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The Vision of Cryptoanarchy

Posted on 13 mins read

Video recording together with Frank Braun

The Future is shaped by our art, ideas, entrepreneurship and engineering.

We entered the Age of Cyberpunk

Life imitates art by inspiring our ideas, values and visions. We are shaped through the narratives that flow through society, and reflect that in our entrepreneurial choices and the technologies we invent and engineer. But art also reflects on our lives and extrapolates the consequences of our choices.

The literary genre of Cyberpunk accidentally found itself to do both at the same time. To serve as blueprint for a generation of technological entrepreneurs as well as a map for the society they are creating.

The world of Cyberpunk is dominated by the powers of technology controlled by unaccountable elites and fatalist masses of people that are subject to these powers.

It is information technology, - computers, sensors, communication networks, software and databases,- and bloated financial markets on which the might of Mega-Corporations rests. These companies and conglomerates achieve a status that rivals that of nation states. As providers of critical infrastructure, but also of perception and narratives, they have become too big to fail and too all-encompassing to question. They are, in a sense, the world itself.

Mega-Corporations both challenge and supply the actions of states, forming a web of co-dependencies both visible and invisible. Both need and fear each other. They both defend each other from outside attacks.

Be it the Tyrell Corporation in Blade Runner, or the Meths in Altered Carbon, the motivations of these entities is wholly disconnected from that of average people. Their value systems, needs and wants have become so disconnected that it turns out to be impossible to see all of them as part of the same society, or even species. Instead, the Mega Corporations and their board members and shareholders have presumed themselves to be wholly other, to be trans- and post-human for themselves. They have declared themselves demigods at the expense of the rest of humanity, deliberately scheming their way to power by rigging the game and suppressing any competition by all means necessary.

The masses of average humans in Cyberpunk fiction however do not resist or rebel. Instead they endure all abuse with blind fatalism. That is only logical due to the second aspect of Cyberpunk literature: The ever-presence and complete dominance of mass media that controls, shapes and selects all perception. There is only the story told by the corporations, and any piece of information, no matter where it is shared, is first filtered, molded and appropriated to stabilize the power structure and support mindless consumption.

This sounds more than a bit familiar, more than just fiction. Indeed, it is a fitting description of the reality in which we live already. Cyberpunk has turned from science fiction to social and political fact. As it has inspired the Shenzhen, Silicon Valley and Akihabarait, it is now describing them. And us within their creations.

Technological empowerment

At the core of this development lies a willfully uneven technological empowerment. Products and services today are created to be always online, always connected to the central hubs controlled by their producers. All their functionality depends on ever present connectivity to intermediaries that grant or deny operations.

Through this artificial dependency between product and producer, we never take actual ownership. We are instead lured into a constant reliance on the permission, well-meaning and support of machines and corporations outside of our view and control.

Apart from retaining control of the objects sold to us and relationships into which these parties inject themselves, these new products also betray us by watching our every step and gesture. They measure everything they can and report it back to their lords. Everywhere, data is collected and everything is surveilled.

That harvest is fed into data mining, machine learning, and artificial intelligence algorithms to gather be able to predict, nudge, manipulate and co-opt our decisions, behavior and habits.

Instead of being the masters of our technological artifacts, we ourselves become their input and the object of their goals and desires. Owning nothing, controlling nothing, and even being deprived of the right to not participate.

This abject situation is protected and funded by ever more powerful financial technologies. Digital stock markets, new derivatives and a wave of liquidity controlled by very few organizations has undermined the relationship between producers and consumers, and between multinational corporations and states.

Drunken with the wonders of technology and the lushness of free money, companies and states now cooperate to protect their new fiefdoms by turning their patents into law. Regulatory capture, trade wars and financial warfare undermine competition and alternatives, and rob us of choices.

Is that a good development?

