Broadcast #2 – part two of my recent Monkey Logic essay, read or listen on Youtube:
Singularity Economics-The Remedy
Power is a kind of gravity. Instead of curving space and time, it warps laws and bends rules. As I wrote in my last broadcast:
“Human laws, even when they start off well-intentioned, always become corrupted and broken as they are hollowed out by bad faith actors…”
Given the chance, people will bend the rules to their own benefit. For most of us, the law is ‘Read Only’, but those who can accumulate enough power get ‘Write Permissions’. If you are rich enough the law is malleable. For a real-world example, take the manifestly harmful ruse concocted by a few Billionaires to assert equivalence between money and speech, granting freedom of speech to corporations, a.k.a. corporate persons, allowing our jolly band of Billionaires to use these well-funded proxies as battering rams to push for even more benign governance. Corporations are not real people but we let them use their wealth to lobby against the laws that keep them in check, this can’t be a good idea?! It is like giving an AI a gun or putting the psychopaths in charge of the asylum.
In this collapsing world, our institutions have been co-opted. Surviving the game of late-stage-capitalism is like playing Monopoly where whoever is winning, not only gets to collect outlandish rents every time you land on their Mayfairs [Broadwalks] and Park Lanes [Park Places] but also get to rewrite the rules too; letting them confiscate your stations and utilities just before they land on you, so you never get your hands on any of their greasy yellow notes.
If we want to build things of lasting value - and not watch as they are looted by the type of kleptocrat who predictably ends up running things - we need to tamper-proof our system of rules.
In the last instalment, I claimed that rooting systems of governance in the hardwired properties of the universe helps put laws beyond self-serving meddling. For example, using gold for money is less vulnerable to corruption than using ephemeral zeros and ones. Of course, even using precious metals people can and could cheat; lead coins were plated in gold, but at least the swindlers had to work hard at these scams, now they just need to spam the ‘create money’ key on the special keyboard all plutocrats get sent when they reach the magic ten billion-dollar goal.
The problem with using reality as the underpinnings of law, e.g. violence or scarcity, is that such laws will be crude. In version 1.0 base reality-the bare bones out-of-the-box universe-law defaults to sticks and stones, the smartest most powerful monkey gets all the toys, food, and sex. But, and this should not be forgotten, a small consolation prize for the losers is that in base reality, no matter how powerful the winners get, they will never become actual Gods.
So, building the components of civilization on rules baked into the universe can help reduce meddling, but capturing all our aspirations for fairness and efficiency within the universe’s default laws of violence and power is a tall order.
Instead, we need to take the best of our human system-in an idealized world, this would be our collective vision of how the world should work-and bake them into an immutable synthetic substrate.
The substrate for our current economic system is money + our global laws and regulations + physical infrastructure (i.e. roads, the internet, etc).
We need a new substrate equally complex and nuanced but resistant to meddling.
Lucky for us I have just the thing, I call it the Mesh.
Let’s define a few core concepts. I am sure you have heard of Bitcoin, but if not, think of Bitcoin as digital gold. Like gold, Bitcoin is scarce. Unlike gold, its scarcity does not come from the laws of physics, but from specially designed algorithms built upon tamper-proof cryptographic concepts. Its scarcity is artificial, but once set, its rules cannot be changed because they are protected by cryptography, a.k.a. by math [so, I suppose, physics after all]. This is a far-from-complete description of Bitcoin, but in a nutshell, if someone tries to meddle, the math does not work, you get an error, payment rejected. Bitcoin is nothing more than its algorithms, and the way the algorithms are embedded in math makes them inviolate. This gives Bitcoin its reputation. It’s unhackable because to crack Bitcoin, ludicrous amounts of computation are required - think several universe-sized computers running for billions of years. The scarcity of computation gives Bitcoin its value, just as the scarcity of gold gives Krugerrands theirs.
There are no shortcuts. No huge deposits of unattended computation hidden off the continental shelf waiting for deep-sea rigs to come and suck them up. Unlike gold, you cannot fly a starship into space and drag back a steaming pile of Bitcoin.
