Social Consensus Tests - Ethereum's upcoming trial by fire

I sat there watching the hard fork, the air, still on my face - my thoughts were racing - I knew today wasn’t just another day.

See - I’m a person who understands the non-fork opinion, and there is alot of value in holding principles and the ‘code is law’ ethos - my mind was churning over these ideas as I gazed at blocks ticking by on fork.ethstats.net.

The past few weeks have sent me on a sort of introspective journey when it comes to my belief in cryptocurrencies, challenging my fundamental assumptions - now broken - I am picking up the pieces and fumbling with them like pieces of a broken vase - a way to recreate this picture, maybe even make it more beautiful.

The hard truth is, we had to fork. It would have been financial & legal suicide for the community, for some of the brightest minds I have ever met and had the pleasure to converse with. This is important, because even the smartest people in the room are just human. We collectively made human mistakes, and because we are human that makes Ethereum a human technology. For humans, by humans.

As humans, we have created a digital artefact that can embody “Code is Law”, it is our best attempt to get the closest thing to impartial, interruptible and incorruptible process, no, justice. But, as we have found out, Slockit armed with The DAO and in their haste, pushed Ethereum from an experimental technology to an in-production system and the double-edge sword of our impartial judge cut swiftly - and heads have rolled.

Developers mobilised - a hurried rush of focused thinking, at arms and fixing their mistakes - they are abuzz about formal verification, better tooling, development best practices. Communication in public channels like reddit was like wading through hordes of panicked investors. Seeing the sheer volume of emotional responses reminded me that ultimately, the blockchain is a social technology - and we humans, have made yet a fundamental oversight.

We have forgot to test ourselves.

The schools of thought around the hard fork comes down to unmet expectations on both sides. It’s easy to see why a developer would expect a non-fork, that’s what they were sold on and our only other reference is really Bitcoin, apart from protocol changes it has been a shining beacon of impartial immutability. DAO investors were our target audience, early adopters, people who don’t necessarily want to understand the fundamentals and instead place trust on those who create the technology, they were sold on a decentralised investment vehicle that was truly autonomous - and we didn’t deliver.

Therefore it’s easy to see why both sides are disillusioned - because our expectations have been challenged, and no real clear & satisfactory definition of what Ethereum is has been put forward. No one person can say what Ethereum is because Ethereum is exactly what the community want it to be.

In software, we create unit tests to verify our programs behave as expected (assuming the test is sound) but we have nothing, except costly mistakes, to tests ourselves. Therefore I propose we must create unit tests for the community, to test the people of what they are willing to tolerate in the Blockchain to create strong expectations for everyone involved.

Ethereum as a production system should have very clear definitions of what is permitted on the chain, and because of this subjectivity introduced into the chain - we need to implement controversial smart contracts and use-cases. We need transactions that attempt to break the 51% consensus rule to challenge the community and harden the blockchain to make it more secure and anti-fragile.

In the wake of the hard fork, like the fires of a sun rise - Ethereum will undergo, a trial by fire.

Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca… what a very interesting tool. When I was a child I used to make “potions” and would dream of their properties, Ayahuasca is one of those dreams, realised. It has given me some of the most profound experiences of my life. I say this without hesitation. If you want to get to the ceremony’s scroll down to “Ceremony 1”.

Ayahuasca is different for everyone, and every time you consume it, you will have a different experience. I cannot understate this enough. Forget what you read on the Internet, including this post, if you try it, you will understand.

Before spending 1 week in the Peruvian Amazon, partaking in 3 ceremonies, I spent a week preparing my body, at least that’s what you’re supposed to do, I made efforts to change 3 days out. You are told to do ‘Dieta’, among other things, limiting the types of food you can eat and abstaining from sex.

You are told what I consider to be new age nonsense, cleaning your energies, connecting with plant life, all those ‘feel good’ ideas that are only backed up by good intentions. In my mind this can be very dangerous thinking leading to disastrous conclusions, especially when you are deep in the jungle, 3 hours at best to a hospital.

There is some truth in the food limitations, in that you should eat foods low in Tyramine, otherwise there is the potential for you to get a headache from higher blood pressure - I didn’t experience this. I think you could do changes to your diet 24-48 hours beforehand.

Sexual abstinence, I also practiced, but sometime between the first ceremony and second ceremony I reached my limit. I tapped out, and there seems to be no correlation, at least not with my small sampling - I suspect this is mostly cultural. What a man can do with a machete and solitary walk in the jungle.

We flew from Lima to Puerto Maldonado, the edge of civilisation, a remote town that borders the jungle. We spent one night there, buying supplies (rain boots, poncho, flashlight, towel, etc.) from the local market and getting acclimatised to the humidity. The next morning we were to hop on a small boat and travel up the river, the journey was roughly an hour and half upstream and another hour hiking through the thick, dense, jungle.

