Mihai Alisie: Signposts for The Crypto Renaissance

ethereum matrix alisie
Written by David Levine

At a recent Heidelberg Laureate Forum, science writer DAVID LEVINE ran into Ethereum cofounder Mihai Alisie. Here’s what went down.

david levine science writer anewdomain

So, Mihai. Are you in touch with the other founders of Ethereum such as Vitalik Buterin?

Yes, I am in touch with Vitalik and we enjoy spending time together every time we get a chance. It’s worth mentioning that my relationship with Vitalik goes back to 2011 when we started Bitcoin Magazine together, way before co-founding Ethereum.

So do you keep in touch with the other Ethereum founders? Who do you still talk to most?

I’m mostly in touch with Vitalik and occasionally with Gavin Wood.

What do you think? Who’s doing the most important work now? Charles Hodgkinson? Anthony Diiorio?

I think the whole blockchain space is a big, intriguing experiment just in itself. But if I really had to choose someone? I would say Vitalik. Vitalik continues to do some of the most
impactful work with his research for Ethereum 2.0.
Mihai Alisie

And I’m saying this because I feel that the ramifications of his work go well beyond Ethereum and will most likely influence the entire blockchain space as a whole – just like the introduction of the Ethereum Virtual Machine did.

What would you like people to know about the goals of Ethereum? AKASHA?

Ethereum was thought as a platform for permissionless innovation enabling people from anywhere around the world to build blockchain-based application easier and faster.

And since multiple applications co-exist on the same blockchain you have an emerging synergy at platform level since these applications can talk to each other. That’s similar to how the Internet protocols enabled machines to talk to each other …

AKASHA was thought as a way to showcase how we can apply this new technology to some of the most challenging problems of our times. In our case, we choose freedom of expression, privacy and collective memory.

But even though the technology behind it is absolutely amazing, I think more people resonate more with the why behind the project.

If we propose the question of: “When you talk to someone, do you want a random person listening in and taking notes?” Most will answer no because it would be either awkward, a breach of privacy or simply creepy …

The same goes for many other things that we define as normal in today’s society. From self-determination to such concepts as freedom of thought.

The majority of people agree that losing these rights would be unacceptable for our human dignity.

We all believe the internet to be just an extension of our realities. The thoughts and ideas we share online are just as real as those shared in the real world. But on today’s web, we have no rights and no control — even about basic things like our personal data.

Through AKASHA, we want to demonstrate that it is possible to have basic human rights respected online —  by using a different approach and a different technology stack. What we’re doing goes beyond what people might intuitively understand when saying ‘social network’ — while thinking Facebook — because we question every single decision made at every level in the search for solutions.

We all want solutions …

We want solutions — solutions that can empower people instead of just manipulating them. Compare that to what you have with Facebook. Its own Sean Parker has said it was created “exploit human vulnerability” in a quest to consume and waste as much of the public’s attention as possible!

AKASHA is an experiment that offers a glimpse of how we can craft a better future for our web — and by leveraging blockchain technology. It’s a glimpse of a future in which freedom of expression and collective memory is not outsourced to corporations but, rather, is back in the hands of people.

Circling back for this last question,  you talk about a decentralized Facebook. Can you say a little more about why you think we need that?

Whether we need a decentralized Facebook will ultimately depend on the landscape of the web and the problems internet users will face in the near future. But if something big happens and iron fist censorship becomes an even bigger problem than now, people will be forced to look at alternatives.

And if push comes to shove, I think the decentralized alternatives are the only ones who stand a real chance in an oppressive Internet environment.

It will be Napster vs BitTorrent all over again and I tend to believe that it’s going to be a matter of when rather than if based on the trend highlighted by big corporations like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and so on.

With that in mind, I do think we are starting to live through and participate in what will later be described as a crypto renaissance — or a digital enlightenment. The cultural evolution will be one of the most interesting aspects of it. I think we will likely start to see an emancipation surrounding digital human rights and around how we regard the value of one’s data.

It is hard to imagine the full implications, but if enough people start caring about something, history teaches us that it all culminates in a change. Examples include slavery, discrimination based on color, discrimination based on sex and so on.

When enough people decided that something is wrong, they have protested, rallied or voted to change that particular thing.

This time I think the protest will be more invisible and probably will take the shape of people stopping from using web services that have been repeatedly caught spying, censoring and manipulating users. These people will stand up and say “You know what?! I’ve had enough!”

With each user making this choice, the dream of having a web in service of humanity becomes more real. The apps and services you’re using will be both your protest and your vote this time.

When enough people make that mental paradigm shift, the changes will naturally follow. People from around the world will agree that basic online human rights, such as privacy and freedom of expression,  should be respected.

Only then will it become normal and expected to have privacy and freedom of expression as defaults online.

That’s when the question will turn to: Why do we need a centralized Facebook that disregards our right to freedom of expression and privacy when we can do better than that?

I think what’s happening is that people no longer find these violations to be unacceptable. And I know it’s not going to happen overnight and it will definitely be a marathon, not a sprint, but that’s okay. It is. Because we’re in it for the long run.

For aNewDomain, I’m David Levine.

Watch Alise and other experts talk about the reality and hype around blockchain technology at this year’s Heidelberg Laureate Forum hot topic panel.

Cover art: EthNews