The only way Bitcoin enters the economy is when it is ‘mined’-
– perhaps this conjures images of nerds in hardhats burrowing through layers of data to extract precious glinting Bitcoins-in-the-rough, but what ‘crypto-miners’ are actually doing is the dry mundane task of verifying payment transactions on an immutable ledger. Crypto-miners are running the math that is Bitcoin on the computers in their bedrooms. In return, they get paid every time they ‘mine’ a ‘block’. This is how the currency incentivises humans to do its work. This bootstrapping is the real genius of a cryptocurrency. Nobody has to raise capital from investors to build Bitcoin’s [or any other cryptocurrency’s] banking back-end. The computer infrastructure required to run the Bitcoin network, and all the geeks and nerds necessary to maintain it, bootstraps spontaneously as people rationally identify an opportunity to earn money and choose to run its software on their computers.
People flock in, momentum builds, the currency’s reputation grows, people gain confidence and the coin’s value starts to appreciate. Ten years ago, the first Bitcoin purchase swapped Ten Thousand Bitcoin for two pizzas, that Bitcoin would be worth a hundred million Euros in today’s money.
Incidentally, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) believes Cryptocurrency is the future of Money. Right now they are busy building their own version of Bitcoin with blackjack and hookers… a.k.a. cross-border controls and political censorship. The PBoC’s Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) initiative is building up its strength, waiting next to the bed of the crotchety old US Dollar which seems to have developed a temperature and nasty dry cough lately…
Bitcoin’s reputation, brand recognition, and autonomy from preying central banks, pretty much guarantees it a place in our future economy. I am certain Bitcoin will be around for the next few centuries, just like TCP/IP, SC2, and .txt, it is a standard that is not going anywhere. I am hodlering onto mine forever - or at least until the price reaches the moon. But before you log on to Coinbase and buy you some Bitcoin, Dogecoin-or whatever state-sponsored, watered down, bureaucracy riddled, de-fanged, regulated, shade your government will soon be peddling to you-cryptocurrency alone cannot deliver us the Singularity economics we need. Bitcoin is money, but we need more than money, we need laws and infrastructure too. Luckily Bitcoin is the innovation equivalent of using re-bar construction technology to upgrade your village from mud huts to concrete huts, entirely missing the opportunity to build sky-scrapers another ninety-nine stories into the sky. The technology of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency can do so much more than be Money, so let’s see if it can help with the other core facilities we need our substrate to provide, i.e:
– Communication (infrastructure)
– Record-keeping (data)
– Computation (rules)
Let us start with Communication.
Imagine a small technical widget that turns data - zeros and ones - into electrical beeps like an old-school modem. Let’s use off the shelf circuitry, something like an Arduino, running a program. This widget should be able to send data over wifi, or down a network cable, it will send beeps and chirps through a speaker or down an aux cable into a ham radio set which can boost the signal across an ocean. Let’s call this widget a node. These nodes can decode signals the same way they encode them. We can imagine a node sending packets of data to a twin a thousand miles away which decodes the radio waves it plucks out of the aether and pipes the data to a nearby computer. These two nodes swapping data over long distances are a sliver of Internet. The hardware is standard and off the shelf, it can be bought easily and cheaply. The software is free and easy to download. Setting up a node will be trivial for anybody even moderately nerdy.
Would you want to set up a node? Perhaps as a geeky hobby, you would be even more likely if the Mesh paid you for every byte of data that passed over your node by allowing you to mine a nugget of sweet, sweet MeshCoin. This same incentive system is how the Bitcoin network became the biggest supercomputer on the planet. People will collaborate to build the Mesh for self-interested reasons.
The Mesh will carry data, and customers will pay to send their data over it. They will pay in MeshCoin. The network will grow. MeshCoin will gain credibility and value. Its value will be real, based upon the tangible service of sending data. Pretty soon people will be launching satellites and laying fiberoptic cable to route data and so they can mine even more MeshCoin.