This jungle is literally TEEMING with life, at no point is it in silence. Thousands of insects, grasshoppers as big as my fist, monkeys, toucans and even a Jaguar. This jungle is so dense, you have at best a 30 meter visibility. In this jungle, the Machete is man’s best friend. The jungle is held together with vines and when strong winds or rain runs through it, it sounds like a tidal wave passing by, a wall of rushing sound. Just to be in the jungle, reconnected with nature and unplugged from computers is worth the trip.

The first morning we are asked to purge, it is supposed to ‘cleanse your body’ and make you more sensitive, they mentioned it was a leaf that’s apparently pleasant to the taste, but I was not familiar with plant nor the drug (and the dosage is ‘just half a leaf’ as if that is an accurate measurement!). IMO it’s not necessary. That and the fact somebody died from doing this on a tobacco version (nicotine overdose), really didn’t give many options besides to opt out.

Ceremony 1

The ceremony started at 8pm, 2 hours after it is already pitch dark (no electricity) - I’m nervous and excited. All ceremonies are performed in the Maloca, a special large hut, a healing space. The rule is not to approach the Maloca with your flashlight, so I fumble on the steps taking my shoes off, carrying my blanket, pillow, water, flashlight and notebook in hand.

As I enter I see on the far end, a candlelit shrine, around the edges are mats with buckets and tissues next to them, one for each participant. Those who have arrived are laying down or in a meditative pose, everyone is dressed in white. I find my spot and wait.

At 8pm the Shaman enters, Raina, she has a wonderful maternal feminine presence about her. The ceremony ensues, we gather in a circle and state our intentions for ‘working with the medicine’ tonight. Here you share your dominant thoughts, what you want to think about, what you want to ask your subconscious. My intentions were to better understand my relationships with loved ones, really dwell on some personal issues I’ve been holding onto for much too long as well as being more true to myself.

We are called one by one to present ourselves infront of the Shaman, she pours the Ayahuasca concoction into the ceremonial cup. You drink it and go back to your place in the Maloca. The dosage is half a cup for all of us (and rarely anyone goes full cup)

Drinking Ayahuasca, the texture is thick like syrup, the taste is bitter and sticky, you feel it going down your throat and moving down past your stomach. It is very unpleasant, and the taste lingers, we are told before-hand not to drink water, but we can swill and spit into our buckets.

After everyone has taken their first cup, the candlelight is subdued. You sit there waiting in silence, in darkness. I keep my thoughts on my intentions, my ex-lover, my mother, my father, my business partner, the people that they surround themselves with & the way I have been living my life.

Not 5 minutes pass and one person vomits into their bucket. I can tell who and I wonder how long it will be until it is my turn, I don’t look forward to it. Thankfully tonight, I won’t.

20 minutes pass, I start to feel nauseous, really nauseous - tonight this nausea is with me and it will persist the entire night. The chanting starts.

This chanting, is a blessing and a curse, a gift to be received and torturous water-boarding if you don’t accept it. It is designed to elicit this kind of response. Even today I both love and hate it. Tonight, I loathe it.

The chanting throws me back to my childhood, a vivid recollection of a time where I did not deal with large crowds or public well, the sensory stimulation is just by far too much. Many times my mother had to pull me out of such a situation, the one I recall was a school sports event surrounded by the masses all using their voices, all screaming incessantly, a sea of auditory information floods my brain, it desperately is trying to process it all but it is too much, more brain resources are used to compensate yet it is too much, what’s worse is none of these people were saying anything of value, they are just vomiting out their mouths, I know this but I cannot stop trying to process - this is the seed of my disdain for idle banter, of useless chitchat to fill the void. I grow contempt for my fellow humans wasteful communication. But it is my fault, my inability, my lack of wanting to shut them out, to stay connected to these fools.

These fools. The chant song changes.

Immediately I can no longer think like I normally do. I am terrified. What the fuck is happening I try to think, I try to think normally but it doesn’t work, my thoughts slur, much like a drunkard trying to speak. There’s a barrier, I am cut off from my higher mental faculties, I wonder if I am having a stroke?

After this question I am no longer even able to ask it again or come up with an intelligible answer. Then, I no longer notice the issue.

My brain is operating on another level now, on a simpler level. I am content, everything is simple. It’s like thinking with Duplo™ blocks instead of Lego Mindstorms™ (not that I could make this comparison at the time). I stay this way for longer than I can imagine. This would be my hell, but the direct perception of consciousness is a state of ignorance, they fail to see their hell and they are happy for it.

