“The toolkit includes an open source fluidic control board, detailed design documentation describing a wide range of soft robotic components (including actuators and sensors), and related files that can be downloaded and used in the design, manufacture, and operation of soft robots. In combination with low material costs and increasingly accessible rapid prototyping technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNC mills, the toolkit enables soft robotic components to be produced easily and affordably.”
OPEN SOFT ROBOTICS
Soft robotics ‘toolkit’ features everything a robot-maker needs / Sep 19, 2014
A new resource unveiled today by researchers from several Harvard University labs in collaboration with Trinity College Dublin provides both experienced and aspiring researchers with the intellectual raw materials needed to design, build, and operate robots made from soft, flexible materials. With the advent of low-cost 3D printing, laser cutters, and other advances in manufacturing technology, soft robotics is emerging as an increasingly important field. Using principles drawn from conventional rigid robot design, but working with pliable materials, engineers are pioneering the use of soft robotics for assisting in a wide variety of tasks such as physical therapy, minimally invasive surgery, and search-and-rescue operations in dangerous environments.
The Soft Robotics Toolkit is an online treasure trove of downloadable, open-source plans, how-to videos, and case studies to assist users in the design, fabrication, modeling, characterization, and control of soft robotic devices. It will provide researchers with a level of detail not typically found in academic research papers, including 3D models, bills of materials, raw experimental data, multimedia step-by-step tutorials, and case studies of various soft robot designs. “The goal of the toolkit is to advance the field of soft robotics by allowing designers and researchers to build upon each other’s work,” says Conor Walsh, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.
By creating a common resource for sharing design approaches, prototyping and fabrication techniques, and technical knowledge, the toolkit’s developers hope to stimulate the creation of new kinds of soft devices, tools, and methods. According to Walsh, who teaches a popular course in medical device design at SEAS and is founder of the Harvard Biodesign Lab, soft robotics is especially well suited to shared design tools because many of the required components, such as regulators, valves, and microcontrollers, are largely interchangeable between systems. Dónal Holland, a visiting lecturer in engineering sciences at SEAS and graduate student at Trinity College Dublin, is one of the lead developers of the toolkit and is especially interested in the toolkit’s potential as an educational resource. “One thing we’ve seen in design courses is that students greatly benefit from access to more experienced peers—say, postdocs in a research lab—who can guide them through their work,” Holland says. “But scaling that up is difficult; you quickly run out of time and people. The toolkit is designed to capture the expertise and make it easily accessible to students.”
Just as open-source software has spurred far-flung innovation in computing, “open design” hardware platforms—coupled with advances in computer-aided engineering and more accessible prototyping capabilities—have the potential to foster remote collaboration on common mechanical engineering projects, unleashing crowdsourced creativity in robotics and other fields. “Open design can have as disruptive an influence on technology development in this century as open source did in the last,” says Gareth J. Bennett, assistant professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering at Trinity College Dublin and a coauthor of a paper in Soft Robotics that describes the toolkit development. Additional coauthors are Evelyn J. Park ’13, a SEAS research fellow in materials science and engineering, and Panagiotis Polygerinos, a postdoctoral fellow in the Harvard Biodesign Lab at SEAS and the Wyss Institute.
Arduino and Bruce Sterling Launching an Open-Source Apartment
by Mike Senese / September 18th, 2014
You’ll soon be able to rent the “home of the future” on Airbnb. The project, announced today at MakerCon by Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi, is a collaboration between the open-source microcontroller makers and futurist Bruce Sterling. Located in Arduino’s Turin, Italy headquarters (a former FIAT car factory), the apartment will serve as a test ground for the latest developments from the open source community, being outfitted with furniture from OpenDesk and a variety of hardware creations. Unlike the usual concept homes of the future, however, this apartment will be more than a showcase — it will be a livable space that is available for anyone to rent on Airbnb. The inhabitants’ responses to the elements inside will be registered for the project’s research.
Making Fusion Reactors For Fun
by Michael Ho / Mar 13th 2014
Amateur fusion isn’t quite a new fad. Online resources have been available since the early 2000s, and plenty of people have learned about or built a Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor for themselves. Philo T. Farnsworth (perhaps more famous for inventing TV) designed equipment that could fusion atoms together. Before anyone gets too excited, though, none of these designs look like they could ever produce any excess energy. It would be nice if fusion generators actually did exist, but we’re probably not going to see any in the near future. In the meantime, playing with fusion reactors might inspire a really clever design, so here are a few links on DIY fusion.
