Thursday, September 01, 2016

Defining the Blockchain Economy: What is Decentralized Finance?

The aim of this article is to explore the intersection of blockchain technology and finance from a practical, theoretical, and conceptual standpoint.

1. Practical Blockchain Finance
Financial services is one of the last sectors of the economy to become modernized by the Internet and the possibilities of digitalization. Broadly, the first main phase of the Internet can be seen as enabling the transfer of information. However, additional features are necessary in economics and finance for the secure transfer of value, and to avoid the double-spend problem. Whereas it is possible to make an arbitrary number of copies of a digital file sent in email for example, money should only be spent once. Now in what could be the second major phase of the Internet, blockchains have arisen as a crucial enabling technology to allow the secure transfer of value, and thus for economics and finance to uplift into the modern Internet era. This could be a rapid move given the computational and infrastructural network resources already in place.

Blockchains allow the digital payments layer the Internet never had, and more broadly contemplate an era whereby all forms of secure value transfer could take place via the Internet. This could include all monetary assets (the cash or spot market), and all assets and liabilities over any future time frame (the futures and options market, mortgages, debt and equity securities, treasury issuance, and public debt). The implication is that there could be a digital future of cryptographically-activated assets and actions, where 1) all physical and intellectual property might be registered and transacted via blockchains as smart property, and 2) all agreements, contractual relationships, societal record-keeping, and governance might be enacted through code-based smart contracts. For maximum resiliency and adoption accustomation, the two systems would likely run in parallel until there was gradually enough comfort in the digital system to drop the analog system.

Global financial institutions are rapidly adopting the single-ledger technology of blockchains, which is essentially, having one database of securities transactions instead of many proprietary versions that need to be reconciled. The benefit is that the time to clear securities transactions may be reduced significantly from days to hours, which confers a tremendous decrease in risk and cost from the time savings. These cost savings could be passed on to the customers of securities trades. The need for independent custody functions and other costly aspects of the securities value chain could also be greatly reduced in having a single asset registry of securities, including because ownership can exist in an open and readily-confirmable mode as opposed to having to be researched and verified in every transaction.

A valuable property of blockchains for the digital automation economy is synecdoche (where a part represents a whole). Blockchains simultaneously connect many layers or levels of detail in that in the connected database tree, any one items calls or refers to all other levels, so it is easily possible to drill up and down levels of detail. For example, with a hard-currency dollar bill, there may be twenty levels of aggregation upstream from the actual unit of the bill, all of which could be rolled up at the click of a mouse. Another case of the crypto-synecdoche property in action is in the idea of hospital inventories (including controlled-substance pharmaceuticals) instantiated as blockchain-based smart property, where a hospital, county, state, or nation’s inventory could be viewed at any instant. The crypto-synecdoche property could be used to roll up the whole of an economy for an on-demand real-time assessment (essentially automating NBER). As in all industries, in finance too, blockchains are a next-generation technology that enables the secure, trackable, automated coordination of large-scale projects with arbitrarily-many detailed items.

Blockchains, HFT, and Smartnetwork Automatic Markets
Beyond digitalizing money, payments, economics, and finance, blockchains are a next-generation information technology and a new form of general computational substrate. Blockchains solve a long-standing computing challenge called the Byzantine General’s Problem, which entails how to securely update far-flung nodes in a distributed computing network. The issue is knowing whether Byzantine generals out in the field are defecting and colluding, or remaining loyal and fighting; i.e.; how to determine if network nodes have become befouled. By enforcing integrity and security in distributed computing, blockchains dramatically extend the scale and scope of what might be possible in networks into a whole new tier. HFT (high-frequency trading) is already one of the most automated computational network activities, and could become even more so if instantiated in blockchain-based smart contract DACs (distributed autonomous corporations (i.e.; packages of smart contracts)). A heightened speed-up in concentration, processing power, and returns in HFT might be available in the short-term (until extirpated). The bigger point is that more of our human activity and patterns might be instantiated in smart contract DACs that look like HFT financial instruments (not in the sense of securities requiring regulation, but in the sense of automated pricing and execution behavior). Real-time bidding networks for advertising are already a kind of financial instrument in this sense, and more human-intervened processes could be implemented in the automatic markets format. Energy, logistics, fulfillment, and transportation (autonomous driving Uber-nets) could all be automatically orchestrated by tradenets and smart contract DACs, unobtrusive and backgrounded to the consumer. Pricing as an external heuristic (currently assessed and imposed by human agents) is no longer needed to price the resource in smartnetworks because the most effective pricing is when the resource prices itself. In this fit-ordered model, the underlying resource determines its own real-time minute-to-minute value, prices itself as a smart resource on a smartnetwork, and might enter into future contracts for its availability too.

2. Theoretical Blockchain Finance
As economics has been traditionally conceived with scarcity as its basis (the production and consumption of scarce resources), so too has finance been conceived as the control or prediction of the future value of assets and liabilities. However, the scarcity view of economics no longer holds in an era of digital services, non-rival goods, and complementarity. Likewise, the controlled future value of assets view of finance also no longer holds in an era where all of the variables concerning assets, capital, and investment might be changing. In economics, three crucial mindset shifts are moving from scarcity to abundance, labor to fulfillment, and hierarchy to decentralization. In finance, three similar mindset shifts could be moving from ownership to access, point values to topological ranges, and insufficiency to assurity (cognitive easing). Already there are indications that a significant transformation to autonomous driving might be underway, turning transportation into a fungible on-demand resource with a focus on access as opposed to ownership. Cars could become like air, a resource that one does not generally (on terrestrial Earth) have to think about owning, or expounding cognitive effort towards its ongoing attainment. Other examples in the emergence of the blockchain economy include the centralized version moving to the decentralized alternative: OpenBazaar to eBay, to Reddit, and LaZooz to Uber. Many decentralized versions have been conceptualized, even if they are not yet fully available.

Kickstarter, Crowdfunding, and Ambient Finance
One of the most rooted assumptions in economics is that any large-scale project requires financing, which would necessarily be in the form of debt capital. There is really just one mode of undertaking large-scale projects now, and that is to raise a chunk of capital that is spent down over time. This is a tremendously inefficient process at every step of the value chain, but there has been no viable alternative so far. The inefficiency of capital is highly visible in the case of startups (in the recent failures of Clinkle and Color). Institutional capital in public and corporate projects likely has greater inefficiency, and much less transparency, particularly regarding the degree of corrupt appropriations.

Now available: Configurable Smartmoney 
The immediate benefit of blockchains is that they have the capacity to bring greater transparency, accountability, and monitoring to the effective use of capital. The more profound contribution of blockchains is that they invite a new class of thinking about all financial matters including capital. Currently, there is just one mode of capital-raising for projects and it is narrowband; the “big chunk of capital” method. Other methods such as pledged capital calls have traditionally failed because monies are not escrowed and thus unavailable when needed. Blockchain-based smart contracts can change all of this, and vastly open up the range and type of financing choices that might be available. At minimum, pledges can be confirmed and escrowed. At a higher level of resolution, a whole new mode of finance might be implemented whereby capital is an available on-demand resource disbursed continuously in real-time per the assessed level needed. This more ambient version of capital as a resource can fluctuate with greater correspondence to objectively-determined and objectively-monitored underlying project needs.
Capital budgeting becomes an on-demand resource assignation process like just-in-time inventories or Uber rides. 
As smart resources automatically price themselves on smartnetworks, so too could smart contracts automatically call from escrowed pledges and “drip” capital into projects as needed. Some of the technical modes of effectuating this are Ricardian contracts and Hash Time-Locked Contracts (such as on the Lightning payment network); essentially ways to escrow-pledge capital and secure bi-directional payment channels without cheating.

