Ethereum Cofounder Vitalik Buterin Supports Legalization of Possessing Child Porn

Today Vitalik Buterin, cofounder of Ethereum, tweeted in support the legalisation of the possession of child pornography. His tweets, now deleted, are reproduced below.

 

 

(Original sources for the first and second pictures.)

These statements are outrageous. By legalising the possession of child pornography, it will cause demand for child porn to spike. Producers will have a greater incentive to produce even more child porn, since they can sell the porn to a wider audience. That in turn means even more children will suffer from the depredation of deviants.

Libertarianism may have its appeal, but this goes too far.

Buterin argues that by legalising the possession of child porn, it would ‘[establish] a general norm that “a person’s laptop is an extension of their mind, and is inviolate”.’ This argument is nonsense: it means that the police cannot seize and examine a cracker’s laptop as evidence that he committed cybercrime on it. A computer is not a sentient mind; it is merely a tool whose use reflects the user’s intentions and motivations. If a person uses a computer for evil, it should be seized as evidence against him.

Even if there were social benefits from making computers untouchable, a superior option would simply be to render censorship illegal. The state would not be allowed to prosecute anyone for alleged hate speech, nor would the state be able to seize and destroy computers, films, recordings or other media containing such hate speech.

But Buterin won’t take this path, because he believes in censorship.

(Original source here)

I live in a country with an actual censorship board. The Media Development Authority develops the media by censoring it. The MDA has consistently censored movies, books, plays, films, music and any other form of media that criticises the government or runs afoul of Singapore’s ‘Asian values’, all in the name of preserving a delicate multi-racial society. My own fiction cannot be published in Singapore for fear of running afoul of the censors.

The purpose of political censorship isn’t for truth and justice and order. It’s to empower and entrench the ruling party. Nobody can guarantee that ‘the good guys’ will be in charge, only that the ones in power will use censorship as a tool to consolidate and grow their authority. It may be fine and dandy for supporters of the current regime, but once the levers of power change hands, they will find themselves on the wrong end of the censor’s pen.

Cryptocurrency was supposed to uplift the world. I cannot in good faith support any cryptocurrency whose co-founder supports naked evil and blatant censorship. Effective immediately, I am dumping all my ethereum and encourage you to do the same.

To read the stories the Singapore government will disallow, you can check out the first chapter of my free serial fiction NIGHT DEMONS here and my Dragon Award nominated novel NO GODS, ONLY DAIMONS here.

An Amateur’s Notes on Cryptocurrency

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Like most people I know I heard of Bitcoin only when it was too late to profit spectacularly from it. Even so, cryptocurrency rarely popped up in my local newspapers, except in highly technical articles buried in the business or finance pages, or whenever someone made a killing off crypto — or when crypto is related to a crime, be it large-scale losses like the Mt. Gox hack or WannaCry demanding ransom in Bitcoin. After joining Steemit half a year ago, I started delving into crypto in a major way, and I have a few findings to report.

  • Value Trends Upwards

Day by day, hour by hour, the prices of some major cryptocurrencies fluctuate wildly, sometimes at breathtaking speeds. But if you take the long view, over months and years, the inescapable conclusion is that prices trends upwards. Crypto may be a risky short-term speculation vehicle, but the longer you hold cryptocurrency the more valuable it becomes.

The corollary is that early adopters win. The earlier you enter the game the bigger your pay off. The more money you’re willing to sink into crypto early on, the more money you’ll make later.

The inverse is that latecomers lose. The later you enter the market the higher the prices you have to contend with. As it stands, the price of bitcoin is so astonishingly high that it is difficult for anyone but the most well-heeled or risk-loving people to buy anything larger than fractions a bitcoin at once. In the future this generates correspondingly lower payoffs. If you want to get into the crypto game, you have to start now.

  • Utility Drives Value

The major cryptocurrencies have one thing in common: they fill a need. By virtue of possessing utility, they deliver value to people. This naturally drives demand for the coin, which organically increases price over time.

This utility can come in many forms. For the everyman, cryptocurrencies offer the ability to quickly, cheaply and securely remit funds. Other platforms offer additional benefits: Ethereum provides an infrastructure for decentralised computing, Dash is user-friendly, Ripple allows secure and swift currency conversion and remittance.

When people recognise the utility of a cryptocurrency and see its potential for growth, they will flock to it. Investors will sink money to fund its development, communities of developers will emerge to improve it, advocates will promote it everywhere. As the crypto comes ever closer to fulfilling its original vision, this creates a virtuous cycle that further increases value.

