I am sure I don’t need to tell you why Bitcoin was created. Everyone in this space became familiar with this very early on, if not at the beginning of their journey into cryptocurrency. Bitcoin came to be as an idea, of a way to circumvent the exploitation of our societies by the wealthy elite through their corrupted manipulation of the global financial systems. Now recently, we learned that our very democracies have been compromised. Some of the foundations of our freedom were corrupted and our vote has been manipulated. With the Cambridge Analytica story breaking and exposing in great detail the ways that this data analytics team had manipulated and influenced results, with seemingly great success, dozens of democratic elections around the world over the past 5 or 6 years have been affected. This was achieved via some very clever and frighteningly accurate analysis of vast amounts of Facebook user data consisting of 50 million or more.
Facebook, in my opinion, are grossly negligent in their oversite of that data and in monitoring its distribution. When they did find out the data had been misappropriated, it appears they failed in their responsibility to follow up their request to have that data certifiably destroyed. Through their innovation and the way in which they decided to monetize their platform, creates a reason such datasets now exist in the world. Rather than acknowledge and respect the power that data gave them, they exploited it, enhanced it, and worst of all failed to protect it. They even conducted experiments on their platform to see what kind of power it had in terms of manipulating consumers. They were caught back in 2014 conducting a large scale psychological study into how they could emotionally manipulate consumers. Although we now know that the young data guru behind Cambridge Analytica, Chris Wylie, had already worked all that out 3 years earlier and had been using it to influence global politics for at least a year at that stage.
Other social network companies are not innocent of this. Just because Facebook invented it, doesn’t mean the others don’t use similar tactics. These companies all exploit the data their users provide. They collect far more than is required to run their applications. Their apps are built to be addictive and have been aware for years that the way they design these apps, if done right, will generate a dopamine hit for the user. When you get a like, a comment or even their phone vibrating with a notification, you get a little hit of dopamine, not dissimilar to a cheeky bump of cocaine.
It has been called the “Attention Economy” by industry insiders. The Attention Economy is driven by our addiction to these devices. That addiction has paved the way for the political manipulation of our democracy on a scale that we have never seen before. These are some of the same institutions that drove the economy into the ground in 2008 and then profited the most from the aftermath. Bitcoin was created to level the playing field.
Is it time for another chapter in the blockchain story? Blockchain technology was created to open up the world of money for all to see, to create an open-source economy. Now in 2018, 10 years after the trigger for that first ideological use case for the blockchain, there has been another potential trigger, for what could be the ultimate purpose of blockchain technology, an open-source global democracy.
Open-source governance is not a new concept. In fact it is much older than blockchain, or even the internet. However, both these technological advancements have invigorated the ideology. Until now nothing had happened to trigger the pursuit of this ideology. Now the internet, the first of these advancements that gave some hope of a decentralized governance system, is the cause of the very type of breakdown in democracy that could become the catalyst for change.
Blockchain technology may be many years away from being sophisticated and secure enough for such a purpose, and the people of this planet are many years away from being ready to take such a step and to trust such a system. We need to nurture the technology, to make sure we get it right if it is going to be capable of such an important role in society.
There are people out there who are dedicating themselves to this cause. At Democracy Earth, there are 1,700 people on their slack channel, chipping in with ideas as they try and identify the best steps forward for an open-source democracy. The discussions they have, the negotiations and the steps forward they take, are fractals of the same process we would need to go through globally.
There are other projects out there that are attempting to open-source governance or at least bring blockchain into government at various levels. CIVIC, ARK, and Zebi are such projects. But these are not addressing the issues at the global scale. These are more focused on the local community, not exactly what the open-source democracy advocates are hoping for but still steps in the right direction.
Let’s hope that blockchain technology can develop without being corrupted by the same commercial forces that corrupted the internet. We have had so many ICO’s for gambling, other terrible useless ideas and scams. These won’t last without attention. Bad actors need to be fed to survive. If we feed them, they will thrive like they did on the internet.
We all need to take responsibility for the failure of the internet to fulfil its potential and make the world a fairer, more transparent place. We let the bad actors in and we fed them way too much. Now it is barely more than a quagmire of disinformation and manipulation.
We should be better as a community at self regulating. We need to reward good projects and leave behind the bad. If blockchain technology is left to proliferate freely, with the right nurturing and community standards, then open-source democracy could be its final-destination. This could be it’s ultimate purpose.