Long-tail Economics and Ambient Capital
Kickstarter and the legalization of crowdfunding have already been a shift towards alternative more resilient network models of ambient finance. The greater effect of blockchains is that we might now have additional trustable cryptographic methods to administer capital commitment calls in greater correspondence, ambience, and monitoring with the underlying project needs. Most essentially, finance concerns credit, and credit concerns trust. With the creation of algorithmic trust and other blockchain-type mechanisms, the possibility is that the long-tail of economics and finance can meet. Like eBay for investors and projects, any two long-tail parties can meet and transact in a secure blockchain-based environment without having to know each other. The effect could be that many more projects and micro-starter projects might be able to receive the funding needed to advance. In the abundance economy of the future, credit to explore one's project ideas could come to be seen as a basic human right, in a sort of singularity-class financial inclusion operation of blockchains.

3. Conceptual Blockchain Finance
There may be two nodes in the adoption of any new technology. Initially the innovative idea, such as blockchains, might be grasped in its capacity as a “better horse;” as an improved version of something familiar. Most simply, blockchains are merely a modernizing information technology. Blockchains might help to do everything that we are already doing better. Blockchains streamline and modernize the operations of the financial services enterprise. In the second moment, after having implemented a new technology in its “better horse” applications, a new tier of possibilities, perhaps anticipated at the outset, can come into view more strongly, with the new technology now being conceived as a “car;” as a transformative and novel paradigm that completely reconfigures the former operation. At present, “better horse” implementations of blockchain technology are underway, modernizing the existing financial services industry with single-ledger technology, private ledgers (known confirmed identity of transaction-submitting parties) that are still centralized. In the second moment, “car” implementations might be the longer-term future. Digitalizing money, payments, economics, and finance renders all of these factors infinitely more composable, malleable, fungible, distributable, automatable, and configurable in a plurality of ways and novel applications that has not been possible before. With blockchains, the implication is not just that all modes of financial activity could be modernized, but that the very foundations of the concept of finance could be rethought.

Raising a Trust Bond: Using financial structures to expand into the economy of the future
In one potential near-future world of having transitioned to an automation economy, successful economies may be attending to the production and consumption of intangible social goods like autonomy and recognition, in addition to materials goods (where all needs might be met via GBIs (guaranteed basic income initiatives) or other measures). The same financial system could be used to deploy the new intangible social goods economy, for example, for community initiative X, there could be a trust bond. For example, the government might need to raise trust (as an intangible currency) to launch a certain program, such as a digital identity system. The same financial structure can be used, but instead of raising capital, trust is the commodity required to be raised or amassed for this particular initiative. Another example is raising the intangible social good of agency for personal health and fitness care-taking. These were two examples using the familiar financial structure with the alternative currencies of trust and agency. Another example using familiar financial structures for alternative “future finance” purposes could be simply the decentralized version. This would be the same capital-raising supply chain for example, but now populated by Kickstarter-like crowdfunding sources. In another example of similar concepts in a decentralized structure, Medici has been envisioned as a decentralized public capital market for stock and bond offerings.

4. Conclusion: The new finance – Cognitive Easing
Blockchains are a new form of cryptographic information technology that allows the digitalization of money, payments, economics, and finance. The stakes are high – blockchains could be instrumental in orchestrating an orderly transition to the automation economy (the outsourcing of unelected labor to technology). There could be two core objectives to such an orderly transition to the automation economy. One is material easing (less efforting required to attain material sustenance requirements), and the other is cognitive easing (less mental efforting required to attain tangible material goods and intangible social goods such as autonomy, recognition, and trust). Beyond the modernization of economics and finance, successful implementations of blockchain technology could point themselves towards the broader societal goal of cognitive easing over cognitive efforting for resource attainment in both the present (economics) and the future (finance).

Melanie Swan is a philosopher and economic theorist at the New School for Social Research in New York, has an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and is the author of the best-selling book: Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy.

This post is dedicated to Lee Corbin, a reader of this blog and always-thoughtful interlocutor.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bio-Cryptoeconomy: Nanorobotic DACs for Cell Repair and Enhancement

Blockchains as the new platform for technological innovation invite the creative imagining of applications at both the level of technology use and in the rethinking of economic principles. Some recent developments include optimism about rising Bitcoin prices and the rewards-halving milestone, trepidation about scalability, block size, and the latest hacking scandal of the Ethereum DAO, and fast-paced single ledger adoption by financial institutions. Beyond excitement over these advances, however, the potential for the deployment of blockchain technology is still wide open across many more sectors and contexts. One speculative imagining for blockchain deployment is the bio-cryptoeconomy. The bio-cryptoeconomy is the idea of harnessing cryptographic principles and economic organizational models, particularly in the form of blockchain-based smart contract DACs (distributed autonomous corporations), to automate large classes of ameliorative processes within the human body. It has long been envisioned that in the farther future, fleets of medical nanorobots might be brought on-board the human body for a variety of pathology resolution and enhancement activities.

Medical nanorobots is the idea of having tiny robotic machines at the nanoscale roving within the human body to perform a variety of health and enhancement operations. While autonomous nanomachines are not immanent, already nanoparticles are being deployed clinically in the human body for dynamically-controllable drug delivery and other functions. In the farther future, medical nanorobots could be a crucial technology for pathology resolution, health maintenance, and cognitive performance enhancement. Some classes of medical nanorobots that have been designed include respirocytes, clottocytes, vasculoids, and microbivores. Medical nanorobots could perform a variety of biophysical clean-up, maintenance, and augmentation tasks in the body. One such therapy might target the removal of cellular waste, for example, disposing of neural lipofuscin (un-decomposable waste particles remaining in the cell lysosome despite normal break-down processes). Neural waste accumulation is theorized to be an aspect of neurodegenerative pathologies like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. The concept is that medical nanorobots would be like having a fleet of IoT sensors on board the body, coordinated by mass automation, which could be increasingly feasible and secure with blockchain technology.

One of the most urgent medical nanorobotic applications could be combatting life-threatening pathologies such as cancer and heart disease. Disposable medical nanorobots could be used to deliver and activate drugs in specific locations in the body as nanoparticles do now. An important related application could be to provide targeted electrical stimulus to the heart and brain, for example using ultrasound to dissolve blood clots. Another application could be to have medical nanorobots residing more permanently or for fixed time frames in the body for preventive medicine and general maintenance including cell repair and rejuvenation. It is not unthinkable that eventually there could be a nanorobotic DAC in many cells throughout the body coordinated by bio-crypto technology to undertake a variety of repair and enhancement activities.

The Nano Crypto Quantified Self: Radical Blockchain Health Apps of the Future
The sheer scale of simple repetitive activity across the human body’s roughly 37 trillion cells suggests that a completely new kind of automation mechanism might be required to coordinate cellular nanorobots. Blockchains possess several key properties needed to realize cellular-level nanobotic DACs. Already, blockchains are being investigated in test deployments for the high-load communication coordination of very-large scale IoT sensor networks. The automation of massive fleets of medical nanorobots in the human body could be similarly orchestrated. Further, medical nanorobots suggest a high number of agents and “transactions” where blockchains are easily able to log, track, and monitor any amount of activity from diverse agents. The secure nature of blockchain tracking is also a crucial feature for record-keeping and potential liability assessment in the medical context. For example, bio-cryptographic nano DACs could be used to improve information-gathering and efficacy in clinical trials, and record and transmit information directly regarding safety, adverse events, and side effects. Finally, remuneration as a standard blockchain feature might be useful for personal bio DACs. This could be directly in the case of transactional and payment channel consumption-based pricing. This could also be indirectly in the case of employing economic mechanisms like “pricing” as a points-based system for indicating demand, preference, priority, affinity, and other values.

Community Payment Channel DACs
One benefit of blockchains and DACs is the vast reach of the technology in automating the coordination of arbitrarily many individual units and levels-of-detail roll-up. For example, in the case of a national treasury’s banknote tracking system, there is registration and tracking at the level of individual notes, series, print runs, location, time, and assignment to various entities at multiple levels. Blockchain ledgers allow on-demand drill-down to inspect the minutest transaction whilst simultaneously accommodating the potential automation of arbitrarily-many levels of activity, all though one Merkle tree validation, and packages of smart contract DACs. For example, the administrative aspects of a country’s entire home mortgage system might be managed in DACs that federate different levels of detail across the industry. Multi-tier automation and coordination in blockchain DACs makes the possibility of very-large scale automation projects more feasible. There is a growing capability to be able to marshal planetary-scale endeavors whether externally in economies, weather systems, and space settlement, or internally in neural activity in brains, preventive medicine, and crypto-nanorobots circulating in the body. A second-order functionality afforded by the automated multi-layer coordination of blockchains is being able to deploy actions to coordinated groups. Community actions as opposed to unitary actions can be the focus of activity.

