Vitalik Buterin, Zooko Wilcox, Simon de la Rouvière, Santiago Siri – all are prominent leaders in the blockchain technology sector who regularly participate and speak at conferences around the world.
That way, the RadicalxChange Conference in Detroit this weekend may not have seemed different from many encryption conferences around the world, but if the schedule had similarities, the conversations did not. Instead of discussions about the theory of cryptography, there were serious conversations about the social change needed to bring about and maximize the technology and its possible benefits.
It should be noted, however, that RadicalxChange was also not an "encryption conference".
Hosted by the RadicalxChange Foundation, this weekend's event was the first gathering of people inspired by the 2010 book by Glen Weyl and Eric Posner, Radical Markets, published by Princeton University Press.
"It was a chord and found resonance in many people," said Jeff Lee-Yaw, executive director of the RadicalxChange Foundation at the opening address of the event. "[The book showed us that] we can reinvent institutions to solve problems like inequality, we can find a way to build a more prosperous world. "
It is this message that seems to resonate with those who have built new economies in crypto-coins and blockchains, as Buterin noted in his speech.
There, the creator of ethereum explained his belief that the movements to reinvent the social order for the betterment of society in general are not different from what certain communities in blockchain and crypto space have been trying to do since the advent of bitcoin in 2009.
Buterin spoke at length about the similarities and differences between the cypherpunk movement and the RadicalxChange movement, telling the public:
"In general, there is an interest in making the world better, a kind of idealism, an excitement with new ideas and a commitment not only to think and speak, but actively doing and experiencing and indeed many other points in common."
Slide from the main speech of Vitalik Buterin.
To that end, the newly appointed co-leader of the RadicalxChange Foundation and former adviser to the Crypto-investment firm Amentum, Matt Prewitt, could not agree more.
"The connection is obvious in my mind," Prewitt told CoinDesk. "I was interested in ethereum and cryptocurrency because they are new tools for collaboration and collective action. It is this kind of vision of more distributed energy centers that attracted me to blockchain that I see [in RadicalxChange.]"
Bringing ideas to life
Other participants, including growth director of blockchain identity platform Joshua Shane, Eva Beylin, head of Crypto Governance Growth Startup Commonwealth Labs Thom Ivy and co-founder of block-backed cloud computing Wireline Lucas Geiger, seem to agree.
Several chapters of the RadicalxChange in the USA were actually founded by those who otherwise worked on blockchain projects. Joshua Shane in Seattle and Thom Ivy in Detroit are just two examples.
In addition, many of the ideas advocated by the RadicalxChange movement are being tested and tried out in blockchains.
Former developer of ConsenSys and founder of ethereum-based music software service Ujo Simon de la Rouviere last Thursday launched a blockchain art project implementing a version of the Harberger Tax promoted in the book "Radical Markets."
The digital art piece is always for sale and can be transferred into the hands of a bigger bidder at any time. However, the part owner must pay a tax of 5 percent per year on the price of that item.
"It would present some form of subsistence for the artist and a reasonable amount of cash flow knowledge for the artist to continue to create more art," Rouviere told CoinDesk.
Since the release, the piece of art has changed hands three times and is currently worth 888 ETH or about $ 120,000. Still, Rouviere emphasized to CoinDesk that it was too early to say whether this method of selling art could be considered fully effective or not.
"This work of art is always for sale" by Simon de la Rouviere.
The point, however, is that design for experimentation was inspired by "Radical Markets".
"When I read the book, I saw that many of the ideas could help the arts. I've always been a creator and the startups I've created have always been for creators, "said Rouviere.
This is by no means the only example of blockchain enthusiasts taking seriously the ideas suggested in Weyl and Posner's book.
Another such idea experienced by the Gitcoin open source rewards platform since the beginning of February is Liberal Radicalism (CLR) with capital constraints. The CLR is based on a separate idea called quadratic voting presented in "Radical Markets" and repeated in an article written by Buterin, Weyl and Harvard PhD student Zoë Hitzig.
In essence, the CLR mechanism suggests a way to optimally distribute a fund of public assets so that the distribution of funds is "credibly mutual and not biased towards specific organizations," as Buterin explained in an interview with podcast host Unchained Laura Shin.
The first CLR experiment hosted by Gitcoin distributed a total of $ 38,242 in 26 different projects in the ethereum space. As specified in a blog post, over 130 different people participated in this experiment.
Since then, it has encouraged future rounds of CLR compatibility in Gitcoin, as well as increased interest in the ethere community by mechanisms of inflation financing, such as that proposed in the ethereum 1789 improvement proposal.
Ethereum Foundation researcher Eva Beylin told the CoinDesk:
"We've definitely had conversations with people close to EF grants and even other types of grant programs, such as MolechDAO, about their potential to experience [with CLR].
"A natural set of allies"
To some extent, it can be argued that such experimentation and interest by people at least within the ethereum community is due to the close collaboration and friendship between ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin and author of "Radical Markets," Glen Weyl.
