We’ve stopped trusting institutions and started trusting strangers


TED: “Something profound is changing our concept of trust, says Rachel Botsman. While we used to place our trust in institutions like governments and banks, today we increasingly rely on others, often strangers, on platforms like Airbnb and Uber and through technologies like the blockchain. This new era of trust could bring with it a more transparent, inclusive and accountable society — if we get it right. Who do you trust?…(More)”

How technology can help nations navigate the difficult path to food sovereignty


 at The Conversation Global: “As the movement of people across the world creates more multicultural societies, can trade help communities maintain their identity? This is the question at the heart of a concept known as “food sovereignty”.

Food sovereignty has been defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods” and, critically, the ability of people to own their food systems.

Culturally appropriate food refers to the cuisine eaten by a certain group, which reflects their own values, norms, religion and preferences. It is usually dynamic and may change over time.

In my journey across different food landscapes, I have discovered that people consume food not just to satisfy hunger but for cultural, religious, and social reasons. And I have learnt that there are ways that international trade can help facilitate this….

Cultural groups have different definitions of good or appropriate food. The elite (who can afford it) and people who are environmentally conscious, for instance, believe in organic or local produce; Jews eat kosher food; and Muslims eat halal.

The challenge lies with making sure food is appropriately labelled – as organic, local, kosher or halal – and the key here is the authenticity of the certification process.

It can be quite difficult to trace the origin of certain foods, whether they’re produced locally or internationally. This educates consumers, allowing them to make the right choice. But it may be an additional cost for farmers, so there is little incentive to label.

The case for transparency and authentication

To ensure that trade allows people to have access to authentic and culturally appropriate food, I recommend a new, digitised process called “crypto-labelling”. Crypto-labelling would use secure communication technology to create a record which traces the history of a particular food from the farm to grocery stores. It would mean consistent records, no duplication, a certification registry, and easy traceability.

Crypto-labelling would ensure transparency in the certification process for niche markets, such as halal, kosher and organic. It allows people who don’t know or trust each other to develop a dependable relationship based on a particular commodity.

If somebody produces organic amaranth in Cotonou, Benin, for instance, and labels it with a digital code that anyone can easily understand, then a family in another country can have access to the desired food throughout the year.

This initiative, which should be based on the blockchain technology behind Bitcoin, can be managed by consumer or producer cooperatives. On the consumer end, all that’s required is a smartphone to scan and read the crypto-labels.

The adoption of blockchain technology in the agricultural sector can help African countries “leapfrog” to the fourth industrial revolution.

Leapfrogging happens when developing countries skip an already outmoded technology that’s widely used in the developed world and embrace a newer one instead. In the early 2000s, for instance, households with no landline became households with more than two mobile phones. This enabled the advent of a new platform for mobile banking in Kenya and Somalia.

Similarly, crypto-labelling will lead to a form of “electronic agriculture” which will make it cheaper in the long run to label and enhance traceability. With access to mobile technology increasing globally, it’s a feasible system for the developing world…(More)”

Can Direct Democracy Be Revived Through New Voting Apps?


Adele Peters at FastCo-Exist: “…a new app and proposed political party called MiVote—aims to rethink how citizens participate in governance. Instead of voting only in elections, people using the app can share their views on every issue the government considers. The idea is that parliamentary representatives of the “MiVote party” would commit to support legislation only when it’s in line with the will of the app’s members—regardless of the representative’s own opinion….

Like Democracy Earth, a nonprofit that started in Argentina, MiVote uses the blockchain to make digital voting and identity fully secure. Democracy Earth also plans to use a similar model of representation, running candidates who promise to adhere to the results of online votes rather than a particular ideology.

But MiVote takes a somewhat different approach to gathering opinions. The app will give users a notification when a new issue is addressed in the Australian parliament. Then, voters get access to a digital “information packet,” compiled by independent researchers, that lets them dive into four different approaches.

“We don’t talk about the bill or the legislation at all,” says Jacoby. “If you put it into a business context, the bill or the legislation is the contract. In no business would you write the contract before you know what the deal looks like. If we’re looking for genuine democracy, the bill has to be determined by the people . . . Once we know where the people want to go, then we focus on making sure the bill gets us there.”

If the parliament is going to vote about immigration, for example, you might get details about a humanitarian approach, a border security approach, a financially pragmatic approach, and an approach that focuses on international relations. For each frame of reference, the app lets you dive into as much information as you need to decide. If you don’t read anything, it won’t let you cast a vote.