We could lean back and trust in the wisdom of those that claim success in this age and that appear to win the current challenge. That would however be misguided because their success is not of their own making but one of disregard of anything and anybody else: Entrepreneurial exploitation: You, as an entrepreneur, innovate and take the risks. They watch you, analyze all your transactions, model your customer relationships. And then they copy that which is successful and train their AIs on it. Innovators become lab rats of the new elites.

Intermediary platforms: They inject themselves into every transaction, conversation, decision. Surveil, shape, censor. Data mine behavior, direct business and content their way. Make anybody dependent on their platforms. Access now becomes a new method to discipline behavior and impose new forms of taxation, not through legitimate means but by enforced artificial dependencies.

Cultural imperialism: They homogenize every way of life, and means of expression, destroy local cultures, and cultural diversity. They shape values in their favor, to steer consumption and disappear cultural resistance.

They disregard the security and safety of customers. Criminal exploitation, identity theft, fraud without means to protect oneself and without care and responsibility of the platforms that create unsafe processes and products. Nobody is responsible or accountable.

Decisions are made by less and less people, often invisible and faceless. They have the arrogance to determine our cultures, economies, politics and individual lives.

This is a form of Feudalism, “Digital Feudalism”

Too much power corrupts: Theory and experience show that stark power imbalances with lack of accountability lead to corruption, nepotism, abuse and despotism.

This can already be seen in the actions of the big corporations: They censor for their own profit and political goals, they suppress opposition to their power grab, they manipulate public officials, they shape perception of reality and exploit their workers, partners and suppliers. They have become welcomed parasites of our societies.

And corrupted power always leads to tyranny, war and starvation.

Where do we go from here?

These new technological power structures creep inside of our reality more and more every day. They grow and cement themselves, infecting every aspect of live in the name of creative disruption, which is only a hollow phrase intended to making us look the other way and praise their creativity. It is not liberation and progress that they bring.

If this process continues unabated the new modes of technological power will define and determine our world for decades to come. Soon, all our infrastructure, institutions, modes of thinking and ways of life will be dependent on them. They will co-opt, undermine, redirect and devour all opposition, independent development, creative critique and playful experimentation. It is now that we have to understand, and take things into our own hands.

We cannot and should not roll back technological progress

How can we have the undeniable advantages of technological progress without risking becoming the serfs of a new ruling class that is unaccountable, corrupt and exploitative?

Do we have to give up our way of life, our advancements and comforts and luxuries, to remain free and alive, as people, cultures and as individuals?

It is a mistake to assume that technology favors these negative developments

Underlying our problems is the idea that intermediaries of all forms need to see what we are doing, with whom we are exchanging goods, money and information, and that from this total transparency comes innovation. They want to see, while we are kept dependent and blind. This is sold to us as inevitable, and necessary for security, safety and progress.

But there is only exactly one innovation from this: The increase of power and control.

The masters of this technology have injected themselves into every conversation, into every transaction, even into our most personal interactions to be able to observe what we do. They have created mandatory accounts and identities to be able to link us with our actions, and to map the relationships with other humans. Out of that they gather the information that they feed into encoded plans, into software, into machine learning, to come to conclusions and decisions on how to manipulate, shape and influence, our experience. These encoded plans free the new masters from all responsibility, allowing them to call upon the magic of the machine and the inevitability of statistical analysis to escape any accountability. Last but not least, through the control they maintain over our communication channels and everyday objects, they influence our environment so our actions fit their goals.

It is no accident that people complain about the feeling of unrealness, about the game being rigged, about the shallowness of life and mysterious misfortunes. Indeed, blind fatalism is the natural and obvious response. The schema of the world has been hidden behind a curtain of technological buzzwords and repetition of marketing phrases. It is, however, no magic. It is not inevitable. It is not natural or a logical progression. It is a deliberate creation that exclusively serves the whims of the new techno-political elite.

