Digital Governance, Inteligent Processes, Tech and Business

Digital: From Neurons to Transistors

Digital captures the transition we are embarked on from neurons to transistors as the dominant substrate of information processing.

Neurons are exquisite creations of natural evolution. They have achieved through self-organization and evolution many of the properties we have managed to engineer in electrical systems such as logical operations, signal regeneration for information transmission or 1/0 information processing. When combined together in the circuits that constitute the human brain they allow amazing complexity and functionality. The roughly 100 billion neurons in a human brain form well over 100 trillion connections leading to consciousness, creativity, moral judgment and much more.

They have also led to transistors, an information processing system that has managed to replicate many of the properties of neurons while being approximately 10 million times faster. A neuron typically fires in the millisecond range (1000 Hz of frequency), while transistors operate comfortably in the nano to picoseconds (1-100 GHz range).

10 million times speed advantage makes transistor dominate neurons as an information processing medium, even if they are still capable of less complexity and require more energy than a brain. That is why we have seen the progressive substitution of neurons for transistors in many information processing tasks. This is fundamentally different from technologies like writing that extend neurons. It is only comparable to the use of the steam engine, electricity and internal combustion to substitute muscles.

This absurdly great speed advantage allows the Digital Paradox. When neurons are substituted by transistors in a process you get lower cost, higher quality and higher speedwithout trade-offs. Thus there is no going back, once we have engineered sufficient complexity in transistors to tackle a process there is no reason to use neurons anymore. Of course, neurons and transistors are often combined. Neurons still dominate for some tasks and they benefit greatly by being supported by transistors.

What we now call generically “Digital” is one more stage in this gradual substitution of neurons by transistors. In that sense, those who claim that Digital is not new are right. At the same time, the processes that are now being substituted have a wider impact, so the use of a new term is understandable. Finally, we can expect the substitution to continue after the term digital has faded from use. In that sense, there is a lot that will happen Beyond Digital.

Early stages of substitution

Transistors and their earlier cousins vacuum tubes started by substituting neurons in areas in which their advantage was greatest: complex brute force calculations and extensive data collection and archiving. This was epitomized by calculating missile trajectories and code-breaking during World War II and tabulating census data since the early 20th century.

Over time, this extended to databases to store large amounts of information for almost any purpose and programming repetitive management of information. This enabled important advances but still had limited impact in most people’s lives. Only very specialized functions like detailed memory, long relegated to writing, and rote calculation, the domain of only a minuscule fraction of the workforce, were affected.

The next step was to use these technologies to manage economic flows, inventory, and accounting within organizations. So-called Enterprise-Resource-Planning or ERP systems allowed to substitute complex neuron+writing processing systems which were at the limit of their capacity. This substituted some human jobs, but mainly made possible a level of complexity and performance that was not attainable before.

Substitution only started to penetrate the popular conscience with Personal Computers (PCs). PCs first allowed individuals to start leveraging the power of transistors for tasks such as creating documents, doing their accounting or entertainment.

Finally, the internet allowed to move most information transmission from neurons to transistors. We went from person to person telephone calls and printing encyclopedias, to email, web pages, and Wikipedia.

In this first stage, transistors were substituting mostly written records and some specialized jobs such as persons performing calculations, record keeping or information transmission. They were also enabling new activities like complex ERPs, computer games or electronic chats that were not possible before. In that sense, the transition was mostly additive for humans.

Digital: Mainstream substitution

The use of Digital coincides with when many mainstream neuron-based processes have started to be affected by transistors. This greater disruption of the supremacy of neurons is being felt beyond specialized roles and starts to become widespread. It also starts to be more substitutive, with transistor-based information processing being able to completely replace neurons in areas in which we thought neurons were reasonably well adapted to perform.

First went media and advertising. We used to have an industry that created, edited, curated and distributed news and delivered advertising on top of that. Most of these functions in the value chain have been taken over by transistors either in part or in full.

Then eCommerce and eServices moved to transistors the age-old process of selling and distributing products to humans. The buying has still stayed in human hands for now, but you are close to being able to buy a book from Amazon without any human touching it from the printing to the delivery. On the eServices side, no one goes to the bank teller anymore if it can be done instantly on the Internet.

Then the Cloud took the management of computers to transistors themselves. Instead of depending on neurons for deployment, scaling, and management of server capacity, services like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure give transistors the capacity to manage themselves for the most part.

Our social lives and gossip might have seemed totally suited for neurons. However, services like Facebook, Whatsapp or LinkedIn have allowed transistors to manage a large part of them at much higher speeds.

Smartphones made transistors much more mobile and accessible, making them readily available in any context and any moment. Smartphones have started substituting tasks our brains used to be able to perform with neurons, like remembering phone numbers, navigating through a city o knowing where we have to go next.

Finally, platforms and marketplaces like Airbnb and Uber turned to transistors for tasks that were totally in the hands of neurons like getting hold of a cab or renting an apartment.

This encroachment of transistors on the daily tasks of neurons has woken all of us up to change. Now it is not just obscure professions or processes but a big chunk of our daily life that is being handed over to transistors. It creates mixed feelings for us. On the one hand, we love the Digital Paradox and its improvement of speed, quality, and cost. It would be difficult to convince us to forsake Amazon or to return to the bank branch. On the other side, transistors substituting neurons have left many humans without jobs and are causing social disruption. Transistors are also speeding up the world towards their native speed, which is inaccessible to humans. There are almost no more human stock traders because they cannot compete with the 10 million faster speeds of transistors.

Beyond Digital: Transistors take over

The final stages of the transition can be mapped to how core functions of the human brain might become substitutable by transistors. The process is already well underway with some question marks around the reach of transistors. In any case, we can expect it to continue accelerating speed taking us to the limits of what can be endurable for our sluggish neuron-based brains.

Substituting the sensory cortex. Machine vision, Enhanced Reality, Text-to-Speech, Natural Language Processing and Chatbots are just some of the technologies that are putting in question the neuron’s dominance in sight, sound, and language. Approximately ~15-25% of the brain is devoted to processing sensory signals and language at various levels. Transistors are getting very good at it, and have recently become able to recognize many items in images and process and create language effectively.

Substituting the motor cortex. The same with unscripted and adaptive movement. Robots are increasingly powerful and they are able to cook pizzas, walk through a forest and help you in a retail store. Autonomous driving promises for transistors to be able to navigate a vehicle, one of the most demanding motor-sensory tasks we humans undertake.

Substituting non-routine cognitive and information processing. We have seen basic calculation and data processing be taken over by transistors, now we are starting to see “frontal lobe” tasks go over to transistors. Chess, Go and Jeopardy are games in which AIs have already bested human champions. Other more professional fields like medicine, education or law are already seeing transistors start to encroach on neurons with Artificial Intelligence in which transistors mimic “neural networks”.

Encoding morality, justice, and cooperation. Another set capabilities which represent some of the highest complexity of the human brain and the frontal lobe are moral judgments and our capacity for cooperation. Blockchain promises to be able to encode morality, justice, and cooperation digitally and make it work automatically through “smart contracts”.

Connecting brains with transistors. Finally, we are seeing neurons get increasingly connected to transistors. There are now examples of humans interfacing with transistors directly with the brain. This could bring a time of integration in which neurons take care of non-time sensitive tasks while in continuous interaction with transistors that move at much higher speeds.

