Today Vitalik Buterin published a fantastic post on his organization’s blog titled On Silos. In his piece, Vitalik argues that despite its disagreements on various implementation details, that the cyrptoeconomic community has much in common. The points of commonality, Vitalik argues, pave the way for points of collaboration within the community and that should be the focus of progress rather than points of disagreement.
As the CEO of Eris Industries, I could not agree more with that premise. As I reflect upon the wonderfully torrid year that was 2014, I am struck by the amount of progress that has been made toward providing a baseline technical infrastructure which could prove capable of handling some of the gigantic challenges which face humanity now and in the near future.
This space of distributed systems and smart contracts, being (relatively) new both technologically and socially, has much to accomplish on both fronts. There is a massive change in mindset within developer communities in order to gain the attention of mainstream developers to the ideas behind what we call participatory architecture; namely that the current infrastructure of internet based applications could be significantly improved by using distributed technology. There is a massive change in the mindset within legal communities in order to gain the attention of technologically savvy lawyers to the ideas behind what smart contracts make possible – as solutions to real and present client problems. There is a massive change in the mindset within governance communities in order to solidify the gains of open data advocates to not only make available public data streams, but to make that data actionable, effective, and efficient for the provision of public services. These mindset shifts require more effort than any one distributed project or company will ever be able to amass; indeed, they require a wholesale effort across the distributed computing sector, and a significant number of other sectors as well.
Meanwhile, significant, indeed gigantic, problems which humanity faces remain unaddressed. How to corral increases to automation of physical items – the internet of things – so that those “things” remain within rule frameworks determined by humans within defined jurisdictions (whether that is global, local, or somewhere in between). Robot Law Courses at elite law schools are a good start, but there are few projects which I know of which are actually seeking to address these governance challenges. How to deal with continuing challenges – which are near and dear to my own heart after recently leaving my a decade as an international development practitioner for work in the smart contracts space – of income inequality. This challenge is particularly acute in the face of rising automation and its attendant reduction in labor requirements to meet the needs of corporations. The list of big problems is much longer than the list of possible ways to address those big problems and both of these lists are significantly longer than the groups who are actually working to address these problems in an actionable and realistic manner. Marc Andreessen puts it:
There is so, so, so much yet to build.— Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) July 28, 2014
No single entity, no single project, no single line of thinking can build what there is to build. This will require a collective effort in order to address these massive challenges. Challenges, which I, as the CEO of Eris Industries am dedicated to working on (at the pleasure of the Eris board of course). Challenges, which Eris Industries, no matter how small nor large we are or become, will ever be more than a drop in the bucket as to addressing. Challenges, though, which we do want to participate – in some small way – in finding possible solutions to.
While I think that there is a possibility that smart contracts and distributed systems can start to provide a foundation for working on these problems, smart contracts are only one piece of the bigger puzzle. There are governance questions, technical questions, and social questions plenty which must be addressed. These questions are (in advocate speak) cross-cutting questions. Finding possible answers requires a diverse group of respondents and participants in the solution identification, solution building, solution testing, and solution implementation efforts. The distributed systems sector needs, in my mind, to not only work together to address these problems, but needs to begin reaching outside of its confines to find likeminded individuals and communities who are also interested in working toward finding solutions to these big problems.
We, at Eris Industries, are interested in working on these big problems. And we are interested in collaborating with others who see these problems as requiring effort. If you are interested in working on these problems, then please do join us, or (perhaps better) please let us know how we can join your effort. At Eris Industries, we talk a bit, but we do more. We actively try to find solutions to the problems we see around us. One of my personal goals for 2015 is to be able to put Eris in a position to make more positive contributions toward finding solutions to many challenges which we see in the world around us.
We will never be able to address these ourselves, yet we are dedicated to trying our best to make some positive contributions toward actual solutions. This is where our effort will be focused in the new year, and I for one, am extraordinarily excited about the possibilities which lie before us.
Here’s to a wonderful 2015 with even more spirited debate, listening, building, testing, and thinking on how to solve the big problems.