How crypto-anarchists are changing the global political system

How crypto-anarchists are changing the global political system

How crypto-anarchists are changing the global political system


April 14, 2019

Jamie Bartlett, author of The Underground Internet. Who is hiding in the digital underground ”, about how machine intelligence and the influential technological elite create a new format of the usual life.

2016 can safely be considered an anomalous succession of unprecedented events. Marine Le Pen lost the election in France but still received almost 11 million votes. Her opponent led the party for only a year.

Long-held predictions finally came true the Internet began to influence politics – but not in the way the digital prophets had predicted. You may remember that 90 e burst into optimism about the future of the network open information on the boundless expanses of the Internet will make us smarter, calmer and kinder.

But whatever one may say, the Internet is also a chaotic mass of mutually exclusive facts, statements, blogs, data, propaganda, disinformation, investigative journalism, schedules, comments, and reports. It is not neat and cautious politicians that rule, but screamers who are able to conquer the same militant supporters by their sharpness.

Donald Trump could well become the first social media politician; his simple and emotional statements look perfect against the general background.

As a result, a curious consensus has formed in society. The Internet is full of right-wing populists who crave control over the future of politics. However, this is a short-term perspective. The rise of the right – rather, an early clash in the run-up to a much longer and significant technological restructuring of politics and society.

Digital technology is now on the side of populists, but will soon absorb them along with other political movements that are unable or unwilling to see how the world is changing.

Think about how your life has changed thanks to digital technology. You can make friends with 2 billion people from the same network, choose a news channel and see/organize/order everything you want.

Everything changes except politics. The modern political system was formed in the years of the industrial revolution – the time of mass organizations and centralized control.

Last October, I collected information for my new book, Radicals, and went out to a young Slovenian hacker named Pavol. He invited me to a place called Paralelni Polis – a three-story building in Prague, where the 3D printing laboratory and the Institute of Crypto Anarchy are located.

Cryptanarchists are hackers, anti-state freedom fighters, who for 20 years have been trying to reach the indifferent public and warn them about the dangers of the networked world. They also believe that if citizens learn to use ciphers on their own, digital technologies will open the way to an anti-state paradise, because the government will lose the ability to control and tax its people.

Julian Assange – a crypto-anarchist (before WikiLeaks he was an active member of the main mailing list) Edward Snowden, perhaps, too. Once they were considered boring nerds – now they are professionals who can resurrect any computer and establish a bold technological startup. These people control technology, which, in turn, controls the world.

Paralelni Polis organized a meeting called the Hackers Congress. This is a three-day gathering of European crypto-anarchists, Bitcoin enthusiasts (Bitcoin), fighters for individual freedom and hackers. The main topic was decentralization. The program was told

“The concept of an authoritarian state is gradually becoming obsolete. The growth of the exchange economy with reputation models, digital contracts and cryptocurrencies devalue the central government. ”

When I drove up there, the hall was packed mostly with men between the ages of 20 and 30. The 3D printer was choking with printing, postcards with the elusive Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto dispersed like hotcakes, and my eyes now and then came across words of the computer language java, ruby, C ++.

At their meetings, guests from the future complained about the inefficiency, as if it was the worst sin, discussed “how to build a world without statehood”, praised Edward Snowden, sneered at ridiculous government IT, compared the latest anonymous and secure chat applications, excitedly discussed Bitcoin and some blockchain.

I have not eaten since London itself, so the first thing I did was take a queue at the buffet. But the Czech crowns, which I dutifully exchanged at the airport at a predatory rate, were not accepted here. “Only Bitcoin,” said the assistant. Paralelni Polis is the only place in the world that accepts Bitcoin only.

I received a small plastic card with a QR code and transferred money to it at one of the special ATMs. From now on, every time I wanted to buy something, I simply scanned the QR code. Ping! Coffee. Ping! Energetic. Ping! A plate of goulash. Ping! Postcard by Edward Snowden. I never used the crown.

Given that Bitcoin then cost about 300 pounds sterling, and now is trading at around 2000 pounds sterling, my cup of coffee cost about 25 pounds at today’s rate. Some of the employees most likely have already retired.

A few years ago, crypto-anarchists were the only Bitcoin users. Despite the fact that it is now a legal currency that is used by millions of people and is accepted by most enterprises, it was originally thought up by crypto-anarchists as an effective way to undermine the central bank’s control over the money supply.

The growth of crypto-anarchism is good news for individual users because there are many ways to use this technology for public purposes, but this is also bad news for governments.

Personal secrets, copyright, creative content, illegal photos – information of any kind is becoming increasingly difficult to contain and control. Malicious software will continue to multiply, demonstrating the fragility of our network systems.