Our future can be build on technology of open access and opaque transactions

We are not forced to accept this situation. Our social and technological progress does not rely on oppression and deception. It does not require us to become less human, or bow to tech demigods. Instead, we can truly embrace the power of information technology and make it our own, instead of leaving it to the few. And nature there is on our side. Through the mathematical discovery of Cryptographic methods, we are able to create and protect a different kind of society, a different kind of world. It is no accident that we hear more about AI and flashy smartphone apps, about social networks and ad targeting, than about the technology of cryptography. The former alienates us and makes use servile dependents while the latter empowers and connects us on our own terms.

We can prevent the tech elites and mega corporations from watching all of our words and transactions by using end2end encryption. This ensures that only and exclusively the sender and intended recipient of our messages can comprehend them. Nobody else can learn anything about their content. And nobody can manipulate them.

Our aspiring feudal lords can also be kept in the dark about who we communicate with, who we are, where we are. Cryptography allows us true anonymous communication that cannot be contextualized even by the most powerful observers and their machines. Our social relationships are again our own, not open to judgment or sabotage of ill spirited outsiders. They are our communities, our societies, again.

There is also no need to rely on the good will of corporate boardrooms or corrupt bureaucrats to provide us with identities necessary for social, commercial and financial transactions. We have long known how to prevent identity theft and forgeries by using digital signatures and zero knowledge proofs created by in-silicon tokens that cannot be copied or stolen. We can prove who we are simply through the power of our memory and mathematics, without the need of complex certifications, inefficient notarization and untrustworthy brokers of access.

It is these proofs of identity that allow us control over who can access our houses, our cars, our bank accounts, our digital memories and the places of social interaction. Cryptographic identities and end to end encryption provide us with impenetrable walled gardens where we are free of the machinations of criminals and exploiters. Places where we can again trust each other and create our future.

Our property can today be secured against the whims of scammers and those that exploit the arbitrariness of fallible and corrupted institutions. Immutable records that cannot retroactively modified or destroyed provide us with the power to unquestionably show what we own, what we did, and who we are if we choose to do so, while remaining impenetrable lacking our cooperation.

We can create strong contractual relationships and accountability with these technologies that do not favor the stronger, or smarter, or better connected, or more corrupt or more powerful. Mathematics does not care, it is indifferent to our human machinations. It is a great equalizer of status.

Instead of being dependent on the cooperation of those that want to control us for their own financial gain, and direct commercial transactions into the pockets of their friends and allies, we can free us and our livelihoods from their grasp. Cryptography allows us to create digital anonymous cash that cannot be stolen from our wallets, cannot be redirected, cannot be traced. Instead, it only goes where we want it to go, fully, and in a way that we can prove that we met our obligations but without revealing anything else.

All the core elements required for the well-ordered functioning of a digital society are available in secure, safe and power-indifferent implementations.

It is the goal and project of Cryptoanarchy to wrestle technological control out of the hands of illegitimate and uncalled for new rulers, and instead put it into the hands of individuals, communities and societies to enable them to flourish unopposed.

We do not fall for the untrue stories that technologies of control, manipulation, oppression and exploitation are inevitable necessities for the advancement of mankind. On the contrary, we are able to progress much further, faster and better without them.

Our Future progress can be in the service of discovering and nurturing the best in humans

A cryptoanarchist future may not look very different on the outside, it will have all the progress, advancements and betterment of life.

However, in contrast it will be the choice of all the people living in it, and not the commandments of unenlightened and illegitimate usurpers of our world.

It will not trade our security, safety and well being to fatten the bellies of tyrants and parasites.

We shall be the masters of our own futures

Maybe for the first time in human history we have effective ways to keep corruption and the control by uninvited rulers out of our lives. The technology of cryptography empowers us all, not by strength of money, lies, political connections or power of arms, but by the beauty and eternal equality granted by the language of the universe: Mathematics.

We can and will have technological progress without creating dangerous new feudal power structures and being reduced to mere consumers of development, but be developers ourselves.

We do not have to submit, as individuals or societies, to the whims and fads of remote giants because we can blind them, and strip away the chains with which they ensnare us.

We do not have to watch as others consume the fruits of our labor, enforce their values on our communities or direct the fate of our families.

We shall be the masters of our own futures.