Will all this substitution leave anything to neurons? There are capabilities like empathy, creating goalscreativitycompassion or teaching humans that might be beyond the reach of transistors. On the other hand, it might be reasonable to believe that any task that can be done with a human brain can be done much quicker with an equivalently complex processor. There are no right answers but it seems that roles like entrepreneur, teacher, caregiver or artist might still have more time dominated by neurons than many other callings. Also, there might be some roles that we always want other humans to take with us, even if the transistors could take care of it much more quickly and more efficiently.

Blockchain, Digital Governance, Tech and Business

Bitcoin: Bubble or S-Curve?

You can find more about cryptocurrencies and other Exponential Revolutions that will shape the future in my book: Beyond Digital (here in Spanish).

I have been writing about Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies for over a year now. The jump in prices in 2017 has been staggering, an order of magnitude. Now, with crypto between half and three-quarters of a trillion USD, the question in everyone’s mind is the same. Is it a bubble? What should I do about it?

I don’t have the answer and no one has. We are looking at an unprecedented phenomenon. It will be easy to explain in hindsight but right now we are completely at a loss to predict the future. There are two compelling and competing explanations out there about what is happening. They are making testable predictions that lead to diametrically opposed advice. The two theories are the bubble and the adoption curve.

Nasdaq Bubble and burst. Source: FedPrimeRate

The Bubble: Internet Boom all over again

The Bubble is the most widely spread explanation. It says this has happened before, many times. A new asset class is created, it starts to rise fueled by speculation and at some point, everyone buys into the game. Fear of missing out takes the best of caution and more and more people start to invest. The scarcity of the asset class drives high apparent valuations that are not real, but rather just predicated on the transaction prices of the few people that are selling vs. the crowd trying to get in. First, it is just the techies, then the financiers jump in, then the broader public and then there is no one left to jump in and prices collapse. Afterwards, the technology takes its time to develop and a small part of the asset class becomes very valuable over time.

The first bubble of this kind was the famous Tulipmania in 16th century Holland, then there was the South Sea Bubble, the 1929 stock market peak, the go-go years in the 1960s, the internet boom in the late 1990s and several real estate bubbles, the latest finishing with the 2008 crash. It is pure human mass psychology and begets stock phrases like “prices can never fall”, “this time is different” or a “we have reached a permanently high plateau of valuation”.

The facts are also consistent with the explanation, but with a much more radical speed and depth to it compared to other bubbles. The NASDAQ 1990s bubble took around a decade to form with an x11 price increase in the period from the ~500 trough in October 1990 to its ~5000 peak in February 2000. The crypto craze has done much more just during 2017, going from a ~20 billion valuation at the beginning of 2017 to a ~600 billion valuation at the end of the year. Approximately an x30 during 2017.

As more and more people have gotten into crypto prices have skyrocketed, leading to more people to get into crypto. Most people are buying and holding crypto, so there is scarcity to enter the asset class, a very small door to enter Bitcoin that bids prices ever upward. In the western world, we are living the start of the “financiers” and “everyone else” phase, with still plenty of people left to enter the cryptocurrency craze. However, in Korea, China or Japan we have been in the “everyone else” phase for a while, with governments deeply concerned about the speculation’s impact on their elderly or young.

If the bubble theory is correct there are three questions worth answering: When? How much? and How long? When will the crash come? Is what all speculators are thinking about, impossible to answer as it depends on crowd psychology. The Rockefeller anecdote about selling all his stocks when a shoeshine boy gave him a stock tip thus avoiding the 1929 crash seems a good warning sign. In some countries, taxi drivers are already recommending bitcoin investment, which could be a modern-day equivalent. How much will it collapse? Is another great question. The NASDAQ bubble collapsed to ~1200-1500 (-80%) twice, once in September 2002 and another one in February 2009. Of course, cryptocurrencies have no bottom at all, as there is almost no intrinsic value behind them, while the NASDAQ had real companies with real earnings. How long could it take to recover? The NASDAQ only confidently recouped its peak and went beyond last year, 17 years after the 2000 peak. This puts into perspective how much risk there really is. This is how long the internet’s real value took to catch up with its hype, even if there has obviously been a lot of real value. Blockchain will be a game-changing technology, but real applications are still few and far between.

4 famous S-curves. Source: Quora

The S-Curve: A New World of Value

Of course, there is an alternative explanation to the Bubble, the Adoption Curve (or S curve given its shape). The adoption curve is very widespread among starry-eyed crypto enthusiasts. It has also precedent. Eternal September is September 1993, when internet usage started growing significantly thanks to AOL (that is the bottom of the S) and it has only grown exponentially since. Of course, once the whole of the world uses the internet growth flattens (the top of the S) and it stops at that permanently high plateau.

Adoption curves or S-curves are prevalent in the adoption of technology, and for the most part have been tried and true ways of predicting technology adoption. Initial adoption is slow (bottom of the S) with innovators and enthusiasts, once the majority comes in it grows fast (slope of the S), finally the last laggards take a long time to adopt as they are anti-technology (top of the S). TVs, Trains, Electricity, Cars, and many other technologies can be explained with the S curve.

The rationale behind the S curve for cryptocurrencies is assuming that Crypto is a new asset class that is being adopted, not a stock or bond that is being subjected to an irrational euphoria. It took a long time to get started (~9 years until ~20 billion market cap) but now it is in the explosion phase and it will continue to grow until it flattens out once it reaches saturation. Where does it flatten will depend on what percentage does crypto attain as an asset class. Total wealth in the world is ~250-300 trillion USD depending on the estimates. So we are now at approximately 0.2% penetration, if it gets to 1% we still have an x5 run and if it gets to 10% we still have an x50 run, to close to $1 million Bitcoin.

The Adoption Curve has a number of important questions to be considered: How? What? and Which? How much penetration? Will it be 0.1%, 1% or 10% of the wealth? Depending on what you believe there is a big difference in potential. Real Estate is ~60% of the total wealth while Hedge Funds are 1%. What path will it take to the final penetration? S curves are about usage, not value. So a crash or correction could be consistent with it as long as usage and ownership continue to grow. Which cryptocurrencies will be used in the long term? Are Bitcoin and Ethereum Webvan and or Amazon and Google? Crypto might be 10% of the wealth and you might still lose everything if you choose the wrong cryptocurrencies. Choosing between Friendster and Facebook is easy in hindsight, but very hard in advance.

So what should I do?

Don’t invest more than you are willing to lose, diversify and hedge your bets are always good paths to follow if you feel you don’t have an edge over others. It hurts when you hedge and miss the bull run, but it hurts more when you plunge in and lose what you cannot afford to lose. 2% of your assets or one month’s salary will be substantial but not take you to bankruptcy in most situations. Go beyond that at your peril.

The bar for beating the cryptomarkets is really high. People who are really investing in cryptocurrencies are dedicating a significant amount of their time to them, doing things like participating in Slack groups, trying out every new token out there and talking to founders. If you are not doing that you don’t have an edge and will be probably better off with a diversified portfolio and limited exposure.

Bioprogramming, Digital Governance, Neurogamification, Tech and Business

3 More stories about the 6 exponential revolutions

More stories about how I got to understand and get deep in the 6 exponential revolutions.

Digital Governance.

My journey down the Digital Governance rabbit hole started with a random conversation with an innovation executive at a large multinational bank in mid-2015. He told me he was working on Blockchain, I had barely heard about it so I asked if it had something to do with Bitcoin. He answered with the phrase that would become stock later, “It is not about Bitcoin, it is about Blockchain”. In those days Bitcoin was in the mid-hundreds, about 10x below this writing.