Community Payment Channel DACs - Examples
A straightforward example of community payment channel DACs is that many houses on a smart city electrical grid might choose to join the community payment channel for lower-priced electricity and power grid load-balancing. Coordination can be thought at the level of groups or wholes, not just individual parts, even if unified. Community coordination could be a useful mechanism in many contexts such as the cells of the body, the neurons of the brain, IoT sensor networks, and smart city operations. One example could be the ability to view hospital equipment inventories on a state-level or even national-level per smart property tracking blockchains. One benefit of this functionality is the ability to use new methods such as complexity math to orchestrate patterns. The kind of automation currently at stake is not just the simple causality of point-to-point transactions, but rather the complexity of prediction gradients or ecologies of interrelated behavior. Blockchains and payment channels are an unobtrusive yet appropriately granular tool for orchestrating and remunerating these complexities. Nanorobot grids could participate in a community payment channel DAC for resource access and consumption, including micronutrients, small molecules, drugs, and electrical stimulus; and also for purpose-based activities such as cancer-fighting waste remediation.

Geoethical Bio-congruency of Cryptographic Nano DACs
Bio-cryptographic nano DACs are not just an innovation with high potential functional use, they are themselves an example of complexity and geoethical nanotechnology whose detail, granularity, and integration suggests a well-formedness that respectfully corresponds to their potential use in the world. Ubiquitous blockchain-based nano-crypto DACs in the body could track, monitor, assess, and intervene more congruently at the level, scale, and scope of local corporeal activity since they themselves are in a form and operational cadence that is similar to that of the human body. This is merely one example of a more general trend in science and technology to have the tool more congruently fit the territory. The focus is to model, understand, monitor, and engage with natural processes in the full bloom of their own complexity and interrelation rather than on simple human-consumable causal models between point-to-point connections, which was the primary scientific method available.

Advanced applications: Neuro-bio-cryptographic nano DAC apps
Just as humans and machines collaborate on many macro-scale tasks in the physical world now, it is imaginable that nanomachines might collaborate with the human body for many functions in the future. One example of a standard activity for a cell monitor DAC could be working with RNA transcripts; tracking, blocking, producing siRNAs, and RNAis for gene silencing and interference in an extended application of current pharmaceutical efforts. Clearly these cellular transactions would need to be tracked and monitored, including for safety, liability, and remuneration purposes. Neural operations are an obvious venue for bio-cryptographic nano DACs. This could include working with the brain’s 100 billion neurons for the purposes of memory assessment, improvement, and life-logging. Beyond that, it could also include making backup copies, uploading, coordinating brain-computer interface (BCI) cloudmind participations, and automating in-brain information retrieval (personal voice assistants not just externally like Alexa Echo and Google Home but on-board interactive applications; literally voices in one’s head (if so-permissioned)). Nanorobotic DAC applications could use microbiomics as a less-invasive target site from which to provide resourcing applications such as connectivity, secure automated backup, energy replenishment, and drug delivery.

Self-instantiating Bio-crypto nano DACs
In the farther future, if bio-crypto nanorobots were to be truly autonomous DACs, they would sense a need for their genesis in the “tradenets” of bio-demand within a body, initiate a crowdfunding, begin operation upon its successful completion, and self-retire when there was no longer demand for its operations. The idea here is similar to concept of the self-owned Uber-type car that creates itself per sensing demand on a smart city tradenet grid, self-funds, self-operates, self-maintains, and self-retires. In a body, at the advent of a cancer or pre-cancer, for example per cellular threshold levels for mutational DNA copies being exceeded, there could be a trigger for a self-initiated nano-DAC crowdfunding to support in-cell cancer-extermination. This raises several questions such as the denomination currency of bio-DACs and also how the accountancy validation operation of mining is to occur. There could be different bio-crypto currencies such as micronutrients, small molecules, energy (ATP), electrical charge, and ideas. The obvious bio-currencies would be those already denominated by the body and used in the applications which the nano-DACs would be facilitating. In the smart contract programming, cryptocurrency principles like blocktime temporality (blockchain-based timing specifications) and demurrage (encouragement towards certain kinds of action-taking like full consumption) could be specified to optimize the management and operation of bio-currencies. For example, demurrage principles could be used for the periodic redistribution of brain bio-currencies such as ideas with its precursor neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine (in the enhancement case), and memories with its precursor neurotransmitter acetylcholine (in the dementia repair case).

Advanced applications: Bio-currencies and Reciprocal bio-mining ecologies
Regarding mining, there would be different classes of security required by bio-nano DACs. Heart and brain operations would seem to be more sensitive, requiring a higher class of crypto-protection, and therefore a more robust mining effort. In general, the bio-mining operation could be architected similar to that of the smarthome IoT network. Interdependent blockchain ecologies could mine for each other, in a congruent participatory decentralized manner, where each ecology has the incentive to both maintain the network by accurately recording the transactions of other parties as their own survival is also at stake, and also to have their own bonafide valid transactions recorded for the same reason. In the smarthome IoT network example, one ecology of nodes can mine, or be the accountant for, another ecology, providing independent yet interdependent secure transaction-logging. The kitchen IoT sensors could log-mine for the bathroom sensors, and vice versa or round robin. Similarly, in the body, one cell ecology could provide the mining operation for another. The neural DACs could log-mine for the cardiac DACs (because they require the same high-grade security, validation, and anti-hacking measures), and the digestive system DACs could mine for the immune system DACs, and so on. Mining would presumably be a mix of internal logging uploaded periodically to external secure storage (storj) as there would be optimized energy-processing constraints governing the on-board processing capabilities of nanorobot DACs.

Conclusion: broader context of Bio-cyrpto Nano DACs
Beyond Bitcoin and the single-ledger implementations of blockchain technology underway in banking and finance, there is a whole new tier of applications that might be unlocked. The bigger message of blockchain technology’s distributed ledger system and smart contract DACs is that it is a software innovation that might enable a much larger scale of human endeavor in as many domains as applications can be envisioned and implemented. The bio-cryptoeconomy is a new mode of economic life. One speculative example was developed here, in the form of crypto-tracking DACs that could coordinate medical nanorobotic cell operations in the human body. Blockchain functionality is well-suited to very-large scale automation operations with the properties of secure transaction-tracking and flexible payment models that could help to facilitate a far-future deployment of bio-cryptographic nano DACs for both repair and enhancement.

Presentation slides: 11th Annual Terasem Workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology:
Bio-cryptoeconomy: Smart Contract Blockchain-based Bio-Nano Repair DACs

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Decentralized Crypto-Finance: Blockchains, Automatic Markets, and Algorithmic Trust

A revolutionary set of concepts and underlying technology enablement has arisen in the form of blockchain technology. Blockchains allow the digital payments layer the Internet never had, and more broadly contemplate an era whereby all forms of secure value transfer could take place via the Internet. This includes all monetary assets (the cash or spot market) and all assets and liabilities over any future time frame (the futures and options market, mortgages, debt and equity securities, treasury issuance, and public debt).

The implication is not just that all modes of financial activity could be modernized, but that the very application of finance could be rethought. Scarcity has been the assumption for structuring economic systems for the production and distribution of scarce material goods. This no longer holds in an era of digital services, non-rival goods, and complementarity. Likewise, the governing assumption for the organization of financial systems has been the control or at least prediction of the future value of assets and liabilities. This too could change per the advent of decentralized technology like blockchains. A more rooted assumption that could also change is that any project requires financing, which would necessarily be in the form of debt capital.

