Libre Not Libra: Facebooks Blockchain Project I think you are all probably thinking the same thing. You have a burning question. I felt like…
I wouldnt be able to do the rest of my speaking tour without addressing this burning question. I was bombarded on Twitter today with the same question: Have you tasted haggis? The answer is, No, Im too scared.
I made the mistake of reading about how it is made before tasting it. Ive been told that you should do it the other way around, because then it is a lot less scary. Im trying to build up the courage. I have been told that the best way to this is in a burger. I dont know if that is actually true.
No? Okay. There is a big disagreement in the room. On the count of three, all those in favor of haggis burger, . Nobody? Okay.
Haggis for breakfast? Yeah! Ah, okay. Are there other formulations I should try?
Haggis on toast! Haggis on toast, very good… Intravenous.
How about a corporatesponsored haggis that is pretending to be an open haggis? And was launched this morning? Okay. Lets talk about the elephant in the room: Libra. This morning, you probably heard that Facebook announced their cryptocurrency, Libra.
Whenever the price of bitcoin goes down, I receive calls from friends and family, asking if I am okay. Are you okay? Is everything okay? This time, I actually got a call from a friends mother. She asked me if Im okay and the price has not even dropped!
Just the fact that Facebook launched a cryptocurrency led to the Are you okay? Are you holding up? question. Do we need to airlift you out of Europe?
I am okay. I talked about this two or three years ago, that one day we would see this happen. Today is the day, right?
It is now happening. But what exactly happened? What can we talk about today?
This morning, Facebook released a white paper. Not a cryptocurrency. Not a network.
Not a project. Not even an application. Just a white paper.
Everybody is freaking out because they wrote a whitepaper. But there is a long road… to go between the white paper and a production network available to two billion users, wrapped in… a candycolored Farmville interface. But when they released the white paper, people became really excited. How many of you read the white paper?
Excellent, quite a few. Ill be honest with you, I did a brief skim. It has been a busy day. I received a bunch of calls from journalists who wanted to talk about it.
I am not ready to talk about it. This will take a lot more study. I will not talk too much about the technology today. We dont really know how this will play out.
I want to talk about what has changed. Everything changed this morning. This is something we have been predicting for more than three years. It changes everything, whether or not Facebook is able to get Libra into production.
The mere fact that this whitepaper was dropped has now set the bar. They dropped the gauntlet. Silicon Valley is coming for banking in a big way.
We predicted that this would happen. A lot of people thought it would be Amazon first. But turns out, it is Facebook which is much worse… than anyone had imagined possible. All right, about the whitepaper.
If you havent looked, this is a collaboration thirty . I have a feeling that within Facebook Some people are saying this is the result of a years effort. I have a feeling that they created this incubator sandbox innovation lab, gathered thirty to forty… bright people, locked them in a room, and slid pizzas under the door until the whitepaper came out. The whitepaper is actually very impressive, in terms of the technology vision. These people are very serious. wellinformed about what we are doing in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space.
They cherrypicked some features of the best cryptocurrencies, the stateoftheart technology, and then they advance it a bit. They synthesized it into something that quite impressive from a technology perspective. It has taken ideas from Ethereum, like a virtual machine for execution of smart contracts and gas. A Merkle state tree that can be added to Merkle Mountain Ranges, or the Ethereum state tree. An embedded or intrinsic digital currency.
A proofofauthority, federated network of validators, similar to Ripple or EOS, things that are kind of blockchains but not quite. Their consensus algorithm is not exactly new. It is a Byzantine fault tolerant consensus algorithm, which is not proof of work, but they say they want to move it to proofofstake. Some very interesting stuff there.
They mashed together… and created something that is impressive from a technology perspective. It is impressive because of who did it, not based on what was actually done. If I had released that whitepaper with thirty collaborators, everybody would have . Okay, theres another blockchain… But when a company with two billion users does that, people understand that this could have a big impact.
Now we will see whether this survives its first contact with Facebooks corporate . At the moment, this is an incubated project. It is idealistic. It is aggressive in its vision. It is focused on being decentralized, a bit now and even more in the future.
Permissioned now, permissionless in the future. Proofofauthority now, proofofstake in the future. A very progressive, aggressive vision.
But that vision will run straight into a bunch of MBAs and lawyers at Facebook headquarters. Whoa there! Or maybe not. Lets see.
It will be really interesting to see how much of this vision survives into deployment. That will determine what happens next. If it survives into deployment, it could become very successful… and a huge moneymaker. The MBAs will become very excited. Some things in the white paper are quite surprising.
