Blockchain

Liquid democracy: Blockchains and governance in the post nation-state era

Photo: Democracy Earth Foundation
Photo: Democracy Earth Foundation

Intrigued by what Democracy Earth Foundation is doing to leverage the power of blockchain to empower a different approach to democracy, I asked the team to share more about its work.

What is Democracy Earth Foundation?

Democracy Earth Foundation is a California 501(c)(3) non profit that is building a blockchain-based, tokenized liquid democracy governance platform. We are an international team building in an open source environment.

What are the problems you’re trying to solve?

Our world is facing increasing globalization, privatization and digitalization: these forces are changing what it means to be a citizen and a human on earth. These changes have manifested primarily in the economic and political sphere, where vast inequality has created an unsustainable crisis of global proportions.

In the economic sphere, 600 million people still live on less than two dollars a day. While inequality between nations is gradually falling, it remains extraordinarily high. Inequality within countries is also rising – a condition economists like Thomas Piketty warn will not naturally correct itself. There are many reasons for this rising inequality within countries — in developed nations globalization has mainly rewarded the wealthy class while hurting the lower classes with manufacturing outsourcing. A lower share of profits is going to labor than to capital, especially in the tech sector. This precarious economic situation will only worsen with the advance of  automation.

Meanwhile, in the political sphere, democracy is in global recession. Citizen voices are either suppressed under authoritarian regimes, or depressed by lack of financial and political capital which marginalizes participants. According to Freedom House, 55% of the world’s population live in countries that are deemed “not free.” Even in democracies, citizens who feel they are not represented well lack the means to change this. Participation rates are low in elections and money seems to control every aspect from how districts are drawn, to which political demands get answered. We view this political breakdown primarily as a liquidity problem – people who most need political change do not have the resources to bring it about – as well as a legitimacy problem, because centralized and easily corruptible ledgers of political institutions do not create trust or a desire to engage among citizens.

We aim to upgrade democracy to the Internet era, formalizing humans on blockchains and enabling new forms of participation and representation that enable global citizens to address the problems that nation-states and digital monopolies have proven inadequate for the task.

How does cryptography and blockchain solve these?

Liquid democracy – in combination with blockchain technology – is at the core of the Democracy Earth governance platform. Liquid democracy is a system that allows for both direct democracy and representative democracy. Instead of having representatives based on territory who vote on all issues for their constituents, liquid democracy allows individuals to choose representatives that are experts on narrow policy issues or members of their social network. If they feel that their representative voted incorrectly or if they change their mind on the issue they can revoke that vote at any time. It creates a more flexible system that enables greater participation while still allowing for knowledgeable representation.

Liquid democracy has only recently become feasible. Any notion of delegating and revoking with paper ballots would be functionally impossible due to its sheer complexity, but the internet makes sending someone a vote, tracking how they used it, and revoking the vote if dissatisfied, very simple. Of course it is now common knowledge the internet is a highly insecure place to hold elections; there is substantial evidence that the 2016 US election was manipulated through hacked voting machines. Making elections more digital on the current internet would be foolish; centralization is fundamentally incompatible with democracy. The Democracy Earth network will be based on blockchain technology.

Blockchains allow for information to be stored in a decentralized manner that makes it functionally impossible to manipulate – in a word, incorruptible. A blockchain is a distributed ledger system. A ledger is a record or database full of data such as transactions or votes, and distributed means that this ledger is held in multiple places. This ledger is maintained by “nodes,” essentially computers running a program that is specific to that blockchain. A copy of the ledger is held on every node in the network. Anyone who downloads this program can view the ledger and know that the copy they are viewing will be constantly updated and checked against everyone else’s copy to ensure that they match perfectly. They are kept synchronized because all the nodes are connected to the internet and are able to update in real time.

These nodes use a special consensus algorithm to make sure that they all are holding a ledger with the same information and history, and to overpower this algorithm, someone would have to take control of more than half of the computing power (known as a ‘51% attack’) in order to convince the network to change this ledger or to add false information.