- Making your own fusion reactor is a reasonable project for someone with a lot of spare time and a few thousand bucks to buy various obscure supplies. There’s at least one open source group that’s been working on various fusor improvements for over a decade. [url]
- Building a nuclear fusion reactor as a 13yo kid must be some kind of a new world record. However, other teenagers have done it (e.g. Taylor Wilson), so aspiring 9 year olds have a science project to work on now. [url]
- Doug Coulter runs an online DIY engineering forum, and he’s built his own nuclear fusion reactor in his free time. He might be a crackpot, but if he can actually create an open source fusion generator, the whole world would certainly change very quickly. [url]
The Rise Of Open Source Hardware
by Rachel Nuwer / 09.16.2014
Emile Petrone founded Tindie for selfish reasons. “The basic idea was that there wasn’t a marketplace for the things I was interested in,” he says. At the time, those things were his latest DIY hardware obsessions—specifically, kits to support Arduino and Raspberry Pi. “Ebay’s not really right, and neither is Amazon. Hardware projects had no natural home.”So in the summer of 2012, Petrone (then an engineer at a Portland startup) launched a site where flexible matrix boards and laser motion sensors could be sold alongside build-it-yourself weather monitoring kits and robot birds. Almost immediately, Tindie began attracting favorable attention from the indie hardware community—and then expanded from there. Today, around 600 inventors sell more than 3,000 different hardware products, which have shipped out to more than 80 countries around the world. Some customers are hobbyists like Petrone, but others are large entities like the Australian government, Google and NASA. These days, Petrone says, “NASA’s purchasing department just calls my cell phone.”
Just as Etsy became the go-to marketplace for craft creators, Tindie has become the primary hub for hardware aficionados. The site has also gained a strong following from hard-core DIY types. Just as Etsy became the go-to marketplace for craft creators, Tindie has become the primary hub for hardware aficionados. “We are definitely part of and supportive of the maker movement,” Petrone says. “We fill the hardware side.” While Petrone achieved his goal of creating a marketplace for hardware projects, Tindie also inadvertently made a second contribution to the hardware world: it now stands as the largest collection of open-source hardware on the planet. “Nothing on the site is patented, and the vast majority of sellers have their source code and documentation links available right there on the page,” Petrone says. “Open source has become very much a part of the brand and what people within the hardware world associate with us.”
Petrone, who stands on the board of the Open Source Hardware Association, insists that this development was not intentional but rather just happened. Whatever the reasoning, it could be a boon for hardware. Unlike software, which has been open sourced for decades and includes hundreds of thousands of projects, hardware has lagged behind the open source movement, wherein the inner workings of a program or a product are openly available for anyone to see, edit or modify. Open source software projects demonstrate the value of this approach, having led to integral creations such as Linux, the operating system that vast majority of the Internet runs on today.
“The more people who know about a project and have access to it, the better it becomes,” Petrone says. “We then all benefit from that collective development.”Part of the reason software has led the open source charge is that it has the advantage of being “lightweight,” Petrone explains. “It’s a case of atoms versus bits.” Historically, big companies have dominated hardware production for two simple reasons: manufacturing is both expensive and difficult. Hardware requires physical objects, which entail manufacturing costs and, usually, shipping. But a precipitous drop in prices—which some attribute to the rise of cell phones, which made components cheap—is helping to lower the barrier to open source entry for hardware, as are crowd-sourcing platforms such as Kickstarter.
For companies and makers, the revenue model for open source hardware is still being worked out, since a person could potentially exploit an open source platform and sell it for profit. But as Arduino— a micro-controller for DIYers, and the most successful open source hardware project to date—shows, people tend to buy the $30 original version rather than the $10 copycats. “Most people want to support those who are actually contributing and putting the sweat and time into the project,” Petrone says. “You don’t get the same warm fuzzy feeling when buying a closed product as you do when you support someone who is creating an open one.” As for Tindie sellers, monetary support has so far not been a problem. There is so much demand for the open source products sold on the site that the waiting list alone contains nearly half a million dollars’ worth of orders. For Petrone, “This has been something incredibly interesting to see because, ultimately, it’s a totally new market that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
An Alliance of Major Players to Guide Open-Source Software
by Quentin Hardy / September 15, 2014
The combined force of cloud computing and mobile devices is changing our world, putting nearly infinite amounts of machine intelligence into billions of hands and millions of businesses. Now this force is also changing the way the entire infrastructure is built, including the devices themselves. Representatives of Facebook on Monday announced the formation of a group, the TODO Project, intended to streamline the way open-source software projects, a big part of cloud and mobile computing, are executed.