*Crypto Self-Corrects for Losses

The traditional wisdom is that cryptocurrency is extremely volatile. That is true…but only in the short term. In the long term, crypto self-corrects for losses and outgrows them. One might even say that crypto is antifragile.

The Mt. Gox hack was a disaster when it occurred; three years on, if you look at the prices it’s like it never happened. When the Bitcoin ETF failed, the price of Bitcoin plummeted. Two months later, the price of Bitcoin soared to new all-time highs. The DAO heist was a calamity, but after the hardfork, the value of both ETH and ETC rose dramatically – today, they have the second- and fifth-highest crypto market cap respectively.

Black Swans, price crashes and crime are inevitable. In the short term they are painful losses. But the affected crypto will tend to self-correct. Too many intelligent people have invested too much time, money and energy for these tokens to fail just like that. So long as the token itself can continue to deliver value, there will still be demand, and with demand comes increased value. It may take months to recover the value, but recovery will happen.

This is not to say that all crypto are good and will appreciate over time, rather that well-designed crypto that deliver value to people will tend to grow. Experts can analyse coins, figure out the pros and cons, and attempt to squeeze maximum profit from their investments, but as a rule of thumb, a coin with a clear value proposition and robust design infrastructure will tend to set up a virtuous cycle that generates long-term growth. Market cycles and price patterns may be unpredictable — but human nature is well-known.

With these heuristics in mind, I’m going to briefly analyse some of the cryptocurrencies I have touched. Bear in mind that this is not investment advice, just some thoughts on Bitcoin and other altcoins.

Bitcoin

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Bitcoin remains the king of the hill. If you grab a hundred people on the street and ask them if they have heard about cryptocurrency, chances are the most common answer you will hear is ‘Bitcoin’. It’s got the first mover advantage, the brand name and newsworthiness.

But I don’t think Bitcoin will stay that way forever. Not without major changes, such as Segwit. Bitcoin transactions are sluggish and wallet addresses are long strings of alphanumeric combinations few people want to type, much less memorise. By today’s standards, much of the technology behind Bitcoin is obsolete. As a general-purpose currency Bitcoin still reigns supreme by dint of its branding, but for more specialised use cases there are far better options.

Going forward, I think Bitcoin will be a gateway token for regular people. People may buy it, hold it for a while, explore the cryptosphere and discover altcoins. I still see whales and investors and speculators moving Bitcoin in massive amounts for huge profits (which will further drive interest), but for other people, I expect them to explore other altcoins after seeing initial profit with Bitcoin and the potential other coins offer.

Steem

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Steem and its sisters, Steem Power and the Steem Dollar, are also gateway tokens. They are among the easiest to obtain today: sign up on Steemit and you get free Steem; start posting and voting, and you get more steem.

With that said, the platform rewards a specific kind of person: a creator who regularly and tirelessly invests value in the platform by producing popular, quality content and supporting fellow users through comments, discussions, suggestions and votes. Their presence, content and advocacy will drive more people to the platform, creating organic growth, and the crypto rewards will incentivise them to keep going on and on. Such creators will be rewarded for passion, in turn growing even more passion.

Steemit’s reward system makes the virtuous cycle tangible, transparent and easily accessible. You don’t have to be a witness, a developer or a software whiz to get in on the action and be rewarded for it. This decreases the barrier to entry. In half a year of blogging on Steemit I have made more money than I had blogging elsewhere for a decade. I’m with Steemit in the long haul, and, I suspect, so many of the long-term users.

Augur

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How would to like to know the future?

Augur is a futures market. It allows people to purchase and sell shares on the outcome of an event. Utilizing the wisdom of the crowd, Augur aims to provide the most accurate answer to a question and is designed to reward people who get it right.

Augur seems to be a niche service, but we live in what seems to be increasingly uncertain and unpredictable times. Should Augur go live, I expect to see surprising amount of demand, be it for sports, politics, or other causes.

Dash

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Dash is the digital cash Bitcoin tried to be. From a user perspective, transactions are nearly instant, just as secure and far more private than Bitcoin. The currency itself is resistant to a single point of failure, and its use of multi-phased forks means that hard forks can be fully tested and debugged before implementation. More importantly, Dash has better marketing.

