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?

Further Reference

The OuiShare Fest 2016 site.