This may include such things as best practices for updating open-source software, ways of securing legal compliance, or tools and habits for making software that is freely available to anyone. Open source is a popular approach to software, in which anyone can contribute to and use the code. Formal approval of changes comes from agreed-upon authorities who speak for the group. It is considered a good way to build software with fewer bugs, and such software makes up much of the world’s mobile and computer server operating systems, as well as many other applications. “There is a problem here we all feel is not getting better anytime soon,” said Jay Parikh, global head of engineering at Facebook. “We feel there is a speed at which things have to move.”
The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust (Manifesto Series) By Robert David Steele (Amazon Books)
At first blush, the effort might seem like the further corporate control of one of the most important technologies of this era. That may be so, but it is more importantly a sign of just how critical that technology has become, and how its growing importance needs to be managed in ways that are more expedient, clear and consistent than was possible in the movement’s early days. Members of TODO, which stands for “talk openly, develop openly,” include Google and Walmart’s online operations, along with GitHub, the primary repository for working on open-source projects, and Khan Academy, a nonprofit online educational organization. Other members are Twitter, Box, Dropbox, Stripe and Square. Since the group was announced, over 30 other companies have added themselves to the TODO list, including The New York Times, according to a company spokesman.
There is a reason for setting up a group like this. A significant part of the software that powers things like Facebook, Google search and the Android mobile operating system is based on open source. As more companies and independent developers get involved in these communal projects, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep straight which versions people are working on. Facebook, for example, may release new parts of its software twice a day, far faster than the pace at which open-source releases came out in their earliest mainframe computing days, and with far more participants creating and consuming open-source software in the client-server computing era of 20 years ago. As the software inside the overall system of mobile phones, tablets, applications and remote computing infrastructure becomes even more complex, there are also worries that people working on different versions will cause breakdowns.
In a statement on his company’s website, Sam Schillace, the head of engineering at Box, said the group was “committed to helping companies develop a common set of tools and streamlined processes for releasing open source software.” While the goal may be to move quickly, the organization also showed a certain initial wariness, perhaps as befits a group with members who might also wish to crush one another in the marketplace. Mr. Parikh was hesitant to talk about what types of code the group would work on, or what the criteria might be for other companies to join, besides having dedicated open-source teams on staff. “We’re going to get together, get things into a plan,” he said. “This is going to be a journey.”
by Charles Eisenstein / 2014/09/10
“Granted, the necessary sociopolitical process of money creation and regulation need not be hierarchical or centralized. The dominant money system is, and at the top of the hierarchy are the established elites, themselves beholden to an increasingly desolate ideology of endless economic growth and to the relentless dynamics of debt-based capitalism that enforce it. New digital currencies offer an opportunity to explore new modes of organizational and political decision-making.To sum up, a next-generation digital currency should have the following features:
– It should be issued in an egalitarian way that doesn’t give undue advantage to any elite, whether political, technological, or financial.
– It should of course be simple to use and secure. Anonymity is probably also necessary in the present milieu of an undemocratic surveillance state. In a more beautiful world, I think all wealth and transactions, especially those of government (whatever that looks like), should be completely transparent.
– It should, like Freicoin, bear a demurrage charge to discourage hoarding and counteract the tendency toward concentration of wealth.
– The addition or removal of money from the system should respond to its need for money, through some kind of homeostatic negative-feedback formula or process based perhaps on price fluctuations or the velocity of money.
– The whole thing should be embedded in a democratic, peer-to-peer political process by which the rules can be changed.
Such a system need not be created from scratch. One of the existing systems, perhaps Freicoin or even Bitcoin, might evolve in this direction. After all, Bitcoin describes itself as an experimental currency. The purpose of experimenting is to learn. The next step is to integrate that learning into a new and bolder experiment.”