That conversation got me exploring in 2016 and I started to find out that some of the smartest and most innovative people I knew were involved in this world. Some of them staking their careers on this new and unknown technology. The “Blockchain rather than Bitcoin” bunch was more focused on Ethereum and enterprise applications. There had to be something to it. I got familiar with the technology and started to read on it. I even started speaking about it, realizing the great degree of ignorance there was out there about the technology.

My real involvement with blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and the impact of Digital Governance was in 2017. There I made my first cryptocurrency investments and discovered that several groups of my acquaintances were already deep into it. People in the online sports betting world had been using bitcoin as a payments utility for some years already. Now they were considering it and other cryptos as an alternative investment. The San Francisco tech scene was also quite into cryptocurrencies, with a different set of favorite coins.

From there, it went quickly. Clients started wanting to get deep in Blockchain. I started to follow the ICO scene, see it climb over two billion in 2017, and met random people in Madrid who were participating in ICOs in New Zealand and getting to know the founders through the Slack channels. Even one of my portfolio companies decided to do an initial coin offering. The animal spirits of the internet boom were present with a vengeance in the ICOs and cryptocurrency investments, heralding a crash at some point. At the same time, the technology was incredibly powerful and flexible, a real general purpose technology. A new paradigm that could be game-changing in many use cases.


Bioprogramming became real for me in two separate events. The first one was during 2016. I had always been interested in the Maker movement, and there had always been a “bio-maker” side to it. So I wasn’t surprised when I learned reading Singularity University materials that several software IDEs were available to design the DNA. I installed GenomeCompiler to try it out and was promptly shocked. Of course GenomeCompiler is just one of the options, a long list including uGene, GeneStudio, and Gene Beans is out there.

It fulfilled the promise of allowing you to design the DNA of an organism, but it went far beyond it. First, it allowed you to use existing organisms as a base for the design. This included bacteria (Lactobacillus, Escherichia Coli, Clostridium Botulinum), viruses (HIV1, Enterobacteria phage) and Eukaryotes (Saccharomyces). This meant you could try out subtle or not so subtle changes to an existing organism and see what happened. The potential for a bio-engineering golden age was obvious, as was the dangers of its potential nefarious uses.

What really made this real for me was the fact that you could actually order your redesigned samples over the internet. There are a variety of companies (Twist Bioscience, Gene Universal, GenScript, and many more) that are happy to fabricate it for you for a fee (some sites start as low as 25€). While it is not as fast as a software engineer deploying her code to the cloud, it is way faster than evolution by mutation and reproduction. I never got to order a sample to see if it really works. My wife is a doctor and she told me that in her mind it was too dangerous and potentially illegal.

That first experience made it clear to me that there was an amateur biohacking scene and that it was technically feasible. In early 2017 I learned there was a real industrial one also. We were looking for ways to reduce the environmental footprint for a fashion retailer. Surprisingly to many, Fashion is one of the most environmentally impactful industries. Its footprint is very large especially because of its materials like cotton, leather, or silk.

We explored some alternative suppliers and discovered there was a complete world of companies working on creating new materials through biofabrication. Bioengineered leather had several alternatives, it didn’t need cows and could have its leather precisely tuned to the characteristics a company needed. Everything was accomplished through cell cultures. Modern Meadow is an example of a company working on this and also on artificial meat. Another favorite is silk. The material that allegedly bankrupted the Roman Empire, silk is extremely intensive in resources, with 1kg requiring over 5000 silkworms. AMSilk is producing silk through bioengineering for textiles, medical devices, and the cosmetics industry.


I have always been shocked by the low levels of work and school engagement in the world. I have been lucky enough that for me work and learning have been for the most part exciting and fun. However, I could see how many around me, and most in the world, according to statistics, were totally disengaged. For me, this is a disaster and a huge lost opportunity. It is a real pity that most of the population passes most of their waking hours in activities they find boring and unappealing.

Games have always been the opposite. Whether card games, physical games, or computer games, I have always seen people enthralled by games. Many of these games involve strenuous physical exertion, deep mental concentration, or complex social interactions with empathy and listening playing a large role. Why couldn’t the same principles that make games fascinating be applied to work and study so that everyone could be totally fascinated with his or her day to day?

Digital and the other Exponential Revolutions will enable this to a large extent, by eliminating thankless repetitive work. However, what really convinced me was seeing what the computer games by Blizzard, probably the most successful games studio of the last two decades, did to people.

I saw my friends, some more workaholic others more laid back, dedicate hours on end to these games. Their activities included intense study of how to perform certain tasks and deliberate practice to improve (leveling and tournament training), complex social negotiations and practice to get large groups (20-40 person guilds) to execute complex tasks (raids and instances), execution of repetitive tasks to gather resources (farming or grinding), and many others. Getting them to do this required very much ingenuity from Blizzard, and a level of understanding of how the brain works far beyond common sense. If this could be made for a game that actually cost money to play, I became conviced that it is doable for an activity you get paid for.

Blockchain, Digital Governance, Español, Tech and Business

Competición entre Criptoestados


Ya hemos echado una mirada profunda a Realidades y especulaciones de gobernanza digital. Para terminar de explorar la Revolución Exponencial # 4 – Gobernanza Digital, veremos una potencial transformación a largo plazo que podría traer: la competición entre criptoestados.

Como humanos, generalmente no nos gusta el cambio. Especialmente no nos gusta el cambio si va en contra de nuestros intereses. Dado que cualquier cambio siempre tendrá un efecto adverso en algunos grupos de interés, nos encontramos con una inercia institucional relevante. Esto es cierto incluso si el cambio es neto positivo, especialmente en los casos en que los efectos positivos son difusos mientras que los efectos negativos se concentran. A cualquier grupo de personas les resultará difícil cambiar a menos que se sometan a una tremenda presión.

La inercia institucional explica el ascenso y la caída de muchos imperios. Los griegos tenían mucha menos inercia institucional que los persas, por lo que superaron y derrocaron un imperio mucho más grande. El imperio romano sucumbió a los intereses acumulados de su clase dominante, que no hizo los cambios necesarios para mantenerlo viable. El imperio chino Song era muy avanzado tecnológicamente, pero no adoptó esas tecnologías para cambiar su funcionamiento y fue superado por Europa.

La competencia ha demostrado ser el mejor antídoto para la inercia organizacional. Europa a finales de la Edad Media era altamente competitiva y adoptó las innovaciones necesarias que China había inventado, adelantándose a ella. Las empresas juegan en un terreno competitivo que las obliga a adaptarse o morir. Sin embargo, la guerra y las revoluciones, los resultados habituales de la competencia a nivel estatal, son costosas y devastadoras. Y la privatización, poniendo todo en “el mercado”, ha demostrado que no funciona en servicios como salud, educación o seguridad.

Imaginemos que somos capaces de introducir competencia en la esfera pública de una manera segura y sin derramamiento de sangre. Imaginemos que los ciudadanos pueden elegir de manera instantánea y continua su nación-estado y proveedor de servicios público, como si fuera su marca de champú. Imaginemos que los resultados acumulados determinan fronteras y presupuestos, con nuevos estados emergiendo y otros que mueren dinámicamente y sin derramamiento de sangre. Imaginemos la responsabilización de los funcionarios públicos, la velocidad de la evolución y la innovación en la esfera pública.

