Reporting from the EU Parliament: Building an Open Bitcoin Coalition
We went to the European Parliament. Here's what happened.
By Peter Van Valkenburgh / January 29, 2015
Yesterday I spoke at the European Parliament's STOA (that's Science and Technology Options Assessment) workshop. I was one of eight speakers discussing, "The Collaborative Economy: Impact and Potential of Collaborative Internet and Additive Manufacturing" a wordy title to describe what turned out to be a fascinating budding coalition! Frank Piller of MIT and Oliver Gajada of the European Crowdfunding Network spoke about co-creation, lead-user innovators, crowdfunding and the open source movement. Yi-Ke Guo of Imperial College London and Thomas Heath of the Open Data Institute spoke about big and open data. Louis Turner of the Asia Pacific Technology Network, and Dr. Beverley Vaughan of Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst spoke about 3D-printing (including printing human organs!). And Elli Androulaki alongside yours truly, spoke about Bitcoin and blockchains! last week in Boston, should do. And, unlike the tools which predated it, Bitcoin is an open network. One does not have to belong to Kickstarter, or belong to the UK, or belong to a Bank or venture capital fund. One merely needs to run free, open source software on her Internet-connected computer. Third, Bitcoin is an ideal tool for open data. One of the fears associated with big, as well as open, data is that personal identifying information (PII) will leak across these platforms. The scenario is encapsulated in the following hypotheitcal gripe: yes I'm happy big data saved my home from flooding, but no, I'm upset that everyone now knows my social security number and can make fake credit card accounts in my name. Bitcoin already fixes some of that trouble because, as a push-payment tool, it reduces the risk of identity theft. But that is just the beginning. With blockchains and cryptography we can engage in what Nick Szabo calls trustworthy computing. We can own, truly own, our data as tokenized pseudonyms with credentials (to quote David Birch). Imagine a world where I accumulate important local knowledge: my address, the last time my property flooded, my health records, the size and dimensions of my skull. I'd like to donate this useful information to open public databases but I'd rather not have my name attached to it; it's creepy to me that people know where I live and what the inside of my skull looks like! Now, imagine that I can keep this data in a tokenized form and share bits of it, discretely, with the open databases I'm willing to be a part of. The community flood-registry gets my elevation data and pictures of the last flood, the local health center gets a scan of my braincase. None of these individuals, however, gets my name, address or social security number, instead, they get a unique and verifiable pseudonym that shows that I am a legitimate (as in non-scamming, non-spamming) contributor. That tokenized ID can happen in a few ways. We can have a company go out and verify each person and attest to their humanness and their connection to real and useful data-points (floods or skulls) but then we need to trust that company to keep us anonymous. Instead, what if we prove our seriousness by staking something valuable on a pseudonymous network and attach that pseudonym to the data? No one needs to know it's me that provided these data points, they just need to know that I'm a living, breathing person with some investment in the system. A bitcoin here or there. These synergies between Bitcoin and open data, bitcoin and 3D printing, and bitcoin and crowdfunding are just the beginning. Smarter minds than mine will find even better ways to combine such technologies. My goal, Coin Center's goal, at Brussels and in general, is to preserve freedom to innovate with these tools by helping to draw these connections and celebrate them with policymakers. The future is open and Bitcoin is the money that will fund it.