This is what makes blockchains so special. To change data in a centralized source, like standard websites, someone only has to gain access to one point; in contrast, with a blockchain one has to overpower hundreds or thousands of points. While centralized sites keep their data and algorithms secret, with blockchains, anyone can view any transaction at any time.  This ‘permissionless auditing’ means anyone can audit the information to make sure it is accurate, without needing access provided by intermediaries.

Though blockchains store information publicly and are easy to audit, they still preserve anonymity. Recorded in the ledger are data alongside digital public keys. Every user has a pair of digital keys: a public one, which anyone can see but cannot trace back to the user, and a private one, which they use to access their data and they know is linked to the public key. This allows them to check the ledger to see that their data were recorded correctly, but makes it so others cannot see who conducted which transactions or cast which votes.

There’s a lot of instability, volatility even, around blockchain technologies, particularly bitcoin. Is this technology stable enough to support global currencies and democracies? If not, when can we be comfortable that they can?

This is a multi-part answer.

The first to address is that our platform is running on the Ethereum blockchain. The price of Ether (Ethereum’s currency) also fluctuates but it should be noted that our VOTE tokens are a separate token from Ether, and the Ethereum blockchain is just providing the security for our platform and our platform is essentially a structure built on top of it. What is more important to focus on than the fluctuations in price, which are mainly driven by speculation not any real changes in the technology, is the security of a blockchain itself. Both Ethereum and Bitcoin are highly secure blockchains with many validating nodes and robust communities of users and developers. Even with the price fluctuating, using these ledgers to store information — such as votes as we propose to do — is completely doable.

There is a question about scaling. At the present moment, the Ethereum network would not be able to support the number of users and votes associated with a global democracy. That being said, every blockchain based project that aims to use the Ethereum blockchain faces this same issue of scaling which means that huge investments of time, money, and intellectual effort are going into fixing this problem right now. Multiple solutions for scaling have already been proposed and are in the process of being implemented.

What is Sovereign and how does it work?

Sovereign is the working name of the Democracy.Earth liquid democracy governance software. It is a platform that allows users to propose ideas, create votes, debate issues, vote directly and delegate (as well as revoke) their vote. It is censorship-resistant; voters neither give away personal information to participate, and can vote anonymously on any proposal for which they meet the requirements. Our beta release is now on the Ethereum Rinkeby testnet at testnet.democracy.earth, where you can experiment with censorship-resistant voting, debate and token delegation. The platform now has limited functionality, but you can vote with  any token – our own VOTE tokens but also any ERC20 token(s). Results of polls are transparent and verifiable by all participants, not requiring an intermediary or vulnerable to any authority hacker. In addition to this testnet sandbox the platform is being used to provide governance among crypto communities like Decentraland. One interesting current use case of the platform can be found at Blockstack, where the Democracy Earth platform is implemented as part of the governance to the innovative App Mining program, helping to allocate a subsidy of $100,000 each month among dapp builders being voted on among the community.

What is the ‘Social Smart Contract?’

The Social Smart Contract is Democracy Earth Foundation open source white paper released in 2017. The language is not accidental – according to theorists such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke,  the social contract is an implicit agreement among the members of a society to cooperate for social benefits – i.e. the origin government itself. The social smart contract is similarly an agreement – and protocol – for  how to implement this cooperation in the digital age. It puts the importance of blockchain technology and our governance protocols in the context of the challenges to democracy and human flourishing that we are witnessing in our world today, as well as a detailed explanation of our platform and its implementation. It is complemented by our Token Economics white paper, that was released in July 2018 at economics.democracy.earth.

You’re a big proponent of open source technologies? Why is open source important to your work and a healthy democracy?

The platform has to be open source so that the software is available to anyone for free and the code is transparently available for anyone who wants to see it, analyze it or modify it.

Open source is both an ethos and a series of procedures that are used for developing and updating code. It is an ethos because it is used by people who believe that software should be available for free, and have a truly democratic and meritocratic process of creation.

We believe this is the right way to build software, and also that it  just makes for better software, especially governance software. It is a series of procedures, because it involves making our code available on an easily accessible website, for example GitHub (now owned by Microsoft), and allowing for others to copy it and propose changes or additions to it.

How can those excited about your work get involved?

There are many ways they can help.

