Digital Decentralization and the Future

Digital Decentralization and the Future

 

In the late 19th century, a German boy by the name of Carl carved a mannequin out of a wooden ruler. For reasons he could not explain, he kept the wooden idol in the attic of his family home. For reasons he could not explain, he would periodically deposit small tissue-paper messages next to it, in a secret language that he himself had created.

This, along with his experience with Australian indigenous peoples and schizophrenic patients would eventually lead to Carl Jung’s treaties on collective unconscious: the part of unconscious mind that contains a predisposition to memories and ideas inherited from ancestors.

Flash-forward some 100 years.

I’m currently experiencing one of those great feelings of human consciousness where you start to draw parallels between things you either a)never thought about before or b)barely thought about before. In this case, it’s the internet (a decentralized information platform), bitcoin (a decentralized currency), and Justice of Toren (a fictional decentralized AI). Let me explain.

Decentralization 1: The Internet

My job as a reputation specialist at BrandYourself requires that I do a lot of things with the internet: social media management, content writing, and SEO (that’s “search engine optimization” for the uninitiated out there)–a thing I heard a lot about (but understood little) before I started doing it professionally.

Part and parcel of being a good SEO guy is knowing how the internet works.

I’m not going to get into to many technicalities, due to an ambition to talk about the big picture and my own limited understanding, but to summarize in oh so brief technical terms, the internet does not exist in one computer; it exists in every computer connected to it. These computers all operate on an agreed upon system of code/laws called the internet protocol. Ever wonder where IP address comes from? Ah, ya see it! If you want to read up more on IP, I recommend you check out Investopedia for a basic explanation or ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) for a more in depth explanation.

who-runs-the-internet_51e5cb1c47844_w1500

Right now, all you need to know is that the Internet is a decentralized information platform that lives on many different platforms.

BONUS: That’s one of the biggest reasons why it takes a long time to see a shift in search results! Google, Bing, Yahoo–they all have cajillions of computers across the globe that are assigned to combing through and appraising internet information for their corresponding search results pages. Think of giant ripples emanating from a cajillions of source and you’d have a pretty good (child-like-drawing) idea.

Decentralization 2: Bitcoin

One of my clients at BrandYourself is interested in cryptocurrency. Heretofore, I’ve written a number of blogs for her based off of a crash-course of Coindesk, CryptoCoinNews, and Reddit. I understood the basics behind the technology. But only through textureless blog posts and news articles. I didn’t have anything really meaty to sink my teeth into. Because of my growing relationship with the client and my own interest, I yearned for something to so sink into. Knowing that it would slake my curiosity and benefit my work at the same time, I decided to take up a little work-related, side-reading project (something that, to BY’s credit, happens more often than you might think).

From the client’s recommendation, I picked up a copy of Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper. Full disclosure: I’m only on chapter 4. But from reading the introduction through Chapter 4, I’ve ingested enough to be bemused by the idea of cryptocurrency–Bitcoin to be specific.

digital gold

Bitcoin functions much like the internet. Indeed, it something that exists on the back of the internet–it could not exist without it–for just as the internet does not exist in a single computer and is instead spread throughout cajillions of computers around the world, so is Bitcoin. It’s a decentralized currency that exists according to its own IP, originally coined by the mysterious and recently unmasked Satoshi Nakamoto.

Decentralization 3: Justice of Toren

Justice of Torne is a troop carrier ship (the largest class of ship) in the Raadchai Empire. Each troop carrier ship is name after a god (in this case Toren) and is controlled by an AI that is named something like One Esk (one “air”). This is all according to Ann Leckie’s spellbinding work Ancillary Justice.

I picked this up from the Strand bookstore Kiosk at the southeast corner of Central park at the same time I picked up a copy of Pattern Recognition by William Gibs0n–another book that is coincidentally work related. Through a chain of work conversations, I got pointed to a Tim Feriss/Seth Godin podcast, and through listening to this podcast, I heard the marketing deus Seth Godin recommend a number of books, including Pattern Recognition, for its eye-opening relevance to branding.

Pattern Recognition done, itself full of neat insights on internet culture and the aforementioned topic of branding, I set forth  on my next read, which was looking to be either Ancillary Justice or Digital Gold. Fortuitously, it was both.

Leckie_AncillaryJustice_TP

The main character of Ancillary Justice is the above mentioned AI, One Esk. Technically, One Esk is one aspect of The AI of Justice of Toren. Complicating things more, although One Esk is technically a division of a larger shipboard AI, it has the ability to control “ancillaries”–humans turned into AI hosts or as some characters call them, corpse soldiers. Each one these ancillaries is a “segment” of One Esk.

Have I lost you yet? It’s intricate world-building at its best, i.e. a mind-expanding train of thought. Let me break it down for ya:

AI of Justice of Toren>Various Esks>One Esk>Segments

It’s a real Russian Doll sort of situation.

Full disclosure, I’m only at Chapter 9 (roughly a fifth through the book). But from what I’ve read I can tell you that One Esk is currently stationed in a city on a planet with 20 segments.

To the credit of Ann Leckie, the narration of One Esk is told through a mind-bending present tense from multiple perspectives. What’s it like to exist at multiple places at once? According to Leckie’s work, it’s no longer just a concept reserved for the internet or bitcoin.