“We’re much more interested in a solutions-oriented approach rather than an ideological approach,” he says. “Ideology basically says I have the answer for you before you’ve even asked the question. There is no ideology, no worldview, that has the solution to everything that ails us.”

Representatives of this hypothetical new party won’t have to worry about staying on message, because there is no message; the only goal is to vote after the people speak. That might free politicians to focus on solutions rather than their image…(More)”

Democracy Is Getting A Reboot On The Blockchain


Adele Peters in FastCoExist: “In 2013, a group of activists in Buenos Aires attempted an experiment in what they called hacking democracy. Representatives from their new political party would promise to always vote on issues according to the will of citizens online. Using a digital platform, people could tell the legislator what to support, in a hybrid of a direct democracy and representation.

With 1.2% of the vote, the candidate they ran for a seat on the city council didn’t win. But the open-source platform they created for letting citizens vote, called Democracy OS, started getting attention around the world. In Buenos Aires, the government tried using it to get citizen feedback on local issues. Then, when the party attempted to run a candidate a second time, something happened that made them shift course. They were told they’d have to bribe a federal judge to participate.

“When you see that kind of corruption that you think happens in House of Cards—and you suddenly realize that House of Cards is happening all around you—it’s a very shocking thing,” says Santiago Siri, a programmer and one of the founders of the party, called Partido de la Red, or the Net Party. Siri started thinking about how technology could solve the fundamental problem of corruption—and about how democracy should work in the digital age.

The idea morphed into a Y Combinator-backed nonprofit called Democracy Earth Foundation. As the website explains:

The Internet transformed how we share culture, work together—and even fall in love—but governance has remained unchanged for over 200 years. With the rise of open-source software and peer-to-peer networks, political intermediation is no longer necessary. We are building a protocol with smart contracts that allows decentralized governance for any kind of organization.

Their new platform, which the team is working on now as part of the Fast Forward accelerator for tech nonprofits, starts by granting incorruptible identities to each citizen, and then records votes in a similarly incorruptible way.

“If you know anything about democracy, one of the simplest ways of subverting democracy is by faking identity,” says Siri. “This is about opening up the black box that can corrupt the system. In a democracy, that black box is who gets to count the votes, who gets to validate the identities that have the right to vote.”

While some experts argue that Internet voting isn’t secure enough to use yet, Democracy Earth’s new platform uses the blockchain—a decentralized, public ledger that uses encryption. Rather than recording votes in one place, everyone’s votes are recorded across a network of thousands of computers. The system can also validate identities in the same decentralized way….(More)”.

How Technology Can Restore Our Trust in Democracy


Cenk Sidar in Foreign Policy: “The travails of the Arab Spring, the rise of the Islamic State, and the upsurge of right-wing populism throughout the countries of West all demonstrate a rising frustration with the liberal democratic order in the years since the 2008 financial crisis. There is a growing intellectual consensus that the world is sailing into uncharted territory: a realm marked by authoritarianism, shallow populism, and extremism.

One way to overcome this global resentment is to use the best tools we have to build a more inclusive and direct democracy. Could new technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), data analytics, crowdsourcing, and Blockchain help to restore meaningful dialogue and win back people’s hearts and minds?

Underpinning our unsettling current environment is an irony: Thanks to modern communication technology, the world is more connected than ever — but average people feel more disconnected. In the United States, polls show that trust in government is at a 50-year low. Frustrated Trump supporters and the Britons who voted for Brexit both have a sense of having “lost out” as the global elite consolidates its power and becomes less responsive to the rest of society. This is not an irrational belief: Branko Milanovic, a leading inequality scholar, has found that people in the lower and middle parts of rich countries’ income distributions have been the losers of the last 15 years of globalization.

The same 15 years have also brought astounding advances in technology, from the rise of the Internet to the growing ubiquity of smartphones. And Western society has, to some extent, struggled to find its bearings amid this transition. Militant groups seduce young people through social media. The Internet enables consumers to choose only the news that matches their preconceived beliefs, offering a bottomless well of partisan fury and conspiracy theories. Cable news airing 24/7 keeps viewers in a state of agitation. In short, communication technologies that are meant to bring us together end up dividing us instead (and not least because our politicians have chosen to game these tools for their own advantage).