For example, the use of an association to segregate it… from Facebook, and a promise to not use the profile information on your Facebook account. Do you have a Facebook account? I sure as hell dont. use that in collaboration with the currency? That would be a nono, right? At the moment, it says that information will not be shared and used for surveillance.
It will not be used for any of these Oh, one second. Sorry. We are sending you this very important email… to notify you about changes to our Terms ampamp Conditions. Please reading the following 600 pages of gibberish… to understand how we completely removed dueprocess and your privacy. Thank you very much!
The Facebook Team. So that email just came to me from the future. It was written by an MBA. It will change all of those promises the moment this becomes successful.
If you think that Im kidding, look at what happened to Whatsapp. The founders of that company started with the same kind of idealistic vision, and left, forgoing hundreds of millions of dollars in pay and bonuses. Use Signal. Do not use Whatsapp if you are a dissident, an activist, or a political operative.
If your communications confidentiality will make the difference between surviving or not, if you are one of the millions of people who is marching in Hong Kong this week, dont use Whatsapp. Will something similar happen? Im a bit of a cynic. I think that large corporations have a tendency to… swallow innovation, rip out the disruptive, and spit out something neutered.
Something that is profitmaking while exploiting users, because that is their obligation to their shareholders. But we will see. Maybe it wont be so. That is what happened on the technical front this morning.
Now, everybody is trying to solve what I call the threebody problem. Until now, we were looking at this space as the interaction between two major forces: on one side, we have nationstate fiat money, as we derisively call it in the crypto space on the other side, we have the peoples money, open and borderless cryptocurrency for everyone to use. These two forces are orbiting and exerting pressure on each other. Right now, cryptocurrencies are a tiny little asteroids. Fiat is a big planet full of very successful life forms, who are looking up at the sky and wondering, What is that shiny thing?
It seems to be getting bigger. You know, the experience of the dinosaurs., Dont worry, its pretty. Look at how nice the sunset looks! Oh, it keeps getting bigger…
Solving the twobody problem from a political perspective, trying to figure out what happens… when nationstates and open cryptocurrencies collide, is difficult enough. We cant tell, because nations are positioning themselves in different ways. Some are freaked out and ban it outright. China has banned it about 1, 726 times so far.
All ineffectively. India has banned it, kind of, twice. Ecuador was one of the first to ban it completely. Yet in many advanced nations, cryptocurrencies… have actually been thriving. In what we call free societies, the idea of banning private currency is constitutionally problematic.
Both the United States Constitution and the United Kingdoms constitution protect freedom Oh, wait. You dont have . Anyway… The Magna Carta, lets say, protects freedom of speech. Money is a form of political speech.
That is something cherished in free societies. It is not so easy to just ban . But there was a lot of tension this morning, with a big discussion on Twitter that I reluctantly got involved in. It was about whether Facebooks Libra is a cryptocurrency or not. Lets take a quick poll.
All those who say that it is a cryptocurrency, . All those who say it is not, . All those who havent decided yet, . That is okay. I dont think that question makes sense. It doesnt make sense because Facebooks Libra is new.
It is a corporate digital currency. We havent seen corporate currencies since the opium wars, medieval feudalism, and the Medici. How fitting that with the dawn of corporate neo feudalism, one of the leading corporate states, the supranation of Facebook, is launching its own currency.
Things will become very interesting, for a number of reasons. We now have a threepoint standoff. It is now money of the corporations, money of the people, and the money of government. All three will exist.
None of them are going away soon. In fact, more will join. The doors have been opened. Facebook is the first of the FANGs the rest are baring their fangs and ready to go. FANGs, if you dont know, FacebookAmazonNetflixGoogle… and the billiondollar tech companies of Silicon Valley.
There is also Twitter, Uber, and Airbnb. The era of internet currencies just opened. Silicon Valley is coming for the banks, in a way that has never happened before. The bankers have been very comfortable until now.
I went to a conference in Zurich and spoke to banking executives in 2014. I told them, Listen. Instead of hiring blockchain consultants to show you how to square a circle, undo the disruption, and pretend to do blockchain, you should hire a former executive from the music industry. Ask them what it felt like when the internet came for their industry. When did you realize you couldnt do anything about it?
How did you feel when you started losing to Apple? Guess what? The banks had ten years to figure this shit out, how they would handle digital currencies. The music industry should have made a deal with Napster instead, they fought with tooth and nail, and handed the entire industry to Apple.
