The light at the end of the tunnel really will be an oncoming train for some
In his 1995 novel “Distress,” the hard sci-fi writer Greg Egan imagined a near future that was “far better and infinitely worse.” His book roughly predicted the rise of transgenderism, the Seasteading endeavor and the Free State Project. It also got something else right: The lack of dramatic human progress into space. Egan projected an earth-focused humanity so powerful it had capabilities viewed as potentially universe-ending.
Two decades later, humanity’s progress has been less frightening than Egan seems to have foreseen, but it does seem to be slow in most of the areas where government has a lot of say.
From a libertarian tech standpoint, the most impressive actual changes may have been the rise of mass video sharing and that of blockchain technology. The former made an issue of government abuse by making it widely visible; the latter is positioning itself to contest the root of abusive government power: Monetary control. But before that contest can end in victory and perhaps make moot the million pages of rules which help block your life from its shining potential, the former chief editor of Crypto Insider has some sobering predictions.
Giulio Prisco is perhaps best described in this context as a crypto-oriented futurist with religious, transhumanist leanings. His take on “crypto-implications” draws on tech history to reach conclusions that (like Egan’s) are not particularly sanguine over the short term. Specifically, we asked Prisco (by e-mail) to predict what he believes things will – and won’t – be like in 2027.
CI: What do you think is the main thing people are missing when they imagine how things will look in ten years because of blockchain tech?
Prisco: Many people unfamiliar with blockchain tech are missing the realization that it will have a big impact, given time. Many crypto enthusiasts are missing the realization that change takes time. The web was introduced in 1990 (after email, dial-up BBSs and usenet newsgroups), and it is beginning to really change things only about now, so let’s think of 30 years since the inception of Bitcoin in late 2008 for blockchain tech to have a really big impact. 30 years since 2008 is 2038. In 2017, a process of exponential acceleration will be ongoing, which will result in big change. Futurist Ray Kurzweil noted that we tend to overestimate possible short-term change, but underestimate possible long-term change.
I expect that in 2027 bitcoin (or similar) will be legal tender in a few (small) nations, and global full service blockchain banks will operate in those nations. Blockchain banks will accept deposits in crypto and run on smart contract technology. So, for example, a blockchain-based smart contract could trigger payments in fiat currencies.
CI: There is a theory that blockchain tech will tend to drive humanity into space faster because of the reliable energy there. What’s your take on this and its affect on 2027?
Prisco: Blockchain tech could drive humanity into space faster by making crowdfunded capital available for innovative space projects, but I don’t see the connection with energy in space. I am involved in Space Cooperative, an ambitious project that wants to leverage recent developments in cryptography (DAOs, DACs, tokens and all that) to bootstrap a global, distributed, decentralized, P2P space agency. See this post.
CI: More specifically, over the next ten years, there will be a certain number of kilograms worth of hardware, people, etc. transferred into space. In percentage terms, how much greater do you think that number will be, than it would have been without blockchain tech?
Prisco: I think in ten years at least one major space mission will be crowdfunded via a blockchain platform. That mission could put a few tons of stuff in space, but that is only a small fraction of the total. Let’s say 1 to 3 percent. Space Cooperative wants to be part of the process.
CI: Compared to the current price per ounce of the average orbital throw, what do you think the price will be in 2027… i.e. do you think it will finally go down significantly and by how much? How much will crypto have to do with this?
Prisco: We can realistically expect a reduction of launch costs per unit mass to half current costs. More if some really innovative propulsion concept is developed, but I don’t see anything on the horizon that could be fully operational in ten years. Crypto will have something to do with reduced launch costs by making funding available to streamlined, cost-effective launch providers.
CI: Can you name three problems you think crypto/blockchain tech will be unable to solve… which an unhealthy number of people think it can solve?
Prisco: Crypto won’t solve any major problem like hunger or unhappiness by itself, but it could be part of a problem-solving ecosystem.
CI: What can the average person do to help push this crypto-driven revolution in a direction that will be good for them?
Prisco: Just start using bitcoin and other crypto for both investments and payments. If you are interested in crypto AND space, join Space Cooperative, and don’t forget to read Turing Church for wild ideas related to possible wonderful long-term futures in space.
CI: What’s the most counter-intuitive, wild crypto-related expectation/prediction kicking around in your head recently?