In the world that Leckie has envisioned, there is such a thing as decentralized consciousness.

“I followed Lieutenant Awn home. And watched inside the temple, and overlooked the people criscrossing the plaza as they always did…On the edge of the Fore-Temple water, a tenneager from the upper city sat sullen and listless.”

In addition to exploring consciousness from multiple horizontal perspectives, Leckie takes things a step further and toys with the vertical aspects of it too (in addition to taking an innovative look at gender). To look at it from a plant-metaphor angle: the segments are the leaves, One Esk is the stem, and the Justice of Toren is the roots. Have you ever thought about levels of consciousness in such a way before?

decentralized

There is “I” the segment, “I” the Esk, “I” the unit (One Esk), and “I” the ship. And, I’m sure, hundreds of other I’s in-between. Impressively, Leckie alternates this near omniscience with another version of One Esk, a One Esk is that is only one segment; a segment separated from its whole.

What’s more, we’re starting to see emanations of this in our own AI capabilities.

I’ll hold it right there. If you’ve read this far, perhaps you can see the silhouette of decentralization now and the trace of where it may take us in the future.

Carl Jung had the collective unconscious. We might one day have the decentralized consciousness.

Time Traveling Book Recommendations

Time Traveling Book Recommendations

Years ago I was on a bus with my friend Lisa. She was reading a book by Margaret Atwood called the Blind Assassin. I knew of Margaret Atwood from reading The Handmaid’s Tale in high school. I had also read some of her poetry.

At some point during our bus trip, Lisa finished the Blind Assassin and cried. “It’s so sad,” she said. “It’s just so sad.”

At that moment, several years ago–though I trusted the taste of my friend and though I had respect for Margaret Atwood–I had no desire to read The Blind Assassin.

“I’m not really in the mood for more feminist fiction.” I told myself. During that time of my life I was victim to a diet composed predominately of white male authors.

Years pass. Margaret Atwood releases more books. There is the Oryx and Krake (Oryk and Crates? Crate and Barrel?) book that’s making splashes around the country. O and K turns into a trilogy. I hear people talk about it, but nope, I wasn’t interested.

I have the memory of reading The Handmaid’s Tale in high school nestled on the kitchen floor of a vacation rental I was staying at with my friend’s family. I had the memory of being, me the white male (how noble and sensitive of me!) being racked to desolation by the oppressed female protagonist’s story. As I type this, I think I might have read it twice. But in no way was I interested in reading any more Atwood. Not then.

More time passes by.

I graduate from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I work as a bartender and haphazard actor in the area. I do comedy shows. I move to New York. I stroll through Central Park with my buddy Jules one day. We see a Strand (i.e. legendary independent bookstore whose home is in lower Manhattan) kiosk set up on the southern tip of the park. We had never seen it before. A Strand kiosk this far north! We peruse through books. We buy each other books. It was a good memory.

Weeks pass by.

I’m walking with my girlfriend around Central Park. Even though it’s out of our way and we’re both tired and it’s cold and the sensible thing is to go to a train and go back home, I become hell-bent on finding that kiosk and perusing it with her. The walk goes on and on and on. Maybe it’s not there anymore? Maybe it’s already closed? We see it in the the distance. At last. She and I look at books. I see The Blind Assassin. My girlfriend is looking for a good piece of fiction. Lisa’s recommendation lingers in my mind. I tell her to pick up the Atwood and she does.

Days and weeks.

My gf finally gets around to cracking open The Blind Assassin. She loses interest around page 36.

(My girlfriend catches me writing the above sentence. “What! Are you writing about me?” I explain that I’m not using her real name and it’s not about her as much as it’s about how book recommendations can time travel. I explain Lisa and the bus. She smiles. “It only took me having zero interest in it for you to pick it up. I love that.” Later as she reads a draft of this post she says, “I love how you say, ‘I love that.’ I hope the reader really gets what I mean when I say that…”)

Days and weeks.

I finish whatever I’m reading. I have no idea what this Blind Assassin book is about. But I don’t feel like buying a book and something stirs in my head compelling me to crack open the pages. I do.

Thirty-six pages in and I’m less than impressed. I still have no idea what the story is about. I’m confused by the post-modern collage of newspaper articles, diary entries, and excerpts from the book-within-the-book also called The Blind Assassin.

Next day I get to page 60. Something compels me to keep reading. Before long I’m at page 120. And I love it.

I’m currently a little after page 330 (half-way through) and I still love it. It stirs my imagination and really pushes me to consider what it’s like to live in someone else’s skin while reconsidering what it’s like to live in mine. To me, The Blind Assassin is doing what any good book does at a given period of time.

Years ago was not the time.

Just like the quality of a movie or play fluctuates every time you see it (dat’s a no-brainer!), so does the quality of a book. But there are certain times when a book or movie or play will call to you and it is can only be good.

Today I went for a walk with Jules. We talked about book recommendations that travel through time. Four years ago he bought his friend Into Thin Air an account of the 1996 Mt. Everest Expedition. His friend just got around to reading it a few weeks ago. He didn’t realize the author had been on the expedition. He thought it was just some journalism bullshit. He couldn’t imagine how great it would be.

Something to keep in mind when recommending books or anything to others: Even if they don’t read your book then, they just might do it eventually and when they do, it will be the perfect time and they will thank you.