But on a broader level, Joshua Shane, head of growth for identity startup backed by ConsenSys, pointed out in a panel that the cryptography community in general "is much more open to new systems and much more open to changing the mechanisms of how we approach the world in ways that the general population is not.
"As such, they are a natural set of allies," Shane said during the panel. "Within a blockchain environment, you have a completely coherent economy and therefore it is possible to replicate many of the experimentally things that would otherwise happen in a potentially damaging manner in the wider world."
Ethereum is especially a "friendlier" blockchain for developers looking to design new and untested applications, Rouviere pointed out to CoinDesk.
Even outside being a test base for ideas, Buterin argues that the blockchain's characteristics as a distributed book have merits that can and most likely will be useful in the future to implement certain ideas of RadicalxChange within society.
Speaking with CoinDesk, Buterin said:
"I see a lot of things like quadratic voting, Harberger tax and auctions, all those systems being based on the top of the blockchain because they are just a convenient platform for that."
The main "wedge" between the two
At the same time, there are key limitations and unanswered questions for blockchain, as much as a technological and social movement that Buterin noted creates a "wedge" between the two communities.
Chief among them is the question of identity. "Identity systems have a mix of different functions," Buterin told CoinDesk.
On the one hand, these systems would have to be able to associate ownership and action with a particular agent. Blockchain networks do this in a number of ways, as far as checking for private keys for wallet addresses that contain crypto-coins for a particular user.
"Another [function] is basically to identify distinct people, between 10 thousand real people and 10 thousand sock puppets, "Buterin said. "The third type of identity problem that I care about and that people do not talk about is formalizing participation in communities."
"How do you measure consensus? Is there a consensus for ProgPoW? Is there a consensus for the recovery of funds? Is there a consensus to implement storage lease? "
All very real and contentious topics in the ethereum blockchain at present, Buterin concluded that building a multi-faceted identity system in a blockchain is very difficult and has not yet been solved.
And this is because the correct data structure for a decentralized identity system is not fundamentally a blockchain, Weyl argues.
"The right data structure I think more and more that [Microsoft researcher Nicole Immorlica] presented is what I call the intersexual social data structure, "Weyl told CoinDesk.
"If you think about your mother's birth date, which is also your mother's birth date and the date of birth of your grandmother's first child, then there are already a lot of people for whom this is information important and independent.This is true about just about everything about you. "
As such, a flexible design framework in which to host personal data silos that are so relational and connected to many other data stores in your mind would be a bigger step in the right direction to build improved identity systems than blockchain.
"The thing is that the blockchain creates this polarization between the global chain and its private key. I think it's the fundamentally primitive wrong. I think the correct primitive is a network or a kind of primitive based community overlapping, "said Weyl.
Differences in value
And while Buterin maintains that "blockchains can definitely be part of identity systems" in some capacity, Buterin and Weyl recognize stark differences in the way identity systems are widely valued within the blockchain movement and the RadicalxChange movement.
"There's a lot of obsession with privacy," Weyl told CoinDesk about most people in the blockchain space. "Many have this notion of" I'll own my own data. I'll be able to sell it to anyone I want to sell it to. "
"The problem with this is that it overlooks a lot of things that are important from RadicalxChange's perspective, which is that almost all of the data about you is data about other people. So, should you be able to sell freely, independently, only on your own? "
Even on the issue of decentralization as a value, Weyl calls it "error" to associate the term with individualism because, in his view, "individualism and extreme centralization are actually two sides of the same coin."
"It's the diversity of different collective organizations, since we need a collective organization that I would call decentralization," Weyl said.
In essence, Weyl claims that, currently, "there is no notion of an individual human being in a blockchain" and without formalizing human beings, the system is "fundamentally broken."
Differences in organization
What is more organizationally, Weyl hopes to make a clear distinction between the way these two movements have begun and will continue to progress.
"If you think about the proportion of people who have become random billionaires for real things [in the blockchain space] which are happening on the floor, is totally different between blockchain and RadicalxChange, "said Weyl." There are no people getting extremely rich from RadicalxChange, but there is a real social change going on.
And while many in the blockchain space are focusing on reaching higher levels of adoption, Weyl argues that adoption is not at the forefront of RadicalxChange's agenda.
He said CoinDesk:
"This material is moving faster than I expected it to have moved. I do not think the problem at this time is being adopted. The problem is to ensure that this happens at a pace that allows us to understand and improve system failures. "
As such, from the point of view of technology and value, both Weyl and Buterin see differences that make the blockchain movement and RadicalxChange diverge.
"Are there any synergies between the two [movements] but comes from different perspectives, "Rouviere told CoinDesk.
Despite the differences, both movements, according to Joshua Shane of uPort, are calls-to-action with highly similar experimentation cultures and "reimagining how systems work in a plastic way."
Ultimately, it is this mixed spirit of deprivation of rights and willingness to find better solutions that make these two communities align to similar goals – not identical.
Eva Beylin of the Ethereum Foundation told the CoinDesk:
"Everyone is a little underprivileged, not just leaders, but banks, but established ways to achieve goals. All these are very new ways of doing things, so why not try them? "
Picture of Vitalik Buterin via Christine Kim for CoinDesk