I think merchant adoption is critical to Dash’ long-term growth. There’s no point having digital cash if you can’t spend it. You can use it for remittance, but in many countries (like Singapore) there aren’t easy ways to obtain Dash in the first place. Consequently, I think for now demand for Dash will be driven mainly by North America and Europe, where such merchants are primarily based, and where Dash is more readily available.

Ethereum

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Ethereum is interesting in that it’s not primarily a currency, rather an open source blockchain-based distributed computing platform with smart contract functionality. The token’s use case is to compensate users for performing computations — it is not necessarily meant to pay for goods and services.

Despite that, Ethereum presently has the second-highest crypto market cap. The Ethereum platform is being adopted all over the world — Singapore, for instance, is using Ethereum to tokenise the Singapore dollar. Ethereum offers capabilities that other computing platforms can’t. The increased interest and investment in Ethereum will see greater development of Ethereum, and with it increased value of Ether (both ETC and ETH). The value of the token lies in the value the platform delivers, and Ethereum’s increasing adoption rates suggests it will be a rising star.

Dogecoin

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William Gibson wrote, ‘The street finds its uses for things’. Dogecoin is proof.

Dogecoin looks like a joke coin. However, the Dogecoin community refused to treat it as such, instead finding a unique value proposition: charity. Among the cryptocurrency foundations I have examined, Dogecoin is the only one where goodwill and charitable endeavours is explicitly written into the mission statement.

Never underestimate the power of human goodness. Not just in real-world effects, but also on the market. The technical analyses I’ve seen suggest that Dogecoin is on track for stable long-term growth. Dogecoin is mostly under the radar and each token doesn’t hold much value, so it’s not normally a major target for hackers looking for multi-million-dollar heists, granting it some innate protection from Black Swan crashes. At the same time, there will always be people who want to do good, and Dogecoin gives them an easy way to do it, which would tend to drive demand upwards. Bitcoin may be for speculating and Dash for buying, but Dogecoin is for saving the world and the moon.

A Different Kind of Currency

The value of gold lies in its stability and its scarcity. The value of fiat comes from customary use and general use. The value of a cryptocurrency comes from its inherent utility.

As computing becomes increasingly ubiquitous, people will find innovative ways to use that computing to meet human needs. Cryptocurrency will be there to fulfil those needs. Well-designed crypto that offers the greatest utility for people will attract the people and funding needed to grow, creating a virtuous cycle of long-term growth.

By applying an understanding of human nature and technology to crypto technical analysis, I think people will be able to make better choices if they choose to dip into cryptocurrency.

Credits:

  1. Bitcoin logo: Pixabay
  2. Bitcoin logo: Bitcoin Wiki
  3. Steemit: Wikimedia
  4. Augur: Wikimedia
  5. Dash: Dashpay.io
  6. Ethereum: Wikimedia
  7. Dogecoin: Wikimedia

Can Blockchains Revolutionise Social Welfare Programmes?

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Governments contemplating social welfare programmes have to wrestle with two seemingly irreconcilable problems. On one hand, voters demand social welfare programmes to take care of the poor, sick, elderly and marginalized. On the other, governments need to prevent welfare spending from ballooning extravagantly and ensure that recipients spend the money wisely. In this article, I will examine the use of blockchain technology to develop next-generation food assistance programmes.

Blockchain technology is a step up above existing schemes such as Electronic Benefits Transfer cards. Properly designed, it offers the ability to significantly reduce instances of fraud and abuse, enable quick and accurate accounting, creates the opportunity to positively shape recipients’ diets for the better, and the technology is easily transferable to other benefits schemes.

And it can do this within the next five years.

Enter NutriCoin

Today’s technology can replace EBT cards and their equivalents with a blockchain-based platform that uses internal tokens and smart contracts. For this article, let’s call this token NutriCoin.

NutriCoin requires three distinct accounts: consumer, merchant and government. Consumer accounts may only receive tokens from the government account and spend them at merchant accounts. Merchant accounts may only receive tokens from consumer accounts and trade them with the government account for fiat. The government account sends tokens to consumer accounts and receives them from merchant accounts. No other types of transactions are allowed; thus, a merchant cannot use NutriCoin to buy fresh foods, and a consumer cannot transfer his tokens to another.

Every day, a recipient uses NutriCoin to purchase groceries, meals and other essentials from authorized merchants. This transaction takes the form of a smart contract, which states that the merchant will provide goods in exchange for so many tokens. The merchant then trades the tokens with the government for fiat. This second transaction is another contract, which states the government will pay so much in fiat for so many tokens. At the end of the day (or some other block of time), the government tops off every consumer account with a fresh batch of tokens.

