Santiago Siri is the founder of the Democracy Earth Foundation, a digital governance technology based on the non-profit building supported by Y Combinator.
The following is an exclusive contribution for the 2018 year of CoinDesk under consideration.
As governance becomes increasingly prevalent in discussions on consensus protocols, it is clear that Satoshi Nakamoto's original view of "one-CPU-one-vote" has shaped the entire cryptic industry into machine-based governance, not on people.
But if Artificial Intelligence (AI) is indeed a threat to humanity as Elon Musk and Sam Altman often warn, why are we risking to give AI the political power of distributed networks?
Ensuring a fundamental right to privacy has bent the initial design of the blockchain to anonymity. While this approach helps fight financial corruption (political corruption is exploiting the Internet in ways that can be fought even with decentralized computing), the threat of AI is less abstract than it looks. The fact that social algorithms thrive on memes helps to explain today's political reality.
However, artificial intelligence is leading us to even deeper questions and challenges. The most salient fact of contemporary politics is the growing shadow of doubt about the democratic process in the United States: has foreign influence won the most expensive elections on the planet? From the peace of Westphalia in the seventeenth century, the nation states were a political construction based on the idea of a non-domestic intervention.
What Mark Zuckerberg did not dare to tell Congress when he had to testify about Russian influence by exploiting Facebook is that the Internet is no longer compatible with the nation state.
Today's AI is governed by our likes, retweets, upvotes and links – tokens that we do not own. These tokens possess us as they constantly probe the company for the benefit of the owners of the network. To remain competitive with one another, Facebook and Google have incentives to become even more Orwellian.
What made them incredibly effective was their ability to formalize humans on the web. But the high price is the privacy of a company that no longer connects via dial-up but lives online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The question that we must now face is how can we formalize online humans in a decentralized way, thus guaranteeing voice and vote to all without making them subject to corporate propaganda?
Try impossible to do
To establish a border between us and the Internet AI, we need a decentralized protocol for individual human identities.
Unlike Facebook, such a network should not be limited to the logic of the media and the algorithms that capture attention. Instead, a human consensus should be the source of legitimacy, effectively constructing a one-man chart-a node to unlock the full potential of blockchain governance.
The legitimate influence on cryptographic budgets can turn a social network distributed over the Internet into a living democracy. But this is far from being a trivial task: to formalize humans in decentralized networks requires that robots, Sibilla attacks, bribes and Big Brother emerge.
Let's start with the bots. The perception threshold of a machine can be measured using Turing tests, activities designed to distinguish robots and humans. Hence, a man-based consensus demands for Turing impossible tests, difficult for computers but easy to process for brains. To illustrate this, the birth certificate of my daughter Rome was made using video, a simple format for a human individual to be decoded, but still very difficult to understand for any machine.
The demonstration can remain private and secret – just a hash goes on a blockchain. This string of numbers is able to certify the content and the timestamp of the original test, letting the nodes be validated without the need to transmit all the information. We can expect Moore's law to be in contact with the Uncanny Valley, so the format of the demonstration should always be open to debate.
To guarantee a singular identity, we must fight Sybils (in this context: human beings who aim to gain control over more than one node). A reputation-based chart must be put in place giving the claim rights to those who are able to gather more trust from the network. At Devcon4 Sina Habib presented the idea of build a "trust chart" using reputation algorithms known as PageRank. My personal experience in implementing PageRank to balance retweets on Twitter led to a virtual currency project called Whuffie Bank in 2009; it works.
But the interest deriving from the validation of the nodes should also be a generosity for those who are able to identify false positives in the consensus. Network police can not be strictly algorithmic if we want humans to be in charge.
The risk of reputation algorithms is that they are really centralization algorithms.
This leads to nodes that can use their excess influence to buy others or be targeted and purchased. To prevent the formation of bribes and monopolies, the ability of a node to validate new evidence impossible for Turing should be based on a cryptographic lottery that introduces consensus to random voting.
If the lottery entropy is based on a knot's pole, it can aim to compensate for the probability of attestation on all long-term knots. As a validation node, the higher the stakes, the less likely you are given the chance to validate again. This creates an incentive to focus on validating the family first.
Today, Tomorrow and the future
At Democracy Earth, we are designing our consent protocol using the ERC-20 token with stakeout logic designed to validate the impossible Turing trials. When the score for a given hash reaches the consent threshold, a check is issued on the claim "Are you human?" For an ERC-725 identity provided.
These open specifications enable rapid prototyping and implementation of these ideas on any EVM compatible blockchain. Recent research and new protocols, such as the work of David Chaum of DigiCash on the random vote, and AlgoRand, led by the zero knowledge test co-inventor Silvio Micalli, report the importance of cryptographic lotteries in keeping governance fair.
In our initial work of implementing web-based digital democracies, it has become clear that anyone controlling the voters' register can manipulate the outcome of an election. Providing a decentralized human rights consensus can replace this point of failure even in traditional elections.
Why not simply use the reputation inherited from established institutions for human identities?
According to the World Bank, 1.1 billion people are missing worldwide and the International Rescue Committee has identified over 65 million refugees. In Latin America, I have personally met with excluded workers' organizations that estimate that 10-15% of their members do not have an identity because their parents have never registered them or been abandoned during their childhood.
Human consensus on the Internet should be able to be used everywhere and provide tools to measure the inclusive capabilities of blockchain economies. If a consensus for human nodes gets widespread adoption, social applications ranging from boundless democracies to the encrypted peer to peer loan to Universal Basic Income can become a reality.
When in 1996 John Perry Barlow wrote "A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace", he ended his call for "a more humane and just civilization of mind".
Here, human, is a powerful word used to describe the aspirations of an era that gave rise to digital governance. Decentralizing democracy matters as the nation-state continues to fail in a growing global society. It is worth remembering the last words published by the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi:
"By creating an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments that spread hatred through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to tackle the structural problems their societies face."
The real risk of formalizing humans on the blockchain is not doing it.
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Image of the robot via Shutterstock