One aim is to challenge the monolithic philosophical foundations of financial and economic systems. Within this context, another aim is to investigate the concept of synecdoche as applied to developing a theory of cost, pricing, and valuation that is not derivative of and so many layers away from, but more closely linked to the underlying asset or liability. My thesis is that new mechanisms such as algorithmic trust and automatic markets could allow departure from the mode of finance as currently conceived to alternatives that emphasize access over ownership, topological ranges over point values, and assurity over insufficiency.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A New Theory of Time: X-tention is Simultaneously Discrete and Continuous

Time has been conceived mainly as either discrete or continuous, but not widely as a simultaneity of the two. I would like to articulate a new theory of time in which time is reconceived as a ‘raw material’ whose natural state is both discrete and continuous. This is a “middle third” position that extends Husserl’s theory of internal time consciousness by being a new form of time in the middle between and connecting retention-protention (which are continuous) and recollection-expectation (which are discrete). What I am naming X-tention is this middle kind of time, existing in a primordial state that is simultaneously discrete and continuous, with the capacity to solidify into either in the case of a specific situation. Time could be analogous to another fundamental physical element, light, which exists in a superposition state of both particle and wave before collapsing into one or the other per observation.

Husserl's theory of internal time structure 
In The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness (1893-1917), Husserl expounds his theory of the structure of time. His core claim is that any present-now moment is comprised of three elements. There is a primal impression, the pure perception of the present now, plus a link to what this perception retains of just-recently past-now moments (retention) and what it anticipates of quickly-upcoming future-now moments (protention). Husserl distinguishes between two kinds of memory, primary memory as retention and secondary memory as recollection. Retention does not break continuity with the present-now moment; it is the part of a temporal object that contemplates its pastness and allows the present to emerge from the temporal background. Recollection does break continuity with the present; the current moment is interrupted to recall and re-represent past memory. Husserl’s theory is depicted in Figure 1.

A new middle third form of time: X-tention
Retention-protention is continuous; recollection-expectation is discrete. Recollection and expectation are piled-up snapshots of discrete past moments and imagined future events. When brought to mind, they are reproduced in a new present-now flow, but exist prior to recall or replay as un-presented discrete elements. The structure of the present-now moment, on the other hand, is a continuous flow of the intentional unity of primal impression and retention-protention. How far the retention-protention horizon extends is unclear. It might only encompass the most immediate recent-pasts and near-futures surrounding the primal impression of the present-now moment, or it might extend to include all previous and future experiences in the realms of recollection and expectation. I posit the conception of a middle third form of time, X-tention, to sit respectively between recollection and retention, and protention and expectation. My addition to Husserl’s theory is illustrated in Figure 2. Whereas protention and retention are continuous, and recollection and expectation are discrete, X-tention as the middle form of time is simultaneously discrete and continuous.

X-tention: a superposition of raw time collapsible into discreteness or continuousness
X-tention as the middle third conception of time is conceptually similar to light’s wave-particle duality. Like light, the idea is not that time is an either/or kind of a thing. Light is not the kind of thing that is a particle or a wave, light is the kind of a thing that is more fundamentally not either, and may behave like a wave or particle depending on the situation. Likewise, the nature of time could be that it is fundamentally a kind of a thing that is more malleable in its core state, and that may behave as discrete or continuous based on the situation. X-tentive time thus exists as a possibility space where time is simultaneously discrete and continuous, a superposition of the possibility of both until collapsed into a reality situation of one or the other. The metaphor is that of Schrödinger’s cat, which exists in a quantum superposition state of being simultaneously both dead and alive until an observer looks into the box and the state collapses into one or the other. With X-tention too, it is possible to “look into the box,” i.e.; force the superposition state of dual time possibility to collapse into a reality instance of either discreteness (recollection-expectation) or continuousness (retention-protention). The possibility state collapses into one determination or the other. Since time is a function of the intentional act of meaning, for Husserl, in the case of time, “observing” would be applying an intentional act of meaning. Applying an act of meaning, in the sense of directing intentionality toward an object or objective, would collapse the potential time instance into either retention-impression-protention (continuous) or recollection-expectation (discrete).

Why is a middle third position of time needed? 
It may well be queried why a middle third position of time might be needed. How is it that Husserl did not more explicitly connect the two time regimes? Likewise, while other subsequent thinkers of time such as Heidegger and Derrida have critiqued many aspects of Husserl's theory, they essentially adopted wholesale the time structure of continuous retention-impression-protention and discrete recollection-expectation. However, I think that the discrete and the continuous are too disjoint, and do not seem to connect closely ontologically, methodologically, or practically to each other. Even just the posited structure of time as a binary “either-or” state is an indication that these might not be the only states, or that like light, the more foundational nature of the phenomenon is such that discreteness and continuousness are merely proximate behavioral dimensions of a more profound underlying phenomenon. Conceiving of time as simultaneously both discrete and continuous might also more closely correspond to the real-life phenomenological experience of time, which can seem to be both simultaneously snapshot and flow in the course of lived experience. Moreover, this is congruent with the Husserlian project of phenomenology, describing “how” things are experienced, not “what” is experienced. In summary, the concept of the middle third term of time, X-tention, is simultaneous time duality, where one of time’s properties is discreteness versus continuousness. "Raw time" or "pure time" exists simultaneously in a superposition of both states before an intentional act of meaning collapses it into one or the other state. X-tention can be seen as a perdurant (e.g.; temporal object-based) temporality of complexity because indeterminacy (as non-determinacy) is a key property. A temporality of complexity is important as we are now starting to have the understanding and technological tools to approach reality in the more nuanced manner of complex systems (non-linear, dynamic, emergent, open, unknowable at the outset, interdependent, self-organizing) as opposed to situations of simple linear causality.

Matter, energy, and light vs. space and time
I am positing the case of light wave-particle duality as a metaphor, not necessarily as justificatory grounds for my conjecture of a middle third designation for time. Just because duality is true for light does not mean that duality would be true for time. For one thing, matter, energy, and light are one class of physical phenomena, while space and time are another. Matter, energy, and light are ‘what is there,’ while space and time are the composition of the background. It is not that light is grounds for time, but it could be that many or even all physical phenomena ultimately turn out to have a property of duality or multiplicity. At small enough scales, many phenomena in physics might have a duality or multiplicity of states and behaviors, or more broadly indeterminacy as a general property that collapses from possibility to actuality per certain conditions. The presence of an observer is also a dynamic that is not yet fully understood. Matter, energy, and light are inter-translatable per Einstein’s equivalency of E=mc2, and thus perhaps all subject to wave-particle duality in some sense.

Physics: Scientific formulations of time as simultaneously discrete and continuous 
The conceptualization of time as simultaneously discrete and continuous is an under-explored notion in the philosophy of time, but is enjoying some degree of investigation in physics. One interesting paper notes that information is a quantity which is both discrete and continuous, where time and other physical phenomena might be reconceived as simultaneously discrete and continuous with an information theoretic formulation. The specific calculation involves Shannon’s sampling theory, which is essentially scaling any ‘analog’ phenomenon down to a digital’ formulation, and translating between the two. Another theory, loop quantum gravity, also holds that time might be simultaneously discrete and continuous at small enough scales, like the smallest scale, the Planck length (1×10−35 m). Nanotechnology, the precise placement of atoms in positional nanoassembly as a comparison for example, takes place at the (1×10−9 m) scale. At the Planck scale, fundamental building blocks of spacetime might be composable like Legos into different spacetime fabrics, such as those of “regular” baryonic matter, dark matter, and dark energy.

More information: Temporality of the Future

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Blockchain Travel Apps

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and blockchain technology could have many useful and novel applications in the travel industry, for both individuals and business travelers, and also host destinations that are interested in attracting visitors.

1. Money - The first and most obvious blockchain travel application is money, taking advantage of Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies for digital payments. Foreign currency exchange is an expensive hassle, and it could be much easier to pay with Bitcoin directly from a smartphone, when possible. If it is not possible to pay with Bitcoin, another crypto money application is obtaining local currency through worldwide Bitcoin ATMs or converting money from Bitcoin to local currency through a crypto exchange. Loyalty programs could be another crypto application, where blockchains could track point-garnering activity as it occurs, possibly denominated in crypto token that could be easily fungible and readily convertible to awards.