Al mismo tiempo, parece un caos perfecto. Trae a la mente situaciones como los referendums de Quebec y Escocia, como el terrorismo irlandés o vasco, o los problemas actuales en Cataluña. Nuestra infraestructura pública simplemente no está preparada para este tipo de responsabilidad y cambio. La opinión común es que rápidamente colapsaría bajo la tiranía de la mayoría. Que sería imposible mantener un sistema público funcionando con voto real y descenderíamos al populismo y la dictadura.

Si bien eso podría ser cierto en una gobernanza pre-digital, con la nueva tecnología podríamos construir un tipo de gobierno responsable y programable. Podríamos tener ciudadanos verificados criptográficamente que puedan decidir a qué gobierno criptográfico quieren pertenecer en cada instante. Los cambios se ejecutarían y las cuentas se resolverían fácilmente en blockchain. Y los gobiernos estarían sujetos a la responsabilidad directa de los ciudadanos. El castigo por tergiversación o incompetencia de los líderes públicos no sería una revolución armada, sino más bien perder a los ciudadanos y finalmente desaparecer como estado. Alguien con una idea diferente podría hacer emprendimiento público y probar el modelo a una escala pequeña y usar su historial para atraer nuevos ciudadanos.

Si Blockchain y la tecnología digital pueden hacer que este escenario se haga realidad, aún está por verse. Incluso es dudoso que la naturaleza humana pueda aceptar la competencia y la incertidumbre en un nivel tan cercano a nuestro sentimiento de identidad. Sin embargo, lo que parece claro es que un gobierno público organizado de esta forma sería tan superior a las formas existentes que las superaría rapidamente. Al igual que las ciudades griegas hicieron con los persas, o los estados de la Europa medieval tardía lo hicieron con el resto del mundo.

El aumento de la presión de la competencia y el aumento de la tasa evolutiva de un estado criptográfico sería incomparable y nos llevaría mucho más lejos de lo que nunca hemos considerado. Podría arraigar en algunos de los estados fallidos del mundo como el Oriente Medio Mediterraneo, Asia Central o África que no tienen nada que perder. También podría surgir en algunos de los Estados-nación más pequeños que existen hoy, como los nórdicos o América Central, que saben que necesitan evolucionar rápidamente para sobrevivir. También podría ser utilizado por uno de los gigantes bloqueados como China, Rusia, Brasil, Estados Unidos o la UE para reinventarse e ir más allá de sus limitaciones actuales. En cualquier caso, quien desbloquee este nuevo tipo de gobierno podría superar a todos los demás de manera rápida y eficaz para dar forma a la futura evolución política del mundo.

Por supuesto, puede haber peligros. Recordemos el DAO, un fallo en la programación podría convertir esta cripto-utopía en una pesadilla totalitaria. Los primeros intentos pueden descender a la anarquía y la violencia a medida que se desactivan las restricciones tradicionales. No será un viaje fácil, y es improbable que el primer intento funcione.

De todos modos, vale la pena intentarlo. Vemos el regionalismo, el populismo, la desigualdad, la corrupción y la globalización que amenazan el edificio de las libertades que ha construido la democracia capitalista. Incluso vemos una nostalgia preocupante por los autócratas y tiempos más simples en la mayoría de las naciones desarrolladas. Las dictaduras pueden hacer maravillas con monarcas-filósofos platónicos. Hay muchos ejemplos en la historia como Lee Kuan Yew de Singapur, Augusto y Trajano en Roma, las Isabeles de Castilla e Inglaterra en el Atlántico, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln y Roosevelts en EEUU, sabios emperadores de China o Ashoka en la India. “Felicior Augusto, Meior Traiano”, pedía el Senado romano a cada nuevo emperador. Sin embargo, por cada Augusto o Trajano, la historia ha demostrado que tenemos al menos 5 Nerones, Caligulas, Heliogabalos, Comodos y Domicianos. La competencia criptoestatal nos llevaría desde promesas de 4 años hasta decisiones en tiempo real basadas en realidades. Y de ser forzados a elegir la opción menos mala, a tener nuevas opciones para elegir que aparecen y se testan continuamente. No nos exigiría privatizar lo que funciona mejor como público, sino que nos permitiría someter a nuestras instituciones públicas a la disciplina de la competencia y al poder purificador de la creación y la destrucción.

Blockchain, Digital Governance

Exponential Technology Revolution #4 – Digital Governance Speculations

(En Español aquí)

We already took a deep look at Digital Governance Realities in a previous post. To continue exploring Exponential Technology Revolution #4 – Digital Governance we will look at some speculations. There is some evidence to justify the speculations, but no real deployments yet.

Digital Governance Speculations

Public cryptocurrencies a cryptocurrency with state backing.

Once Bitcoin started to gain traction the obvious next step was the hybridization of Bitcoin and a fiat currency. Of course, this is a very scary step also for any government to take, so we still haven’t seen it. However, it is probably only a question of time until we have the first cryptocurrency with the backing of a National Bank and the consideration of legal tender.

A blockchain backed fiat currency could be a true gamechanger. With the legal backing of a state and the algorithmic inflation protection and flexibility of a cryptocurrency. This could very quickly challenge the dollar’s role as the reserve currency of choice and Bitcoin’s role as the premier crypto store of value. So the stakes might be really high for a public cryptocurrency.

There are rumors of cryptocurrencies being considered by several national governments:

China. After several unsubstantiated rumors. Yao Qian, the Director of the Digital Currency Research Industry (backed by China’s Central Bank) laid down the plan for a state-backed cryptocurrency in the ITU meeting. The goal would be to create a stable cryptocurrency that solves the Yuan’s inflation troubles

Sweden. Apparently, one the worlds most advanced nation in terms of going cashless is exploring the launch of the eKrona. This was communicated late last years with a two-year timeframe.

Russia. Rumor has it that Vladimir Putin meets often with Vitalik Buterin to discuss cryptocurrencies. The Russian government has gone from a very negative stance on cryptocurrencies to some of its foremost members expressing direct support for a state-backed cryptocurrency, and even an apparent announcement of the CryptoRubble.

US. For the US we have mostly speculation, like this prediction from currency expert Doug Casey.

Singapore. Singapore’s monetary authority (MAS) is backing a proof of concept of Utility Coin with a banking consortium. This would be the equivalent of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights, but with a blockchain infrastructure. Singapore has a history of moving boldly to new technologies when they think there is value to be captured.

Estonia. If it is digital Estonia is in it. So beyond a lot of other very interesting Digital Governance initiatives, Estonia is exploring the creation of a state-backed cryptocurrency.

Overall national cryptocurrencies are still in the planning and speculation stage, but they could be a real step ahead in terms of Digital Governance.

Digital ownership and access taking the middle-person out of marketplaces, fractionalizing ownership and shedding light on supply chains.

Marketplaces have taken the economy by storm. What used to be deep and dark markets like property rentals, taxi drivers, hair salons or nannies are being opened up and made transparent by marketplaces. These platforms like AirBNB or Uber put themselves in the middle of service providers and customers and create a much easier discovery and contracting experience while taking a substantial cut of the pie.

Digital Governance can extend this transformation in three ways. First, there are several projects aiming to create decentralized open source marketplaces with no middle-person. Second, others are trying to fractionalize ownership to make everyone play on both sides. Third, it is difficult to trace the origin of goods, so transparent supply chains can change the game substantially., a decentralized AirBNB. Could you do without AirBNB but keep its functionality? That is’s premise. Imagine an open source platform for listing platforms and making offers on them. Imagine that the transactions are operated in a blockchain and that same blockchain controls the locks of the property and arbitrates disputes. It is a DAO for AirBNB and one that doesn’t need to take a 15% cut of every transaction.

