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THE (A)POLITICAL ECONOMY OF BITCOIN
The Information Economy - Bibliography - PhilPapers
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Amir Taaki - Breaking Bitcoin presentation (transcript)
Below I transcribed Amir's talk from Breaking Bitcoin (see previous post here, start of presentation (youtube): here). Excuse the errors (will fix if you point me to them). What was most interesting for me:
Amir tries to influence the world (on global scale) by introducing high tech projects that will help ordinary people - he is collecting hackers to work on projects (CTRL-F "academy")
one of those projects is using Bitcoin in local economies (in combination with supplementary systems (CTRL-F "vouchers")
interesting background - Skinner vs Mumford; open source software movement
Amir: Thank you for having me here. I believe that ideas play an important role in shaping human history. What I want to talk about is how technology has been shaped by key ideas. In particular how certain mechanical ideas of human society got mixed up with with politics and technology. What I want to talk about is the free technology movement. It was a movement that showed great potential promise to liberate humanity. At the heart of it was a idea that technology offered a new way to construct a radially different kind of society that never before was possible in history, this movement was influenced by the visions of early scientists who believed in the power of computer technology not just to serve large industry and military but everybody to have access to this new power. Influenced of by the 60s counterculture, this movement went on to develop the first personal computers. But that's not the end of the story because this radical vision mutated into the idea of self-regulating systems which see human beings as object managed by computer algorithms. In this vision, the value of human ideas to transform the world was diminished into a strange kind of consensus where everybody satisfies their personal desires. We now find ourselves in a strange static dreamworld while dark forces are returning to threaten to penetrate our reality and all of the dreams of the techno-utopiasts play the role in creating this fake virtual world in which human beings driven by desires, devoid of all sense of higher purpose become slaves to algorithms and vast computer intelligences. What is interesting about this story is the significance it has for Bitcoin. A project which is created for the purpose of creating a decentralized peer-to-peer money that cannot be controlled by governments and central banks but which now finds itself monopolized by large mining cartels. A lack of vision to guide the project forwards and increasing irrelevance in a world facing a global breakup of power. Lastly I want to explain my project to revitalize the free technology movement to formulate a wider vision to restore back the potential of the technology to transform human society and train the next generation of revolutionary hackers dedicated to the cause of using the technology to support the cause of freedom. My aim here is to find sponsors, find the place for establishing our hacker Academy, to find partner organisations to develop new technology projects with and to find people ready to dedicate themselves in advancing the free technology movement. People ready to be at the forefront of writing history. At the heart of this story lies a conflict between two men in 1968. One of them is good B.F. Skinner, the other is good Lewis Mumford. It was one moment when two ideas about how technology could be used to advance human society first XXX ((unintelligible)) to take hold. There's a documentary from this time made in mid-60s called "Towards tomorrow". And in this documentary, it described two possible future visions for human society. In a society where old forms of authority were declining, what would be the way that we could organize masses of human beings in a future society. One of these visions for this society was a world managed by an elite group of technocrats, a specialized elite who managed a large population of passive human beings who constantly needed to be monitored and managed to be able to to keep them happy. B.F. Skinner described a new way of controlling and ordering people. He posed the question in this age of mass democracy and individualism the old forms of coercion was simply not possible and he put forth the idea of using reward. And he described an experiment where you have a cage with a pigeon inside and the pigeon can be trained to peck symbols, buttons, and depending on which symbol they peck, they get a pellet of food. In this way, by giving the pigeons the right reward for the correct behavior, they train the pigeon as a mechanical object. He then took this farther and he went to a mental hospital in San Bernardino in California and in the mental hospital, what they did is they gave the mental patients small reward every time they did a good behavior. With this reward, when it was a lunch time or a dinner time, the patients could sit at a nicer table. So, inside the mental hospital, they created a new ordered hierarchy from a system of reward in which people don't feel controlled but feel empowered. Skinner describes this model as a model for the future of humanity. What's really interesting about this video by Skinner is it there's something very eerily similar to what we see today in which there is a technocratic elite that has interest in politics only in managing human society to keep us happy to keep everything stable and to keep themselves rich. A lot of this was powered in the mid-80s with the fake consumer credit to reward us as a form of social management - much like the experiment with the hospital, the mental hospital. Lewis Mumford put forward an alternative vision for a society. In this video I'm going to show you - he first criticises Skinner and then he puts forward an alternative vision where everybody in the society is a participant. Everybody is an active human being deciding their destiny.