OPEN SOURCE MONEY
Bitcoin, Open Source Movement For Decentralized Future
by Nozomi Hayase / 2014/9/30
It all started with a white paper published in 2008. An unknown innovator under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto outlined an open source protocol for a public ledger that has come to be known as Bitcoin – which among other things is a peer-to-peer form of digital cash. Five years since its inception, more people are coming to recognize the revolutionary force behind the underlying technology of the Bitcoin blockchain that enables this decentralized network to achieve consensus amongst strangers at a global scale. The disruptive force this innovation brings to existing systems is enormous. From potentially replacing the remittance industry to empowering the underbanked and those whose currencies are tightly controlled and subject to hyperinflation, the world is just beginning to see its effects in the financial realm. This capacity of Bitcoin to transform society is attracting activists and global citizens dedicated to promoting equality and a more just world. In particular, the ability of the blockchain’s decentralized trust to build a truly peer-to-peer platform for transactions is a very powerful force for those who seek to flatten the current hierarchical system that favors the one percent oligarchs who have their hands on the levers of power.
Yet as with any new invention in its early phase, many are still skeptical and hesitant to get behind this technology. They call for a more critical examination of Bitcoin as a digital currency. One argument revolves around perceived inequalities embedded within the design of the currency that create certain privilege of early adopters. The contention is that Bitcoin is centralized; that roughly half of all bitcoins belong to around 927 individuals. If true, this puts half of the world’s Bitcoin currency in the hands of a tenth of a percent of all accounts. A Washington Post published an article called, “Forget the 1 percent. In the Bitcoin world, half the wealth belongs to the 0.1 percent”. It called out Bitcoin’s apparent inequality and highlighted the gap between those who own Bitcoin and those who don’t. All new technology takes time for mainstream adoption and in the beginning it is inevitable that the user base and innovator pool are relatively small. This is certainly true with Bitcoin. Compared to the situation in its early stages, bitcoin adoption now is moving very quickly. That said, what lies beneath this concern about the imbalance between users appears to be a fear that Bitcoin early adopters could end up replacing the current 1% oligarchy of bankster gangs of Wall Street and Goldman Sachs and would simply recycle the old world order of robber-baron capitalism. So the question arises, could Bitcoin’s revolutionary potential be overshadowed by this imagined pitfall, or worse yet become just another tool for neoliberal forces? By engaging this question, we can deepen our understanding of the genius and revolutionary potential of this innovation.
Perhaps the ideal currency in the minds of some of those who criticize Bitcoin’s perceived design of inequality is one that could bring all of Bitcoin’s positive features without creating so-called ‘early adopters’. For this to happen, coins would need to be premined and distributed to all people equally while still achieving the massive hashing power needed to secure the system from any external force determined to hijack or compromise it. This all sounds good, but practically speaking, who has the resources to set it in motion and bring it to that point? These kinds of efforts might be achieved at a local and smaller scale, like Auroracoin in Iceland, even though it was reported that the experiment stumbled with problems in its design that caused a dramatic drop in value. In addition to scale vulnerability of the blockchain hashing power with a smaller currency, the larger question remains regarding how to effectively challenge the current global cartel of Western financial institutions that have over the years undermined sovereignty of local communities and destroyed whole countries through limiting access to payment networks, debt peonage, rent seeking and money printing. How is it possible to create a common currency that connects people around the world in a truly peer-to-peer way without it being intermediated or hijacked by a patronage network of states and corporate banksters that regularly steal from the commons and act against the interests of the people?
The creation of Bitcoin and its ecosystem follows a trend of decentralization that has emerged in recent years, such as the Occupy movement’s leaderless horizontal organizing, the Free and Open Source Software movement and collaborative production like Wikipedia and Linux. In traditional movements, a group of individuals or a particular organization takes the lead and organizes the cause. Activists generally struggle to fund their efforts, as altruism does not get rewarded financially in the current extreme capitalistic environment. Across the board in struggles for social justice, funding is often the most challenging issue. Identified leaders communicate the purpose of a project and rely on existing networks and systems for funding and material support. Oftentimes for the sake of efficiency and lack of alternatives, such organizing tends to crystallize into another form of hierarchy. In addition, over the years, the old methods of dissent and social change have been shown to be less and less effective. Establishment forces target leaders and recognized organizers as a point of control for co-option and weakening movements. This is likely one reason why the inventor of Bitcoin decided to be anonymous and minimize his influence in the operation. Any open declaration of resistance against state and corporate power will not go unnoticed and a direct confrontation with the establishment is inevitable if what is created is at all effective. Such efforts are often met with attacks and in most cases easily squashed.
