Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Technology is Liberty, Part V: A Decentralized World



In the last couple of posts in this series we have spent a lot of time going over money and how a decentralized currency like Bitcoin can be quite beneficial. Money is, after all, the basis of almost all economic activity. In this post I want to discuss other areas of life that can be improved through decentralization. Not all of the things I will discuss here are completely decentralized, but any amount of decentralization can help people better avoid the state (any coercive government).

Commerce

For online shopping we currently have eBay and Amazon. At the end of this year we will see the release of OpenBazaar (currently in beta). OpenBazaar is a completely decentralized online marketplace that can facilitate anonymous commerce. Sellers will be able to list anything they want to sell. Buyers will be able to use Bitcoin to purchase anything that is for sale, with any degree of anonymity that they care to use. There will be no censorship and there will be no way to shut it down without shutting down the individual computers of every single buyer and seller.


Hospitality

If you need a place to stay, you no longer have to rely on the traditional methods. Airbnb has got you covered. With Airbnb potentially anyone could rent out any amount of living space that they have to spare. A homeowner could rent out their entire home, one bedroom, or even just a couch. This system makes it extremely easy to connect people who want to do business, without the need for taxes or oversight by the state. And if the state manages to co-opt Airbnb, a more decentralized version would eventually be created (if it is not already) that would be impossible to co-opt.

Transportation

Need a taxi? Forget the outdated model of monopolized taxi services. Try Uber or Lyft instead. Uber and Lyft make it possible for anyone to sell taxi services. Customers simply use a smartphone app to request a ride and local drivers bid for providing the service. As these models grow, anyone will be able to get around town for a very low price.

Financial Services

If you have ever needed to get a loan that is not from a friend or family member, there are only so many places you can go. Banks function as middle men as they amass the funds of depositors and make it available to borrowers. BTCJam obviates the need for banks and loan officers since it can connect lenders and borrowers directly. Additionally, interesting new funding models can emerge that will allow capital to flow into different projects with no third party getting in the way. Peer-to-peer technology can even replace centralized stock exchanges and even the issuance of equities. All of these things will enable any individual to participate in all sorts of financial ventures while avoiding burdensome state regulations.

Drones

There has been a lot of controversy about drones in the last couple of years. It seems that most people believe that the use of drones is inherently bad for some reason. Most people do not realize that technology is neither good nor bad; it is simply neutral. While the state can use drones for a lot of evil purposes, a lot of good can be done with them. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that a decentralized delivery service will be facilitated through the use of drones. A completely anonymous delivery system is conceivable, where a sender of a package would not even need to know exactly where a package is going in order to send it. Even if the state forbids such things, quiet drones could operate in the night to avoid detection.

There is another potential use of drones that I hope to see one day. Since the enforcement arm of the state is a potential threat to anyone who loves liberty, it would be beneficial to constantly monitor public law enforcement employees. There are already systems, like Waze, that allow people to report the presence of police traps, among other things, but drones will increase the capability of such systems exponentially. It would be easy to set up a database that makes available the locations and activities of the police as they move around a particular geographic area. Anyone with a drone would be able to sync it with the police-monitoring database and send their drone up in order to contribute. Imagine the smartphone apps you could have with such a system in place. You could have your phone alert you whenever a police employee is within 100 yards (or any distance) of your position. No-knock raids would be a thing of the past, which would save a lot of lives.


Cloud Computing


Cloud computing is extremely helpful in a lot of different ways. It can allow people to have access to resources no matter where they are. Unfortunately, cloud computing is often centralized and thus vulnerable. Maidsafe wants to change that. Maidsafe's goal is to allow anyone in the world to rent out their own surplus computer power to the SAFE (Secure Access For Everyone) Network. Everything on this network will be securely encrypted  and spread across the entire network so that it will be impossible for anyone to gain unauthorized access. This opens up entire worlds of new possibilities as any conceivable application can be built on top of this SAFE Network.


Cloud Storage


One obvious application that can be built on top of the SAFE Network is cloud storage. This is not limited to what Maidsafe is doing as Storj has a decentralized cloud storage app independent of Maidsafe. Decentralized cloud storage makes it possible to truly know that your data is safe and yet available everywhere there is an internet connection.


Social Media


Social media, right now, is very centralized. If Facebook or Twitter does not like the content that its users posts online, it can censor it. That is a problem. Using Maidsafe and other tools, it is possible to create a decentralized social media platform where nothing is censored and you can share only the data that you truly want to share. Advanced customization will make it possible to connect with people in the way that you prefer, instead of the way that a big business prefers.


The Internet


The internet itself is actually very centralized. Virtually everyone gets their internet connection from an Internet Service Provider (ISP). This is a problem that needs to be solved since the state can usually coerce or otherwise convince ISPs to shut down or target specific users. Project Meshnet aims to solve this problem. The project invites people to turn all of their devices into nodes on a meshnet using the cjdns routing software. Over time, if enough devices are interconnected they will form a sustainable meshnet, essentially a new internet that does not require ISPs. Such a meshnet will provide an extremely competitive (and thus, affordable, if not free) environment for the routing of data to to its destination. Also, every data packet will be encrypted end-to-end in order to make it impossible for malicious actors to intercept and/or alter sensitive data. As of now, most nodes on the meshnet use the infrastructure of the ISPs themselves to connect to each other. For Project Meshnet to be completely successful, the means to connect devices (e.g. WiFi, fiber optic cables) will need to become more powerful and/or cheaper so that private individuals can work to increase connectivity between nodes, independent of ISP infrastructure. Despite these obstacles, I am optimistic that we will see a fully functional meshnet in the future.


