RadicalxChange is a conference organized by Glen Weyl of Radical Markets fame and a bunch of other excellent people. There is a call for papers and speakers and I’m planning to submit the following abstract. Would love constructive feedback, positive or negative!
To date, the economic benefits of digital technology have accrued disproportionately to a narrow segment of society, leading to unprecedented levels of inequality and, increasingly, social unrest. Jaron Lanier paints one possible picture of a better future, a “humanistic information economy” where attribution for digital works and data are maintained and “complete accounting” allows people to be paid for their digital contributions, circumventing the top-down, exploitative, siren server model that dominates today. In this world ordinary people are fairly compensated on an ongoing basis for the value they create in digital social networks.
Blockchain platforms such as Bitcoin and Ethereum bring this concept much closer to reality, and prove that participants can indeed be rewarded in a decentralized fashion for value contributed to a network, but they fail to satisfy Lanier’s criteria for one crucial reason: they put computers at the center of value creation, not humans. This is because they contain no concept of unique identity and are therefore vulnerable to Sybil attack. Nakamoto consensus affords limited Sybil protection via proof of work, but the “work” required is meaningless, valueless number-crunching. All attempts thus far to design a “proof of human” or “proof of meaningful work” have failed for lack of a deterministic algorithm that humans can perform better than machines.
I present an idea called Cryptopia which satisfies all of the necessary criteria: a human-centric social network, based on the same technologies behind Bitcoin and Ethereum, where users accrue wealth through two fundamental, unforgeable acts of value creation, generation and curation of content (which could take the form of text, images, videos, etc.). The network is fully decentralized, Sybil resistant, and provides complete accounting by provably tracking provenance and fairly compensating participants for value generated. In this way it may serve as the cornerstone for the humanistic information economy of the future envisioned by Lanier.
I am thrilled you are submitting this abstract, Lane, and really hope you get to present at the conference. I think the abstract starts with a super compelling and clear frame. Where I start to get a little nervous/concerned is in the final section when you propose a solution to this extremely difficult problem based on human “generation and curation of content.” Do you mean just digital content?
I don’t have answers, but I do think we need to be thinking very deeply about what makes a human-centric social network actually HUMAN centric. I am not clear that a network which rewards people for creation/curation of digital content hits that high bar. At the very least, you might want to add some qualifying concerns about this concept to help the reader feel grounded.
Humans are by nature tool makers and we have created insanely powerful technological tools. They aren’t necessarily serving us/our world however and we have so many existential threats facing humanity now that as we develop new technological systems/tools we really have to think very critically about how they will perform at scale.
Personally, I think your points would be even stronger if you asked a few critical questions about our relationship with those tools, as well as our relationship with each other in an environment of those tools. We use computers now to write for example, but it is an extremely unidirectional process. Computer screen is essentially treated like a digital piece of paper in most of the note taking, journaling, emailing apps etc… But we also could create computer applications that enabled our writing process to more accurately mimic our mind’s thinking process such that we could experience the truth that our thoughts were in multiple categories at once and also gain profound insight into our own mental models simply by using the tool. My partner, Raine Revere, is working on just such an application if you are curious to learn more. Similarly with social networks/tools, how might we design them not just to perform functions (reputation, identity, income, resource allocation etc.), but actually to help us see/understand/act on the much more complex social dynamics at play in our human interactions and cultures? And how could the digital system(s) be connected to AND in relationship with the most essential non-digital human needs, emotions, drives, actions?
I hope that something in this string of ideas is helpful to you as you curate your final abstract. Happy to chat at any time if you want to dive in further.
This work is so important. Thank you for everything you do!
- Shira Frank (@shirabfrank on Telegram)
I think some of the ideas in this stream involve data that is currently considered dust, or the information that is being used to train AI (which ends up feeding into some nonhuman-centric curation)… I can understand the apprehension of simply another brand of human-curated networks though. There are some really valuable ideas that I think would be valuable to experiment with in the future in the stream of data as labour though. Personally I’m currently optimistic.
I’m also interested to hear more about this, maybe a thread with the project?
I’m super happy you’re submitting Lane! I’m not involved with the selection process for speakers, but I think we’re all in alignment! I don’t think I can say too much more before you submit though
Hope to see you in March in any case
Also, I like “Cryptopia/Cryptopian”
Also, I would encourage anyone else here interested in any of the Radical Markets ideas and are interested in the conference to join us in Detroit!
We want to do our best to be as open both in person and online, but there are costs to running the conference. If you have cost issues that would prevent you attending, definitely check out the scholarships: https://radicalxchange.org/about/#scholarship-information
To be clear, this proposal is deeply inspired by the work of Jaron Lanier, and in particular, the “humanist information economy” described in his book Who Owns the Future?. Lanier proposes that some of the biggest missing pieces in our current digital economy and in digital networks today are attribution and micropayments that reward content creators, whether for contributions both intentional (“I wrote this article”) and passive (“something I posted fed into an automatic translation algorithm”).
I think capturing attribution and providing ongoing rewards for both creation as well as curation of digital content is an excellent first step towards his vision of a “humanist information economy.” I’m not saying that digital content alone will get us all the way there, but the problem is a lot more tractable than managing non-digital content (for a sense of the challenges of representing non-digital assets on-chain, see Mattereum).
Agree on the question of human centric. It’s challenging for reasons I laid out in the abstract–I’ve been noodling on this question for the better part of a couple years now, very inspired by the work being done by @santisiri and his team at Democracy Earth as well as Circles UBI and a small number of other projects that are seriously attempting to tackle this difficult problem. Every time I think I hit upon a brilliant idea, I later realize it has logical holes.
To me, “human centric” means a reasonable degree of Sybil protection, which I’d probably define as there being more human actors than “replicant” actors in the system at any given time (or alternatively, human actors capturing more value than replicant actors), and the damage caused by replicants being isolated. E.g., it doesn’t matter to you or I if there are replicant accounts as long as we don’t see the content they create and we don’t transfer value to them. Circles has an elegant proposal for how to do this via established trusted links.
The answer likely likes in the social network itself. As Vitalik proposed recently, social recovery is a nice step in this direction too:
I’m curious why you feel it doesn’t hit that bar. The core idea here is that, while it is possible for a machine to generate content, that’s not a problem because:
- The most creative, unique, insightful, and frankly the highest quality content will still be generated by humans for quite some time
- Machine-generated content relies upon vast troves of human-generated content, and the point here is that, at least in theory, we track provenance of all input content so that the originator still receives her due share
- Even in the case of machine-generated content, humans still perform the meta-content generation in the sense that humans write the algorithms that generate (or curate) content, and that’s an act of value generation too which should be rewarded
There’s a word limit so not much room to add to this abstract but I’ll keep this in mind for when I expand this. Thanks for the invaluable feedback!
Likewise! Get her on here!
I’m super interested in speaking and attending. Would love to talk more about what would be an appealing topic.
@skilesare I would encourage you to dig into the website at radicalxchange.org, especially the about page and the blog for some ideas of how others are discussing and applying different areas of thought. Generally if your work relates to the concepts and ideals, its certainly worthy of submission. As I mentioned before though, I don’t have any input on speakers, simply helping with the conference as a volunteer.
I believe the call for papers is still open for the ideas and research track, but I don’t know how much longer they are accepting submissions. You can get more info on the cfp here: https://radicalxchange.org/blog/posts/2018-11-27-0vdrny
Some other ways to get involved are outlined here: https://radicalxchange.org/blog/posts/2019-01-09-cln57u/
Hope this helps, we want to include all interested parties!