In a case of building Bitcoin network, the hashing infrastructure of the Bitcoin blockchain needed to attain a stable and impervious size before it could go truly viral and gain more mainstream appeal. Early on, Satoshi Nakamoto appeared to have strong concerns for protecting the development of the software against any just such external threats. This revelation surfaced in Julian Assange’s latest book “When Google Met WikiLeaks”. In a footnote, the founder of WikiLeaks depicted an alliance with Bitcoin community that goes back years before this new cryptographic invention matured into the currency of contagious courage it has become (bitcoin was eventually used to support funds for WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden). In December 2010, just after WikiLeaks faced the unlawful financial blockade imposed by Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union, a debate emerged on the Bitcoin Forum, concerning a risk that using bitcoin for donations to WikiLeaks could “provoke unwanted government interest in the then nascent crypto-currency”. Responding to one poster who welcomed such challenge, Nakamoto emphasized the importance of protecting the software development at this early stage. “Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.” Six days later Nakamoto disappeared from the Bitcoin community. WikiLeaks read the analysis, agreed with his view and decided to postpone launching the Bitcoin donation until the currency attained stability. Perhaps past protest and resistance movements can teach us something. In order for the creation of an alternative system to be truly effective, it needs to be subversive and under the radar until it gains strength. In a sense, Bitcoin is a living example of such an effective decentralized organization. After 5 years of existence, it has created the largest global network of supercomputing power. It has now grown to such a level that it is virtually impossible for one nation-state or corporation to undermine or hijack the network.
The idea of blockchain crypto-currency was put forward in 2008. The following year the Bitcoin software was launched and the first blockchain network came into existence by miners producing and transacting bitcoins. Someone had to do the early work of building of this open source ledger and securing the system at a time when few would even believe it possible or support this innovation. Where did the impetus for this work come from? The unfolding process of the growing Bitcoin ecosystem can be looked at as an expression of a phenomenon called the “Swarm”. Rick Falkvinge, founder of the first Pirate Party describes the Swarm as a new style of organizing. He explains how this differs both from an egalitarian way of working where no single person or group has authority for guiding the process. He notes how it is a “scaffolding set up by a few individuals that enables tens of thousands of people to cooperate on a common goal in their life.” Falkvinge describes a Swarm is driven by voluntarism. People join the cause because they believe in the idea. There is no leader, but each person’s action inspires others and guides the Swarm in moving forward together.
Bitcoin is an open source project that generates a Swarm effect. From outside, this might appear mysterious or unsettling with its lack of a traditional core. Some have difficulty believing there is no controlling authority and are compelled to try to unveil a “ghost outside the machine”. Whether it is innovation or activism, people tend to first look for some subversion behind a seemingly progressive idea and then look for individuals or entities that are possibly pulling strings to divert the original intention. This can be a healthy skepticism, yet in the case of Bitcoin, there is no company, director or physical entity. There are no CEOs, no offices; no group of individuals running the operation. At this time, the origin of the blockchain technology has been traced only to an anonymous unknown creator. The idea itself is not attached to a particular individual or group. It is somewhat similar to the way the online collective Anonymous express themselves as simply “ideas without origin” and claim that “there is no authorship … no control, no leadership, only influence, the influence of thought”. Bitcoin is simply an ingenious idea and an open source computer code that anyone can read, take up, modify and develop. Whoever created it didn’t give it only to specific people, but instead made it accessible to everyone in the world. Doug Carrillo, founder of Bitstop.co tweeted, “Satoshi’s greatest gift was uniting all the intelligent, altruistic, visionary people from all over the world working on Bitcoin”. The impulse that got this global currency enterprise going was this gift of protocol.
One notable characteristic that emerged within the Swarm surrounding the Bitcoin ecosystem is the creation of an unique form of volunteerism. Volunteering is generally associated with charity; one gives time, resources and skills for free. Traditionally one does not expect their work to be compensated. The Bitcoin ecosystem generates a new volunteerism in the form of innovation without permission, where those who engage both generate and expand new economic activity simply by creating, acquiring or using the currency. The value they create and the efforts that support it are rewarded in a way that strengthens the system as a whole, while further encouraging innovation on the edges. This all works with a network effect where voluntary peer-to-peer interaction creates and expands an autonomous zone impervious to patronage and monopolization. Each person moves toward something they believe in, while building a kind of common wealth that inspires further participation. This is made possible through one particular feature of the Bitcoin currency. When we look at Bitcoin technology as a distributed trust foundation upon which global society is building a network that empowers everyone, we can begin to understand the brilliance of its design and why its first application is an open source mineable currency.