The first and foremost is to join us on our platform: testnet.democracy.earth – you can get your test tokens and a simple guide on what’s involved with a Web3 login to joining our  censorship-resistant platform on the Democracy Earth Medium publication, Hacktivism, at the article “testnet.democracy.earth is LIVE!” where they can create a profile, pose questions and votes, experiment on it, and invite other users to it join.

Next, if they have a particular vote or decision that they are involved with with any organization, they could use our platform to conduct it. For example, a board vote, a school election, a club election, or even a county or city election – they should reach out to the foundation at hello@democracy.earth to learn more about conducting a pilot.

Finally, they can look into becoming an ambassador meaning an individual who promotes the mission of Democracy Earth to the wider community. Or if you are at a university, consider becoming a student ambassador. Information about the program can be found at the Democracy Earth Student Ambassador repository in GitHub here.

If you are a developer, reach out to the development team at code.democracy.earth, and if you want to volunteer in any way, contributing your marketing, editing, writing, video, business or fundraising skills in some way to the foundation, simply reach out at hello@democracy.earth with your ideas, and someone will get right back to you.

You can usually interact with a team member on our social channels in Slack (chat.democracy.earth), Medium (words@democracy.earth) or on Twitter @democracyearth or Facebook.

Kiba Gateaux on how blockchain can facilitate peace

Kiba Gateaux (Photo: Brian Jamie)

Kiba Gateaux (Photo: Brian Jamie)

Kiba Gateaux is the founder of Blockchain for Peace, an initiative started by Peace Accelerators, a New York City non-profit using data and their technology network to “co-create a peaceful future for our planet as efficiently as possible.” The organization includes a community of more than 2,000 thought leaders, futurists, and creators that hosts technology, culture and social impact events.

Kiba shares his thoughts on the role blockchain can play in making the world a more “hospitable and prosperous place for everyone,” and how others can get involved.

How can blockchain facilitate peace?

In my opinion, peace is about working together and having everyone be in exactly the place they want to be in. (see my article about “What is Peace?”) Blockchain facilitates this because any blockchain can only exist by having a group of people working together to create a shared ideal outcome. You do not need to know who they are, their background, skills, capabilities, or any personal values. All a blockchain cares about is that all participants shares a common goal and are willing to put in effort to achieve it.

A lot of people see blockchain as a savior that will fix all of our problems. I don’t think it will solve anything, it is just a tool. The only way to change society is to change our people, not the technology that surrounds us. What blockchain, and other forms of distributed ledger technology such as Holochain or IOTA, do is help us facilitate the type of behavior that we would like to see in the world. What that behavior is depends on the person so we can just as easily use blockchain to entrench the current system (which is happening right now) as it can build a more peaceful one.

You’re hosting a Blockchain for Peace hackathon in New York City. What’s your objective with this?

Our events bring together creative technologists, impact investors, industry experts, and multimedia artists for a highly curated weekend of ideation, creation, and inspiration. This hackathon is about Law & Governance and will  be focused on local communities. Hackers will be making decentralized autonomous organizations, futarchies, participatory budgeting systems, and more over the course of three days. At the end they will present to judges and the most promising projects have the opportunity to be incubated and mentored further by Bushwick Blockchain Alliance, Peace Innovation Lab, or Future of Humanity. You can find more info on our blog post about the hackathon.

We use our events to recruit more people into the Blockchain for Peace initiative. Blockchain for Peace is a community resource center for social entrepreneurs, researchers, and impact investors to create a global open-source knowledge library. Our objective is to help the international peace community understand the global landscape, form business relationships, coordinate more effectively, and share critical information such as research reports, impact data, and best practices.

What are some ideas for using blockchain to hack peace?

Peace can and should be integrated into every aspect of life. Personally I don’t think blockchain should be, so finding the line where blockchain should stop is important. Master brainstorm doc

Some ideas:

  • Tracking supply chain to verify product origins and track emissions data
  • New forms of government that are evolutionary vs dogmatic, direct vs delegated, etc.
  • Open currency trading in restricted markets e.g. Iran, Greece (inherent in cryptocurrencies)
  • Social reputation systems that obviate the need for money by facilitating trust in peer-to-peer systems.

How can folks interested in blockchain and peace related efforts learn more or get involved?

