Governments have a lot of power.
While this can yield good outcomes like civil rights, governments that are too powerful almost always become corrupt. Because the power-to-corruption pathway is all but guaranteed in government, it’s not enough to trust the few good deeds and ignore the looming threats.
This is something Santiago Siri noticed in his native Argentina when he ran for an Argentine Congress seat in an attempt to stem corruption in the country. Now he’s trying to push back against it with decentralization and censorship resistance, something he spoke about during a Plumia talk.
The point of decentralization is censorship resistance
Decentralization is information “shared in an immutable way” meaning it cannot be modified or changed by a single entity.
This use case, said Siri, is purpose-built for censorship resistance. He said it’s about “creating systems that cannot be censored by centralized entities such as a nation state, government, or corporation.”
The decentralization “revolution” as Siri calls it was kickstarted by Bitcoin, which disrupted the idea of a reserve currency. Throughout history, the country printing the reserve currency has had immense power in the world (like the USA today), which it often used to censure other individual or state actors it didn’t like. With Bitcoin, there is no single country owning the currency, meaning everyone is on a more level playing field.
How to build a censorship-resistant world
Here’s what Siri said are critical pillars of a censorship-resistant world
The current world order relies heavily on third parties to embed trust in the system such as judges to enforce contracts and police to enforce laws.
Instead of relying on goodwill, trustless systems are built with an “adversarial mindset” where they assume someone will try to take advantage of the system. As a result, they are built with incentives for the masses to do good in a way that mitigates the potential of a small minority succeeding in acting maliciously.
“[Trustless systems] do not require a promise to be guaranteed by goodwill of a person,” said Siri.
Proof of humanity
Right now, governments verify identities. However, they are not doing a very good job of it on average—approximately one billion people globally don’t have identity documents.
Proof of humanity is a critical part of a censorship-resistant world because every autocrat’s or dictator’s first move is to remove people’s right to their identity, labelling people they disagree with as criminals, outcasts, or others.
Siri’s latest project, called Proof of Humanity, aims to solve this problem. People verify their identity by recording a video clip and putting down a small deposit in cryptocurrency. A community of people then validate the identity, voting whether they feel it’s a real person or a deep fake. If the identity submission is challenged, it goes through a blockchain-based arbitration system, with the crypto deposit becoming a bounty if the identity is indeed fake.
A censorship-resistant world requires knowledge of blockchain systems and mechanism designs, something that is sorely lacking in the world. Siri likens learning about blockchain in the 21st century to learning about computing in the 1980s or the internet in the 1990s—nascent and still highly technical, but critical for the future.
“A lot of these concepts can be very scary at the beginning,” said Siri. “...But newcomers want more than just speculation and trading.”
There is already a lot of English-language content on the subject (such as Coinbase Learn for cryptocurrency). To provide more education to Spanish speakers, Siri founded DAO Education, a free online school to teach concepts like cryptocurrency, private keys, and smart contracts.
Controlling for criminals
The final element of building any censorship-resistant world is not underestimating what criminals and malicious actors will do with it.
Siri shared two examples of how state actors have already tried to capture and leverage cryptocurrencies for malicious purposes. In Venezuela, the government followed energy grid patterns to identify crypto miners, confiscated the mining tools, and expelled people from the country. The government now mines its own crypto using the stolen technology. The Chinese government is well on its way to building a state-backed cryptocurrency to further its state capitalism goals.
There’s also individual criminal activity, which Siri said will inevitably happen in cryptocurrencies, if it’s not happening already, just as it happens in all reserve or powerful currencies (like the US dollar today).
“I would never underestimate the enemy,” said Siri.
The need for new systems
Thinking about the future, Siri talked about the dichotomy of trying to change a system versus building a new one from scratch.
In order to change a system, you need to gain power within it. However, in the process of gaining power you are changed by the system and may even start defending it because it provided you the power you now have. With this in mind, Siri said the only option for a new world order is to build new systems.
“Systems generate immune responses,” said Siri. “They don’t like disruptors. [So] don’t change the system, build a better alternative.”
The Plumia Talks is an ongoing series of public talks about creating a borderless world through technology. The sessions feature expert guests such as academics, authors, technologists, policymakers, founders, and activists. Register for our next event.
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