The banks should have made a deal with Bitcoin when it was the cuddly gecko of cryptocurrencies. Facebook is a Triceratops and it is coming for their industry, to disrupt a lot of things. really weird, but the first to be affected by this will be retail banks. Not the big bad investment banks who make shady deals to bail out dictators and stuff like that. The banks that actually serve customers.
Most big investment banks stopped taking checking and savings customers … four or five years . You people dont pay enough. Youre not worthy of banking. But retail banks, the corner branch where you know the banker, or at least to discuss your overdraft ballooning again. Those retail banks actually serve customers, even the unbanked and underbanked, gradually expanding their reach.
They will be hit hard by this new phenomenon, because Facebook not only has two billion users, but they know all their preferences and behavior patterns. They can use that to drop the cost of banking and wrap it in a candycolored user interface. Every time you make a purchase, the application will tickle your dopamine receptors a bit.
It will encourage you to do or not do certain things, play with you like a mouse in a psychology experiment, where you cant see the maze because the walls are too high. This will be very interesting as it plays out. To those of us who have been paying attention to the rise of techno neofeudalism, it is terrifying. Facebook will be effective at disrupting regulation in a way that banks have not been able to. Facebook is now going after central banks.
Yes, they have a basket of currencies to create some kind of stablecoin thing, but that stablecoin will be stable visàvis your local currency that is hyperinflating. I talked about that this morning. Imagine that you are the government in India or Argentina, and you want to follow an inflation or devaluation policy, but 10 of your population has moved on to Libra.
They can put their savings in the hard currency of Facebook. Well, not really a hard currency. It doesnt really have a monetary policy, so they say, but it is harder than the Argentinian peso. It is harder than the Turkish lira, the Indian rupee, and more than a hundred currencies around the world.
The central banks will lose one of the big levers of power they have over the economy. What will they do, ban Facebook? Shut down 10 of their economy? They will try. They have been trying to ban Facebook during protests, coup détats of dictatorships, and revolutions.
They will fail. They will try to regulate Facebook. Imagine the poor regulators, paid almost nothing, in their tweed suits.
Academics from the economics ministry, facing an army of Wall Street lawyers in their tiny country, filling the parking lot of the local airport with Gulfstream in a row, Lets talk about what we will do to your economy. If you didnt realize it, Facebook is planning consumer and retail level SDRs. Who knows what an SDR is?
A few people. The International Monetary Fund is a global institution that is not controlled by governments. It uses contributions from member states, a basket of currencies, to issue a pseudo currency called Special Drawing Rights. are part of the international framework of freefloating exchange rates. They are the lender of last resort for governments. They do so in a very predatory manner.
They impose extreme austerity on the governments which fall into their clutches, assetstrip their industries, their water plants, railroads, and telecommunications companies. Well, guess what? Facebook wil do that now. If you think about what Libra is, it is a special drawing rights pseudocurrency, based on a basket of currencies, that is funded by consumer activity, in the same countries where the government will ask them… for a loan or try to curtail their activity.
This is very serious stuff. We just went postnational. The power to control money used to be the exclusive prerogative of states.
That has been kicked in the nuts by Bitcoin and decapitation by Libra this morning. Central bank control over monetary policy ended this morning. Technology companies… currently worth a trillion dollars are taking the ability to mint their own money. They will radically transform their business models, generating more money than you can ever imagine.
Very soon, they will dwarf the GDP of at least one third of the nations on this planet. When the IMF comes calling, most governments cower in fear. But they have no idea how much worse it will be when Facebook, Google, or Apple comes calling.
Maybe even Twitter can take down a few governments. It is big enough. Why not?
Soon, Uber will be dictating… not just to taxi drivers, but to the local council and maybe even the cabinet of ministers. We a new world in which three forces will be competing: money of the people, money of the state, and money of the corporations. That is a crossroads. We need to make some very careful choices. I am hopeful for a number of reasons.
They will actually make a contribution to the technology, whether they want to or not. They will introduce one billion people to the wrong kind of cryptocurrency, just like AOL introduced people to the wrong kind of internet. Here is where it becomes tricky.
At this point, we need to decide how to differentiate our principles. I have talked about the fundamental principles I care about in blockchains. Sometimes I call them the five pillars of open blockchains, or the eight criteria. I lose count. It is somewhere between five and eight, but you should always a system that is trying to take over… the foundational technology of money in your world.
Is it open? What does open mean? Is it open for anyone to access and participate without vetting? Can anyone send a transaction without providing identification? Is it?