After too long I realise ‘This is how they must think.’ and all of a sudden a rush of thought barrels through floodgates, all the wonderful complexity, the intense puzzles, multitudes of concepts all perfectly interconnected return to me. A tear forms in my eyes for how grateful I am. How grateful I am to have these gifts, to be able to think like I do. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

I became what I imagine the average human thinks like. I became some of those who I love. Wow. What the fuck. This is not what I expected from Ayahuasca at all. This wasn’t how I expected to work through these intentions. It came from a completely different angle, a perspective I had never thought to try.

I see that people are not equal, not by a long shot. Their mental faculties are much less than mine (and mine less than others), their ability to feel, their ability to think, they are incapable. They cannot begin to understand how I think, or feel. I knew this already but there is a difference between knowing and walking the path.

I must make concessions for them and extend compassion to them, for they do not know what is good for them. Soft guidance at most times, strong in some.

We are asked if we would like a second cup, everyone takes it, except me, the thought of downing that liquid in a heightened state is too much. The second cup is only 14 cup.

I see those in power are herding people, farming them over generations, but, maybe in my naivete, they are doing it to wrong ends. I could do it better, I think to myself. The compulsion is strong. But I need a larger knowledge base, I need to learn more. I owe it to myself and to Society.

My thoughts return to baseline, I start to feel normal again, nausea returns but subdued, I focus in on the chants. Those chants, pounding at the gates of my ears. Penetrating my brain. I wish I could ask them to stop.

Be true to myself. Instant answers this time. “Cut through the bullshit” “In speech, be open, honest, and vulnerable” simultaneously I hear my voice in my head and see the writing vivid in my minds eye.

“Project myself onto the universe” - kind of new-agey, Impress myself on others more, make myself known instead of being silent. “Turn volume up in what I say” more evocative language, colourful as well as information rich.

The chanting is unbearable. Be true to myself, old me (??) would stay here, grit my teeth and bare it, maintain a lack of social conflict and increase conflicting entropy internally, something that will be outwardly expressed on others that don’t deserve it at a later date. I pick up my stuff and walk out. I go back to the treehouse. Amazing. A sense of relief and positive satisfaction, what an amazing first experience, not what I expected.

I get ready to goto bed. Just as I do I notice a light in the jungle, it’s the support - she asks for me to come back to complete the ceremony, I tell her I rather not and why, she explains both to ensure the well being of others and respect. This I already knew. I go back, she thanks me.

The rest of the night is torturous sensory overload, the nausea returns. I think to myself whether it would really matter if I were here or enjoying my time alone.

Finally the torture ends, I feel mild contempt for these people.

Ceremony 2

This ceremony was different, it made everything leading up to this point, worthwhile. It was by far one of the most profound experiences of my life. It obliterated my expectations.

This time I was given 34 a cup. This is about the same as 2 cups last night.

Tonight I experience no nausea.

Wow, I feel great, AMAZING. I can’t stop moving my limbs, later my friend tells me I am like a happy cockroach on it’s back twiddling his arms and legs in glee! I want to MOVE I want to move my body! I want to use my body, every appendage I have! So much energy! I want to run through the jungle! A whisper tells me that I’ll be more active in the future, to break away from sitting down all the time.

I close my eyes, My imagination starts to become vivid again, I view an alternate evolutionary timeline where humans evolved from plants, we’re a strange alien plant. I swallow and my imagination follows my saliva through my body, through a psychedelic plant-like intricate fungus/plant.

I open my thoughts like parcels, they go back to my ex-lover and my work. I need to put both of those roles secondary to my self development, I ponder, then I’m told. I imagine what my ex-lover is doing, I imagine her dating, sleeping with other guys. Before I feel emotion I see it, lingering in space, I inspect it with my minds eye. What is it?

It’s not jealously, she’s not my girl, not anymore, another emotion lingers next to it. The jealously label isn’t the first one, it’s not what I feel anyway, it’s more complex than that, the second I see is the label sadness, but it’s not that either, these terms are just far too simplistic. It’s that Duplo™ stuff again. Why am I using these terms for my emotions, these words are for children.

I don’t have any better labels/terms for emotions, that’s why. English doesn’t have a deep repertoire for emotions, is this why I discredit emotions and value logic? Partially at least. I let both wash over me, nameless emotions for now.

I’ll learn emotive words in all languages, that will let me reason about how I feel better. Symbols. Accurate symbols, maybe. I cannot categorise my emotions into English words, thats why I see little point in emotions expand emotional range by learning other languages emotive words. Yes. Disconnected from internet, unable to check. I miss the hive-mind.

Love, I see, it touches me as it lingers. I know this feeling, it’s fleeting, it doesn’t go away - it won’t go away, it leaves yes but it always comes back. It’s appears unconditional, why is it still here otherwise? It’s not how she feels, even if she does it’s not possible it’s the same.

That’s okay, I want her to make good decisions for her, I want everyone to make good decisions for themselves. Different direction now.