With a cap of 21M, Bitcoin has a fixed monetary policy. This design seems deflationary in fiat economy terms, yet Bitcoin’s infinite divisibility (8 decimal points and more if consensus is reached) makes it possible to accommodate any level of economic growth. Some view this design as an inherent flaw, arguing that it rewards early adopters and encourages hoarding, yet this element has played a crucial role in the development of the blockchain. It provided a way of building a global public asset ledger through integrating a reward structure by means of increasingly difficult proof of work tied to network capacity and value expansion. This all functions as an incentive for volunteerism by creating the Swarm, which creator of Netscape and early web browsers Marc Andreessen characterizes as “a four-sided network effect”, namely “four constituencies that participate in expanding the value of Bitcoin”. Andreessen explains these 4 participants as “(1) consumers who pay with Bitcoin, (2) merchants who accept Bitcoin, (3) “miners” who run the computers that process and validate all the transactions and enable the distributed trust network to exist, and (4) developers and entrepreneurs who are building new products and services with and on top of Bitcoin”. This design, combined with unparalleled flow and infinite divisibility creates an open source network effect – not just squared, but cubed.
The Bitcoin incentive structures have shown to be very effective. Bitcoin is expanding infrastructure with ATMs and exchanges and improved POS interfaces. When people are invested enough in something, it motivates them to solve challenges that come along the way. In fact, it has generated enough incentive to make people keep the network decentralized and avoid the issue of a 51% attack (the phenomenon of concentration of a hashing majority and temporary takeover by one mining pool). Each member of the global mining pool has a strong incentive to strengthen and maintain the integrity of the system. Many early adopters put resources into creating new start-ups to support the ecosystem. After becoming the first major retailer to accept Bitcoin globally, Overstock announced it would donate four percent of cryptocurrency revenue to foundations that promote the use of digital currency in the world. A new Bitcoin Exchange in Norway is reported to donate 5% of their profits to charities fighting poverty.
Bitcoin is an open source project that is self-organized and crowd-sourced by all who are involved in it. Early adopters are like shareholders who also can take responsibility for maintaining the system. Although justification of the percentage of reward accruing to them may be debatable, if we look at how vital their role was in building the system and the risk they took early on in supporting the innovation, it looks different. One should also note that their accumulation of bitcoin was not made through cheating, manipulation and exploitation like with fiat and debt ownership, so we may be compelled to draw more nuanced conclusions about this perceived inequality.
Genesis Block and the Network of Affinity
So what was the idea encoded in protocol that set this in motion? Bitcoin is a neutral technology, yet the genesis of the idea is not neutral. It had clear political implications. The Bitcoin protocol emerged during the financial crisis of 08 and the creator was aware of how badly governments were handling monetary policies. The first block of the Bitcoin blockchain known as the genesis block includes the following quote in its metadata. “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks.” Although this might have been intended to be just a timestamp, his choice of this Times of London article as a date of proof might give a sense of his background motivation. Satoshi’s white paper pointed to the “inherent weakness of trust based model” of the existing financial system and proposed “an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof” as a viable alternative. The Bitcoin open source protocol was a response to the crisis of the existing centralized financial system. Over time, this has created a network of affinity through voluntary association and mutual aid based on trust in the common person.
In this network, individuals out of themselves turn their computers into mines. Out of themselves they create start-ups and test the system. Some might be driven to earn bitcoin or build a cutting edge business, while others are motivated by a principle and vision of a decentralized future and redistribution of power. Whatever the motives driving users, miners and innovators, by choosing to be a part of Bitcoin network, they are all bound by one shared idea – that of supporting and maintaining the integrity of the public ledger for all the world to use. This may remind us of what fueled the Occupy Movement. In fall of 2011, people from all walks of life came together in lower Manhattan. There were socialists, libertarians, housewives, anarchists and teachers. Those whose houses were foreclosed, students with onerous debt, businessmen – all came together because they could see how the system was rigged against them. They were not willing to put up with the current hierarchical financial and economic system that is run and controlled by the 1%. Their shared frustration became a network of affinity bringing people together to engage in efforts to solve problems of corrupt hierarchical institutions and false forms of representation. Through activating trust in one another, they attempted to create a peer-to-peer decentralized network. They were willing to work together and abide by this particular protocol of consensus and egalitarian form of decision-making.