NutriCoin isn’t simply a next-generation food stamp. Key to its existence is restriction: it can only be used to purchase specific types of goods from licensed and vetted merchants. A drug dealer won’t be able to get a license to sell narcotics, so he won’t be able to set up a merchant account. A legitimate merchant, such as a supermarket, can only accept NutriCoin for sales of certain kinds of pre-registered food. Further, as all transactions are recorded on the blockchain, fraud can be quickly detected.

In EBT fraud, an EBT cardholder sells his card to an unscrupulous merchant (say a clerk or cashier) for a fraction of its dollar value. The clerk then uses the card to buy food items to restock the store’s shelves or key in false entries to transfer EBT funds into the store’s account. The cardholder gets free money, while the store enjoys lower operating costs or increased profit margins.

NutriCoin eliminates this by making the transaction visible. If someone suddenly splurges his entire allowance at a store, the transaction will be recorded on the blockchain, including the smart contract that details the goods he bought. Discrepancies in the store inventory will prove fraud. The only way to hide this is to throw out the goods allegedly sold to the customer. Since these goods must now be replaced at market price using fiat instead of NutriCoin—as opposed using an EBT card to make tax-free purchases on the government dime—there would be reduced incentive to engage in fraud and would-be fraudsters would have to invest greater time and energy to develop ways to defraud the system. The government should also conduct snap inspections of NutriCoin merchants to ensure their honesty.

What about customer-to-customer fraud? In this case, a NutriCoin recipient sells his account and PIN to someone else for cash, allowing the buyer to commit NutriCoin fraud. To combat this scenario, the use of NutriCoin could be paired with identification documents, such as a driver’s license, passport or identification card.

As technology advances, NutriCoin wallets may incorporate biometric testing to verify the user’s identity, such as fingerprints or voice samples. After the user keys in his biometric password, the wallet is locked and cannot accept other users or new passwords. The act of keying in a fresh password (but not the password itself) will be recorded on the blockchain, and attempts to change that password without approval will also be noted and recorded. In addition to combating fraud, this also creates increased security for recipients in case their wallets are stolen.

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Going beyond restrictions, NutriCoin can nudge people towards healthier living. Welfare recipients are on a tight budget, and so choose the cheapest and longest-lasting foods available. These are inevitably highly-processed and/or junk foods. A steady diet of such so-called food will inevitably lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses, compounding the recipient’s woes. NutriCoin can prevent this.

The government can pre-designate a whitelist of healthy foods that can be bought with NutriCoin; no other types of food may be purchased with NutriCoin. The smart contract in every consumer-to-merchant transaction will record the type of food the merchant sold, and the merchant-to-government contract will consolidate these transactions for inspection. If there are any discrepancies, the police can again quickly track down the parties involved and examine the merchant’s stock.

While this whitelist should not include high-end luxury foods like organic quinoa or Wagyu beef imported from Japan, it would allow the poor to readily afford fruits and vegetables without worrying about whether they can afford it. By enabling NutriCoin recipients to afford healthy diets, this approach would reduce the incidence of chronic diseases in the long run.

To be clear, the government itself does not set the price for these foods. The merchants are free to decide what price they will set for them and whether to offer discounts for NutriCoin recipients. The government simply ensures that NutriCoin is used for buying affordable, healthy food. More restrictive states will also prevent the use of NutriCoin for buying junk food—which may or may not be desirable, depending on your political preferences.

The beauty of NutriCoin is its adaptability. Once the infrastructure is in place, the basic concepts can quickly be expanded to incorporate other services. This includes public transportation allowances for soldiers, subsidies for utility bills, tokens to pay for higher education or medical fees, NutriCoin POS systems for street vendors and hawkers, subsidised or free meals at food courts and hawker centres, and more. The sky is literally the limit.

There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

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The technology described above either exists today or are evolutions of today’s technology. It may even be possible to have a testbed for the system within the next five years. But NutriCoin is not a be-all and end-all solution. It has a few costs which must be overcome or accepted.

The most obvious one is infrastructure. NutriCoin can only exist in a country with a high penetration of smartphones (with an app-based solution), commonplace use of the Internet to deliver services, and a robust information communication technology network. This presently limits its potential to the First World. Fortunately, countries that can contemplate the development of such a comprehensive welfare programme tend to be First World nations themselves.