2. Passport - Another crypto travel application is storing important documents on the blockchain such as passports, visas, permits, identification cards, and driver’s licenses. One benefit is that documents presented in person could be confirmed with an Internet look-up of their blockchain-registered version. Another benefit is having easily-accessible back-up copies in the event of loss. Other new ideas expand the traditional notion of identity, for example beyond nation state citizenship, world citizenship (projects proposed by Bitnation and Chris Ellis) and Estonia’s e-Residency program. Beyond identity documents, it could also be helpful to have immunization records and EMRs (electronic medical records) accessible by blockchain.  

3. Reservations - Managing all of the many details of travel - flight, accommodation, transportation, and tour reservations – can require a lot of coordination that might be managed seamlessly by a Travel DAC (distributed autonomous corporation). This blockchain-based package of smart contracts could track, orchestrate, and update changes in travel details and keep travelers on top of their schedules. This would be like having a more extensive version of TripIt (multiple travel reservations in one application including automated status-updating) with blockchain-based AI functionality. A Travel DAC for business travelers could feature expense-tracking and reimbursement. Other Travel DAC applications could include monitoring airline prices for optimal dates or routes, and suggesting vendors per user preferences, such as those that accept cryptocurrency (for example LaZooz as opposed to Uber, or decentralized alternatives to Airbnb).  

4. Insurance and Provenance - Travel insurance could be selected through decentralized peer-to-peer based alternatives to traditional insurance that might be cheaper and offer more certainty in the case of claims payout dates and amounts. Blockchain-based peer-to-peer dispute resolution mechanisms also might be employed to adjudicate travel claims. Another application when purchasing an item for example, could be validating the item’s provenance (origin) through a quick blockchain look-up using item-tracking functionality from Provenance (or in industrial use cases, SKU Chain).

5. Disaster - In special cases such as natural disasters, blockchain-based applications could be indispensable in coordinating and tracking aid donations and supplies to their end recipients. ‘Disaster chains’ could also be used to help in managing volunteers, facilitating rescue-tracking, and even possibly getting around the scalability issues of overly-taxed communications networks in the case of disasters (with lighter-weight communications messaging).

Monday, March 14, 2016

Satoshi Roundtable: Is Bitcoin Dead due to Scalability Issues?

Scalability was the most prominent issue discussed at the February 26-28, 2016 Satoshi Roundtable (the Bitcoin industry's annual technical meeting).

This is expected as scalability is an ongoing issue to be resolved for any cryptocurrency to achieve mainstream adoption.

Bitcoin as the most mature and liquid cryptocurrency is being pushed towards current limits which prompts urgency to attend to scalability and other issues.

Scalability is a hard problem, and needs to be resolved at some point if cryptocurrencies are to succeed, here with Bitcoin, or in future iterations of other cryptocurrencies.

There are different technical proposals for Bitcoin and it is not clear which might be best, or even if these are the right type of solutions.

However, it is also clear that we might not know without trying, so one or more solutions will need to be implemented.

One scalability design question for example is whether to knit together activity from large bodies of side chains, or have one monolithic processing architecture.

There could already be a split to industry-specific chains that implement different forms of scalability functionality.

A need for more robust prototyping environments and multiple core developer teams has been suggested, which could be good as cryptocurrencies are fundamentally new territory.

Whatever solutions arrive for Bitcoin may not be the final solutions for all cryptocurrencies and the bigger potential economic future of ubiquitous digital payments.

There are always a host of technical issues in the rapidly-evolving cryptocurrency space, and another concern is the reward structure for Bitcoin miners, which is due to change in July.

Compared to scalability, this is not as big of a concern impacting Bitcoin's overall viability as the mining market tends to resiliently resettle around different set points of miner demand, supply, and rewards.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Cloudworld: A Hegelian Theory of Complexity and Algorithmic Reality

Philosophy could be an important conceptual resource in the determination of human-technology interactions for several reasons. First, philosophy concerns the topics of world, reality, self, society, aspirations, and meaning, all of which we are hoping to reconfigure and accentuate in our relations with technology. Improving human lives is after all one of the main purposes of technology. Second, philosophy relates to thinking, logic, reasoning, and being, which are the key properties of what we would like our technology entities to do. We would like our technology entities to be more like persons: pre-uncanny valley but fully-fledged tech others; thinker helpers, empathic listeners, coaches, optimizers; a new kind of technology-presenced companion. However, ensconced in recent computational advances, it has been neglected to look to thinking about thinking as a primary resource. Third, philosophy treats the grasping and naming of new things in the world, which is precisely helpful in the case of new and quickly-emerging technological realities.

Hegel could be a potentially helpful position in the consideration of the governance of emerging technologies. This is because the Hegelian reference point is specifically a moving dialogical expanding and not a pre-specified moment in response to unfolding situations. The Hegelian method involves triads: there is the thing itself, its negation, and a bigger third position that sublates the truth content out of the two previous positions into a new shape of its own consciousness. This kind of conceptual robustness could help in articulating more nuanced positions regarding emerging technologies and moving beyond stark binaries like ‘adopt-or-don’t adopt,’ technological dualism that ‘any technology has both good and evil uses,’ and a seemingly inevitable hopelessness in the face of existential risk.

The current situation of emerging technology is one of algorithmic reality. Not only are more new kinds of technology entities having a substantial presence in our human reality, where we are interacting with them on a regular basis, there is a sense of a quickening progression of these entities. There are drones, self-driving cars, personal home robots, quantified-self gadgets, Siri-commanded mobile phones, blockchain smart contract DACs, tradenets, deep-learning algorithms, big data clouds, brain-computer interfaces, neural hacking devices, augmented reality headsets, and deep-learning gaming worlds. Further, each of these technology classes is itself a platform, network, and app store, where the implication is cloudworld. Cloudworld is the notion of a deep multiplicity of networks as a compositional element of new algorithmic realities, where every network is a Turing-complete general computational substrate for every other. Any technology can immediately ‘grok,’ simulate, and run any other; the meaning of which from our human standpoint is vastly unclear. Derivatively, any sort of cloudmind (clustered interactions between multiple human minds or entities (e.g.; artificial intelligence) coordinated via the Internet cloud) might run on any platform.

A Hegelian theory of algorithmic reality is a complexity philosophy position, meaning that it has the properties of a complex adaptive system in being nonlinear, emergent, dynamic, open, unknowable, self-organizing, and interdependent. A complexity philosophy position is required to congruently correspond to the underlying reality which is itself complex. Algorithmic reality is not just an increasing degree of human-technology entity interaction but a multiplicity and proliferation of classes of network technology entities. The Hegelian position is exactly one that might constitute a bigger yes-and collaboration space that expansively accommodates all parties.

Inspiration: Minsky's legacy in the context of contemporary and near-future AI

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Magic Blockchains, but for Time? Blocktime Arbitrage

There is no doubt that blockchains are a reality-making technology, a mode and means of implementing as many flavors of our own crypto-enlightenments as we can imagine! This includes newer, flatter, more autonomous economic, political, ethical, scientific, and community systems. But not just in the familiar human social constructs like economics and politics, possibly in physical realities too like time. Blocktime’s temporal multiplicity and malleability suggest a reality feature we have never had access to before – making more time.

Blocktime: A General Temporality of Blockchains
Blocktime as blockchains’ own temporality allows the tantalizing possibility of rejiggering time and making it a malleable property of blockchains. The in-built time clock in blockchains is blocktime, the chain of time by which a certain number of blocks will have been confirmed. Time is specified in units of transaction block confirmation times, not minutes or hours like in a human time system. Block confirmation times are convertible to minutes, but these conversion metrics might change over time.