It is time to make technology part of the solution. More urgently than ever, leaders, innovators, and activists need to open up the political marketplace to allow technology to realize its potential for enabling direct citizen participation. This is an ideal way to restore trust in the democratic process.

As the London School of Economics’ Mary Kaldor put it recently: “The task of global governance has to be reconceptualized to make it possible for citizens to influence the decisions that affect their lives — to reclaim substantive democracy.” One notable exception to the technological disconnect has been fundraising, as candidates have tapped into the Internet to enable millions of average voters to donate small sums. With the right vision, however, technological innovation in politics could go well beyond asking people for money….(More)”

Bitcoin: innovation of money and evolution of governance


Nozomi Hayase in Open Democracy: “In its seven years of existence, Bitcoin has gained widespread attention with its disruptive potential in finance. Some see it as a form of digital gold, offering a safe haven against capital controls and asylum to people whose currency is debased.

The invention of cryptocurrency coincided with a global crisis of legitimacy in the 2008 financial meltdown, which was followed by bank bailouts and for the people, a cycle of austerity. In that seminal white paper, mysterious creator Satoshi Nakamoto described Bitcoin as a purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash that would allow “online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution”. The core invention is distributed trust and Nakamoto stated that it was put forward as a solution to the “inherent weakness of the trust based model”, where financial institutions act as trusted third parties.

Bitcoin, I will argue, is not just an innovation in banking and finance, but at its core, concerns a challenge to governance systems that can lead to an evolution of humanity. For so long, social progress has stagnated, with the selfish and callous sides of man taking the upper hand. Unprecedented levels of government and corporate corruption in recent years have signaled a breakdown of systems of accountability. This deep failure of democracy has exposed the existence of individuals who exhibit a total lack of conscience and empathy for others. They embody a dark side of individuality, with aggressive and narrow selfish desires that often come in conflict with the public good. Now, the destructive actions of this minority seem to have become a threat to civilization itself. We shall explore how Bitcoin provides a new model of governance that is resilient to these adversarial forces.

Security holes within representative democracy

In the US, the launch of constitutional democracy brought a significant departure from the monarchy of olden times, where the king acted as ordained ruler. Yet, the foundation of this governance has not fundamentally changed, as it still relies on authority, requiring people to trust those who claim to represent them in the form of elected officials.

Representative democracy has increasingly become a mask used by ruthless individuals to hide and gain a grip on the populace. Behind the veil of secrecy, corporate masters behind the charade of electoral politics sponsor political candidates, who with campaign promises keep people passive and manage down their expectation levels. With future faking, which involves making plans that will never happen, and gas-lighting, a tactic known to challenge one’s memory, they deceive and gain power over others.

Money as a weapon of control

Money dependent on systems of representation requires trust to work. With the creation of the Federal Reserve and other central banks, private corporations began taking over the supplying of money. This centrally planned money production intermediates human relationship by dividing all into classes of creditors and debtors, where the former are masters, while the latter often become de-facto slaves.

The hidden captains of this managed democracy direct the flow of currency through financial engineering and have created incentive structures that are bent toward preserving their power. Stimulated by toxic asset bubbles, derivatives and quantitative easing, these incentives work like invisible hands of the market. They suppress democratic values by controlling information, which is the currency of democracy and suppressing free speech with economic censorship, as was seen in the case of the financial blockade against WikiLeaks. With radical deregulation, this system promotes fraud and depravity, exemplified in HSBC’s money laundering and top bank’s currency rigging. Through oppressive monetary policy and predatory lending that is presented as humanitarian aid, institutions such as the IMF and World Bank indebtdeveloping countries, holding whole populations in poverty.

All of this has resulted in the creation of a two-tiered justice system and derisked capitalism, where those in power are never allowed to fail and are not held accountable either by markets or the legal system….

Bitcoin as a new security model

Bitcoin brings an elegant solution to this systemic parasitic rent-seeking and exploitation. As asset-based digital cash, it offers an alternative to the promissory system of value creation by decree from above. Currency is its first application and Bitcoin’s underlying technology, the blockchain is a public asset ledger. This is a distributed database that records a history of transactions in the network without anyone in charge. Once data is verified, no one can undo it. This immutable timestamp goes beyond simple accounting of monetary transactions.

Bitcoin enables a new security model and it addresses the problem of security holes in the existing trust-based model of governance. Author and security expert Andreas Antonopoulos called this “trust by computation” that has “no central authority or trusted third party”….