There were many forms the computer could have taken. In 1800s, the computer was proposed by Babbage. And popularized by Ada Lovelace. It was seen as a tool that would have huge social uses and that should be in the hands of many people, but when the computer was first developed during WWII - for cracking German codes for the military and for guiding ballistic missiles - computers became a very large centralized machine. By the 80s, communities of hackers started to emerge which started to be fascinated with these huge machines - which at the time you had to get the time slice, to get the appointment to get to get some time to use the machine - they started to get jobs near these computing devices, because they wanted to know how these machines could work. They started to build their own computers in their garages, in their houses and universities - and that was the birth of the personal computers, the reason why we now have laptops and telephones. What happened was: a lot of big companies started to come along and they started to invest a lot of capital. All of the hacker community - who up until that point had never seen money before in their life - to throw themselves at, at the proprietary industry. And whereas before the culture that had created this personal computers, this liberatory technology, really believed in power to use the technology to improve the humanity for the better, who really believed in free technology, in sharing techniques and code with each other - instead became siloed off. But there was one guy - Richard Stallman - he was just a guy - he found this ethically wrong. If enough people got together, we could give a challenge against the proprietary industry. He made that as a proposal to the community - that it doesn't have to be this way, if we together put our energies we can build our own operating system. A lot of people at that time thought that he was crazy or that his ideas weren't feasible. This is early video of Richard Stallman.
So, in 1991, the cryptography was classified as ammunitions and Philip Zimmermann wrote the first freely available encryption software for anybody to use and he uploaded it to the Internet. The American government arrested him and he was facing a decade in prison. What Philip Zimmerman did was to print the source code of PGP - of this encryption software - which he sold internationally, which is something that in America is protected under the First Amendment. And the American government was realizing that they couldn't continue with the case, they dropped the case. And since that time, because of the action of Philip Zimmermann, software became classified as a form of speech. And cryptography became widely available. It's now reason why cryptography is available everywhere. Also, in early 90s, Stallman has started to piece together his operating system. And by now a community a community of people has emerged around him. It was the birth of Linux - a really important piece of technology. Not just in the free technology world, but in general, in hi-tech space it place a very key role. And that was a rise of the whole bunch of movements: free software movement, hacker movement, crypto-anarchist movement. Movements were invigorated with creating a lot of new ideas and a lot of new concepts about how we could use the technology to shape the world around us. These were collective movements driven by the shared sense of purpose. Towards the end of the 90s (the baby boomer generation), the western society became overly optimistic. Something the Jean Baudrillard called 'the dead of society' and 'obsession with desert-like forms / with the simulacrum'. Stallman free software movement failed to capitalize on institutionalizing his movement. And what happen was what emerged was the open source movement. It was a movement that said: making this technology is not a question of freedom/ethics, it's simply when you have access to source code of a program it's more efficient, it's cheaper, it makes more quality code. I don't think that's true, but that was their argument. One of the main spokesmen was Eric Raymond who released a book called 'A cathedral and a bazaar'. In that book, Eric Raymond has described the open source development philosophy as open bazaar where everybody, dozens or hundreds of people, a wide number of people all collaborated in a horizontal manner. He coined an idea that given enough eyes all bugs are shallow. When we have a piece of source code, if there are enough people - all contributing a small amount of time and looking at the source code - then if there is a bug, that bug will be found. The idea that given a huge amount of people with a small amount of contribution of each, that we can develop projects and advance technology. Then what happened was the biggest event in the modern western history - which was the collapse of the twin towers, the twin idols of capitalism, perfect in a reflections, reaching into the skyline of New York - which realized our deepest most hidden desires to see the destruction of this passive lifeless world. And what it represented was the return of the real (of the) dark forces - that we ignored - back to penetrate into our reality. In early 2000s we saw a lot of optimism and momentum for change. We saw the Arab spring, we saw The occupy, we saw the orange revolutions. In the technology world, we saw a lot of advances, there was a huge amount of optimism for Linux on the desktop. Every year the people were saying: this is going be the year of the desktop. Everybody was waiting for that sudden single breakthrough. One of the major developments in technology world was the confrontation that took place between Hollywood and a Manhattan