Mahatma & Decentralization

Gandhi’s plan was to begin civil disobedience with a satyagraha (a peaceful protest mechanism, satya=true agraha=force) aimed at the British salt tax.

The 1882 Salt Act gave the British a monopoly on the collection and manufacture of salt, limiting its handling to government salt depots and levying a salt tax. (Dennis Dalton)Violation of the Salt Act was a criminal offense.

This parallels the rise of distributed ledger technologies: until recently governments and large financial service institutions viewed them as extra-legal and that incorporating them was fraught with regulatory risk.

If money or more broadly a “store of value” can be created by any group of consenting adults today, its creation, bearing, and transmission are controlled by large institutions and is protected by law. Violation of this law is punishable but its bending is the source of envy and admiration. So much so that we make movies (BoilerRoom, The Big Short, Too Big to Fail, WallStreet) and T.V shows (Suits, Billions) about it and glorify the protagonists.

The British establishment, while decreeing that making salt was illegal, was simultaneously not disturbed by plans of resistance against the salt tax. The Viceroy himself, Lord Irwin, did not take the threat of a salt protest seriously, writing to London,

“At present the prospect of a salt campaign does not keep me awake at night.”

There was on May 25, 2017, a bill S1241 introduced in the US senate to add digital currency to the list of instruments to be declared while crossing the US border, while simultaneously the Congressional Blockchain Caucus hears testimony about blockchain technologies and displays positive sentiments.

It is this superposition of incentives that makes dealing in blockchain tech supremely tedious and adds to the volatility in price.

C. Rajagopalachari, one of the leaders of the Indian Independence movement in a public meeting at Tuticorin, said about the salt tax revolt :

Suppose, a people rise in revolt. They cannot attack the abstract constitution or lead an army against proclamations and statutes…Civil disobedience has to be directed against the salt tax or the land tax or some other particular point — not that; that is our final end, but for the time being it is our aim, and we must shoot straight.

This requirement of people to need something tangible to rally for is somewhat missed by the masses pushing Blockchain tech as a get rich quick scheme. Speculation seems to be the last barrier to entry use-case for this tech as witnessed by the explosion of ICOs( Initial Coin Offering similar to Initial Public Offering). These have become so commonplace that speculators have poured millions of dollars into untested, unread code purely based on the greater fool theory. There is sure to be a correction in this market causing millions of dollars of loss to hundreds of people.

This event will surely be used by a financial regulator (i.e. the S.E.C ) to take action against these sales and setup rules akin to the JOBS act.

Just like the purpose of the salt tax revolt was Swaraj (Self Rule) and not the tax itself, the purpose of decentralization tech should be and is the creation of user-oriented platforms with transparent governance and efficient transactions and not speculation on the value of the token itself. A market correction will force pure speculators to flee which should open up this tech to be used for its ultimate purpose.

Decentralization tech is being compared to the internetLinuxTulipsa commodity, an asset classforeign currency, and every other thing. There are applications being built from the ground up that exploit the features of decentralized tech.

One of the most inspiring and certainly the most flamboyant was a rebuild of twitter, which was live-tweeted by the builder. Others are tuned to solve distributed file-storage (FileCoin) and prediction markets (Augur), payment for content (Steemit, Yours), or identity (Aid tech, Civic).

This is where the real work is being done, and this is where we are headed into a future of online Swaraj (self-rule).

The intended goal of the satyagraha was to move closer to self-rule, attract the Muslim population to this cause, and create a national movement. While it became a national movement and received international acclaim, it did not cause an immediate move closer to self-rule, nor was it successful in attracting Muslims. Still, the satyagraha played a vital role in the negotiations about self-rule and provided an international stage for the sovereignty discussion.

The aim of decentralization technologies is similar: they promise to bring self-sovereignty or at least “math-sovereignty” to the users of its applications. Its goals include an immutable history of records, perfect transparency, and transactions blind to political borders. We are nowhere close to these goals but are moving closer by the week.

This decentralization will cause a lot of pain in the short term and may need a cycle of boom-bust to realize its true potential.