Governance without central authority

Over the decades, democratic governments have become vehicles of control that have lost their fail-safe. Increasingly, people are held hostage by this corrupted political system. Satoshi’s white paper published in 2008 cleared a path for evolution. This wisdom can help humanity solve the problem of a historic failure of accountability.

Bitcoin ungoverns people as well as unbanking them around the world. Proof-of-work distributes what used to be third party trust across a massive global decentralized network, fostering a kind of self-governance in each individual. People who till now have been blindly handing over their consent to institutions can instead choose to be equal under the law of mathematics.

Governance without central authority can at first seem inefficient. But it is more secure than the current system of representation. The more the system reduces the need to trust a third party, replacing it with a borderless network, the lower the security risk becomes. With Bitcoin, governance can be innovated to function as a platform of consensus. Rather than a system to govern others, it can be used as settlement; to work out disputes and reconcile conflicts. Distributed trust as its core technology enables the capacity to set up rules agreed to by everyone, which cannot be altered by one person or group. The Bitcoin blockchain opens a door into a pluralistic society where all can participate in creating governance models and currencies that manifest their values through the principle of mutual aid and voluntary association….(More)”

Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies: A Comprehensive Introduction


New book by Arvind Narayanan, Joseph Bonneau, Edward Felten, Andrew Miller & Steven Goldfeder: “Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies provides a comprehensive introduction to the revolutionary yet often misunderstood new technologies of digital currency. Whether you are a student, software developer, tech entrepreneur, or researcher in computer science, this authoritative and self-contained book tells you everything you need to know about the new global money for the Internet age.

How do Bitcoin and its block chain actually work? How secure are your bitcoins? How anonymous are their users? Can cryptocurrencies be regulated? These are some of the many questions this book answers. It begins by tracing the history and development of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, and then gives the conceptual and practical foundations you need to engineer secure software that interacts with the Bitcoin network as well as to integrate ideas from Bitcoin into your own projects. Topics include decentralization, mining, the politics of Bitcoin, altcoins and the cryptocurrency ecosystem, the future of Bitcoin, and more.

  • An essential introduction to the new technologies of digital currency
  • Covers the history and mechanics of Bitcoin and the block chain, security, decentralization, anonymity, politics and regulation, altcoins, and much more
  • Features an accompanying website that includes instructional videos for each chapter, homework problems, programming assignments, and lecture slides…(More)”.

See also: Coursera course

The Perils of Using Technology to Solve Other People’s Problems


Ethan Zuckerman in The Atlantic: “I found Shane Snow’s essay on prison reform — “How Soylent and Oculus Could Fix the Prison System” — through hate-linking….

Some of my hate-linking friends began their eye-rolling about Snow’s article with the title, which references two of Silicon Valley’s most hyped technologies. With the current focus on the U.S. as an “innovation economy,” it’s common to read essays predicting the end of a major social problem due to a technical innovation.Bitcoin will end poverty in the developing world by enabling inexpensive money transfers. Wikipedia and One Laptop Per Child will educate the world’s poor without need for teachers or schools. Self driving cars will obviate public transport and reshape American cities.

The writer Evgeny Morozov has offered a sharp and helpful critique to this mode of thinking, which he calls “solutionism.” Solutionism demands that we focus on problems that have “nice and clean technological solution at our disposal.” In his book, To Save Everything, Click Here, Morozov savages ideas like Snow’s, regardless of whether they are meant as thought experiments or serious policy proposals. (Indeed, one worry I have in writing this essay is taking Snow’s ideas too seriously, as Morozov does with many of the ideas he lambastes in his book.)

The problem with the solutionist critique, though, is that it tends to remove technological innovation from the problem-solver’s toolkit. In fact, technological development is often a key component in solving complex social and political problems, and new technologies can sometimes open a previously intractable problem. The rise of inexpensive solar panels may be an opportunity to move nations away from a dependency on fossil fuels and begin lowering atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, much as developments in natural gas extraction and transport technologies have lessened the use of dirtier fuels like coal.

But it’s rare that technology provides a robust solution to a social problem by itself. Successful technological approaches to solving social problems usually require changes in laws and norms, as well as market incentives to make change at scale….