programmer called Bram Cohen. ((...)) He developed BitTorrent. The concept started with sites like Napster or Kazaa - that were centralized services that were shut down by authorities. Cohen came up with a concept: if enough people downloading files and seeding them at the same time - then the more people that download the file the more that file will become widely distributed in the network. So, that file will become shared in a self-regulating network. It was a big success and the movie studios didn't know what to do about this, they were completely powerless in face of this technology. The idea of creating a functional self-regulating system outside of power proved itself and it's something wildly popular among technologists. The next major development is the shutdown of the Pirate bay which led to the development of the Pirate party that at one point had double digits in elections and even entered into the EU parliament. There is huge momentum behind it. Wikipedia was also developed - the idea that given thousands and thousands of people all contributing small edits, one line at time, could build this huge knowledge resource . Around this movements started to emerge the new priests of this internet-centric decentralization technology - people like Yochai Benkler, academics who would go to conferences and sell this ideology to people. But something strange started to emerge. Wikipedia released statistics about edits on Wikipedia. We found that it was a small group of dedicated people that wrote the majority of Wikipedia, people who really believed in the project and spent all their time writing the majority of the articles on the website. When we started to look closer at these decentralized systems, what we observed was small groups of leaders surrounded by a wider community. In BitTorent, it wasn't that everybody was seeding in the network. Most people, after they downloaded, didn't continue to run the software. In fact, it was a small group of users, who wanted to challenge Hollywood and promote BitTorrent, who would leave their software running seeding torrents. In open source, we observed that there were small groups of dedicated developers in a project surrounded by wider community. And in fact, what Stallman has done was not just to write Linux and put that in the community, but he had written articles, he had written manifestos, he had put forward a vision and an ideology that pulled together enough people and drove this movement of hackers forwards. So what drove these projects for freedom was not a new model or a new technique. It was a vision that pulled together enough people to realize an idea. To understand why Occupy and Arab Spring and orange revolutions and the Pirate Party and a lot of these movements had a huge of amount of will and movement - fail, it's really instructive to understand what happened to Egypt. In Egypt, huge amounts of youths started to mobilize through Facebook and they started to go to this center in Cairo to front the military dictatorship. Huge amount of people died in that struggle. And after they threw out ((?)) the military dictatorship, the youth then sat down and said: "Okay, now what we are gonna do? What's next?". So they started to discuss. And into that, came a group of people, with a vision, with an ideology, that was well organized and able to pull together enough strands of the society behind them. But they could put their vision into power. And that was the Muslim Brotherhood. And then the same youth hood - that kicked out the military dictatorship - came back to the square to ask the military dictatorship to come back and rescue them from the Islamists. At the same time, Satoshi developed Bitcoin. I remember on Satoshi's early website he described it as a peer-to-peer form of money that cannot be controlled by central banks and governments. And it's something that attracted libertarians, cryptographers and hackers. Bitcoin is kind of a technology - free technology project - that was a little late to the party. Interestingly, it finds itself in the same place as the movements that preceded it. The fundamental problem with Bitcoin is not a problem of missing this or that technology, it's a problem of a lack of vision, a lack of how this technology is - And it's not just about Bitcoin - it's something to do with the wider technology movement. We have to understand the global situation now. Humanity is facing a future with a huge amount of suffering. We are facing the threats from terrorism, from immigration. There's the rise of new ideological movements - ISIS just went and took a city in southern Philippines for more than a month - which is right next to Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country in the world. And in Europe the new right movement is getting very strong, organizing training camps, becoming well-organized, getting into political power and well-funded. This is the reality of our situation now. We have to think about how this technologies that we make -, where do they situate themselves in the wider global context. In Rojava, there is also a really important movement with the ideology of democratic confederalism which is the way forward from anarchism. And offers a really good analysis of what is the current society and what is the crisis that we're facing. And how, in that place, revolutionaries from all over the world are going to learning the methodology and ideology of this movement. It's a new emerging movement outside of any one person's control, but new forces can be harnessed. What we have to understand is that anarchist movement and the hacker movement is something deeply connected. The problem with anarchism is that it failed in it's