Sunday, 12 July 2020

The Future of Blockchain — Bridging the Sharing Economy — a TEDx Talk

For me, this talk is the center of my work and finally captures what I’ve been trying to say for half a decade.
When the sharing economy faded into the background to become more of an opportunity for venture capitalists than human beings, I started looking at structural an financial models to integrate sharing into the economy itself.

The Future of Blockchain covers the following (in under 10 minutes!):

- How the sharing economy changed
- Ways we can integrate sharing
- The nature of our value extractive economy
- Blockchain as a technology and philosophical revolution
- Practical ways blockchain will impact individuals & society
- The opportunity to program the future with our values

I wrote a book on sharing, the sharing economy, but within a few weeks of the release of It’s a Shareable Life, I felt like I had to abandon everything I’d been working for. The sharing economy had changed. Everywhere I looked, I saw labor exploitation, workers making less than minimum wage without protections, and, ultimately, the thing that bothered me the most is that these companies, like Airbnb and Uber, had massive valuations off the backs of other people’s time and resources, like their cars and their homes.

To further this point, Airbnb did in four years what it took Hilton to do in nearly 100. Why? It’s other people’s homes, their apartments, and their spare bedrooms.

I had to ask myself, is this really sharing? Is this as good as we can do? I have to tell you, I started on this whole adventure because I found more meaningful human relationships through these interactions than in regular transactions. I felt like maybe giving and receiving weren’t so different and that we could exchange value maybe without money in the future, but, once again, efficiency replaced human connection, and even the sharing economy got replaced by a new term, on-demand, the on-demand economy.

I started to ask a different question. How might we integrate sharing into the very fabric of the economy itself? Before you start thinking, “That sounds socialist,” please understand that I believe human beings can be both selfish and selfless, and I believe we’re evolving towards a greater state of cooperation.

Let’s zoom out a little bit. Most businesses are extractive, extractive of human labor or of the planet’s resources, labor, like markup on hourly time, or of the Earth’s resources, like water, precious metals, or wood used to make products. At this point, I started to think about, in the ways that we could integrate sharing, like platform cooperatives or equity crowdfunding, as potential models, but these were slow and legally complicated, and nothing seemed to click, that is until blockchain. I see blockchain as both a philosophical opening of how we can rearrange society as much as it is a technology.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a digital ledger in the sky, supported by computers and algorithms, that prove that something actually happened. That something being an agreement or a record or a transaction. This is a digital living document of collective truth. Things like medical records and legal agreements could live there because it’s both anonymous and private.

People always ask me, “So what’s so great about blockchain? What does it enable that we can’t already do?” I tell them, “Blockchain gives us two things.”

One, programmable money. On top of blockchain, there’s this really smart technology called clever technology, called small contracts, and smart contracts enable us to incentivize what people do, when they do it, and how. What if, tonight, we wanted to incentivize you all to take the bus? Well, first of all, you could transact without paying any fees. Secondly, maybe you get a $5 refund when you swiped in on a bus. Third, the driver, themselves, might actually get a kickback for bringing a full bus of people here.

Second, blockchain gives us the opportunity to dream again, to rethink transaction, governance, how we agree. This means that monetary incentives can be aligned with planetary ones.

Imagine that I’m running a city, a municipality. If I want to incentivize people to take care of the environment, maybe I compensate them for recycling or for creating community gardens, or if I wanted to incentivize them for wellness, perhaps I have them create community dinners in specific neighborhoods.

How about a sharing economy example? I have a car in San Francisco, and I want to go to Bangkok, and I need an apartment. Well, with traditional sharing economy platforms, perhaps I put my car on a car sharing platform and I look for a place on Airbnb. With blockchain, I could do a value exchange. I could lend my car to person A, meanwhile staying in person B’s apartment in Bangkok, and perhaps no money would actually have to transfer because they’re equivalent in value. I might not even need to use the platform at all, so no fees.

What we’re saying is what the Internet did for eCommerce, blockchain technology builds upon and helps create these beautiful, value-distributed networks. People are playing with that and really creative in interesting ways.

Blockchain also makes shared ownership very easy. Remember the Airbnb and Uber example I gave earlier? Well, imagine these companies today built as blockchain companies. Not only would they share a value in the form of long-term ownership, but they would also compensate people for being super hosts and drivers who drive a lot. Imagine a future where instead of owning a car, you own a piece of an autonomous vehicle company, and you have access to a fleet of cars anywhere you are in the world, and imagine that instead of buying Internet from a centralized service provider, that you actually use a mesh network of computers that are all around you and that your refrigerator knows that you need juice before you do and orders that juice via a smart contract, and it doesn’t have to be through Amazon, by the way. Imagine that when you log into any social network or Facebook, that when you create engagement and a new post and you’re actually creating media, that you’re compensated for that. Imagine that, in your job, your time is no longer rented out, and that on top of your hourly wages, perhaps you’re incentivized and compensated for things like referring a new employee or coming up with a great idea that makes the company more profitable.

Value can be distributed with blockchain. This reorganizes everything. It means that we can create businesses that operate more like communities and ecosystems and like top-down hierarchical organizations, but this is only one road. What if the future plays out a different way? We already have the 1%. Imagine the 1%, but times 1,000 and more centralization and fewer jobs and more mechanization, and imagine that you’re running around the world doing your thing, speaking, transacting, and that all of those things are recorded, and instead of incentivizing positive behaviors, the behaviors that are incentivized actually limit your self-sovereignty and freedom.

We are standing at the precipice of one of the most meaningful opportunities for social change of our time, and, right now, we need to program the underlying operating system and the ethics of blockchain technology. We need to include shared ownership and value distribution into the future, and we need to stop playing catch-up with efficiency, living with technology, through technology, supporting our humanists and connection above all else. We have the opportunity to rewrite the Declaration of Independence in digital form, to rethink policy, to dream again.

I encourage and I invite you to invest in this possibility and to learn more about the value-distributed future that could support and serve all of us.

By Chealse Rustrum
This article was originaly published at 
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