Bitcoin is a similar social movement empowered by decentralized consensus decision-making processes. While the Occupy movement was crushed by a brutal police force as it tried to build decentralized networks on existing centralized corporate occupied territory, with Bitcoin, a whole new network is built upon a distributed trust platform that is structurally autonomous and out of reach of any private third party authority. We now have an alternative to over-centralized social forms that were programmed to manage wealth and resources for the rich and powerful and can enter into a network of peers impervious to these forces of control. As noted, some see and criticize the existence of privilege within this Bitcoin network of affinity. Yet the issue of equality disparity was brought up even within the 99%. Concerns surfaced within Occupy that it was not truly addressing issues of racism and class divides. In the U.S, the Occupy movement arose mostly out of white middle-class issues such as mortgages and student loans, while for people of color in US cities like Oakland and Detroit, the oppressive issues were more about police brutality, not having grocery stores in their community and lack of the basic work and means to fulfill the needs of everyday life. The same thing might be said about the Bitcoin network, as it is potentially composed of people of different backgrounds, nationalities, cultures or economic classes, within which there is clear inequality. This is really a reflection of our current social structure that carries a long history of colonialism in the form of Western hegemony. Despite all the differences, there is one thing in common. Participation in the blockchain network is voluntary. Both with the Occupy network motto of “In Each Other We Trust” and with Bitcoin, those who are in it choose to join because they see what an improvement it is over the current system and how it could at least offer benefit beyond monopolized rent seeking for oligarchic powers. Whatever incentives bring people into the network, by joining they are working to build on the genesis idea that brought them together. It is to eliminate the need for central authority and replace hierarchical third party based representative forms of governance with a truly peer-to-peer decentralized trust network. They do this by each person simply participating and becoming the change they wish to see in the world.
Beyond Levers of Control
Perhaps in transitioning into the Bitcoin ecosystem, the biggest challenge we face is the limit of our ability to imagine. Corporate colonization has not only created vast inequality of wealth by way of an economy based on exploitation and wars, but its real damage was creating a poverty of the mind that cuts humanity off from its connection to the earth. It captured the imagination into materialistic economy of exploitation and extraction and many no longer think with the earth as the First Nations used to do. We are now so used to centrally planned and hierarchically organized societies, it is difficult for many to imagine how a truly decentralized society might work. People are conditioned by the old paradigm and tend to look for levers of control even where there are none. They cannot even imagine a system that does not create such points of control. So when faced with the idea of a Bitcoin 1%, so called early adopters, it is easy to automatically apply the current reality of the 1% that can print money at will, create debt slavery and rent seek at every choke point. Some fail to understand how radically different the Bitcoin ecosystem is from the existing centrally controlled economy and forms of governance. Let’s examine this more closely. The existing fiat world is organized by physical and social confinement of populations within nation-state boundaries, where sovereignty of nations ostensibly determines currency and monetary policy. Creation of currency has been enforced by monopolies by means of taxation. This central authority creates levers of control that are now mostly co-opted by corporations. These levers prevent ordinary people from fully counting themselves in as the true source of legitimacy. It creates a chain of command where institutions and professionals can gain power to coerce others to serve the interests of those at the top of the hierarchy and make people work against their own interests. In this environment, accumulation of money can be easily translated to power and corruption. We see how this has panned out in history. Those who have money can control the flow, get to the top of the system, buy politicians and even take over governments. As a result, we now have a massive inequality where a tiny percent of the population, 0.001 percent controls access to the majority of the wealth and transactional flow of the entire world.
In the last few decades, this corruption reached an extreme level after taking the dollar off the gold standard, with the Federal Reserve and other private central banks (private corporations) using this power to print money out of thin air. With this and the monopolization of banks and payment systems, they maintained massive power to fund divisive resource wars and debase currency through inflation. This is now destroying the middle class and slowly turning the whole population toward a medieval-like debt servitude. Bitcoin completely challenges this system of control through enabling a decentralized network that cuts out third parties that create monopolies and insidious levers of control.