I should make my expectations clear with my requests, and have no expectations when request has been fulfilled by others. I blackbox my expectations, this can only lead to disappointment - why do I do that? No expectations isn’t just about happiness and non-attachment, it’s abit sustainability, durability, continuing in adversity - success. Re-adjust yes, but no expectations.

I grow people, I create environments for those who I can and see them adapt. They become stronger. This is something that gives me meaning in life. Like watching myself, a child, in a sandbox.

Time for another cup, this time I accept, and this time, no one else does. I feel great, still no nausea! The second time is more vile and putrid than the first, I instantly regret it as I go back. I am going to throw up I think to myself, I dry heave over my bucket but manage to stop it. I keep it down.

I notice my viewpoint as being very different than others, but I cherish their views also. What’s happening now?

I open my eyes, when did I close them? Did I open them? I see 20 vine-like tentacles arise from the ground, they have octopus-like suckers. They approach me, slowly, deliberately. They are taking me apart, piece by piece. I let go, I let them dismantle me. “No disassemble!” from the Short circuit movie I hear, I laugh internally, this laugh doesn’t come out of my mouth and is stretched out spatially like a line in time.

Those tentacles take polygon windows from my vision, glass I had been viewing the world through my entire life, completely unaware. I am nothing. The rainforest takes over my flesh and bone. Starting from my legs it rises up. Plants are taking over me, it’s okay, just let it happen, I think, let go, don’t fight it. If you resist Aya it gets worse, more intense.

It reaches my neck, oh god - this is too much, I am more plant than man. For a brief moment I am one with the rainforest, I am life. I am in the shape of myself but the rainforest is me. In the last moment of my transformation my consciousness is thrust out into nothingness - into a void. I watch as my former body - my favourite and only shell becomes a statue. I imagine in time it will disappear and become one with the earth.

Where am I? I am nowhere and everywhere, the question barely makes sense. All of a sudden my entire visual field is filled with what looks like a collage of peacock feathers, I try to turn but they are everywhere, they slowly swirl into each other becoming a fantastic display of moving colour, a glowing sense of euphoria sweeps over me.

I go into them and as I do my vision/world changes around me completely, at this point it becomes completely indescribable and I stay in this state for I have no idea how long, it feels like an hour. All of a sudden it’s too much. I am quickly re-assembled, I return back to my body, I walk outside, and I throw up in the jungle. It’s the most cathartic feeling I have ever felt.

I sit back down, in Awe of what has just transpired. I just can’t put into words, it feels like a lifetime of experience being downloaded into your brain in under a minute.

I feel great. I think to myself how consciousness is a terrible tool for actually understanding yourself. How in my day to day, I think what I want for myself is best, but really there are so many unconscious and unknown factors at play that I am not even aware of. It’s amazing anyone really functions to any degree of influence beyond a random number generator… maybe they don’t and it’s all an illusion. I’m sure it’s a bias of consciousness itself to justify itself.

I notice there is a parenting component to some of my relationships, a guiding component. I would like to have an active role in advising/guiding people, even if that act is a soft touch. I need to be better myself to be a mentor of any kind.

I reach baseline, the chanting I don’t process at all tonight, barely a thought is given to it, instead I let the sound vibrations just pass through me. I have an enjoyable night through to the end of the ceremony and towards sleep.

Ceremony 3

Tonight is the last ceremony, after last ceremony I had gotten everything I had been looking for, I feel more well rounded, I have learnt some valuable lessons. Maybe I am a better person? As I write this, I see I thought this at the time, now that some time has passed and the afterglow has worn off, sure I’m different definitely more well rounded, but I doubt I am a better person. Maybe subjectively worse :)

I have 1 cup, 34 full. This is all I’ll take tonight, I want a fun easy night. How wrong I was.

Tonight I felt a little nausea, nothing I couldn’t handle and it passes. I am enjoying the chanting tonight. I feel good.

My imagination starts to kick in, in my minds eye I am in a non-physical inter-dimensional temple, my only indications are alien like hieroglyphs on the walls, I only see this with my eyes closed, it’s faint. It’s a nice place to be, I just chill out here.

Be true to myself? I should get a snow bengal cat. I think to myself.

I’m in this temple and I put forward my intentions tonight, a portal opens up and shows me my life paths, a voice tells me I’ve learned all that I have from Aya and that I should just let it unfold.

The paths are diverging, based around a relationship, the path is dark and short, there’s a dark cloud over it, like looking at a path going into a dark forest. The other path, qualities of single and independence - rainbow coloured, vibrant and long, it’s unbounded and goes in any direction. It goes deeper into life and will lead to richer experiences.