We dont know yet. We will see. The white paper it is . We what the currency actually does. Is it borderless?
I can tell you right now, it will not be borderless. There is only one borderless, global cryptocurrency of any value and meaning today. That is bitcoin.
It is maybe as good as the U.S. dollar at being borderless. But Facebook will not be in China. I can guarantee you that Libra will not launch in China.
They will have their own, launched by WeChat. Or a subsidiary wholly owned by the Peoples Republic of China, the central politburo. Like Facebook is a subsidiary of the NSA… It will not launch in Russia either.
Are they going to give up their monetary sovereignty to a dude from Silicon Valley? It will not launch in a bunch of other places with unbanked people who actually need this. It will not be borderless. In fact, quite the opposite.
We have entered the era of Cold Waresque currency wars. An Iron Curtain for currencies will drop, like we have never seen before. We will see a split between East and West in the evolution of statebased and corporate currencies.
Of the three, only open cryptocurrencies will go everywhere . will probably not be neutral. Neutrality requires that the protocol allow transactions from anyone to anyone, , for any purpose. A lot of open cryptocurrencies do that.
I very much doubt that Libra will do that. The moment they that, the subpoenas will start flying. The most important a subpoena is knowing where to serve it, right? That will be easy.
They have an office which accepts service of process, so that is where will send the subpoenas. Where do you send the Bitcoin subpoenas? Aha! Can you send them to 127.0.0.1 localhost IP address? We will process them immediately.
So it will not be neutral. It will not be censorship resistant. Large corporations like that, bound by jurisdictional regulations, are obliged to censor transactions., you cannot send a transaction to an Iranian, a Venezuelan, or a North Korean. You cannot receive from a Russian or Chinese citizen without properly vetting who they are, who their parents are, when they were born, where they live, and which companies they own. This happens every time you try to send a wire transfer. will not be immutable.
They say in the white paper that immutable, but the moment you make a transaction funding some abhorrent and inexcusable activity, subpoenas will start flying and the immutable network will be muted pretty damn fast. That is pretty easy to do when you have a consortium of validators and no cost for modifying the history. Proofofwork makes it impossible, even if 100 of the miners collude and try to change history, without expending the same amount of energy. This means with every day that passes, the energy cost increases.
Within a day or two, it is an undue burden. It is almost impossible, even if you could find and coerce all of the miners. They wouldnt be able to do it. It is not wont, it is cant. Cant is much better than wont. will not be immutable.
It might be auditable and transparent. We dont know yet. If it is audible and transparent, it will not be private. We are probably only a few years from a giant freaking leak, where all of your financial data are belong to us. Again.
If it is stored in the blockchain in a transparent manner and you dont have any privacy controls you know, the kind that criminals use, but at least they are smart about privacy all of that information will be leaked. All of your purchases will now be visible to friends and family. probably has a very good friend weve made a pact with: If I get hit by a bus, I need you to take my laptop, erase my browsing history, and shred all of my bank statements… before my mom gets to the house. ? Financial privacy is a human right. Society doesnt work as a panopticon. We have secrets because were social animals. That gives us the freedom to express our freaky nature.
We all differ a bit from the expectations and conformity of society. At least, I hope we do. Because if we dont, what kind of society is that? absolutely conform to the expectations… of your stuckup neighbors? Individuality, expression, freedom is privacy.
We dont want our financial records blasted to the world. But that will happen next . It may be auditable and transparent, but not very private. This is not a blockchain Im interested in.
More importantly, as I have said many times before, we are standing at a fork in the road. On the one hand, we have surveillance money. On the other, we have free, open, and private peoples money. Guess what will happen with this new currency?
The timetable to cashless societies has accelerated. Cashless societies are nothing to celebrate. They without freedom or democracy. They are fragile, without the possibility of an exit plan or release valve. Where one election could be the last.
You only need to get it wrong once. Just stay at home and say, I dont care about politics. All of the kooky old people go out and vote for an orange man, Brexit, or some shit like that. You ask, What the hell happened? In a world where you dont have cash, it is much worse than that.
The government, a corporation, or payment processor can decide that you have done something bad, and turn off your financial future. They could make sure that you cant even buy food, let alone pay for rent or . If you think this isnt happening, it is happening right now in Hong Kong. It is happening in China with the Sesame credit score system.
If you think that is not coming to a country like yours, study up on European history, 1918 through 1945. Fascinating shit. We thought the U.K. had learned that lesson. From what I have been seeing lately, . They are trying to repeat all of . Great.
