10. Note that Janet is not entitled to anything from the previous day’s epoch. Sarah and Satoshi still get the entire 150, even though Janet has joined the pool. This epoch segregation has three implications:
- Beneficiaries can withdraw their accrued income at any point in the future since their benefits are tied to a snapshot in time and can’t be diluted by future demographic shifts.
- Demographic change is accounted for without rewriting prior history.
- Following from (2), if an individual moves from a poor region to a rich region, they don’t lose claim to the benefits paid to them during their tenure in the poor region. Once again a decentralized court system can be invoked to keep beneficiaries honest about their locations.
The individuals who benefit have a permanent claim to a portion of the money in that period and can draw it down at leisure. For some then this will be their universal basic pension which they’ll only cash out in old age. Others might opt instead to live from day to day.
A Disclaimer on a UBI
Some readers may grow uneasy at the prospect of creating money for nothing and indeed there are valid reasons to be suspicious about some of the purported benefits of a universal basic income. However, the purpose of using this instrument is to act as a placeholder for something more sophisticated. The point here is to issue funds to regions according to need. What each region collectively does with those funds could be as simple as a UBI or as complex as a community DAO or DISC which oversees the provision of public goods.
Creating a Civilization Stack
By getting creative with the tools of decentralization, we can overlay a new civilization on top of the existing institutions without requiring an abolition of the old. The new civilization can then be designed to compensate for the failures of the old so that your place of birth becomes increasingly less of a blessing or curse. This goes beyond income and can actually go as deep as social engineering. Perhaps in the future there’ll be an app to prevent violent crime.
Another implication of a trustless, corruption free, voluntary social safety net is that it acts as a mechanism for benefactors who want to contribute to the greater good to signal their contribution to society.
It provides a painless avenue for increasing automation without resorting to costly, disruptive state interventions such as a “robot tax”. As automation advances, some firms which choose to radically automate their workforce with AI or advanced robots might incur negative consumer sentiment and could face boycotts for appearing merciless in their pursuit of profit over workers. A decentralized UBI pot that is perceived as fair by the public would provide a way for firms to buy their customer’s approval by channeling the gains of automation directly into the pockets of humans.
In addition to expanding on Wilson’s scheme, I want to emphasize that every new tool of decentralization opens up a massive tech tree of possibilities. The general building block of dispute resolution, for instance, makes many specific systems possible, including a geodesic basic income. It’s exhilarating to be living in a time in which these spaces are opening up before us faster than we can explore them.
By Justin Goro
Edited and illustrated by Tomasz Kaye