I’m not much of a guy for protesting. But SOPA & PIPA are absolutely nuts. They are terrible implementations of worse ideas. So I’m joining the strike. This blog will be down tomorrow. I know I don’t get much traffic, but that’s not the point. I must publicly stand against the moves of entrenched power to enclose the information commons. The rhetoric around these laws pretends to be all about protecting the little guy, the artists and the economy. But that’s totally bogus. These laws are all about protecting the ability of large corporations to enclose ownership of more and more data, and use the government to a pawn to rend the very fabric of the Internet when that enclosure is threatened.
Recently I’ve had opportunity to reflect on why I’m particularly dedicated to the open money path out of all the many different community currency paths.
I offer it here not in the spirit of saying open money is better than other approaches, but rather just to share my understanding and what motivates me to work where I know I am best suited to contribute.
The short version: the open money approach focuses on providing a globally scalable meta-currency platform that can hold a plurality of interoperable wealth-acknowledgment systems for all types of wealth, especially for those forms of wealth that are non-tradable. Furthermore the systemics of the software and the human processes behind the open money approach are designed to yield both a platform that is held in the commons, just like writing (the alphabet) is held in the commons and is likely to spread virally.
The long version: As a geek, I am deeply influenced by two concepts:
- David Reed’s concept of the value of Group Forming Networks which is a formalization of what is often quoted as “pushing the intelligence to the edges” and is the deep value proposition for p2p and a fundamental motivation behind the “smart edges-dumb center” design of the Internet that Reed was a part of as a co-creator of TCP/IP.
- Ross Ashby’s law of requisite variety, which implies, among other things, that the controller has to encode as much variety as exists in the system it wants to control. To me it is crystal clear that a single form of currency, debt-issue federal currency, cannot represent the varieties of wealth that we must be able to acknowledge to thereby guide our activities as a global civilization.
These concepts, along with a programmers propensity to refactor and go meta in designing any system, had me convinced early on that a multi-currency platform was absolutely essential, also this platform not only had to be multi-currency, but that the forms of the multi-currencies themselves had to be able to widely tunable so that they could be acknowledgments of non-tradable forms of wealth. So far so good for requisite variety, but to achieve the pattern implied by Reed’s GFNs, the platform had to be a network platform, a platform that fundamentally provides a surface area on which currencies themselves, and the accounts that trade those currencies, can grow and form groups.
In essence I felt that what was necessary was to create the TCP/IP of money. That we had to strip away as much as possible from the ideas of what money is down to some bare primitives analogous to “packet transfer” and “routing” and from that build up all of “money” again.
This is the systemics of the open money approach, both explicitly multi-currency and network oriented. The systemics of this approach feel to me to be most likely to spread virally (i.e. without the need for huge launch effort) of all the approaches I’ve seen. And I think the open money mesh & churn and the currency specification language, actually live up to these systemic considerations, at least in principle.
Next… for me personally, the open source nature of this kind of fundamental social platform is absolutely essential. It is essential for a number of reasons:
- Transparency. Wealth acknowledgment is so fundamental to society that if it is hidden, it can’t be trusted. I’m not talking about at all about making the content of all individuals acknowledgments public, nor making any claim that all clients and all servers that run the open money protocols have to be open source. That’s silly. I’m simply saying that the base protocol, the alphabet itself of wealth-literacy, the capacity to create currencies (not the currencies themselves) must be fully in the commons.
- Security/Integrity. Everything I’ve ever read or experienced of software security is that open source is the way to go. It’s not that OSS is a guarantee of security, its just that its better than closed source. In my experience open source software is way less buggy that closed source software.
- “Virality”. It seems to me that open source efforts have a much higher likely-hood of spreading virally than closed source efforts.
- Fun/Community. I personally have experienced that writing code in the open source mode to be drastically more pleasurable. It’s where I want to spend my time. The kinds of relationships that arise, the speed with which things can happen, and just the spirit of it. It’s where I want to be.
Above are the positive statements of what I’m called to work on and why they led me to open money. There are also some considerations in the negative space that have pushed me away from some approaches. In particular there are two:
Markets: Most community currency software platforms include some kind of market making function. I think this is a substantial mistake from a systemic point of view. I learned from Art that markets are the result of currencies, not the other way around. Grades lead to a market for tutors and Kaplan services. Tickets lead to scalpers. More precisely, wealth-acknowledgment processes naturally evolve group settings that amplify their usability. Thus, systemically it is a big mistake to pre-specify what form those group settings should take. Don’t get me wrong here. I think that markets and market making are HUGELY important. But I’m convinced that they belong in a separate domain. The currency creator intrinsically doesn’t have the requisite variety to know what the market should look like. That is yet another function that is best served by pushing it to the edges, and not controlling it from the center. When you give currency creators control of the marketplace abuses also become tempting. I believe that market making needs it’s own equivalent p2p platform that will make cranking out a new e-bay just as easy as open money makes easy cranking out a new currency, and the way the web makes easy cranking out a new “publication”. We are in touch with some folks who are working on this kind of platform.