Sometimes you need to teach the lesson twice. What will we do in the crypto space? We will start differentiating.
Over the next couple of years, expect a lot of crypto projects to focus on what their principles are. Now, there is a lot of confusion. We are dealing with an 18dimensional, partial differential equation… of a threebody problem.
Everything is pulling on everything else. Six degrees of freedom. It is very complicated. Who knows will happen next?
Look, Facebook went to India. Uh, India wants to devalue . Indian people are going into cryptocurrency others are being blocked. What happens next? Nobody knows!
If you are a crypto project, you must decide what your principles are. I have been expressing the same consistent principles for the last seven years. The reason is really simple: it takes too much bloody homework to, and remember how to be consistent with what I said before, if Im not following what I actually believe in. Some people in our industry noticed that recently. Inconsistencies can happen very quickly.
Some crypto projects recently faced that kind of fork in the road. They decided to focus on different principles and tried to change the trajectory of projects we care about. Lately, one of them is all about cheap payments, at the expense of decentralisation and privacy. Apparently, to the people, privacy is only useful for illegals and money launderers… who are wash trading and bucket shops. Ooh, scary!
If that is the road you want to go down, the light you see is not the end of the tunnel… but an oncoming Facebook train that already has the principleless, privacyless market staked out. They already have two billion users, lots of money and technology people who will run right over you. If you havent differentiated based on your principles or worse, you dont have any principles and decided with your recently hired MBA that you are really interested in shareholder return on investment, and the best way to do that means shedding a few of these silly, idealistic principles, then guess what? Once you start shedding principles, now youre Facebook. What is Facebook, if not the worlds most principle shedding machine?
It started with few, and has since developed a mechanism for shedding them… faster than you can imagine, with billions of dollars in marketing tickling your dopamine receptors. Dont worry! The future is candy colored and bright… as long as we are still profitable. They can shed principles faster than you, with more money, better user interfaces, and a bigger user base than you. So if your game is shedding principles to make profit, that is a game you will not win.
Facebook will win that game. They will win it over PayPal and JPMorgan Chase. They will sure as hell gonna win it over a little ragtag crypto project that says, We dont need privacy. We just want to be a fast payment network… that collaborates with law enforcement and surveillance . Figure out what your principles are. Everybody will need to stop, take a breath, and figure out how to differentiate.
It is actually pretty easy. If you get into a fight with someone who doesnt hold principles, a corporation, that is not immoral, because that requires having negative morality. amoral, which means no moral guidance whatsoever. The absence of any moral compass. Morality doesnt even enter their ROI equation.
Morality is not on the spreadsheet. If you are going to pick a fight with them, differentiate on the thing they cant compete with: align yourself with the one project that is truly open, borderless, neutral, censorship resistant, transparent, auditable, private, and immutable. There are a few of those, I think. Privacy currencies will get quite a run . There is a to really focus on privacy, because Facebook wont.
Things just got really interesting. As a technologist, I am so excited. I have been jumping up and down all day. I cant wait to see how this plays out. That has been my lifelong fascination: watching technological systems interact with society… and change the world.
As these developments roll out, I will see if I can pick up a few clues as to where these things are going. To have that vision has been my lifes goal. As a technologist, I have been jumping up and down.
As a human being, I am horrified that we are opening the door to a future that is truly terrifying and dystopian. We are giving power to some of the most ruthless, unaccountable corporations out there. Not to fight against governments, but in many cases to join them handinhand. They will ensure that while were exploited by ruthless politicians on one side, we are also exploited by ruthless business people on the other, in an alliance between corporation and state.
That is called fascism, only this isnt your grandpas fascism. This is a whole neofeudal environment that we have never seen before. A lot of people will make the mistake that if it doesnt come in a leather uniform designed… by Hugo Boss, with clashing colors, caricature parades, and screaming into megaphones, it is not fascism. But fascism today can come in a slick user interface with beautiful colors, accessible 247, through your browser… and the most convenient location whether your phone is on or off.
It is part of your life. It allows you to share photos with Grandpa, the same one who fought Nazis. It is the ultimate irony.
We need to be very careful about what we do next. This is deadly serious stuff. Society is not ready for this because weve never been here before.
While I am fascinated to watch, at the same time, I am deeply troubled. I am not afraid because I think Bitcoin cant compete. I am afraid because I believe a lot of people dont care.
A lot of people will go for the easy, convenient, mindless, repetitive, seductive, hypnotizing rhythm… of a Facebook feed, through which they will lose their freedom and their future. Thank you.