Elon’s dream of having everyone own a Tesla. Elon Musk is the Henry Ford of our age, he even wants to put a Tesla in the hands of each person much like Mr. Ford did with the Model T. He has given us cheaper and cheaper models, the Powerwall and solar panels. Now he wants to give us back the unused time of our car (95% by most estimates) so we don’t have to pay for it. How does he intend to go about it? Fractional ownership. Much like the tried and true ownership sharing for holiday homes but much more nuanced and flexible thanks to Digital Governance. Start adding a percentage column to the list of things you own. Maybe you only need 1% of that gym towel.

Supply chain transparency. Finally, most of the world’s supply chains both digital and analog are very hard to track. You don’t know where that tomato you are eating came from. Was it produced by slave laborers in North Korea? Has it been exposed to dangerous chemicals? Blockchain promises to easily and cheaply track everything there is to track on each item and solve those questions. The change that could come from that is astounding. Many companies are piloting this, with Walmart and IBM having some of the most visible projects.

Crypto-Law the greatest legislative step forward since the Code of Hammurabi.

Crypto-lawyers sound like something really cool and scary, a bit like ninjas. I believe that this is going to be one of the world’s foremost professions in the near future as laws and code merge.

The law is a set of contracts between everyone in a given state. Admittedly it is an extremely complex set of contracts. The legislative and judicial branches of government are responsible for updating and enforcing those contracts. The increasing complexity and analog methods we use are making both branches grind to a halt while we spend enormous amounts on them. This makes all of us extremely unhappy.

Could we put the law into Ethereum? Would it auto-enforce? Could we refactor it to simplify it? Could we simulate the impact of changes before they happen? Would taxes self-collect? Could we fork it to try two different approaches to A/B test? The answer to all of this seems yes but remember the DAO. We don’t want our world to be taken over by the evil genius who finds the bug. We need to do it step by step.

The Github of Hammurabi isn’t even close to a large stone stelae in terms of coolness, however, it could be a lot more practical to enforce, evolve and understand. After all, we have little to show for legal innovation since Hammurabi gave us that first written code of laws.

Blockchain, Digital Governance, Español, Uncategorized

Revolución Exponencial #4 – Especulaciones sobre la Gobernanza Digital

Ya echamos un vistazo a ejemplos reales de Gobernanza Digital en una publicación anterior. Para continuar explorando la revolución tecnológica exponencial n. ° 4 – Gobernanza digital, veremos algunos conceptos todavia más especulativos. Hay algunos hechos para soportar las especulaciones, pero aún no hay implementaciones reales.

Criptomonedas públicas una criptomoneda con respaldo estatal.

Una vez que Bitcoin comenzó a ganar fuerza, el siguiente paso obvio era la hibridación de Bitcoin y una moneda fiduciaria. Por supuesto, este es un paso aterrador para cualquier gobierno, así que aún no lo hemos visto ocurrir. Sin embargo, es probable que solo sea cuestión de tiempo hasta que tengamos la primera criptomoneda con el respaldo de un Banco Nacional y la consideración de la moneda de curso legal. Una moneda fiduciaria respaldada por una cadena de bloques podría ser una verdadera disrupción. Con el respaldo legal de un estado y la protección de la inflacióny la flexibilidad de una criptomoneda. Esto podría desafiar rápidamente el papel del dólar como la moneda de reserva de elección y el papel de Bitcoin como el primer almacén de valor cripto.

Dado esto, el premio para el ganador podría ser muy alto para una criptomoneda pública. Hay rumores de criptomonedas que están siendo considerados por varios gobiernos nacionales:

China. Después de varios rumores sin fundamento. Yao Qian, el Director de la Unidad de Investigación de Divisas Digitales (respaldado por el Banco Central de China) comunicó el plan para una criptomoneda respaldada por el estado en la reunión de la ITU. El objetivo sería crear una criptomoneda estable que resuelva los problemas de inflación del Yuan

Suecia. Al parecer, uno de los países más avanzados del mundo en términos de eliminar el efectivo está explorando el lanzamiento de eKrona. Esto se comunicó a fines del año pasado con un período de exploración de dos años.

Rusia. Se rumorea que Vladimir Putin se encuentra a menudo con Vitalik Buterin para discutir sobre criptomonedas. El gobierno ruso ha pasado de una postura muy negativa sobre las criptomonedas al apoyo por elementos de peso del gobierno, e incluso a un aparente anuncio del CryptoRublo.

US. Para EE. UU. tenemos especulaciones, como una predicción del experto en divisas Doug Casey.

Singapur. La autoridad monetaria de Singapur (MAS) está respaldando una prueba de concepto de Utility Coin con un consorcio bancario. Esto equivaldría a los derechos especiales de giro del FMI, pero con una infraestructura blockchain. Singapur tiene una historia de moverse audazmente hacia las nuevas tecnologías cuando cree que hay valor para ser capturado.

Estonia. Si es digital, Estonia está en ello. Más allá de muchas otras iniciativas de Gobernanza Digital muy interesantes, Estonia está explorando la creación de una criptomoneda respaldada por el estado.

Las criptomonedas nacionales en general aún se encuentran en la etapa de planificación y especulación, pero podrían ser un paso adelante en términos de Gobernanza Digital.

Propiedad y acceso digitales eliminando al intermediario, fraccionando la propiedad e iluminando las cadenas de suministro.

Los marketplaces han tomado la economía por asalto. Lo que solían ser mercados profundos y oscuros como alquiler de propiedades, taxistas, peluquerías o niñeras se están abriendo y se hacen transparentes por los ellos. Estas plataformas, como AirBNB o Uber, se colocan en medio de los proveedores de servicios y clientes y crean una experiencia de contratación y descubrimiento mucho más fácil al tiempo que capturan una parte sustancial del pastel.

La gobernanza digital puede extender esta transformación de tres maneras. Primero, hay varios proyectos con el objetivo de crear mercados descentralizados de código abierto sin intermediarios. Segundo, otros están tratando de fraccionar la propiedad para hacer que todos jueguen en ambos lados. En tercer lugar, el origen de los productos en la mayoría de los mercados es poco trazable, por lo que las cadenas de suministro transparentes pueden cambiar sustancialmente el juego., un AirBNB descentralizado. ¿Se puede tener la funcionalidad de AirBNB sin un AirBNB ? Esa es la premisa de Una plataforma de código abierto para listar plataformas y hacer ofertas en ellas, donde las transacciones se operan en una cadena de bloques y que la misma cadena de bloques controla los bloqueos de la propiedad y arbitra disputas. Es un DAO para AirBNB y uno que no necesita tomar un recorte del 15% de cada transacción.

El sueño de Elon: que todos tengan un Tesla. Elon Musk es el Henry Ford de nuestra época, incluso quiere poner un Tesla en las manos de cada persona, al igual que hizo el Sr. Ford con el Modelo T. Nos ha dado modelos más baratos, el Powerwall y los paneles solares. Ahora quiere devolvernos el tiempo no utilizado de nuestro automóvil (el 95% según la mayoría de las estimaciones) para que no tengamos que pagar por él. ¿Cómo piensa hacerlo? Propiedad fraccionada. Como la multipropiedad de las casas de vacaciones, pero mucho más matizado y flexible gracias a Digital Governance. Comienza a agregar una columna de porcentaje a la lista de cosas que tienes. Tal vez solo necesites el 1% de esa toalla de gimnasio.