Blocktime Arbitrage
One key point is that the notion of blocktime, as an extension of computing clocktime more generally, creates a differential. Blocktime and human time already exist as different time schemas. A differential suggests that the two different systems might be used to reinforce each other, or that the differential could be exploited, arbitraging the two time frameworks. Through the differential too is the way to ‘make more time,’ by accessing events in another time trajectory. The conceptualization of time in computer science is already different than human time. Computing clocktime has more dimensions (discrete time, no time, asynchronous time, etc.) than human physical and biological time, which is continuous. Clocktime has always been different than human time. What is different with blocktime is that it builds in even more variability, and the future assignability of time through dapps and smart contracts. For example, MTL (machine trust language) time primitives might be assigned to a micropayment channel dapp as a time arbiter.
Time has not been future-specifiable before, in the way that it can be assigned in blocktime smart contracts.
Temporality as a Smart Contract Feature
Time speed-ups, slow-downs, event-waiting, and event-positing (a true futures-class technology) could become de rigueur blocktime specifications. Even the blocktime regime itself could be a contract-specifiable parameter per drop-down menu, just like legal regime. Temporality becomes a feature as smart contracts are launched and await events or changes in conditions to update contract states. Time malleability could itself be a feature, arbitraging blocktime with real time. An example of a time schema differential arising could be for example, a decentralized peer-to-peer loan that is coming due in blocktime, but where there have not been enough physical-world time cycles available for generating the ‘fiat resources’ to repay the loan. 

Blocktime Standards
In blocktime, the time interval at which things are done is by block. This is the time that it takes blocks to confirm, so blockchain system processes like those involving smart contracts are ordered around the conception of blocktime quanta or units. This is a different temporal paradigm than human lived time (whether Bergsonian doubled duration (the internal sense of time passing) or external measurable clocktime). The human time paradigm is one that is more variable and contingent. Human time is divided and unitized by the vagaries of human experience, by parameters such as day and night; week, weekend, and holiday; seasons; and more contingently, crises, eras, and historical events.

Since blocktime is an inherent blockchain feature, one of the easiest ways to programmatically specify future time intervals for event conditions and state changes in blockchain-based events is via blocktime. Arguably, it is easier, and more congruent and efficient, to call a time measure from within a system rather than from outside. It could be prohibitively costly for example, to specify an external programmatic call to NIST or another time oracle. Possibly the emerging convention could be to call NIST, including as a backup, confirmation, or comparison for blocktime. Currently, blockchain systems do not necessarily synchronize their internal clocktime with NIST, but the possibility of a vast web of worldwide smart contracts suggests the value and necessity of external time oracles, and raises new issues about global time measurement more generally. Especially since each different blockchain might have its own blocktime, there could be some standard means of coordinating blocktime synchronizations for interoperability, maybe via a time sidechain for example.

Novel Temporalities of Computing (Discontinuous) and Big Data (Predictive)
First computing clocktime made time malleable through its different discontinuous forms. Then machine learning and big data facilitated a new temporality, one oriented to the present and future, instead of responding to just the past. There was a shift from only being able to react to events retrospectively after they had passed, to now being able to model, simulate, plan, and act in real-time as events occur, and proactively structure future events. The current change is that blockchains and particularly smart contracts add exponential power to this; they are in some sense a future reality-making technology on steroids. Whole classes of industries (like mortgage servicing) might be outsourced to the seamless orchestration of blockchain dapps and DACs in the next phases of the automation economy. While Bitcoin is the spot market for transactions in the present moment, smart contracts are a robust futures market for locking in the automated orchestration of vast areas of digital activity.

Blockchain Historicity: Computer Memory of Human Events
Blockchain logs are a human event memory server. Blockchains are already event history keepers, and now with blocktime have even more responsibility as the memory computer of human events. It is now possible to think in terms of blockchain time sequences, in the anticipation and scoping of future events and activities, as blockchain reality unfolds, as opposed to human time scales and events. For example, there are normal human time sequences, like a one-year lease agreement. Other sequentiality is based on human-experienced conditions like ‘the park is open until dark,’ which makes little sense in a blocktime schema. There are time guidelines that vary per lived experience in human realities. Likewise, there could be analogs in lived experience in blockchain realities. Different events could mark the historicity of blockchains, for example, the time elapsed since the genesis block, and other metrics regarding number, amount, and the speed of transactions. In cryptophilosophy, Hegel, Benjamin, Holderlin, and Heidegger’s conceptions of historicity and temporality might be instantiated in the blocktime paradigm, where, in ecstatic temporality, historicity is the event from the future reaching back to present now (Heidegger, Being and Time, 474).

Related Crypto-philosophy Talk: Swan, M. “Bergson’s Qualitative, Kant’s Time and Imagination, and Blocktime Smart Contracts.” Spatiality & Temporality Conference. 11-13 December 2015. Warsaw, Poland. 

Monday, November 02, 2015

Machine Trust Language (MTL): Human-Machine Collaboration

Andreas Antonopoulos’s articulation of network-enforced trust primitives (Oct 2015, Feb 2014) could be extended more broadly into the concept of Machine Trust Language (MTL). While blockchains are being popularly conceived as trust machines, and as a new mode of creating societal shared trust, Andreas addresses how at the compositional level, this trust is being generated. The key idea is thinking in terms of a language of trust, of its primitives, its quanta, its elemental pieces, its phonemes, words, and grammar that can be assembled into a computational trust system.

Blockchains are a network-centric trust system that can make and enforce promises. A network is not just a decentralized architecture; a network can have functional properties built into it. Network-centric or network-enforced functionality can thus enable a more complex level of activity. As XML standardized, facilitated, and undergirded Internet I: the Internet of information transfer, MTL could similarly for the Internet II: the Internet of value transfer.

Trust Primitives: Technical Details
The atomistic building blocks of trust, trust primitives, arise from blockchain scripting languages; they are the programming functions or opcodes used to specify different situations. Some examples are OP_CHECKSIG (a script opcode used to verify that a signature is valid) and OP_CHECKLOCKTIMEVERIFY (a script opcode used for a transaction output to be made unspendable until some point in the future).

As human language components are aggregated into different levels (phonemes, morphemes, lexemes, syntax, and context), so too can blockchain trust primitives. These indivisible blockchain trust particles, trust quanta, can be assembled into larger trust structures like payments. One example could be a micropayment channel with bidirectional settlement for vendor payment, for example entered in 1000 blocktime confirmations for 10 millibits. There could be libraries of standard trust primitives that are always included, for example, to verify the signature or multi-signature status of any transaction. The possibility of fine-grained trust primitives is limitless – a very small instruction set can be used as a toolkit for innovation that is composed into infinitely complex macro expressions. Some other examples Andreas mentions in addition to payment channels are stealth addresses, payment codes, and multisig escrows.

More sophisticated examples of in-built blockchain trust are already starting to become conceptual standards. One is Lighthouse, a cryptowallet that has crowdfunding (the ability to pledge funds to an address) as an incorporated feature; essentially a decentralized network Kickstarter program. The Kickstarter functionality is in the program (there is no custodian); just as Bitcoin allows digital currency transfers without a central bank, so too the Lighthouse wallet coordinates crowdfunding for projects without a central intermediary like Kickstarter. A whole series of similar network primitives with embedded trust functionality can be envisioned. These could include crowdfunding, reputation-checking, backfeeding (emergent collaboration), insurance, multisig, payment channels, peer-to-peer tipping (ProTip), compensation, remuneration, micropayments, IP tracking, backup (specified blockchain transaction record-keeping and archival), and advocacy (via third-party oracle like Smart Contract and Early Temple).

Trust as a Feature: Human-Machine Social Contracting
When trust becomes a ‘mere’ assumed included feature as opposed to a marveled at and explicitly designed functionality, we will have really arrived somewhere as a species. In some sense, the entire apparatus and infrastructure known as society has been produced to instill and manage trust. Deception had an evolutionary benefit, but is perhaps a quality that can be reconfigured, first in machine-mediated human interaction, and later in human biology. The longer-term endgame of blockchains-as-algorithmic-trust is human-machine collaboration, particularly in the application of shifting from the labor economy to the actualization economy. Given the increasing potential prevalence of machines in human existence, a looming topic is the kinds of social contracts that may be appropriate to establish between machines and humans. For example, consider what trust primitives might be needed to write a smart contract with your personalized home robot. To open a payment channel with your home robot, first could be identifying the relevant exchange streams for services and data. These might include personal data, life-logging, backup, diagnostics, advice, empathy, sound-boarding, home maintenance services, payments, and record-keeping; a list of operations that make sense to conduct in a ‘payment channel’ structure (e.g.; two-way open transfer over time of value between parties per triggering events).