Communications


Cell phones are an important part of the way we communicate these days. Cell phones require a large infrastructure maintained by cell phone companies. This fact introduces extreme vulnerabilities into the entire system since it is easy for malicious actors, public or private, to identify location information, call records, and other data. I believe that the best way to counter this is to connect calls over a decentralized meshnet, as discussed above. Speaking of communications, there are already absolutely secure ways to send messages.  One way is through Bitmessage. Bitmessage is a completely decentralized encrypted messaging service that is somewhat based on the Bitcoin protocol. Every node receives every message, but only the intended receiver can decrypt it. This keeps messages away from the prying eyes of the state.


Professional Services

Virtually all of us require the physical services of certain professionals from time to time, whether those professional are doctors, beauticians, plumbers, electricians, or craftsmen. Unfortunately for all of us, the state interferes with many such professions by mandating licenses and certifications. While professionals like lawyers and financial advisers could potentially do everything online and avoid the state easily, the professionals we are talking about actually need to show up to perform physical labor. So how do we fight this reality with decentralization? 

I have a prediction of what will happen: Robots. Robots will happen. There are at least two ways in which robots can help in this regard. One way is to simply program robots to do the jobs that professionals do. This would be extremely difficult since the professionals we are discussing constantly make decisions based on custom preferences. That is why I think the second way is more likely. I predict that robots will be operated by the professionals themselves from a remote location. Not only does this make economic sense, as professionals will be able to offer their services to anyone in the world, but it makes it easy to avoid the state. Perhaps one day every family will own a robot and, depending on what they need done in their home, they can pay some professional from anywhere in the world to operate it and do whatever needs to be done.

Education

For the last century or so, virtually everyone has been raised to believe that, in order to learn and be a contributing member of society, a child must go to a school run by the state. Fortunately, that time is over. Decentralization applies to education as much as it does to just about anything else. Homeschooling is becoming more and more popular each year. Parents have been recognizing that state schools do not do a good job of helping children learn. Many parents now see that state schools simply do a good job of creating obedient citizens. Those parents are taking matters into their own hands by becoming completely responsible for the education of their children. In an age of virtually unlimited information at our fingertips, education in the home is easier and better than state education. Being a teacher myself, I know that almost all teachers pay lip service to the fact that every student is unique and requires personalized instruction. Unfortunately for most teachers, there is absolutely nothing they can do about this fact. I do not blame the individual teachers for that, since the institution itself is flawed. Homeschooling, as a manifestation of our increasingly decentralized world, can deliver the personalized instruction that children require.

Protection


When seconds count, the police are minutes away. Public police have not been an effective at protecting innocent people. The police usually show up far too late to stop violent actions. Fortunately, the market has answers. Enter Peacekeeper, a mobile app that lets you summon trusted neighbors in case of emergencies. With apps like this (and I am sure that this is just the first of many), communities can provide for their own defense against criminals without having to rely on the slow reaction time of the public police.

Healthcare


Health insurance is completely broken. You can accurately put the blame on the socialized nature of much of the nation's healthcare industry along with the incredibly oppressive regulatory framework. But even today some relief can be found. Liberty HealthShare can serve as an example. Liberty HealthShare allows like-minded people to share their healthcare expenses and bypass health insurance. I would not be surprised to see completely decentralized services that will do the same thing using Bitcoin.


Defense Against the State


Many individuals can expect to experience first-hand the unjust penalties the state enforces against peaceful people. While the corrupt justice system literally cannot withstand a robust legal defense from every individual, unfortunately only a fraction of alleged law-breakers actually try to defend themselves. This sad truth simply emboldens the state and allows it to continue to punish peaceful actions. Luckily for liberty-minded individuals, the above example of cost-sharing health expenses can apply to this area as well. A decentralized system of cost-sharing will give people the ability and the incentive to fight against the injustice they might be faced with when the state goes after them. A well-designed cost-sharing system could cause such a glut in the public court system that the state would no longer be able to afford to prosecute a significant amount of people, thus giving people more freedom to act.


3D Printers


In case you have not heard, 3D printing is a thing and is quite amazing. The technology to print anything is getting cheaper and will become available to more and more people. For much of modern history, the state has been able to interfere with a lot of the free market due to the fact that consumers are separated from the manufacturing process. The state can exploit that separation and intervene to stop people from obtaining certain prohibited items. 3D printing represents the decentralized age of manufacturing. Once the manufacturing process is in the hands of the consumers themselves, the state will not be able to stop people from creating their own drugs, weapons, or other tools. The state will be completely irrelevant in the area of product regulation.


Energy

The production of electricity has been, until now, mostly a centralized endeavor. Large power plants are very typical, whether those plants use coal, natural gas, or nuclear processes. Any centralized process can be disrupted by the state and we have experienced that in the form of state-granted monopolies and burdensome regulations. I believe that solar energy will be the key to a an environment of decentralized energy. Solar panels are constantly getting cheaper and more efficient. It is very common to see solar panels on houses and businesses, at least in my state, Arizona. The increasing utilization of solar energy, combined with the advancement of battery technology, will eventually result in most homes and businesses becoming energy independent. The extreme cost savings of this reality will result in more freedom for individuals to do other important things that they want to do.

Conclusion

Decentralization is the key to a future of unprecedented individual liberty. Current trends indicate that that is where we are headed. I urge you to become aware of decentralized options as they become available. As you do that, your personal liberty will increase.

Next: What Comes Next?

Other Parts in the "Technology is Liberty" series:
Part I: The Formula
Part II: History
Part III: Bitcoin
Part IV: What can Bitcoin do for Me?
Part VI: What Comes Next?

4 comments:

  1. Great article! I liked your idea about cost-sharing legal defense systems; it would essentially be a system of insurance against state abuses.

    Thanks for the shout-out about Peacekeeper! We're honored to be included.

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