I think about the darkness of the other path, the dark influences of people with wrong mentalities overseeing it, of sadness and awkwardness. My life governed by those stupider than me, especially those with negative dominant thoughts. My body is filled with disgust and contempt. It’s not easy. New families requires alot of boundaries & protection. Without those influences the path brightens stronger still. The path fills with love and at that moment…

I am still in the temple, my blood turns to gold, and a bright light radiates out through my skin, I feel a presence. Aya the spirit presents herself, her awesome feminine energy pregnates the room - she’s tall, everchanging, vision-shifting, I can’t look at her directly. She touches my chest and all my attachments in life dissipate. Before I was desperately trying to save and hold onto somethings. She leaves and the Maloca returns to it’s normality for me.

I know it’s my brain on drugs, but I can’t help to feel like spirits exist and I met one, and taking Ayahuasca is the demand required by this spirit. I have no delusions about this, but it’s very interesting compulsion.

I come back to baseline, I feel completely normal, great even. Everyone else is throwing up. I lay there, enjoying the music and relax. Tonights experience is over and I’ll be happy to leave tomorrow.

I notice I enjoyed the chanting, maybe I’m cured of sensory overload? NO!

Quickly, I hear/see something, not a whisper, and not words! The communication is clear! “Don’t use your brain while we fix it”, to which I immediately think “What?” (which is me using my brain). Like a bug zapper, a flash hits me. I am forced back onto the floor. There is that feminine energy again, the other side, the vindictive evil manipulative side. For sure this is Aya. Giving me a command that’s impossible to follow.

We’re nearly at the end of the ceremony and I am nearly comatose, I am laying there unable to move. I am called to present myself to the Shaman for my blessing. I told them I don’t think I can make it, but I try. I crawl across the Maloca, they laugh at me.

Now she is singing in my face - it’s too much, I am over stimulated, I break out in a cold sweat, I don’t finish the ritual they give me water, eventually I make it back to my spot. To weary and vegetable-like to care about being embarassed. After everyone has been blessed they ask how everyone is, I can barely respond beyond a groan. Where did this come from? I was totally fine, it’s already the end of the ceremony. I finish my water sip by sip. I manage to ask for someone to refill, the help does and I am eternally greatful.

This experience is not good, they continue chanting and contiuing the ceremony, just for me, I can’t receive the sound, it’s too much., I want to escape but I can’t move. I want the ceremony to finish so I can be in silence and work through this. Finally everyone leave. My friends wait outside, I can hear their laughter and conversation, I can turn now - maybe I can get up, nope. But this is progress.

After some time, I start vomiting loudly, later I learn I woke everyone up. Immediately I feel better, I can sit up. I tell the guys to head back and I’ll catch up.

The Shaman comes back to finish the ceremony with me, she gives me salt and the blessing. I smoke the special tobacco cigarette which leaves me feeling good. I say goodnight to her and rest a little.

Finally I am alone, I stand up! This is great! I am giggly and my body feels something like a squid with bones. I try to pickup my stuff but these noodle arms are useless. I grab my flash light and saunter off through the jungle, back to the treehouse. I call out to the guys and we have some friendly banter. I ask for some help getting my things.

As long as I stay up and moving I am good, I discover if I sit my situation deterioates. My friend asks for my company in the dark which I would love to do, we explore the jungle a little, have great conversation and goto the kitchen. Couldn’t ask for a better end to the evening.

Finally we get back to the treehouse, operating legs on the stairs is a challenge but fun.

The next day we start our journey back to civilisation.

Afterthoughts

What an unusual experience, and I feel it’s quite different from other psychedelics. It’s non-visual psychedelic properties are quite profound and totally not expected. I didn’t even adequately describe them.

Ingestible DMT, Ayahuasca is an incredibly powerful tool, I can see how you need to be careful of delusions & recheck thoughts against reality, even if convictions are strong.

After 8 years I finally got to have this experience and it went over and beyond my expectations. If I were to try it again I would probably like to contrast it in my own setting outside of cultural preconceptions and tradition.

I felt like I learned alot about myself, my relationships with people and have picked up some new, positive behaviours. It was certainly a good bonding experience with my friends there.

I couldn’t recommend it for everyone, especially those who are impressionable.

I can understand why they call it a “medicine” even though it’s not the same definition we use in our daily lives. Ayahuasca is a medicine for the mind.

Foundations of Society & Blockchains

This past year has been predominantly a reexamination of my assumptions of the world, most of which I wasn’t fully conscious of (and still aren’t). I want to talk about economics, law, order & governance as these are incredibly exciting topics for me, but first I wish to talk about love as it’s impression is freshest on my soul. Of course my thoughts are malleable and subject to change, I hold no strong dispositions against new verifiable information.

Let me first say I believe there are fundamental biological differences in men and women, I accept that. I find social science studies, particularly ones furthered by gender research labs to be highly dubious, there tends to be no hard data or repeatable studies. Men & women are not fundamentally the same, we’re not “blank slates” which are to be programmed entirely by society. It’s been shown in the most egalitarian societies that offer equal opportunity - still even then, there are gendered biases to how they live their lives. I disagree with any movement forcing anyone into positions that they are largely not interested in.