A New Kind of Language
Here the concept would be considering the possibility space of all language and noticing that there could likely be a bigger range of language than has come into existence so far. There are human languages, computational languages, math, logic, and other systems of semantics and signifying. As seen with examples like math (Husserl), computing algorithms (Wolfram), intelligence (Yudkowsky), and self-assembled locomotion (Lipson) and life forms, what has been seen through the human example may be but a few nodes in a larger possibility space. The bigger query would be what new kinds of language can be made with blockchain trust primitives. Not just solving human problems (e.g.; creating automated trust structures) but creating new languages from these new functionalities. One next step could be applying linguistic theory (Chomsky, etc.), concept theory (Lakoff, Kant, etc.), and mathematics, logic, computation, complexity math, machine-learning, and deep-learning theory to creating platforms for the emergence of new kinds of language. The first task might be to optimize for obvious new types of trust language that might be possible and that might solve low-hanging fruit problems like offloading the cognitive and behavioral energy effort of deception to move to Brin’s Transparent Society. Blockchain trust could be for society what the quantified self fourth-person perspective was for the individual (a trustable independent objective arbitrator of information about reality).

Philosophy: A New Kind of Qualitative Language
A language of trust is undeniably qualitative. Trust is exactly the qualitative easing necessary for society to function, including in more intensive human-machine collaborations, and in larger scale universally-global and extraterrestrial singularity-class endeavors. Is it possible to reach a place with computational language to say what cannot be said with human language? Perhaps not in traditional 1s/0s computational language, but with a new kind of language of qualitative trust primitives, maybe yes. Wittgenstein famously said (the type of) all there is that can be said in the Tractatus, and in this crystallization pointed to what cannot be said, in three domains, ethics, aesthetics, and religion. Now thinking in terms of trust primitives and other qualitative primitives changes the question of what kinds of sentences and language can be written; the grammar and Wittgensteinian language games that can be enacted with blockchains; in an AI DAC and other applications. There could be many diverse blockchain cliometrics implementations in MTL; e.g.; the measurement of social qualitative factors like the amount of liberty in a political system. The notion is qualitative primitives and qualitative machine language; having a pourable bag of trust elements as components. There are trust primitives, and possibly many other kinds of qualitative primitives, for example freedom, autonomy, and choice primitives; idea primitives and innovation primitives; all of these could be on tap in a multi-faceted qualitative machine language to configure a life of crypto enlightenment

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Crypto Enlightenment: A Social Theory of Blockchains

There is something new and fundamental happening in the world which could be the start of the next enlightenment period. The core of this is shifting from centralized to decentralized models in all aspects of our lives, both individual and societally.

Cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin), blockchains, and decentralization) are not just about 1) digitizing and modernizing money, payments, economics, assets, legal contracts, and governance, thereby 2) accelerating the transition to the automation and actualization economy from the labor economy, but 3) more fundamentally, these factors are allowing us to re-explore our reality, and specify it as more internally-determined than externally-determined.

Societal Shared Trust is Algorithmic Trust
The tip of the iceberg is Bitcoin – digital money. Bitcoin runs on software called blockchain technology, which is a distributed ledger, a decentralized computational memory of human interactions. As individuals, we can place our trust in the computational system, and no longer need to trust institutions, third-party intermediaries like banks and governments, to coordinate our patterns of activity. Blockchains are a more trustworthy trust: algorithmic trust, not institutional trust.

Blockchain technology is technical (cryptographic ledgers); economic and political (a flatter more-extensible mode of organization); and psychological, sociological, and philosophical (new ways of conceiving reality). The real invitation and potentiality of blockchain technology is to radically rethink reality – what is it to decentralize everything we do and reconstitute life through a frame of abundance and immanence, attending to what is possible and desirable mindfully, not merely a reaction to a reality which seems determined by scarcity.

A New Philosophy of Economic Theory
A philosophy of economic theory is necessary since nearly all existing economic theories have taken scarcity as a central precept. These antiquated models configured by scarcity are weak philosophically because they are conceptually limited, and are also weak empirically since there is emerging and existing evidence of situations in the world where scarcity is not a parameter, and not the governing parameter. A ready example of this is digital goods, such as software or digital images, where there is essentially zero cost to producing another unit by copying the goods electronically.

Crypto Enlightenment is a Rethinking of Authority
There have been some paradigm-shifting moments in human history. The Enlightenment (1650-1800) concerned knowledge, and also importantly, authority. While there has been much rethinking and progression regarding knowledge, there has been less regarding authority since the modern notion of the individual as an agent in society arose during the Enlightenment. Now with the advent of blockchain technology and decentralized models, there can be a new consideration of authority. There is a possibility of constructing alternatives to centralized institutional power which has become a juggernaut of extraction instead of support; a less-trustworthy diminisher of rights and social goods instead of an extender and promulgator. Decentralized models empower the individual in radical new ways and call for the rethinking of authority for both the individual and society. Per the Internet revolution, we as individuals now taking self-responsibility for many activities such as deciding what and how we consume news media, entertainment, financial services, (stock-trading, credit services, portfolio management), and health services. Next is economic and governance systems.

To rethink the place and definition of authority, a philosophy of immanence is helpful and necessary. Immanence is the idea of self-determination from within; everything comes from within in a system, world, or person; structure and content are emergent and not pre-specified. Immanence contrasts with transcendence where everything comes from outside a system, world, or person; pre-determining the system externally per fixed specifications. One way of seeing reality is as immanence and transcendence; there is one side that is focused on recouping a pre-specified baseline ideal, and the other of open-ended immanence. Human emotion is an example from the natural world of baseline-immanence, where negative emotions (fear, anger) physiologically narrow possible pathways of action to fight, flight, or flee, where as positive emotions (love, compassion) trigger general, non-directional cognitive activation, a widened range of unspecified novel, creative, and unscripted courses of thought and action.

Much of human psychological activity might be said to be concerned with the attempt to attaining a baseline ideal that has been pre-specified and externally imposed, and as an ideal impossible to ever attain. Some of the contexts where these ideals impossibly govern behavior and psychology are ethics, justice, equality, liberty, subjectivation, and the pursuit of the good life. Attaining the baseline is an idea rooted in fixity, where the form (morphology) one begins with pre-determines possible outcomes. Baseline is a stance oriented to negating and critiquing, to narrowing, circumscribing, and closing-off; a ‘no’ energy. Certainly ideas of ideals may come from outside an individual, and the distinction is not acquiescing and adopting them wholesale, but introspecting as to how they would be useful appropriated individually for me; internally, reworked and reclaimed with autonomy to empower the individual. (Seeing how immanence and transcendence interact, Hegel terms this dialectics, or conversation of appropriation, as an immanent process of transcendence.)

The other side of reality is immanence, a determining from within. This is the open-ended stance of novel construction up and out from baseline into new territory; “yes-and” improvisation energy, collaboration, creativity, novelty, the new, thinking out-of-the box, greenfield, emergent, dynamic, serendipitous, flow, complexity, fractalization, and multi-dimensionality. Moving out open-endedly from baseline is an idea rooted in capability; growth is dictated by capacity (which can grow) and not morphology (which is fixed); capability and attitude determine possibility. Immanence is a stance oriented towards the affirmation of the positive, to “yes-and” energy.

Cryptocitizen Sensibility
The sensibility of the cryptocitizen is being in a stance of immanence with ourselves; trusting our internal selves more. There is more self-responsibility-taking; questioning, deciding, and designing which economic systems, political systems, communities, and labor systems (productive work effort) in which we would like to participate. The distinction is between ‘selecting governance services’ and ‘being governed,’ where increasingly, there is the possibility of a much higher degree of self-determination and self-creation in selecting the communities and structures in which we participate, particularly those related to economics and politics. Per a singularity-class technology like decentralized cryptographic models, these systems for organizing multi-party activity can scale way down to backgrounded trust-invoking microlevels in ways that were not previously possible in hierarchical models.