Digital technologies, including Bitcoin, are becoming a decentralizing force that destroys ordered hierarchical organizations and creates new network structures in their place (which, however, like Facebook, can turn out to be very centralized).

Social networks are “many-to-many” communication, not one-to-many broadcasting. The economy of shared consumption (companies such as Uber and Airbnb) connect people and their assets with smartphones, and even the Internet itself prevents centralization because it does not recognize borders and is difficult to manage.

Companies like Uber and Airbnb bring with them a revolution that destroys entire industries in the name of efficiency. It’s not easy for all politicians to keep up with the changes, and regulators are not sure what rules apply to such new organizations and principles of work.

The largest taxi service in the world today is Uber, despite the fact that the company does not have any taxis, but it organizes a giant army of drivers. Consumers are good, drivers too, but there are also disadvantages – this is less social and legal security of taxi drivers, not to mention a blow to the traditional services of this kind. At the same time, the state thinks about how not to lose huge amounts of taxes.

Not much time has passed since Trump’s victory, but a new problem has appeared – artificial intelligence. And it’s not about the uprising of machines or the singularity, when computers have a mind, machine learning looks much more boring than a machine gives many examples by which she understands what needs to be done, and if given enough data to her, she can start to perform the task better and faster than a man.

Get ready for the fact that machines will perform more and more different tasks much better than unreliable and outdated people. Only this year, robots have overtaken people collecting fruits, laying bricks and making hamburgers. And it doesn’t even surprise us – that’s how far everything has gone!

And soon there will be fewer routine activities, work that needs to be learned for many years. For example, in the diagnosis of CT scans, computers that have studied millions of correct and thousands of erroneous examples already outperform the best doctors.

It is difficult to predict what the machine learning revolution will turn out in the context of jobs will there be more or less, will they become worse or better? So far it seems that in the short term they will become more, and in the long term – less. The Bank of England predicts that within one generation, 15 million jobs in the UK alone may disappear due to the development of artificial intelligence and automation.

What happens when a significant portion of taxpayers lose their jobs or go to part-time employment? Techno-optimists talk about creating new jobs, freeing people from hard and boring work, progress and movement towards freedom.

Well, yes, the basic idea is that we all retrain to more creative and important specialties, although it’s not at all obvious what we are going to do. The best thing we can do right now is to program, but it may very well be that this task will be automated one of the first.

Nobody is willing or able to put a stick in the wheels of progress, therefore, in Parallel Polis they actively discuss unconditional basic income, that is, essentially, a way to give economically useless people money to live, consume and thereby spin the gears of capitalism.

But a dystopian scenario is also possible, in which millions of “useless” people are simply expelled from the economy, and a narrow circle of monopolies and crypto-anarchist geniuses turn out to be fabulously rich. Who knows how everything will turn out?

Today, technology keeps itself away from political games, but soon artificial intelligence, large IT companies and the economy of shared consumption will all become policies the same as immigration or healthcare.

And what about the right-wing populists, who so love to talk about culture, borders, and immigration and hang all the dogs on the elite? When US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin was asked what he thought about the future of artificial intelligence and automation, he replied that “there is nothing to worry about.”

A few weeks ago, his boss got into a huge tractor (his jacket had an “I love trucks” badge), despite the fact that everyone in Silicon Valley agrees that soon artificial intelligence will start to eat this industry. Maybe Trump can slow down the flow of immigrants or reduce the volume of outsourcing, but he is unlikely to stop the spread of robots or tie the hands of scientists.

Of course, right-wing populism will not go away without a struggle, since in part it is a consequence of the reaction to the changes that have already occurred. In the short term, it may even increase if the walls do not help from immigrants, wages do not grow, jobs do not increase, and taxes do not fall, then there may be a political demand for even more radicalism.

But this collapse of centrism creates space for the opposite part of the spectrum of the French left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Melanshon (and his senseless proposal to impose high-income people with 100 percent income tax), Bernie Sanders, the Greek party Podemos, the Italian Five Stars movement and the American ” Grab Wall Street.

At some point — probably earlier than it seems — the present left and right proposals will begin to seem ridiculous and inefficient — not only from the speakers of traditional parties but also populists.

Now, when the majority of the population since childhood spends time on the Internet, new movements should appear that respond to the problems of the new industrial revolution. These will be politicians offering solutions to the problems that society faces and are courageous enough to manage technologies, not to be led by them, not to deny them, but to be seen as an engine of social change, thinking not only about workplaces.

It is possible that practical crypto-anarchists will appear, accepting changes and experimenting with completely new forms of government and types of social order. In the end, they were right about digital technology, total surveillance of citizens and Bitcoin, and the majority of the population ignored them. So, I believe, they will be right, and this time – good or bad.