However, there are still significant implementation costs. Recipients may only need to download an app on a smartphone or carry a hardware wallet. However, merchants will need to integrate this technology into their inventory and point of sales systems, and their bank accounts, requiring new hardware and training. Governments will need to drive development of the blockchain technology, enforce transactions, punish fraud and abuse, assess, approve and monitor recipients, and ensure system uptime. Such costs may well be considerable, especially for small independent mom-and-pop stores in neighbourhoods not served by supermarket chains. While development costs might be reduced through adaptation of existing blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies such as Ethereum, it will not eliminate it.

The next problem is privacy. This blockchain set-up means that the buying patterns of recipients can be monitored, and so can the activities of merchants. Anybody with access to the blockchains and user account databases can quickly and easily identify specific individuals and their patterns of behaviour.

However, since the recipients are beneficiaries of taxpayer money, shouldn’t the taxpayer know how his money will be spent? Perhaps privacy is not such a high price to pay to ensure that NutriCoin is not spent on narcotics or black market guns. One way to safeguard user privacy is to ensure that the records and blockchains are kept and administrated by an independent party, such as a non-profit government-linked organisation or a separate government agency. The police may not access these records without a warrant. Coupled with proper IT security planning, it may enable a reasonable expectation of user security and privacy.

The third issue is cost. Someone has to pay for the programme, and that someone is you, me and every other taxpayer. NutriCoin will be costly. It requires people to manage and administer the blockchain, hardware to keep the system going, police to enforce the law, and a whole new layer of government bureaucracy to ensure proper disbursements of tokens and money and to keep everything running. And that’s not even accounting for the costs of paying merchants when they trade in their NutriCoin.

Furthermore, If NutriCoin were restricted only to healthier foods, the government may have pay out more per recipient than SNAP. Healthy food tends to be more expensive than junk food. This is an especially tricky problem in countries like Singapore, which must import virtually all their foodstuffs from overseas.

Such food costs can be mitigated somewhat with ugly foods. These are irregularly shaped fruits and vegetables that are otherwise perfectly edible. Such foods are usually discarded because they do not meet a merchant’s standards for presentation. They can instead be sold to NutriCoin recipients at a discount, simultaneously reducing costs and food waste. It would not, however, eliminate the issue of cost altogether; it would simply make it less onerous.

A related issue is food deserts. It may be fine in principle to restrict NutriCoin to only healthy foods, but in food deserts, junk food may well be the only kind of food available. This may not be a concern in small countries and city-states like Singapore, but it is a pressing urban issue in America and elsewhere. While the ideal response is to figure out how to push healthy foods into food deserts, this is not a problem NutriCoin alone can solve.

NutriCoin is also not immune to other issues associated with welfare programmes. These include determining eligibility and means testing, how many tokens to dispense to recipients, how the entire programme can be funded and sustained, and so on. It becomes easy—indeed, it may even become necessary—for the government to pass tax hikes to continue funding NutriCoin and other such programmes, which opens a whole new can of worms altogether.

In my opinion, should there be a call for it, Singapore offers the ideal testbed for such a program. Singapore does not have a significant percentage of the poor and homeless people, but it does have a growing number of elderly people who will require assistance. As a First World nation, Singapore has the technology base to implement NutriCoin, and indeed is a regional hub for Ethereum development.

Food deserts are practically unheard of over here, as there is ready access to abundant amounts of nutritious food. Most the population is served not by mom-and-pop grocery stores or corner shops with limited selections, but by major supermarkets—including the Fairprice chain run by the National Trades Union Congress. As the sole trade union in Singapore, NTUC works hand-in-hand with the government. Fairprice enjoys the economies of scale to implement NutriCoin on a national level, its ties with the government would smoothen possible political friction. The major question is whether Singapore can afford to implement this programme, and, of course, whether the government wants to. After all, like with every social welfare programme, the government must pay for everything, and the cost will be passed on to taxpayers.

Blockchain technology offers an opportunity to develop enhanced welfare programmes for the poor and marginalised. The NutriCoin proposal laid out above allows the poor access to healthy foods and merchants to retain their profit margins. However, like all government welfare programmes, NutriCoin carries costs and risks of its own. The question is not simply how blockchains can overhaul food aid programmes and other welfare measures, but also whether such programmes are desirable. Before jumping on the blockchain bandwagon and overhauling welfare programmes, countries would do well to study the technologies and weigh the pros and cons of such initiatives.