Abundance Theory of Flourishing
Theories of flourishing address how we might organize ourselves individually and societally towards the endeavor of the good life. Leaving aside the problematic language and valorization of the ‘good’ life, there are been three traditional types of theories of flourishing (Parfit, Reasons and Persons, 1984). Theories of flourishing have been hedonistic (seeking the greatest balance of pleasure over pain), conative (seeking desire fulfillment), and objective list theoretic (seeking to list other aspects that might constitute well-being in addition to pleasure and desire fulfillment).

1. Immanent Flourishing of Abundance: Sustenance + Actualization
A new theory can be proposed in line with modern themes, an Abundance Theory of Flourishing. An abundance theory of flourishing can be developed first through the baseline-immanence framework. The traditional conception of abundance has most-often been one-sided, focusing exclusively on reaching the baseline of post-scarcity, having all needs for material goods satisfied. Instead, an immanence theory also envisions the open-ended upside of potentiality that is now possible with this baseline of material goods satisfaction having been reached. An abundance theory of flourishing includes the two sides of reality, focusing on both survival and actualization. To count as flourishing, there is not just an alleviating of suffering in the form of having sustenance needs met, there would also need to be something in the positive register of immanence, allowing new and emergent potentiality to develop; this would constitute a true immanent flourishing of abundance.

2. Scarcity is a Social Pathology
An abundance theory of flourishing can be developed second through conceiving of scarcity as a social pathology. The conceptualization is that scarcity is not merely a constitutive parameter of existing economic theory, but that more pervasively, the notion of scarcity has been a psychologically harmful construct of thinking that needs to be overcome for a fuller realization of human potential. In an abundance theory of flourishing, scarcity is a social pathology to be resolved. Part of the justification for seeing scarcity as a social pathology is noticing the new and contributive social goods that are unavailable in the scarcity model and created by abundance. Some of these social goods include certainty, availability, reduced contingency, willingness, and cognitive easing and cognitive surplus.

Abundance creates a psychology of certainty and availability, a reliable ongoing feeling of certainty that material survival needs will be met, as opposed to the continuous uncertainty and attending-to required by scarcity. Much current human cognitive and physical effort (as individuals and groups; families, corporations, institutions, and nation-states) is devoted to anti-scarcity measures: hoarding, manipulation, and control for the purpose of ascertaining the future availability of resources. It is like doing for emotional and cognitive attending what just-in-time inventories did for manufacturing; it is an invoking of certainty and reliance about the real-time availability for need fulfillment. Through abundance, there could be the considerable social good of relief and certainty, where a whole class of cognitively-exertional activities drop off the reality of what has to be considered for basic living. This would be unprecedented in human history, a trustable source of having basic needs met such that we do not even have to think about this.

Cryptosustainability: Collaborating in the Self-sustaining Micropolis
The cryptocitizen sensibility of the individual extends to embodying new ways for the individual to be in society. Reviving the notion of the Greek statesman, there is a sense of civic duty to serve the republic. This can be recast as the self-directed cryptocitizen’s sense of civic collaboration, where part of meaning and purpose may be derived from participating in community sustainability. The new polis could be the micropolis as groups of individuals form self-sustaining cryptocommunities.

Peergrid Cryptosustaining Micropolises
The cryptocitizen’s civic collaboration is through providing peergrid resources. Here in communities of 20-50, I have a solar panel on my roof, my neighbor has a City Blooms hydroponic greens unit, the next person has a Tesla power wall, the next person is an ISP and hosts a Bitcoind node; etc. Each of us provides a piece of peergrid infrastructure supporting the overall sustainability of us as a community. The kids paper route of the future is maintaining the hydroponic greens unit. Individuals are civic infrastructure providers. Peergrids then are local community mesh networks of all needed resources including physical (energy, ICT, food, infrastructure) and emotional (empathy, belonging, contribution, meaning). Peergrid cryptosustaining micropolises can then federate, so the smartcity becomes a federation of local autonomous self-sustained communities. Blockchains are the trustable unobtrusive system for managing all of this in the background, allowing communities to move beyond free rider problems and other concerns that have prohibited easeful cooperative collaborations. Blockchains facilitate the ownership of community infrastructure (financing, transferring, operating, drawing assessments) in a community-based manner.

Crypto-Enlightenment Governance
Thus through the volitional responsibility-taking of the cryptocitizen as an individual self-determining economic and political systems of choice, and as an individual in society, collaboratively participating in self-sustaining micropolises, governance can be recast as a process of support (immanence) as opposed to extraction (baseline erosion). The actualization economy can thereby focus on (1) sustainable material survival and (2) the social goods of liberation: self-respect, self-esteem, and self-realization. Cryptosustainability communities are finally a means of prescriptively destabilizing non-value-added elites, implementing the original esprit of Rousseau, Rawls, and Locke.

Blockchains: a Grey Goo-Resistant Singularity-class Technology
The crypto-enlightenment includes seeing the potential impact of blockchains beyond the flexible recasting of human economic and political processes; blockchains are singularity-class technologies. A singularity-class technology is a technology for the large-scale trustful automated orchestration of vast and detailed processes. The power of singularity-class technologies, this level of technological orchestration of processes, possibly without our human participation, has given way to the fear of runaway technologies. The fear of runaway technology is in the same form, and persists across all singularity-class technologies, that AIs, robots, nanobots, 3D printers, matter compilers, space terraformers, synthetically-replicating bioengineered life, etc. will take over the world.

Blockchains are a potential solution to the fear of runway technology in any of these areas. The fear of runaway technology can be allayed in noticing that the very nature and design principles of singularity-class technologies, certainly blockchains, and by extension, perhaps any singularity-class technology, are that the large-scale orchestration cannot proceed otherwise than through a system of checks and balances. The key blockchain functionality principles are being a very-large scale automated system of checks and balances where all ‘transactions’ must be validated, confirm via a reputation or other mechanism, employing algorithmic trust and smartnetwork consensus mechanisms.

Singularity-class Technology Safety: Consensus Signing and Design Signing
This structure can carry into the implementation of singularity-class projects like friendly AI, autonomous lab robots (on-chain DAC IP discovery tracking), blockchain nano-compilers (Grey Goo worry: unchecked nanotech proliferation). Two key safety design principles in singularity-class technologies are 1) the required confirmation of any transaction or activity by smartnetwork consensus mechanisms which prevents non-bona fide behavior, and 2) signing; all transactions cannot help but be signed. Just as physical-world engineers sign the bridges they build (literally, as a claiming and responsibility mechanism), synbio, AI, space, etc. engineers cannot help but ‘sign’ their own building blocks like DNA designs. With traces as an inherent feature of technology, signing is unavoidable, so singularity-class technologies like propositional nanotech constructions would be either 1) signed by bona fide engineers, and 2) not be able to avoid having a traceable signature by befouled players (intentionally malicious or otherwise).

Spacechains: Blockchains in Space
A further as yet unconsidered application area for singularity-class technologies like blcockhains is spacechains: blockchains in space. The idea is that blockchains are not just an Earth-class technology, but also an extra-terrestrial-class technology for space projects. Blockchains can be used to coordinate very-large Earth-class terrestrial projects like billion-member DNA databanks and EMRs, and space-class problems too. Some of the many potential space applications of blockchains include space settlement, terraforming, asteroid mining, fuel generation, bombardment monitoring, and basic science observation. There could be colored-coin ledgers for energy, settlement, transport, and supplies. Further, spacechains are a fragility alleviation mechanism for terrestrial applications. It is surprising that we do not yet have backup for many terrestrial operations. Spacechains could help with this, providing data center back-up, geomagnetic solar protection, existential risk reduction, and Bitcoins in space (where there is an articulated project, (BitSats (like CubeSats)).

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