Money as Flow
In the Bitcoin distributed trust network, there are no choke- and checkpoints. Currency gains its true meaning – pure flow. What would it be like if currency functions as flow rather than a form of control? As we move into a more decentralized future, the current hierarchical institutions and central authorities lose power. In the Bitcoin network, accumulation of money is not easily translated into power over others. All that those 1% Bitcoin adopters can do with their acquired money is to spend it. They cannot interfere with or undermine the integrity of the value transfer network. They cannot print more and debase the whole system and they can’t rent seek each transaction. So let’s imagine a scenario where they try to buy up all the media, lobby politicians and buy real estate and land. With new blockchain based social media and forms of crowd-funding and micro-payments, it will become harder for big media organizations to own the airwaves, to control and dictate narratives. Also, it would be difficult for individuals and corporations to buy up politicians, as their transactions are transparent in the blockchain and private agendas would be harder to hide. Besides, politicians will themselves become increasingly irrelevant as taxation is completely transformed in a Bitcoin world. In a Bitcoin ecosystem, the familiar world crumbles. It is an entirely new world. A 1% here looks a lot different than the 1% in the current fiat world. This is a world where people interact through voluntary association rather than coerced will. The current monopolies seen in the existing financial system would become difficult to maintain. It makes the government more transparent and eventually more accountable.
Perhaps the larger ramification of the blockchain invention is the potential of code to facilitate an equal application of law that ensures the principle of consensus. If a Bitcoin 1%er wants to buy land from farmers or even buy whole cities, the land owners would have to be willing to sell. People won’t as easily be manipulated and forced to act against their will. In a Bitcoin decentralized society, farmers and others have a choice to say no and this ability of each person to decide what to consent to defines personal power. In the world created through this two-way voluntary participation, accumulation of money or goods means isolation. If one wants to create a society of control and domination, it would have to be a little pond kingdom where one can maintain an illusion of control. But the same rules of consensus apply and the participation in this pond is also voluntary. Everyone can freely choose what kind of community and people they wish to associate with. As the two worlds interface at this early stage, some voice concern about the current 1% trying to buy up bitcoin. But if they do this in order to maintain the current power which they gained in the fiat world, they will shoot themselves in the foot. They cannot buy out the system, but can only buy into the new network just like everyone else, which would only lead to expanding and strengthening the decentralized network and accelerating the demise of the fiat system itself and the illegitimate authority that goes with it.
The Bitcoin network creates decentralized consensus at a large scale without anyone in the middle. Can we really understand the significance of this and imagine what a future created through a truly peer-to-peer network looks like? With the invention of the blockchain, we are entering into a new era. Security expert and technologist Andreas Antonopoulos describes how up till 2008, sovereignty created currency. He notes how the world of sovereign currency ended in 2008 and that after 2008, currencies could be created by individuals. When broadly adopted, these currencies create their own sovereignty and purchasing power. The current sociopolitical system is built on a long history of colonization. Western civilization has a dark past of violence, brutal subjugation of indigenous people to enforce domination and resource extraction. This unredeemed shadow is carried on even now as a force that has morphed into a pervasive globalized corporate power with its privatization and financialization of everyday life. While the concept of sovereignty in the current nation-state paradigm is based on a colonial mentality where independence of a country was attained through conquest of others, the blockchain invention opens a door for a new kind of sovereignty, one that is not based on the logic of control and domination, but through mutually shared ideals and voluntary association.
Bitcoin is the world’s first stateless currency that transcends borders in a similar way as the Internet. Its unmediated flow delivers more power to the periphery. As a result it could dissolve the hegemony of U.S. empire and end the monarchy of the petrodollar that controls flows of oil, finance and global geopolitics. This could potentially shrink the wealth gap between the Global South and the North. For the first time in history, humanity has the option to really heal the wound of long history of brutal colonization; to end major wars, transform poverty and inequality and move toward a more humane world. Humanity has a chance to embark on a new path, where technology of Western society is used to serve for the wisdom of indigenous cultures and together create a new civilization. If we let the imagination follow its natural current freely, it leads into a future where collective creativity can solve the centralized problems of the old world. Even if Bitcoin as money dies tomorrow, that will only happen because a better designed blockchain cryptocurrency has come to replace it. We don’t know exactly where this will go, as this kind of thing has never occurred before. But one thing is certain: The invention of the blockchain has already changed the world forever. No one can think of this world in the same way as before. The blockchain has already unleashed the flow of radical imagination, becoming the waves of uprising of a decentralized future.
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