potential to advance humanity forward, it's simply an ideology that no longer is able to work. What we have in Rojava is a libertarian revolution of 5 million people. What is democratic confederalism? It's an ideological movement that opposes the state as a mechanical worldview and sees the nature as something that is divine, that seeks to restore the balance back between internal+subjective and external+material world. The freedom comes from reaching our destiny as human beings, not simply through pleasure seeking. (Liberalism is the destruction of the free society.) And the better humanity it's not simply a happier humanity but stronger freer humanity. The crisis in the West not simply an economic crisis, but social crisis - we're facing a deep cultural issue. All of the ideas in hacker movement - such as BitLaw, digital governance, cryptographic economy, decentralized organization, new economic models, new technical tools - unless we are able to take all of these concepts and put them into a plan, with a sense of direction, that we can put these into practice - then it's something that's going to be lost. Now, what's presenting itself is a massive opportunity for hackers to put their ideas into practice. So, right now we are building a hacker team. There's 3 tasks we have to do: study of all the ideas and concepts in technology. From this study we have to develop a long- term plan. And thirdly, we have to devote ourselves to build the technical base of this new emerging democratic confederalism movement, we have to create revolutionary hackers dedicated to the course. If we don't, then all of the technology we are making is outside of the society, it's a toy, and what is relevant in this world is not making new products to fill the spaces in the environment around us, but using technology to shape politics that influence the world around us. This revolution in North Syria or Rojava is the biggest opportunity in the entire history of modernity. Through this we can give direction to the hacker movement. One of our main projects is a Bitcoin project. We have a nation of 5 million people and - and - and there is a financial situation where they're under financial embargo, they use - , they don't have the financial infrastructure so they use paper money and Syrian Lira is inflating massively. Because there's embargo so you can't send money in and out. Also there is a project to create decentralized economy and there's a lot of real concrete uses for Bitcoin. And also the ideology of the revolutionary nation is in line with the vision and values of the Bitcoin. When we decide to look at deploying Bitcoin, what we realize is that Bitcoin is not ready and there's a lot of new things that need to be developed in Bitcoin, they should make it so it's able to be deployed on a scale of 5 million people. We are assembling a project to deploy Bitcoin as the national currency of Rojava. We want to create new products in practical use on a large scale. Products that solve real problems and serve the cause of freedom. Towards this goal, we're assembling a team of 20 hackers dedicated for two years. We're looking to establish links with companies and sponsors to make this happen. The first step is to establish a hacker's academy in Greece - to train groups of revolutionary self-sufficient hackers that we're going to deploy on projects. Our needs now: partners, sponsors, space, support. Our first plan is to setup exchange shops and localized wallets in Bitcoin where people come buy vouchers and use Bitcoin to create a local Bitcoin market. We have to create brochures, lots of information. Once this system gets bigger, then we also need to think of bigger financial infrastructure - so one of the things is paper wallets. At the moment, 100 thousands paper wallet cost $6000. Unfortunately the counterfeiting measures on the paper wallets aren't very well made. There needs to be a lot research done. There is a small USB device called ESP 12 which can be programmed with micro Python and C and it has on-board Wi-Fi, plus you can fit modules for radio. Through that you can create a large scale payments networks with cheap consumer devices that cost fie dollars each for people to transact bitcoins. There is also a big market for Bitcoin because sending money between Rojava and Istanbul currently costs 5 %. Later, we also can create plastic card system where we print cards and also establish payments network using radio systems. There needs to be a lot of development and investigations in Lightning Networks and other technologies. This is why I [want to ((?))] have a laboratory - if I take a group of people there - I can create all kinds of technology projects and a lot of concepts we've been theorizing for a long time. We can see that it works practically. There is also the project of the Pirates to create liquid democracy - there is a system of local councils in every neighborhood which - , a lot of these digital platforms that have been developed for many years - we can deploy them. There was also the economy being based on cooperatives - all of the ideas about economic management, about collective management of resources about using cryptography and currencies to manage cooperatives. These all things we can deploy - but what it's going to take is a group of people who's doing this research, who's going deep - not only in terms of developing new concepts - but looking back into the literature about what were - , what is the history of the movement, where we situated it and also what are the concepts and how we can apply them towards our goal. I'm gonna to finish my talk on that. Does anybody have questions?
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