Prisco: Blockchain technology permits building distributed networks where, even without a central repository, all nodes agree on what happened in the past and how to update the network. It seems plausible that some generalized blockchain template could be the only way to do that. If so, it makes sense to think that perhaps the universe uses similar tricks. Therefore, blockchain-like models for fundamental physics could emerge. I have speculated about this concept here.
CI: What questions should we be asking that we’re not?
Prisco: Perhaps you should ask about my political position. I am a radical libertarian at heart, but my brain can be persuaded that (small) government is often the only way to make things work. For example, I am against predatory capitalism and support tax-funded basic income. However, I am firmly persuaded that any restriction to personal liberty should be considered as a necessary evil and implemented only as a last resort.
CI: What would you say is your level of optimism regarding the next 10 years (not just for liberty but for overall human comfort and happiness)? If you would, please quantify it on a scale of 1 to 10 as best you can. 1 is a descent into Middle Ages type status worldwide. 10 is being a fifth of the way to the realization of the “benign happy humanity” featured in Star Trek The Next Generation…
Prisco: I’m afraid things will get worse before getting better, so let’s say 4. By the way, I don’t believe in utopia: New options will always carry new problems. So I don’t think we’ll ever see an entirely benign and happy humanity. More benign than today, and happier than today, yes that is achievable, but not without new problems.
CI: What’s your take on the claims that (blockchain driven) decentralized A.I… won’t work, because networks are too slow? Assuming this is true, in 10 years will they be fast enough to overcome this?
Prisco: Communications between the neurons in our brain are even slower than the slower network, yet our brain works, because it runs on superior software. Networks would be fast enough today, if we had the right brain-like software.
CI: Who will be the winners and losers in the 2027 you foresee, particularly in the crypto context?
Prisco: I guess Bitcoin and Ethereum will be still around and popular. If a new crypto is developed that can offer much higher privacy and anonymity (of course there ain’t such a thing as total privacy and anonymity), that could take off and become very popular too. Besides that, there’ll be a whole lot of minor cryptos.
CI: On another scale of 1 to 10, where do you think the relationship between nation-states and the crypto-community will stand at that point? 1 is “nation states are at least 3x as hostile as in 2017.” 10 is “no more than 1/3 as hostile.”
Prisco: In 10 years crypto will be much more of a threat to nation states, so I expect major nation states to be much more hostile to crypto. So, 1 for major nation states. But I also expect that some small nation state could fully embrace crypto and become a crypto haven where crypto is legal tender and deregulated. That could have a domino effect.
CI: After its initial rise, we saw Internet communication degenerate in some ways as activity centralized on Facebook. Arguably it’s a weak interface and an inferior experience compared to the web forums of the 2005 era. How might that kind of “regression” phenomenon play out in the crypto world between now and 2027? What, if anything, should be done to prevent it from happening?
Prisco: No, Facebook wins because it offers a superior interface and user experience compared to decentralized alternatives. The reason is that Facebook has The Money, and internet business is winner-take-all. To prevent even more centralization we should develop decentralized alternatives that are equally fast and easy to use, but that’s difficult to do without The Money.
CI (Ridley): There are various positive directions that sentient A.I. may take, but it seems like two of the biggest “bad” directions might be what I call StalinBot and MethBot. StalinBot is a sort of monopoly scenario where one intelligence develops before any of the others can and eliminates the possibility of them developing, creating a concentration of power. The other scenario would be a lot of small black market A.I.’s outlawed into existence and traumatized into savagery by govt attempts at preventing them. Do you see any way blockchain tech might address this, and what can we little people do to help push it away from my nightmare scenarios (or yours)!
Prisco: I’m not too worried about that because I don’t think we are anywhere close to sentient AI. I suspect sentient AI will require not only new software but also new physics to engineer substrates able to support consciousness. For example, sentience could turn out to depend strongly on subtle and weird quantum physics. In that case, we would have to understand the physics of the brain/mind system much better first, and then develop alternative mind substrates. So I think sentient AI won’t come before the second half of the century, and perhaps closer to the end. In the meantime, of course, dumb automation can do a lot of damage. We can push toward open source research in all relevant sectors, but don’t forget The Money (see above). Blockchain tech could help by making it possible to bootstrap new tech giants, like today’s Google and Facebook but crowdsourced and crowdfunded.