Vinay Gupta – Blockchain Beyond Bitcoin

Vinay Gupta: Hi, everybody. So, maybe the place I should start is making sure that everybody is comfortable with their understanding of the blockchain. Raise your hands if you’re comfortable, you’ve no particular…okay, right. So, let me give you the nickel explanation, because it looks like about 80% of the audience really are not comfortable.

Very briefly, working through time. Here is 1970, and it’s where we invent the database. And in this era, we have one computer per organization, and the computer is very heavily protected and guarded because it’s very physically fragile.

We come across to the 1990s, and in the 1990s, we have one computer per person, and the computers are networked together to give you a kind of higher function than you would have on a single individual machine. And that format of of one machine per person and everything is networked is still the dominant paradigm of computing. It’s what we all use every day, and there are a few variations with it like document‐centric, which I’ll say a little bit more about.

Then we get over here, 2010s. You get the evolution of Bitcoin. And this model is really one computer per planet. It’s the early stages of building a single interface to all of the computers in the world, where the share information, they share state, they share programs. So for example, if you’re using something like Bitcoin, the entire world agrees on what your bank balance is. If you’re using something like Ethereum, the entire world agrees on what program it is that you are running.

So, these models of one per organization, one per individual, one per world, these are three kind of paradigmatic ages of computing, and we’re at the very first stages of the one computer per world phase. And it will be as different as the 1970s model of the computer was from the 1990s model. So the difference will be from the 1990s model of computing to the modern model. Continuous change is normal.

Within that, there’s a bunch of very very scary high‐tech weirdness to produce the integration of all of these little computers into what [? Galvin?] calls the World Computer. And that process of integration is still at its earliest stages. We’re only just figuring out the right way to do this. The similar processes from the 1970s era involved things like SQL query optimizers, which you’ve probably never heard of. In the 1990s, there’s a whole bunch of very scary information‐centric mathematics to make sure that you can successfully transmit a signal over an Ethernet cable. If you don’t know about about that stuff, don’t worry about Bitcoin mining, don’t worry about Ether mining. It’s a low‐level technical, practical detail.

So, within that framework, what kinds of things can you do with one computer per planet? And this is kind of a weird notion. But I think the obvious thing to do with one computer per planet is fix climate change before it destroys agriculture and leaves billions of people to starve. That seems like a fairly reasonable kind of an objective. You know, there are all kinds of little optimizations you could do with these things, but fundamentally the big unsolved challenges that humanity faces are climate change and resource scarcity. We’re just burning too much carbon. And although we are rapidly decarbonizing the economy, it’s nothing like rapidly enough. Also, once we’ve decarbonized the economy, there is no guarantee that there won’t be another environmental crisis right on the back of it for some different reason.

So right now the world is run by essentially a trade organization for nation states called the United Nations. And the United Nations is an organization which gives you no individual representation at all. You only have representation through your government. So, it’s not that surprising that we the people don’t feel like we have any control of the world, because we don’t have any control of the world. We have a little bit of influence on our nation state, but then our nation state’s a part of this large trade organization. And the trade organization doesn’t really represent the people, it only represents the organizational form of the nation state. And the nation states have had thirty years to get oriented to climate as a problem, and have done essentially zero. It’s very clear that the nation state is unable to engage in global challenges that require coordinated action, because two hundred nation states are incapable of forming a sufficiently shared understanding of the problem to then take effective action on a solution.

And this is not a small crisis, right. When we can actually watch the carbon dioxide and the planetary warming information in front of us, what we’re seeing is a failure to govern ourselves in a way that puts our very existence at risk. I can’t think of a worse crisis for a supposedly intelligence to face, right? I can’t think of a worse crisis for a supposedly intelligent species to face than being so unable to govern itself that it basically boils itself to extinction on its home planet. This is completely unreasonable.

So, to get past this problem, the one computer per world paradigm would allow us to potentially build global governnance without global government. Now, the distinction between governance and government is quite subtle, but basically a bank is an institution which moves money around and it provides a set of services. Similarly, a government is an institution which moves governance around and produces services.

So, in the same way that Bitcoin allows you to issue your own currency, Ethereum allows you to issue your own governance. You could publish a set of rules which are essentially law for anybody who chooses to put their assets into your set of rules. This is quite radical, but you know, break it down, right. 1970s, databases. 1990s, networks. 2010, the network and the database and the programming language combine into a single global structure. You put yourself for into that global structure. Everybody in the world can see it. Everybody in the world can run it. All those pieces of information are fused into a whole.

So, suppose that I’m trying to do something about climate change. Suppose that we decide— And these are big jobs, but just for instance. Suppose that we decide that every large‐scale emitter of carbon will publish its carbon emissions directly onto a blockchain. And by a large‐scale emitter, I mean a power station. I mean a coal plant. I mean an oil refinery. I don’t mean your car.

