Pass it forward

David Gelernter’s monstrous macaw, Ike, has made a tumble. One minute he was there, furnish agreeable squawks as Gelernter spoke, and then, in a flash of lightning, he wasn’t. Ike is fine, the 64 -year-old Yale computer scientist assures me, simply dazed. “Luckily he’s as light as a fledgling. So he can fall great lengths and it doesn’t bother him, ” he says. Now where was he? Oh yes, Gelernter was in the middle of telling me about his plans to revolutionize social media–emphasis on revolt .

On Thursday, Gelernter wrote a post on Medium affirming his grievances against our favorite social media overlord, Facebook. He’s directing his ire into a “companies ” called Revolution Populi, a social network that emphasizes individual data ownership and democratic regulation by its consumers. Hence the patriotic timing. “For me, this is an opportunity to make some action on a public edition that I think is really important, ” he tells me. “Who owns the cyber scenery? Do we all own it, or do five incredibly rich people in California? ” Gelernter’s message to those of us living under Facebook’s imperial pattern is “Join or die.”

For now, though, Revolution Populi exists as four people each with the deed cofounder–a onetime Goldman Sachs vice president, a doctor-entrepreneur, and a PR executive, plus Gelernter–and a instead tumultuous whitepaper. Technical items are … inadequate. So scant that, after much speculate, it’s difficult to piece together exactly what Gelernter, who holds the name “chief visionary officer, ” is proposing. Other than to be acknowledged that yes, it will be “on the blockchain.”

Gelernter has built a reputation for being ahead of the technological veer, starting with his work in parallel compute and data mining, and later as a pioneer of the social entanglement. In a 1997 sketch in WIRED, he described a dream for 21 st-century computer science that would center on human interaction. It would be as dependent on design and social science, Gelernter said, as any technological improvements.

His assignment at the time( along with PhD student Eric Freeman) was a social network announced Lifestream. It made the form of a digital timeline of life’s totality–a perpetual flow of the papers and themes that could be arranged, sorted, and shared with others. Lifestream was popular among peers in his Yale department, Gelernter says, but attempts to commercialize the technology sputtered. A godfather of modern social networks watched from afar as Silicon Valley upstarts originated into monstrous. “I’ve been on the sidelines since then, ” he says.

Well , not perfectly on the sidelines. Many Lifestream doctrines were are set forth in patents owned by Gelernter’s company, Mirror Worlds, listed after his 1991 work that described our coming habitation in virtual reality. The company later indicted Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple, for infringing on its patents with their numerous stream-like produces, such as Facebook’s Timeline and Apple’s Time Machine and Spotlight.( One Apple lawsuit resulted in a $625 million jury award for Mirror Worlds, which subsequently switched by a gues. Mirror Worlds colonized other asserts against Apple and Microsoft .)

With his new venture, Gelernter wants to again challenge those companies. The theme, he says, is to build a social media app on top of a brand-new blockchain ecosystem. He describes the proposed network as a “public square”( a expression coined in Mirror Worlds , he memorandum) in which everyone owns their data and can sell access to it for cryptocurrency. The regulations governing that pulpit will be based on the US Constitution, and can only be changed by a used vote. It will also support an open ecosystem of apps.

Gelernter’s team will be leading off with their own app, which begins as a music streaming programme where consumers pay craftsmen directly.( Revolution Populi’s CEO, Rob Rosenthal, launched a now-defunct music app called MyFyx in 2016.) But their passions rise far beyond that, to becoming a centralized hub for music, TV, movies, social media, even web pursuing, in the vein of the original Lifestream.

When it comes to blockchain, a technology that has been available for 10 years, Gelernter describes himself as an “informed observer.” The type of data ownership scheme he describes has long been a dream for blockchain tribes, who understand the hoarding of personal data by tech monsters as problematic. Plenty of others are working on it. There’s Ethereum, of course, a blockchain designed to allow the development of decentralized employments, including user-run social media apps and personal data marketplaces. There’s too Solid, a scaffold being built by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, which aims for data ownership and interoperability without applying blockchain at all.

The trouble is that all this is immensely difficult, especially with blockchain in the desegregate. There’s the problem of scaling: these new technologies is notoriously sluggish and unsuited to handling large numbers of users. Not to mention the inexhaustible usability questions( raise your hand if you’ve lost the keys to your bitcoin !) and the difficulty of getting beings to actually endorse your likely clunky stage. Social systems also present the problem of digital identity: Sure, data stored on the blockchain may be secure, but how do you ensure the data itself isn’t fraudulent? And while it’s nice to talk about democracy on the blockchain–to “decentralize” power as they say, giving the person or persons immediately pull the bars of supremacy and commerce–governance quarrels on stages like Ethereum have shown that’s harder than it examines. And besides, look at what our real-world democratic system brought us: the tech manufacture oligarchs!

Gelernter recognises the whole thing will be difficult. “Maybe we’ll go wrong; maybe it’ll be 16 old-time guys in Pittsburgh who ranged the whole thing, ” he says. “But we’ll know that we will have invited the public to be part of the system.” He also has ideas for how to execute his programme technically, he assures me. They won’t involve “doing anything strange or tricky, ” he says, but very involve a “straightforward application of existing publicly known algorithms.” The whitepaper propel out a few minds. There’s the InterPlanetary File System, or IPFS, a type of decentralized storage primarily built for Ethereum, and a reference to Merkle Trees, a basic conception in blockchain technology. They’ll use facial recognition and other “biometric verification protocols” to connect your digital name to the real you, to be stored on your own “ultra-secure” blockchain.

The cofounders hope to fund their project without venture capital, squandering a sign marketing instead.( That’s too how they plan to make money, by selling the token to users through a cryptocurrency exchange .) So when ICO, bro? Most crypto companies that have opted to sell tokens through so-called “initial coin offerings” remain in purgatory, waiting for the Securities and Exchange Commission to decide how to treat digital signs under US law. How exactly they’ll distribute the clues remains up for discussion too, Gelernter says.

It’s a towering load of questions, but Gelernter is undeterred. He speculation that blockchain technology will improve and the technological obstacles will lower, and that democracy will be easier within the constraints of a virtual world-wide. Besides, people are ready to ditch stages like Facebook. “Five years from now, there are going to be well-established Facebook opponents of the sorting that don’t exist now. They need to exist; they will exist, ” he says. “It’s the liberty difficulty at the right moment.” Perhaps Gelernter himself doesn’t have to be the one to illustration it out, he computes. But he’d like to give it a try.

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