The most important thing the Satyagraha campaign did was to force the British to recognize that their control of India depended entirely on the consent of the Indians – Salt Satyagraha was a significant step in the British losing that consent.

The most important accomplishment of the decentralization phenomenon is reminding users that their consent is necessary for centralized systems today to make profits higher and more concentrated than any in history.

Fullstack Learning Hydra

Parameterizing our connections

On apps like tinder, we are parameterizing our relationships. We can swipe left or right based on any number of factors and the app will give us ever-appealing options. A mutual match, when formed, has the chance to become something great. Enabling this is an open access policy to the unit of value in that network – the connection between mutually interested parties.

There is a weird and wonderful corner of twitter that acts like a “Tinder for Brains”, where learners are matched to a subject matter expert and information is allowed to flow freely. It is democratizing access to experts in a way not known before.

A minimal barrier of entry to the ‘network of experts’ is following them, which gives you direct access to their thoughts; their public comments give insight into their expertise. It also gives you the ability to decide after some research whether to take the next step in your learning journey.

This access to people’s expertise comes with consequences. By broadening the definition and allowing for indirect indicators of expertise, people are inheriting not just expertise but culture. This exacerbates our biases and creates distractions.

Here is a relationship hydra with each vertex showing a different goal. The number of people corresponds directly to the width of the triangle.

A tinder match, like a connection on tinder for brains, may lead to different outcomes. The difference is that there is a support structure of entities (contractual, legal, utilitarian, platonic, redress, social, religious, and political) for taking advantage of each of those outcomes.

While full-stack ‘tinder to long term romantic relationship’ app would need a culture change to be successful, the ‘tinder for brains” to long term intellectual relationship app does not, and is in fact lauded.

This learning Hydra, similar to the relationship hydra, has vertices for each long term learning goal. The width of each head represents the number of people wanting to reach that goal.

Our current frontiers of learning at scale i.e. MOOC’s( Massively Open Online Course) are at best a half solution. MOOC’s serve self-selection of topics and are self-paced but prescriptive. This creates a unique set of issues like class completion rate, Accreditation for the MOOC, Jobs for people going through the MOOC. MOOC’s have an online community aspect that leaves much to be desired. The deliverables in most MOOCs are unsophisticated and do not provide much incentive for full-stack learning.

A big cause for these problems is the impersonal, non-goal-oriented, improperly incentivized user acquisition funnel. It is wide and not optimized for self-guided learning. our “tinder for brains” hydra solves this by allowing people to choose their level of interaction, the path to success, and ultimate goals.

One question that arises is what incentive exists at the top of this pyramid, head of the hydra, to pull people up? Let’s explore those incentives from two of the multiple heads Private sector Jobs and Academia.

Private Jobs :

The recruitment process, whether through HR firms, on-demand startups, or white glove executive recruitment firms, is uncertain, personal network-oriented and slow.

Our Learning hydra has at each of its stages

  1. a series of verifiable deliverables,
  2. with credit going to the right people, like a commit record on Github.

Our learning hydra with its proof of work and contribution will help in the move towards a more open, structured and audit-able recruiting process. This, in turn, will improve diversity in the workplace and bring a meritocratic process.

Academia :

The Ivory tower of academia has hiring practices that are not oriented towards openness. The academic head of our learning hydra has underneath is a list of work products by the people who want to enter this field. This acts as a funnel for people with open access prints, verified work, qualifying them for research or teaching.

A record of work products and contributions like github-commit is a powerful thing. It has the ability to bolster the credentials of people and allows them to make decisions based on this record. It forces gate-keepers to face their biases and acts as a proof point for third party arbitration in cases where discrimination is evident.

Like any system, this can be misused if proper access control mechanisms are not in place. That same record of deliverables can be used against someone akin to employers looking at Facebook pictures of a drunken party, or comments made by politicians and celebrities becoming tabloid fodder.

For this system to succeed there need to be immutable records systems and an open access policy at each level. Such a system is resilient to political changes and promotes a new type of “Full Stack freelancer” who is adept at bouncing from one head of this hydra to another. This creates new challenges in Intellectual property protection, compensation, and tax policy.

The future of learning is moving towards this hydra that, given a bit more discipline and education, we just might tame.