Security/Integrity: Though I mentioned security in the open source stuff above, I actually find that it is way over-emphasized. I am not drawn to work in contexts that focus on security in wealth-acknowledgment because I’m convinced that that is a hold-over in understanding currency as a thing of value in and of itself, and is thus a distraction. When currency is understood as information about a wealth related event, rather than a direct representation of wealth itself, the whole question of the necessary security is vastly different. I know that the problems of security have mostly been sufficiently handled elsewhere, and they will be able to be grabbed out-of-the-box as libraries for use with those particular currencies that need that high security. Most currencies won’t need security, they just need integrity, which is achieved by redundancy, transparency, and audit-ability. Those are things that I’m very concerned about and must be built into the very fabric of the system itself, which is why the Mesh looks like it does, and another reason why a distributed p2p platform is so systemically important.
So, to sum this all up, I have chosen to work where I think the systemics, the invisible architectures, will yield the most powerful results. The systemics of multi-currency & a general currency specification language yields requisite variety. The systemics of the network approach (the mesh) yields the value proposition of GFNs. The systemics of open source yield integrity, community, and a new commons. The integrated systemics of all of these yields viral spreading.
It is definitely true that all of the other software platforms (GETS, CES, Cyclos, etc.) are much more useable and attractive at this point than what we’ve got implemented. But I think that systemically that’s like comparing the Internet in 1990 (the pine e-mail reader, gopher sites, ftp sites, and mailing lists) to rich graphical content and interfaces provided by AOL, Prodigy, GEnie & CompuServe at that time. And this is not to put those things down. Note that AOL is still around, and it did an incredible and valuable job of introducing people to the Internet by providing a usability soft landing.
What I see is the potential for open money to provide the same viral tipping point for community currency that HTTP/HTML/Mosaic provided for the Internet. So that’s where I’m focusing my work.
The power behind the open source/creative commons movement lies in the value of letting go of ownership of your productive work and trusting that the value you could have charged for directly by not doing so, will instead be returned to you indirectly.
So, I did this for my paper on the process revolutuion and I have thereby experience this fact directly. Zack Clarck has “forked” my paper, changing various terms I used to describe concepts, changing the flavor of the paper by making it less neutral and more strongly worded, and adding new ideas as well. The power of this occurrence is tremendous. The old model would have been to find a journal to publish the idea in, and collect money on the sale, and sue for copyright infringement because of lost sales, blah, blah, blah.
It all points to the difference between money and wealth.
If you’ve been involved in the creative commons, open source, free software, or any of the many strands of thinking that are developing along these lines, then Copyright, Copy-Left, and the Creative Anti-Commons by Anna Nimus is a must read. She provides a very provocative understanding of the fundamental idea of copy-right, from it’s historical genesis, to how it relates to the Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons work. The paper is long, but it’s very well worth the read.
[tags]creative commons,cc,copyright,copyleft,gnu,FLOSS,open source,free software,Lawrence Lessig,commons[/tags]
I learned about the Aristotelean intellectual virtue of phronesis along with the related term episteme a few years back from Kathryn Montgomery in discussions about her book How Doctors Think. Episteme is the scientific rationality we are all quite familiar with. Phronesis is usually translated “practical wisdom” and is the kind of rational skill doctors and entrepreneurs have that is based on experiential knowledge and provides the ability to take the best action in particular circumstances. We are much less likely to have thought of this as a separate kind of rational capacity.
These terms came up again recently for me in the context of a collective intelligence discussion, which really set my mind going and has led me to some propositions and a conjecture:
Proposition: Whereas the printing press was an episteme engine, the Internet is a phronesis engine.
Alternative long phrasing: The printing press and the Internet are cognitive technologies that provide people and cultures with “mechanical advantage” or leverage for the development of the Aristotelean intellectual virtues of epistome and phronesis respectively.