Order & Law (in that order) are necessary to create a civilised society, we intentionally bound our monkey-selves to transcend ourselves, to be better monkey’s.

I was raised on chauvinistic ideals, I was raised and thought positively of serving society and gave concession to females. I had the idea that I would setup a family with a partner in life. Among many things 2 stand out the most in changing that;

1) No Fault divorce. This is an issue with Law. Combined with alimony this has turned into a disaster and ultimately ruins the notion of Family. I see my own father fall victim to this on more than one occasion, along with many other good men. As far as I can tell it ruins the economic incentive, at best it functions as a means of wealth transfer from men to women. Look at marriage objectively, it’s an incredibly risky and a terrible business decision. There is many details and facets to each side, it’s an exercise to the reader, but I see very few upsides for the male beyond the opportunity to procreate, the costs are certainly not worth it. The opposing argument to this is of romance, I put forward that romance cannot be achieved without a solid foundation, unless you are a fool.

2) Third-wave Feminism - What once started off as a good idea, has in my opinion overreached it’s bounds. It’s no longer about equality(never was). But I do love feminists as they have challenged alot of my thoughts and have exposed alot of how society functions. The biggest I now see is hypergamy, male disposability and that men have enslaved themselves with the need for female approval (in which the ultimate manifestation is in loving sex). Almost all men’s behaviours are driven by the need for female approval, what does a man look like who does not require this?

I am starting to see incredible inefficiencies everywhere in society and they are all dictated by the rules we set up, yet nobody is really fixing them, at best they are monkey patched which just leads to more inefficiencies, it looks like it’s too hard to change them.

I’m no longer convinced democracy is the best mode of governance. It seems to be hardest to implement and it leads to irrational decisions, weak leaders who focus more about their image than doing what’s best and appeals that focus on simpler things like pride in race, language, religion & culture. Democracy alone is not the solution, especially in developing countries. I used to think the problem is with representational democracies, that there was corruption (and there is) and that was the fault, I started to seek out other modes of governance.

My thoughts moved then toward Voluntarism, Libertarianism & Anarcho-Capitalism. The important common denominator in these of course is self-reliance rather than state-reliance, these ideas would scale much better because they operate locally. I also think the Nation-State was required because the high transaction costs in governance, with the Internet and modern technology, I no longer think the Nation-State in it’s current form is required.

However I’m also not convinced everyone is equal, certainly not in thought & education, and not in physical strength. That’s not really compatible with the ideals my line of thinking went with - it will just lead to more victimisation.

But what if you could create a system that encompasses all of these ideals? I think Blockchains & Smart Contracts - specifically Ethereum can come into play.

Ethereum is a distributed virtual machine with multi-user support and object oriented architecture out of the box. Like other blockchains it essentially acts as a database, but where transactions are both immutable and atomic.

The user accounts contain state and optionally arbitrary executable code. State means that each account object has its own memory allocated and can store the value of variables in it. Anything that can be represented as a number, can be stored in object memory.

What does this mean in terms of governance? Order.

Ethereum is a medium of order. We can then develop Smart Contracts to run ontop of it, what’s important is that by default, ANYONE can independently create policies and use them among friends. By default you support Anarchy and bring order to the extra-legal sector. This might sound terrifying to governments, but I think this is challenging.

Future governments must support this. It allows the 1-3% of the population intelligent enough to create the own world’s. What what of the rest of the 97% of the population? This is where good policy comes in, where network effects come in, where good governance come in.

We need a set of Smart Contracts which govern well, are liquid and stand on their own merits. They will become a liquid common law and will set new standards for our future society. They will allow us to make changes when necessary while providing the best framework for the masses.

There’s many more benefits to Ethereum such as instant global deployment, cheap transaction costs but most importantly (for me) we can create a dynamic foundation for Order & Law which can become more responsive to the macroeconomic trends policy-makers inadvertently create.

On Biotechnology

What I love about Biotech, is it’s very much like software although frustratingly so, it’s not treated as such.

Biotechnology is the most fascinating industry, a medium ripe for innovation. If I could easily get into Biotech and Neuroprosthetics, I would do nothing else, it would be my dream. In fact, I tried. I want this post to be about the future, but I feel I must briefly touch on how disappointed I am with the field.

Biotech field is disproportionately riddled with patents, heavy regulation, fear, uncertainty and doubt - furthering monopolistic holds and suffocating independent endeavours.