We could take this very very large‐scale data… We could enforce publication using the public will. We could use the same kind of campaigning techniques that were effective on say, the fight against ozone damage. We could have broad‐scale public action for transparency in climate emissions, so we can actually see where the carbon is coming from.

And with all that information logged into a global system, we could then also potentially— (and this is quite speculative, but hear me out) We could also potentially have one person, one vote, for the entire world, to decide what we’re going to do about this set of facts. Because the lifeblood of democracy is truth. Without truth, there is no democracy. And as you all know, we have a very hard time reaching the truth these days, because of the massive monopolization of the media by large corporate interests. Without truth there is no democracy. So, if you start putting the facts of the situation on to blockchains so that there is one truth that the entire world can see, it becomes imaginable that you could that have democratic decision‐making at a global level.

Now, the immediate question is how could we possibly get seven billion people to vote? And the answer is, you don’t need seven billion people to vote. If we had a hundred million randomly‐selected human beings around the globe, for many issues, a hundred million is a statistically significant sample. If, for example, 80% of that hundred million people are very against an idea, and that hundred million is genuinely chosen at random, it is almost certain that if you did a vote for seven billion people it would still be a resounding universal no.”

And this notion that you could take individual statements of opinion, plus extremely sophisticated public opinion analysis software, and produce a rough estimate of global public opinion on a set of key issues seems entirely credible and reasonable. Different academics could publish different analysis of the global data set, but in the areas where there is a heavy convergence of opinion in the public, it is likely that all of those models will converge on the same basic thing. So, for things which are between 60 and 40% split, you might have lots of argument about whether it’s 51% or 49%. But for things where it’s 8020 or 7030 it should be relatively easy to do a first‐cut analysis that tells us given a set of agreed‐on facts, what is the global public opinion?

Now, there are things that this doesn’t address. In areas where the facts are heavily culturally determined, (where different cultures have different opinions about the truth, in other words) it is very difficult to imagine a system like this working. So it’s probably better for scientific data than it is for matters of history or public opinion. A good example would be the Armenian genocide, where what is true depends entirely on who you ask. And it’s extremely heavily contested. There are hundreds of millions of people who will tell you it never happened.

Similarly, in areas where there are heavy problems around the nature of the models or policies which are proposed—a bunch of people say something will work, a bunch of other people say it won’t work—it’s very hard to imagine voting on that basis leading to any kind of solid outcome.

So this is not a universal way of fixing global democracy. It’s not a universal way of running the planet. But I think it’s a really good fit for climate change. And I think it’s a really good fit for a lot of the other environmental issues around things like, for example, nanotechnology and biotechnology. I think the world is overwhelmingly against, for example, the release of genetically‐engineered organisms directly into the wild. And I think that it would be quite easy to have a global public opinion established where we could statistically prove that the world on the whole was against the release of GMOs into the environment. And once it is clear that that is global public opinion, it becomes possible to punish the governments and the organizations which thwart the will of global democracy in the name of their own self‐interest.

Now, in this sort of model, all of the history of colonialism and the history of the invasion of poorer countries by countries which are now massively richer, will eventually be exposed. It’s impossible to talk about the world in any kind of objective way without dealing with the fact that there was an enormous period of piracy and looting by, frankly, the ancestors of most of the people that I see in the audience. And that the resources which were stolen during this period are still the foundation of the wealth of the Western societies.

Similarly, there’s no way way around the fact that something like 90% of the carbon that’s been admitted to the atmosphere over the entirety of human history was emitted by the countries that went through the Industrial Revolution early, and are still enormously rich and powerful, and are largely blocking any fair discussion of the climate process.

So, when you get into this kind of model where you begin to talk about globalism as a real practice for individuals, one of the things that you have to face is that we’re going to wind up with a vastly poorer future for the majority of the people that are in Western countries. If you actually have to pay fair prices for the carbon that you emit… if you actually have to make reparations for the enormous transfer of wealth during the colonial era… If you actually ask the people of the world what their opinion is, they’re not actually terribly pleased with the Western powers and what they’ve done with the money that they stole.

So when we talk about building a truly global sharing, where there is truth and there is democracy, we will have to address the resource division issues and the resource scarcity issues, which is going to mean an enormous transfer of wealth from the rich, who stole it, to the poor, from whose ancestors it was stolen. And we can’t have global democracy until you are willing to abide by the rulings made by a brown planet which was robbed blind during the colonial era. And if you give people the power of democracy, they will largely votes to tax the West, and use those resources to fill in the enormous developmental deficits left by the colonial era. And this is the point of the sword. This is the hard problem. The price of a global democracy is fairness, truth, and reconciliation around the colonial era. Are you ready for it or not?

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