Participate in our events, starting with the Blockchain for Peace hackathon, join our slack, contact Malik directly, follow Peace Accelerators on Facebook and Instagram or visit Peace Innovation Lab.

Government Blockchain Association wants to facilitate public sector blockchain awareness, adoption

The newly-formed Government Blockchain Association is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit corporation that wants to create relationships “between and among technologists, public policy makers, application specialists and those who simply need to understand the new and emerging digital currencies that will change the world.”

GBA Vice President Dan Callahan shares the vision and mission.

For those unfamiliar with blockchain, what’s your ‘simple’ answer?

As a member-driven professional association, we have a fairly broad mission statement; that is to help governments across the world to understand and use blockchain technology to improve their processes.

Essentially, this is to reinvent government bureaucracy with a better, faster and cheaper (and more secure) set of solutions.

What areas are obvious for government blockchain usage?

When you think about the endless tasks, challenges and missions that governments must deal with, it boggles the mind. Here in America, government agency mission creep—at all levels, has occurred over the last four to five decades and it never seems to be easy or inexpensive to improve. But we must find new ways to make our public agencies more responsive and help them better leverage the public monies with which they are entrusted.

My favorite use of blockchain is the prevention of fraud in the distribution of what are called transfer payments. These are payments such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, welfare, and other benefits.

I also see grants through organizations such as the United Nations as another area where, without too much effort, we can use blockchain to significantly eliminate billions of dollars in fraud.

We will periodically publish a list of use cases to our members; recently, even a U.S. Congressman offered to “compare notes” with us so we can keep each other updated on the most interesting and compelling use cases.

What was the story and inspiration for starting Government Blockchain Association?

As president of the association, Gerard Dache is the visionary, and I have about three decades of federal IT experience. His vision began to solidify when one of his sons made some very interesting gains in the bitcoin space. After a couple of years, Gerard realized that there is truly something here worth levering in a much broader way. Who doesn’t want better government, right?

So, in the Winter of 2016-2017, he approached me and asked to help build-out the vision.

What is the Government Blockchain Association and why now?

We want to maintain a niche focus on the nexus of blockchain and its application across the public sector. At times this is too broad, but at other times it’s a niche when compared to the general IT marketplace and some of the other associations that exist. The timing is good since we are absolutely seeing public sector agencies taking a real and substantive look at using blockchain, and in some international cases, they are already becoming mature.

What’s next for GBA?

Our first threshold was to attract individual professionals. In a matter of weeks we attracted about eight hundred who agree with our mission and believe they can contribute. Our next phase, beginning mid-summer 2017, is to attract corporate members who can also contribute. I believe we’ll see small, medium and large corporations jumping in soon, because they see that the future of blockchain is not merely hype.

How can others interested connect and learn more?

We intentionally try to keep membership and event fees low. As any nonprofit would desire, we want to provide a high value in return for reasonable membership fees, but I stress to all members, get involved in any way possible. Become a part of the conversation, the networking, the working groups, publish your ideas, start a GBA Chapter in a city where is there currently not a chapter. These kind of things really help members get their money’s worth.

Federal agency blockchain group to convene July 18

BitcoinThe General Services Administration will host an in-person U.S. Federal Blockchain Forum meeting on July 18 in Washington, D.C., as part of an effort to facilitate virtual currency adoption within the federal government.

About the initiative and event from DigitalGov:

About the Event

An inter-agency forum for executives across the federal government to learn about advances in Blockchain technology, discuss use cases and set an agenda for working together to evaluate and implement it among our diverse missions.

What You’ll Do

  • Develop, share and discuss practical use cases for Blockchain technology among federal government missions.
  • Identify resource, policy and compliance needs for the effective and efficient evaluation and implementation of Blockchain technology in the federal government.
  • Develop a U.S. Federal Blockchain Atlas and roadmap for the next 6 months on how agencies can collaborate to achieve our goals and support the creation of shared services for Blockchain technology.

The U.S. Federal Blockchain Forum is a program led by the GSA Emerging Citizen Technology program in partnership with the Secretary of State Office of Global Partnerships and GSA Office of Information Technology Category.

Learn more and register.