Transparencia de la cadena de suministro. Finalmente, la mayoría de las cadenas de suministro del mundo, tanto digitales como analógicas, son muy difíciles de auditar. No sabes de dónde vino ese tomate que comes. ¿Fue producido por trabajadores esclavos en Corea del Norte? ¿Ha estado expuesto a productos químicos peligrosos? Blockchain se compromete a hacer un seguimiento fácil y económico de todo lo que hay saber para cada elemento y resolver esas preguntas. El cambio que podría surgir de eso es asombroso. Muchas compañías están probando esto, con Walmart e IBM teniendo algunos de los proyectos más visibles.

Criptoleyes el mayor avance legislativo desde el Código de Hammurabi.

Los cripto-abogados suenan como algo realmente genial y aterrador, un poco como ninjas. Creo que esta va a ser una de las principales profesiones del mundo en el futuro cercano a medida que se unan las leyes y el código.

La ley es un conjunto de contratos entre todas las personas de un estado. Es cierto que es un conjunto de contratos extremadamente complejo. Las ramas legislativa y judicial del gobierno son responsables de actualizar y hacer cumplir esos contratos. La creciente complejidad y los métodos analógicos que utilizamos hacen que ambas ramas funcionen tremendamente despacio mientras gastamos enormes cantidades en ellas. Esto nos hace a todos extremadamente infelices.

¿Podemos poner la ley en Ethereum? ¿Se aplicaría automáticamente? ¿Podríamos refactorizarla para simplificarla? ¿Podríamos simular el impacto de los cambios antes de que sucedan? ¿Los impuestos se cobrarían automáticamente? ¿Podemos bifurcarlo para probar dos enfoques diferentes para una prueba A / B? La respuesta a todo esto es que sí. Sin embargo, hay que recordar el DAO. No queremos que nuestro mundo sea tomado por un supercriminal que encuentre el “bug”. Tenemos que hacerlo paso a paso.

El Github de Hammurabi ni siquiera está cerca de las grandes estelas de piedra en términos de espectacularidad. Sin embargo, podría ser mucho más práctico de hacer cumplir, evolucionar y comprender. Después de todo, tenemos poco que mostrar en la innovación legal, desde que Hammurabi nos dio ese primer código escrito de leyes.

Blockchain, Digital Governance, Tech and Business

Exponential Technology Revolution #4 – Digital Governance realities

blockchain techjuice

(En Español aquí)

The best way to illustrate the power of Exponential Technology Revolution #4 – Digital Governance is to look at its real-world effects.

We will start with the examples that are already real and “in the wild”, covering 4 areas: private cryptocurrencies, ICOs, digital registries and marketplaces, and smart contracts, autonomous organizations and forks, The sheer volume of examples makes this post quite long, even if it only skims the surface. We will leave speculations such as public cryptocurrencies and crypto-laws for a later post.

Private cryptocurrencies. Offer a decentralized and pre-determined store of value and interchange mechanism.

Trustleness with Digital Governance has allowed a real explosion of cryptocurrencies. Going from nothing to a market cap of over 150 billion dollars (October 2017) in less than a decade. Cryptocurrencies use blockchain technology and cryptography to create totally decentralized money that people trade on exchanges. Cryptocurrencies are the first privately created currencies to achieve massive adoption and could change drastically how money works.

It is important to understand that, for the most part, cryptocurrencies are totally dependent for their valuation on what people are willing to pay for them. They are only based on the shared fiction of their use as a store of value. If this shared fiction evaporates they would go to zero immediately as they have no alternate source of value. Gold can be used for jewelry and industrials processes. Even virtual gaming currencies such as World of Warcraft gold can be used for entertainment. Cryptocurrencies are mostly annotations on a database with no value beyond what we are willing to pay for them.

We will illustrate cryptocurrencies through several stories. First, through Bitcoin, the philosopher’s stone that unlocked the blockchain world. Second, Ethereum, which expanded the concept of Bitcoin to smart contracts and computing, and might have value beyond a pure store of value. Third, we will explore the five largest Bitcoin look-alikes that focus on the “currency” function. Finally, we will quickly cover several true tokens that go beyond a pure store of value.


Bitcoin (#1 ranking according to – 75 billion euro market cap 15/10/2017) is a modern fairytale story. We have a mysterious wizard figure, that creates fabulous wealth as if by magic and then disappears and is never seen again. The genesis of Blockchain technology and Bitcoin came in November 2008 when the Bitcoin whitepaper was published by Satoshi Nakamoto. No one knows if Satoshi is a person, a group of persons and what is the real name or nationality. Based on the whitepaper the first bitcoin server node was created in January 2009, at the beginning it was mostly Satoshi mining, with more than one million bitcoins mined in the first months by Satoshi himself. Satoshi then disappeared the last email in April 2011, passing down the reins to Gavin Andresen at the Bitcoin Foundation.

In the early days, Bitcoin was considered a medium of exchange and one of the most famous Bitcoin transactions was two pizzas for 10.000 bitcoins in 2010. At October 2017 prices that would be 25 million euro per pizza. In those days Bitcoin prices were in cents, bitcoin parity with the dollar made the news, and mining could be done with home computers. That was the early wild days of Bitcoin. Those were also the days in which the only security flaw in Bitcoin was exposed and promptly corrected in August 2010.

The first Bitcoin gold rush can be dated from the 2 USD price low point in Dec 2011 after the first “Bitcoin crash” to the collapse of Mt.Gox in February 2014. Here Bitcoin started to make the news with a CNBC piece and a media apparition in the Good Wife series. However, it was still pretty much unknown. The first real media attention came through its use in the Silk Road, the darknet illegal market for drugs and other items, and the publicized trial of Ross Ulrich or Dread Pirate Roberts, the alleged kingpin of the site. The life of the Silk Road from 2011 to October 2013 coincided almost exactly with the first Bitcoin gold rush, confirming that the first killer use cases of many technologies is borderline legal. This era also led to industrial mining, with the first dedicated ASICs appearing in 2013 after a brief use of GPUs.

The rest of 2014, 2015 and 2016 was apparently a lost epoch for bitcoin, with the price moving sideways and even collapsing temporarily to the low hundreds. However, it was undoubtedly an era of infrastructure and usage build up. Blockchain technology started to become popular beyond hacker circles, with banks especially starting to explore it. Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies appeared. Mining got really industrial. The community thrashed out how to increase transaction volumes through SegWit and larger blocks. Strong infrastructure services like Coinbase or Kraken helped popularize bitcoin in particular and cryptocurrencies in general.

This lead to 2017 which up to now has been a year of price explosion and Bitcoin domination. Bitcoin has climbed to the several thousands of dollars with pundits predicting even more lofty peaks. Bitcoin has become firmly entrenched as a reliable store of value in a world of increasing risks around fiat currencies (Euro-weakness, Trump tax cuts, etc…). Bitcoin has also managed to survive some pretty major events: a hard fork that created Bitcoin Cash or the banning of cryptocurrency exchanges in China in September. It is facing its biggest technical challenge with the implementation of Segwit 2x in November. Each challenge has made it stronger, as Bitcoin adepts have seen that Bitcoin is resilient and secure, at least until now.

Bitcoin has some severe limitations preventing it from exploiting the full power of blockchain technology and the Digital Governance of money and property. These limitations have created the rest of the cryptocurrency innovation we will see. First, is its very limited flexibility. This has lead to Ethereum and the rest of the ICO Cambrian explosion. Second, its limitations as a medium of payment (speed, blocksize, mining footprint) have led to the other improved stores of value. These alternatives to Bitcoin seem to have strengthened it rather than substituted it.