The main argument is of “bioterror”, which while I understand the point of view, this arguments voice is disproportionate to the reality, and to create any kind of super virus is most likely to be a well funded, team effort with state funding. The incentives don’t work in favour of the corporation or your garden variety indie mad-scientist. Remember, you’re more likely to die from rogue vending machines than you are from any terror attack, not to mention these terrorist organisations are the result of State actions in the first place. I understand that it’s unlikely to change without some more fundamental changes.

Anyway, thinking deeply about Virtual/Augmented Reality led me to thinking about directly interfacing with the brain, current methods are crude and damaging to the cells, there has to be a way we can stimulate (and record) neural activity in an non-invasive way. The holy grail of this would be independently addressable neurons, but as far as I found, optogenetics and graphene sensors seem to show some promise. Hooking into the brain directly is going to be invasive, but there has been alot of interesting work around the idea of Sensory Substitution.

Sensory Substitution was discovered in the late 1960s by Paul Bach-y-Rita, which allowed blind people to “see” by their sense of touch, reproducing images on their back. He pioneered alot of the work around neuroplasticity. Long story short, it seems our brain is capable of interpreting signals and turning them into direct sensory perceptions. In a very real way, we can create new senses. How about instead of overlaying a video screen over our visual sense, we create an entirely new sense organ for augmented reality?

So whats the catch? Well, it’s unidirectional for one and all current forms of sensory substitution involve electrically or mechanically stimulating the subject. You run into serious spatial and temporal problems with both, you end up getting adjacent points interacting when you attempt higher resolutions than simple 16x16 grids. Either that or you require the user to wear the device on their tongue… less than ideal.

During this time I was also studying molecular biology, an absolutely fascinating topic in of itself, this nano-machinery, collectively responsible for the formation of every living super-organism. My first real tangible grasp into Biotech and rough understanding how cells worked opens up completely new frontiers. The simplified analogy of software in the form of nucleotides, executing within the cell, and expanding up into larger organisms. The sheer multitude of possibilities is mind boggling. Information Technology will have to recognise and encompass “wetware”, else Biotech will surpass and dwarf anything we’ve seen in the silicon space.

In reading some paper’s I noticed that Lumpkin’s lab had managed to optogenetically stimulate Merkel cells in mice. These Merkel cells are one of the handful mechanoreceptors involved in touch.

Hmmm, interesting, now we have some cells in the “upper-most” layers of the skin that we could intentionally trigger, our spatial resolution would be limited only by the direction of our stimulating lightsource, and our temporal resolution limited to the recovery time of the cells.

The software comparison is so much similar that it was easy to design a “program” (virus) that would target and infect these cells and get them producting the optins. You can see my works here;

The idea would be to create a “tattoo” of skin that is blue-light sensitive that could then be used to retrain the brain to perceive a new sense.

My attempts to attain pre-engineered mice subjects(and they exist) and/or acquire the physical viral construction have been hampered every step of the way, probably with good intentions but what frustrates me is there is no atmosphere I’ve found to do these things in and no technical reason not to do so. It’s cheap to do!

Thus it has been revealed to me that problems are deeper within the foundations of society, change must happen at a deeper level. Both Order and Law are in question for me.

Unhinging the display of Reality

Virtual Reality is a tidal force with companies such as Oculus, Sony, Samsung & Google creating the waves. Awestruck Developers are flocking to the technology, transporting you to worlds that could only exist in your dreams.

But even the most presence-inducing, GPU frying, hyper-realistic demo today is nothing compared to whats coming.

What we see today is the first steps in a long line of iterations, todays demo’s are akin to our dinky BASIC programs running on our commodore 64’s of yesteryear.

In a virtualized reality we will have to re-evaluate alot of the ideas that have always been with us in computing, and the display of user interfaces, my interest is in what virtual reality’s “compositing window manager” (the software that manages your GUI, lets you move programs around, minimize/maximize them, have them overlapping) will look like in the future.

Have you thought about how this will work? And I don’t mean virtual screens, I mean a composition manager for reality itself.

If we move several iterations into the future (10 years?) we can imagine looking back to the year 2014, and what we have is something akin to MS-DOS, you load a program and run only that program, probably from your 2d desktop, then you put your HMD on, after that switching realities is a problem, sure you can alt-tab to another game/experience, but its not a smooth transition, and it is very disorientating for the wearer.

The next logical progression is to create a sort of “Matrix-like” construct, or a multiverse, a blank slate 3d world that acts like a program launcher, this is something I explored with Secondsight, but at best this would be like Windows 1.0 and will not satisfy for long. Why?

Because we’re virtualizing reality here, and we will need to take full advantage of what that means - like windows gui, we should be able to overlay realities, display realities side by side, minimize them and even intermesh 3d objects from different realities. But it goes even deeper than that.

Reality is formed in your mind by your senses, therefore the real holy grail we are working towards, is the goal of virtualized senses. You can see the seeds of this with hijacking of our vision in head mounted displays and touch feedback by haptic controls. With the advances of synthetic biology - It will only take a few more iterations and we’ll be working on the directly on the sensory pathways themselves.