Design philosophies like participatory design and codesign bring this concept to the world of technology, demanding that technologies designed for a group of people be designed and built, in part, by those people. Codesign challenges many of the assumptions of engineering, requiring people who are used to working in isolation to build broad teams and to understand that those most qualified to offer a technical solution may be least qualified to identify a need or articulate a design problem. This method is hard and frustrating, but it’s also one of the best ways to ensure that you’re solving the right problem, rather than imposing your preferred solution on a situation…(More)”

Distributed ledger technology: beyond block chain


UK Government Office for Science: “In a major report on distributed ledgers published today (19 January 2016), the Government Chief Scientist, Sir Mark Walport, sets out how this technology could transform the delivery of public services and boost productivity.

A distributed ledger is a database that can securely record financial, physical or electronic assets for sharing across a network through entirely transparent updates of information.

Its first incarnation was ‘Blockchain’ in 2008, which underpinned digital cash systems such as Bitcoin. The technology has now evolved into a variety of models that can be applied to different business problems and dramatically improve the sharing of information.

Distributed ledger technology could provide government with new tools to reduce fraud, error and the cost of paper intensive processes. It also has the potential to provide new ways of assuring ownership and provenance for goods and intellectual property.

Distributed ledgers are already being used in the diamond markets and in the disbursing of international aid payments.

Sir Mark Walport said:

Distributed ledger technology has the potential to transform the delivery of public and private services. It has the potential to redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data sharing, transparency and trust and make a leading contribution to the government’s digital transformation plan.

Any new technology creates challenges, but with the right mix of leadership, collaboration and sound governance, distributed ledgers could yield significant benefits for the UK.

The report makes a number of recommendations which focus on ministerial leadership, research, standards and the need for proof of concept trials.

They include:

  • government should provide ministerial leadership to ensure that it provides the vision, leadership and the platform for distributed ledger technology within government; this group should consider governance, privacy, security and standards
  • government should establish trials of distributed ledgers in order to assess the technology’s usability within the public sector
  • government could support the creation of distributed ledger demonstrators for local government that will bring together all the elements necessary to test the technology and its application.
  • the UK research community should invest in the research required to ensure that distributed ledgers are scalable, secure and provide proof of correctness of their contents….View the report ‘Distributed ledger technology: beyond block chain’.”

Open data can unravel the complex dealings of multinationals


 in The Guardian: “…Just like we have complementary currencies to address shortcomings in national monetary systems, we now need to encourage an alternative accounting sector to address shortcomings in global accounting systems.

So what might this look like? We already are seeing the genesis of this in the corporate open data sector. OpenCorporates in London has been a pioneer in this field, creating a global unique identifier system to make it easier to map corporations. Groups like OpenOil in Berlin are now using the OpenCorporates classification system to map companies like BP. Under the tagline “Imagine an open oil industry”, they have also begun mapping ground-level contract and concession data, and are currently building tools to allow the public to model the economics of particular mines and oil fields. This could prove useful in situations where doubt is cast on the value of particular assets controlled by public companies in politically fragile states.

 OpenOil’s objective is not just corporate transparency. Merely disclosing information does not advance understanding. OpenOil’s real objective is to make reputable sources of information on oil companies usable to the general public. In the case of BP, company data is already deposited in repositories like Companies House, but in unusable, jumbled and jargon-filled pdf formats. OpenOil seeks to take such transparency, and turn it into meaningful transparency.

According to OpenOil’s Anton Rühling, a variety of parties have started to use their information. “During the recent conflicts in Yemen we had a sudden spike in downloads of our Yemeni oil contract information. We traced this to UAE, where a lot of financial lawyers and investors are based. They were clearly wanting to see how the contracts could be affected.” Their BP map even raised interest from senior BP officials. “We were contacted by finance executives who were eager to discuss the results.”

Open mapping

Another pillar of the alternative accounting sector that is emerging are supply chain mapping systems. The supply chain largely remains a mystery. In standard corporate accounts suppliers appear as mere expenses. No information is given about where the suppliers are based and what their standards are. In the absence of corporate management volunteering that information, Sourcemap has created an open platform for people to create supply chain maps themselves. Progressively-minded companies – such as Fairphone – have now begun to volunteer supply chain information on the platform.

One industry forum that is actively pondering alternative accounting is ICAEW’s AuditFutures programme. They recently teamed up with the Royal College of Art’s service design programme to build design thinking into accounting practice. AuditFuture’s Martin Martinoff wants accountants’ to perceive themselves as being creative innovators for the public interest. “Imagine getting 10,000 auditors online together to develop an open crowdsourced audit platform.”…(More)