Next up, our new economic system needs Record-Keeping, Data-storage for all the documents, programs, records, DNA sequences, patents, dick-pics and what not. The Mesh will already be a bunch of hardware nodes distributed across the planet, it will be easy to add an old disk to each node to create a distributed peer-2-peer storage cloud. The MeshCoin currency requires strong cryptography, so we only need to add a bit of computer code to extend the encryption to fragments of files scattered across the disks. Our cryptography will ensure only the owner or those authorised by her can view or edit.
With money, data-storage, and communications, our Mesh-based economics platform now only needs rules a.k.a. Computation, to become a fully specced challenger to incumbent economics 1.0. Computation can be distributed to the processors on the Mesh’s Nodes the same as we distributed data storage and communications, but it is true that protecting running algorithms is much harder. A program that can receive secure input and deliver private output, even when it is running on a remote and potentially insecure processor, is very tricky to develop, but it can be done. How this works is far too complex to go into here [and not just because I don’t understand it!] but the technology is based around something called a SNARK: Succinct Non-interactive Argument of Knowledge. Rules encoded into algorithms that can execute without the risk of meddling are called Smart Contracts. A Smart Contract running in SNARK Capsule will give private reliable answers without exposing input or output allowing programs to be run anywhere on the Mesh, even if the data and output should be private. Smart Contracts do not need to be enforced by police or mafia because just like cryptocurrency transaction they either run or they don’t, there are no grey areas. There is no negotiation, if the terms of a Smart Contract are satisfied, the contract will execute:
You give me the MeshCoin, I email you the pdf of my book.
You give me the password, I open the airlock.
You give me the launch-codes… etc
This gives us Money, Communications, Record-keeping, and Computation. With these facilities, the Mesh will create an inviolate substrate upon which commerce can be conducted away from the grubbing fingers of the 0.001%. That is not to say they can’t play, they can, they should, it’s just that on this board they can’t cheat; nothing will open for biased interpretation; there will be no chummy regulators; no network owners with admin privileges; no roll-backs; no backing out of deals; no deleting data; no preferential treatment; no oligods capable of miracles. Just like a Bitcoin payment, once a Smart Contract transaction has completed there is nothing anybody will be able to do to cancel it. This incorruptibility will thwart the kleptocrats who are used to converting money into power over the system of law.
People will found companies native to the Mesh. Forget hosting your IT on Microsoft’s Azure or Amazon’s AWS, the Mesh’s self-sustaining cloud will never take your data hostage to turn the thumbscrews on price. Nobody owns the Mesh. Prices are set by supply and demand. There are no shareholders to keep happy, only employees -i.e. the miners - who install and maintain the Mesh’s physical nodes. Companies will happily delegate their IT to the Mesh because it will be cheap, reliable, and free from arbitrary regulation.
This is not to say that the companies running on the Mesh can’t make money. Many of them will, immediately! Digital companies that don’t own assets will be entirely at home on the Mesh. Somebody will create something like Uber, i.e. a program deployed onto the Mesh to match drivers to passengers. The Mesh will provide payment services, connectivity, and server backend. There will be no need to buy infrastructure upfront because the Mesh will absorb your companies digital workload as it grows. If things start getting tight, the price of processing or data transfer will go up, this will incentivise people to add nodes to the network, and cost will stabilise.
By design, the Mesh ecology will be impossible to regulate externally, but there is no reason regulation can’t be built directly into the Mesh’s algorithms at inception - if that’s what its anarchist architects want. Taxation, inflation, and even redistribution can be hard-coded into the core algorithms. Ideally, these will capture the aspirations of our species towards fairness and equality.
Let democracy decide our economies regulation, then let’s entrust it to tamper-proof algorithms protected by math to execute.
The Mesh is a robust, distributed alternative to the mess of corruptible, woolly narratives we’ve dressed up as law since graduating from hard-wired Monkey Logic a million years ago.
The Mesh is the economics of the future-
Smart Contracts will replace lawyers,
MeshCoin will be the world’s reserve currency.
The Mesh is what economics will look like on Mars;
this is what a Singularity feels like.