Plumia Talks

Santiago Siri: 'Decentralization is a tactic'

The founder of Proof of Humanity on the realities of building a censorship-resistance world
Santiago Siri: 'Decentralization is a tactic'
In: Plumia Talks

In 2013, Santiago Siri towed a Trojan Horse through the streets of Buenos Aires. The video game developer turned activist pulled the publicity stunt to launch a radical new political party, Partido de la Red (Party of the Net).

The Trojan Horse imagery symbolized the party’s ethos of infiltration; the plan was to sneak into the establishment and disrupt from the inside. But Siri quickly discovered that the corruption in his native Argentina ran too deep. He now doubts that the system can be fixed through change – rather, it needs rebuilding entirely.

In a Plumia Talks live interview, Siri talks about how decentralization could be the answer to a new democratic system.

Decentralization is censorship resistance

When information is decentralized it’s “shared in an immutable way”, meaning it cannot be modified or changed by a single entity. Siri believes this gives cryptography promising political applications.

“Decentralization is a tactic,” he says. “I would argue that its main purpose would be censorship resistance.” This is about “creating systems that cannot be censored by centralized entities such as a nation state, government, or corporation.”

Bitcoin kickstarted the decentralization “revolution” by disrupting the idea of a reserve currency. Throughout history, the country that prints the reserve currency has immense global power (like the USA does currently). Just as cryptocurrency decoupled money from central banks, the same blockchain technology could decouple power from central governments.

Trustless systems

The irony of a decentralized cryptoeconomic system is that it’s built on the principle of trusting less. Most societies rely on citizens trusting third paties to uphold justice systems for them, such as police enforcing laws and judges’ rulings.

A decentralized system, on the other hand, uses cryptographic proofs that are verified by computers in a distributed network. “They do not require a promise to be guaranteed by the goodwill of a person,” Siri says.

As a result, trustless systems 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.

“The way we think and design these systems is very much under an adversarial mindset,” Siri says. “Just assume the worst and start from there.”

Proof of humanity

An ideal use case of trustless systems is identity verification.

The World Bank estimates that approximately one billion people globally don’t have identity documents. Siri’s latest project, 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 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.

Crypto education

For Siri, web 3.0 literacy is as important as reading and writing. He compares today’s blockchain education to learning about computing in the 1980s or the internet in the 1990s – nascent and still highly technical, but critical for the future.

Information security, private keys and smart contracts are among the subjects that need more attention.

While there is already a lot of information about cryptocurrency in English sites like Coinbase Learn, Siri saw a need for more Spanish content. In 2020, he founded DAO Education, a free online school that teaches concepts like cryptocurrency, NFTs, and smart contracts.

A deeper understanding of cryptography is also needed in order to prevent the malicious use of it. Government corruption and criminal activity is, according to Siri, inevitable with cryptocurrencies, just as it happens in all reserve of powerful currencies.

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 – the Trojan Horse theory. 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 believes the only option for a new world order is to build new systems.

“Systems generate immune responses,” Siri says. “They don’t like disruptors. Don’t change the system, build a better alternative.”

Watch our full interview with Santiago Siri:

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Written by
Stefan Palios
Stefan works with entrepreneurs, enterprises, and governments to tell their story, educate their community, and build movements. He is author of the business book The 50 Laws of Freelancing.
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