My first exposure to Ethereum (#2 – 25 billion) was in late 2015. I was still struggling to understand what the Blockchain meant and if Bitcoin was useful beyond purchasing heroin from Afghans in the Silk Road. I was introduced to this concept created by a wiry Russian whizkid that had just started operating earlier that year. It claimed to expand the potential of the blockchain much beyond what Bitcoin could do. If Bitcoin was just a store of value, Ethereum was a computer that was Turing complete, that is to say fully programmable.

I started digging deeper and trying to read and understand more about it. Those were the days of “it is not about Bitcoin, it is about the Blockchain”, so I tried to understand what was behind the technology. Being an engineer I was surprised that the basic technology was not very complicated to understand. Ethereum however, took it to a whole new level. From a database to an operating system and a programming language.

During 2016 we started to see the first inklings of the potential of smart contracts. The DAO (Digital Autonomous Organization), the first organization with no people in it, just a smart contract, was created in May 2016, raising more than $150 million dollars. This represented a number of firsts which we will cover later.

From there Ethereum continued to evolve, creating the ICO Cambrian explosion that we will discuss later. ICOs have been the third blockchain killer application after buying drugs and storing value.With this killer application, Ethereum became the infrastructure for most cryptocurrencies cementing a place in the ecosystem second only to Bitcoin.

For me, Ethereum also has a very personal meaning. Ethereum is the first cryptocurrency that I bought. It was still in the 10-20€ range when I started and I lived through the ups and downs to the 200-300€ range it is now usually in. I am still banging my head against the wall for not moving quicker!

Ethereum is still evolving quickly, with a new major update requiring a fork being deployed as I write this words (less than 2.000 blocks for Byzantium). Whether Ethereum will become the blockchain distributed computer of choice like Bitcoin has achieved with the store of value function is still to be seen. Functionality will be much more important, and other alternatives are trying to quickly outmaneuver it. However, whatever happens, Vitalik’s brainchild has undoubtedly taken Blockchain and Digital Governance to the next level and deserves a page in its history.

Improved stores of value: Litecoin, Ripple, Bitcoin cash, Dash, Monero

The success of Bitcoin and its limitations in terms of transaction speed and cost have led to the creation of a host of other cryptocurrencies that are focused on being an equivalent to Bitcoin that is efficient in transactions. Many people call these the silvers compared to Bitcoin’s gold, but its creators are convinced that a lot of value can be created through silver.

The five main alternatives, which are all in the top 10 market cap as of October 2017, market themselves as Bitcoin+, each with a particular focus:

Litecoin (#5 – 3 billion) is the most straightforward. It is just Bitcoin faster block time and a memory-hard vs. computation-hard mining algorithm (leading to more distributed mining). It also moves faster with improvements and it tends to be the trial ground for the Bitcoin improvements such as SegWit

Ripple (#3 – 8 billion although disputed as the float is relatively small) is totally different but positions itself as a medium of exchange. Ripple aims to take over international transfers and has several banks working with it to do so.

Bitcoin cash (#4 – 4 billion ) is the result of the August fork of bitcoin. Allowing for a bigger blocksize (8MB vs. 1MB) and faster difficulty adjustment.

Dash (#6 – 2 billion ) is also faster than Bitcoin (2,5-minute vs. 10-minute block time) and is focused on being more user-friendly (human-readable addresses, anonymity, instasend). It also has a formal governance process that should allow it to decide and fund its evolution much faster than Bitcoin.

Monero (#8 – 1 billion) focuses mainly on greater privacy for users, allowing them to keep hidden their account balances. It also has improvements similar to the other stores of value we have seen: a better mining algorithm, larger and adaptative block sizes, faster transactions.

These five are just the largest of the store of value alternatives, but there are many more like zcash, focused on anonymity, and surely many more will come. Whether one will be able to substitute bitcoin or significantly erode its position only time can tell.

The token Cambrian explosion

Ethereum and the ERC20 token standard, which we will review later, created an easy way to create a cryptocurrency for anything. The abundant money in the cryptocurrency space created by the 2017 price multiplication of Bitcoin and Ethereum was available to fund it. So crypto-enthusiasts launched themselves in a veritable Cambrian explosion of tokens (a token is generally used to describe a cryptocurrency that has a function beyond the pure store of value).

We will most probably end 2017 with more than 1000 cryptocurrencies. Among them we have much variety. There are the stores of value (Bitcoins+), attempts to create better Ethereums (e.g. Cosmos, Neo – #9 – 1 billion), there are even what could well be real Ponzi schemes (e.g. Bitconnect – #10 – 1 billion but only tradeable on their propietary exchange) but for the most part, we have tokens that attempt to solve some different decentralization challenges.

These tokens span the ridiculous and the most probably fraudulent, but for the most part, they are honest attempts to solve real-world problems. We will quickly cover 5 examples taken from the most valuable and the most interesting:

IOTA (#11 – 1 billion) is one of the most valuable and most interesting, focused on creating an extremely low-cost transaction infrastructure for the Internet of Things, where billions or trillions of devices will interact with low power and extremely low-value interactions that will add up to Integrated Reality.

NEM (#7 – 2 billion) is focused on property and has features such as human-readable namespaces similar to those of the internet and “mosaics” which represent property and can be distributed.

Omisego (#14 – 600 million) attempts to disrupt and substitute financial institutions by creating a token that can be used to decentralize financial transactions.

Storcoin J (not in the top 100) is a very interesting attempt to decentralize storage of information. Creating a token that is traded and at the same time is used as a payment method and reward for long term information storage.

Basic Attention Token (#41 – 100 million) is another fascinating token, in this case by the creator of Mozilla. It attempts to reward content producers when they receive the attention of users. Allowing to go beyond advertising and to a real economy of attention.

There are literally hundreds of tokens, many of them thoughtful attempts to use Digital Governance to transform some of the world’s most intractable problems. If history is any guide this Cambrian explosion will lead to a lot of dead ends, but also to many amazing and world-changing innovations.

Initial Coin Offerings – The magic behind the Cambrian explosion

Late in 2015, only months after its creation, Ethereum incorporated informally the ERC20 standard. A standard for tokens or coins to be created and sold easily on top of the Ethereum blockchain. This unleashed Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs. ICOs have become the killer app for Ethereum and fuelled most of its growth. Surprisingly enough the ERC20 standard wasn’t formally adopted as an Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) until September 2017, and Ether, the Ethereum coin, doesn’t even comply with the ERC20 standard.

An Initial Coin Offering is at its core a very simple concept. An organization creates a supply of a new cryptocurrency based on a given algorithm and sells part of them to the public. It is not selling a stake in the organization, it is rather selling part of the ecosystem. How to do this (e.g. Zug-based foundations) and how to structure the coins themselves (the famous whitepapers) is much more complex.

The ICO boom of 2017 based on ERC20 has been comparable only to the most intense manias of all times, like the Internet Boom or the tulip mania in seventeenth-century Holland. Approximately 200 ICOs raised close to 3 billion dollars up to October 2017, surpassing the amount raised for Blockchain by Venture Capital.