And we’ll need a composition manager for our senses, a composition manager that tells our minds what reality is. Like windows you’ll be able to partition off your senses in such new and profound ways.

Imagine for a moment, in objective reality, you are in a restaurant with your partner, wearing your favourite shoes, but you’ve partitioned off your feet, not to feel your socks and the confines of the shoe, but instead, a hot water foot bath program runs on this area. You’ve partitioned off your back to run 2 programs at the same time, one swedish massage and simultaneously a gentle back scratching program.

Back in objective reality you are facing a bland wall of the restaurant while your partner can see the open are of the dining experience, maybe they can share their perspective with you so you can both enjoy it - or maybe you prefer to run an amazonian forest.. or why not both intermixed?

We will have the ability to determine what Reality means and be able to experience many different sensations in unique & interesting ways. Virtualizing our senses is going to give us unprecedented control over our experience in life andnew horizons for communications between us.

Maybe this sounds exciting, maybe this sounds scary. Either way - this is the software that will determine your reality, at it will happen within our lifetime.

Opensource GMO's

Over the past few months I’ve become more and more interested in Biology, with the progress being made in Synthetic & Systems Biology as well as cheaper DNA synthesis, I can really see the potential of treating cells more like machines and nucleic acid’s more like software.

Unfortunatly there seems to be very little cohesion in the #diybio community and very little sharing/hacking on GMO projects (something like glowingplant) - despite there being alot of people out there very interested in open science. I’m becoming more and more convinced there is a project here and have some really interesting idea’s I’d like to apply.

I think a opensource platform to share, fund & maybe even sell open source gmo’s has great potential and will be looking to bring this into reality over the next few months.

Secondsight

With the advent of head mounted displays such as Google Glass and Oculus Rift, I thought I should have a stab at it, this project is called Secondsight and consists of an Android ROM and a 3D Printable Headmount, and utilizes your smartphone to give you a whole vision display. You can view 3D Model here on github, peruse the android rom code or get it on thingiverse. Everything is open source.

Whole Vision Displays

If you have tried Google Glass - it’s very unsatisfying, but I love the idea - wearable personal computing, transparent computing that overlays your vision will be the future. I’m sure of it. Secondsight takes the power of Android, the mobile operating system and overlays it over your vision - and it does it using your existing smartphone. To me it’s a wonderous idea, you could watch youtube or pullup navigation while your out in public, enter virtual reality worlds, overlay 3d reconstruction of existing world - have completely digital products in the form of augmented reality.

I imagine something like the “iphone 10” being a completely digital product you perceive through your hmd, no more manufacturing costs, easily updatable and expandable.

Future phones will be bendable, 4k screens and 4k cameras, giving rise to a more than pleasurable whole-vision ‘desktop experience’ so theres little reason to reinvent the wheel with dedicated hardware and they will be lighter.

Control can be done with Thalmic MYO (I’m on the alpha program, can’t wait to get my hands on one), Finger based tracking, voice commands(less appealing to me).

5 months onwards

I started doing Secondsight as a hobby, it was an escape from a very stressful time in my main business. Anyway this stress found me seeking a 180 degree solution to the business models I operated in.

I therefore became very interested in the idea of peer-based production, FOSS, and maybe contribute to society in some small way, I read almost every book from the p2pfoundation book store. However I found this path to be very difficult to take - I discovered you must spend considerable time to develop a community.

Outside the impracticalities of peer-production, theres a few problems with bringing this to market:

  • Absolutely no startup budget.
  • No existing market, high costs in creating/educating a market.
  • No direct path to monetization (solvable through subscriptions on software, advertising and sales on hardware)
  • and finally, let’s face it, form factor.

The first 2 I figured I could work on by finding like-minded people to work on it collaboratively, however for me, this is much harder than it sounds.

I did manage to present Secondsight at InsideAR conference in Munich. It was well received and alot of fun! Enjoy this quick Youtube video of a fan walking around the conference wearing it;

But I think ultimately the reason I didn’t push this any further was the form factor, what person in their right mind is going to wear a bulky square on their face? I made it open source so people could customize it for themselves, but our current smartphone technology just isn’t there yet.

In short I learnt alot about Android internals, I also learnt alot about 3D printing, my next interest in 3D printing is in bioprinting, I’ll be looking to work with the Open Wetlab at WAAG into hacking my Ultimaker 1 into a prototype Bioprinter!

The Future

Most technologies these days have a problem with power consumption, we desperatly need better materials for energy storage, or some radically different way of producing/consuming energy.

How do I see wearable computing in the future? Well theres a few options:

I’m going to keep my eye on this, a major hurdle for me is finding other people interested in the idea.