It’s pretty easy to see how the printing press is responsible for the massive scaling of epistome into the general culture. It’s a bit harder to see how what the Internet is doing is the same for phronesis because our first viewing of the Internet (the web at least) has been that it’s just one giant sales brochure/advertising billboard/encyclopedia/etc, i.e. that it is a global source of knowledge. My proposition is that the key thing going on with the Internet is not access to knowledge, but rather access participation in knowledge processes. Three examples:
- Wikipedia. What really matters about it is not that we have access to a massive knowledge font, but rather that each of us can become encyclopedists and have to face the questions of ontological classification, neutral voice, objective/subjective reality, etc, that that entails.
- Blogs. A word perhaps for at least three information processes moved out mass culture: journalism, publishing, political analysis. Again the key shift is not that there is all this reporting/publishing/political analysis available for our consumption, but that that each of us can become journalists/publishers/political analysts.
- My own online-writing workshop. People come to the site thinking that they will get reviews of their writing which will improve it. They invariably discover that reviewing the work of others is how they end up learning to improve their own writing.
In each of these cases the key thing is the shift from access to static information, to active participation in an information process. The Internet is providing a “mechanical advantage” for putting people together in a place where they can jointly engage in the kind of information processes and processing that I think leads to the developing of phronesis.
Proposition: Economic revolutions occur when aspects of production are sufficiently amplified by cognitive technologies that new economic patterns of production come into being. Example: the printing press provided the intellectual infrastructure (a culture of epistome) for the expansion of the simple tools of production during the industrial revolution into what is called Capital in the classical economic sense.
Proposition: There is a new economic revolution under way, the Process Revolution, that is the result of the amplification of information and information processing by the cognitive technology of the Internet, and which is similarly bringing new economic patterns of production into being. These patterns are a new economic factor that can be called Information (capital I), which is defined (analogously to Capital) as the data plus the patterns and processes that use that data to organize production.
Proposition: New economic factors produce competing political systems that are answers to the question: who should own the new economic factor. Example: In the industrial revolution the question was: who should own Capital and the products produced by Capital. Communism proposes common ownership in the form of the State, and Capitalism proposes ownership by individuals.
Proposition: The new economic factor of Information is likewise producing competing approaches to answer who should own it. “Ownerism” which proposes the same answer as Capitalism (ownership by individuals, natural or corporate), and “Commonism” which proposes that its ownership be held in the commons (not by the State).
Proposition: Capitalism won out against Communism for three fundamental philosophical and systemic reasons:
- Capitalism was better at recognizing and building on individual dignity and potential.
- Capitalism is essentially decentralist because it pushes the intelligence out to the edges (see David Reed & Andrew Lippman’s paper on Viral Communication for details on this idea) where local information can be used to maximum advantage in decision making.
- Capitalism works with, not against people’s natural self-interest.
Conjecture: Commonism will win out over Ownersim because it shares with Capitalism the same first two properties as well as another property which is analogous to the third, namely that Commonism works with Information’s natural abundance and it’s tendency to flow everywhere, whereas Ownerism has to fight tooth and nail to keep it scarce and from getting out.
I’ve put together a more detailed presentation of these ideas (including their relation to money) in the form of a paper.
- I’ve said it before, but “Intelligence at the Leaves” for currency is what the open money project is all about. Currency is the centralized communication tool that needs to undergo the same process that Lippman and Reed describe in the paper, for all the same reasons. “In the end, viral communications transforms communication from something you buy to something you do. Independence of operation allows communications services to be separated from traditional service providers.” Substitute currency for communication.
- On a more speculative note: maybe the reason why SETI has not been successful so far, is that intelligent species move very quickly to low power Tim Shepard style scalable radio! So our current high power RF output is very naturally a short lived (i.e. 200 year) stage in technological development, that lasts only long enough for us to realize that we are better served with a very different pattern of radio usage, which is not detectable at interstellar distances. Assuming this is true, I’d gues that the probablity of catching another intelligence in the same 200 year window is not very high.
[tags]viral communication,viral,SETI,open money,currency,money,scalable radio,David Reed,Andrew Lippman,Eric Harris-Braun,p2p[/tags]
This week I was given a copy of Paul Krafel’s mini-film The Upward Sprial. Which, despite, nay in part because of, some hoakyness, provides deep and powerful language and images for how to look at the world. He talks about flow, feedback spirals, and a “second solution” to the problem posed by the second law of thermodynamics. It is both philosphical and practical for those looking to change our broken world.
Just for fun I took this an opportunity to learn kml so that we could map the flow of the spread of Krafel’s ideas using google earth. If you want to play, go to a little site I created where you can add your location and then add to a network link into your google earth and see the location of all of those who have entered their locations to the map.
[tags]Krafel, flow, google earth,kml,feedback[/tags]