The capital raising has been fuelled by an incredible bull market for Ethereum and Bitcoin that has created many instant millionaires who are happy to reinvest part of their proceeds. This easy money means the investment criteria are quite relaxed when compared to professional investors. A couple of kids with a whitepaper (the equivalent of the Internet Boom powerpoint) have been able to raise tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars with no real product or market traction behind them. Regulation has also fallen far behind ICOs, making them a lot simpler than IPOs and allowing regulatory arbitrage.

We can expect many of the companies that have raised money this way to crash and burn, as they did in the Internet Boom. However, when the chaff is separated from the grain we can expect some of them to be the titans of the blockchain economy, much like Google, Salesforce and Amazon emerged from the ashes of the dotcom bust.

We have also witnessed a completely new way of raising money. An incredible democratization in access and simplification in process. As well as the opportunity to consider a whole new way of integrating customers and ecosystem in the fundraising process. ICOs have come to stay, even though the current laxity will disappear.

I have been involved with several companies considering ICOs, both companies I invest in as well as others I advise. I have been surprised by three main differences compared to the traditional capital raising process:

First, the amount of money available is staggering making it a lot easier to raise more capital quickly. If this continues it will really boost the entrepreneurial ecosystem and pressure VCs significantly, as they are predicated on capital scarcity.

Second, the regulatory and legal uncertainties are still very significant. There is scant precedent and the SEC and other agencies are still only starting to intervene. We are also seeing some jurisdictions, such as Zug in Switzerland, invest heavily to become the “Global Delaware” of ICOs.

Third, ICOs allow a much more nuanced and complex kind of capital raising. Instead of selling the ownership of the company, you are selling tickets to the ecosystem. Depending on how you structure those tickets and the ecosystem you create, you might be able to jumpstart a business model that would be difficult to access from a traditional organization.

Stay tuned to ICOs as they will be part of the future.

Digital registries and markets

I have watched companies and the public sector react to and internalize the Digital Governance revolution over the last three years. It usually starts in disbelief, “Don’t talk to me about this, it is only useful to buy drugs and create Ponzi schemes.” Then you move to “Help us understand it and see if there is something useful”. Finally, you quickly end up in “I need to get into the action, what should I do immediately?”.

I have seen this evolution with large banks, other corporations, and nation states. The main difference has been in the speed of going through them and incorporating into the organization people with real expertise and focus. There are early adopters both in government and enterprise, but even followers are starting to move faster.

Creating institutions or central organizations that leverage Blockchain for some specific thorny trust issues tend to be some of the first use cases that governments and enterprises gravitate to. They solve a pain they have today and that traditional technologies and ways of thinking are not equipped to solve. All over the world, we see four use cases that seem to be incredibly well suited for Digital Governance: Land Registries, KYC Registries, Trade Finance Registries and Stock Exchanges. We will also briefly touch on the cryptocurrency infrastructure which represents a whole new set of institutions that have emerged and are “blockchain-native”.

Land Registries are some of the oldest and most important human institutions. After all, according to Savils, Real Estate represents over 200 Trillion USD in total value and over 60% of mainstream assets. They are also some of the less evolved and more at risk from corruption, as they continue to be similar to their Mesopotamian earliest predecessors. Digital Governance allows evolving Land Registries to a digital, decentralized and trustless model. This threatens the current infrastructure wholesale while promising an incredibly more efficient and reliable fabric for our real estate transactions. There are already pilots in at least Illinois, Costa Rica, Georgia, and Sweden. A good mix of developed and developing markets.

KYC or Know Your Customers registries are an obscure but extremely important piece of the banking and financial global infrastructure. They allow verifying who financial institution customers are to avoid money laundering, tax evasion, and terrorism. Right now each financial company does it independently with great cost and pain for users. The potential to do it jointly with Blockchain technology is very obvious, leading to happier users, governments, and companies. It is being piloted in most countries either by consortia or by governments.

Trade Finance registries would solve one of the central problems of global trade. Currently importing or exporting requires a maze of documentation and verifications in the sender and receiver sides to ensure the goods are really shipped and the accompanying financing is made available at the right time. Both Hong Kong and Singapore are trying to create Trade Finance registries that put them at an advantage as global trade hubs. Other countries are also looking at the problem to capture opportunities.

Stock exchanges are looking how to evolve again. Digital technology has transformed them fully, but with blockchain, they could go even a step further. Instant trustless hyper-efficient settlement seems to be a realistic goal. The exchange that develops and deploys this technology could stand to win a preeminent position in the global stock markets. The Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) is investing heavily in transforming itself, and other large exchanges like Nasdaq want to become the Blockchain guide for the rest of the smaller exchanges.

Cryptocurrency infrastructure has been built up quickly over the last 3-4 years. It has gone quickly from nothing to an infrastructure to support a close to 200 billion market in October 2017. This infrastructure includes exchanges (e.g. Coinbase, Kraken), wallets (e.g. Ledger, Jaxx) and many other value-add providers (e.g. Shapeshift). Not surprisingly many of these firms have used Blockchain extensively for their developments and is a great example of Digital Governance.

Smart contracts, digital corporations and forks

May 2016, that was the moment when the potential of Blockchain really dawned on me. I got to see one of the most amazing epics in which a whole new concept was created, its dangers shown brightly and a new word coined in less than two months.

I had already been looking at Blockchain for some months then, and Ethereum had really started to attract my attention. I suddenly learned about an organization that had managed to raise 150 million USD in Ethereum. That got my attention. I speak often with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and know how difficult it is to raise money for a company or a fund for a venture capital company. Raising 150 millions in weeks was beyond remarkable.

My second shock was that the company was totally based on Smart Contracts. There were no people within it, it would work exclusively as an automatic organization run by code. Putting 150 million euro in a purely code-run organization seemed like an incredibly important and interesting experiment to me. The experiment was even called the DAO, Digital Autonomous Organization. A beautiful combination of ancient Chinese philosophy with a pure expression of what they were trying to do.

Many of my clients understood Blockchain and its implications through the DAO. You could build something completely trustless and endow it with the code that would run it. It might work or not as a profit-making enterprise, but it aimed for something much more important, it was a demonstration of the power of Ethereum.

Of course, it very quickly provided another incredibly important example: the dangers of programming organizations and bylaws. In Jun 2017, an unknown hacker identified a bug in the organization’s smart contracts that allowed to empty its coffers through a trivial procedure. It was a second-order consequence of some apparently unimportant lines of utility code. The renowned security and programming experts who had reviewed the code had missed it completely, but someone had found it.

As with many of Bitcoin’s stories it seemed out of a fairy tale. Say the magic words and the genie would give you all the gold. It was very real magic that quickly started to empty the DAO’s coffers to the chagrin of its creators. Now a great moment of decision came, you could just accept the flaws in the smart contracts as an unintended “feature” and let the attacker keep the 150 million. Alternatively, you could change Ethereum to prevent it.

Vitalik and some of the other leaders did just that and “forked” the Ethereum blockchain into two alternate realities. Reality A or “Ethereum Classic” (#12 – 1 billion) was a world in which the “feature” was kept and the attacker kept the 150 million. Reality B or “Ethereum” was a world in which the DAO contract was amended as if by magic and the theft never happened. The two paths were open for the Ethereum miners and community to choose. They could decide their own adventure and they did.

Approximately 95% of the community voted for Reality B and supported Vitalik and the rest of the leadership. Now Ethereum is valued between 200-300€ while Ethereum Classic is between 10 and 20€. We can say that reality is ~95% B and 5% A through the fork.

And so the DAO brought us a demonstration of smart contracts, the concept of a fully autonomous organization, an example of the dangers of bugs in smart contracts and the powerful concept of a fork.