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RETHINKING DECENTRALIZATION
PETER WANG
@PWANG
Questions Everyone Asks
Won’t decentralization just lead to re-centralization?

If we have comms anarchy, what’s to stop even faster spread of
malevolent actors?

Isn’t it better to have centralized actors we can at least engage with,
regulate, improve?
“Better Centralized Actors”
All existing centralized actors are structurally, legally, financially
“stuck” in a mode where they must continue their exploitation of
captive attention.

(Not holding my breath)

We are not just solving for The “Good Western Democracies”TM.

Centralized architectures knee-cap local, collective
informationing and sense-making. Will fundamentally inhibit new
experiments & innovations in economics & sustainability.
“What’s to Stop Decentralized
Web From Becoming Horrible?”
Nothing.

If people are not incentivized to be jerks to each other, they will be
nice to each other.

… unless they are thrown into a global memetic thunderdome that
profits from hijacking attention

We just need to build a level playing field where good intentions can
persist and build trust.
Won’t Things Just Re-Centralize?
Actually….. Yes.

(Which is why our goal should not be decentralization.)
Why Not “Decentralization”?
It connotes a process to disrupt the status quo…

…but suggests no vision of a better thing to replace it with.

It suggests a topological fix…

…but are our true problems merely topological?
Three Pillars of Information Freedom
Data Transport
• Integrity

• Security

• Resilience

• Privacy

• Provenance
• Security

• Availability

• Latency

• Bandwidth

• Privacy
Identity
• Self-sovereign

• User controlled

• Anonymity

• Centralized &
decentralized
trust chains
The Key: Orthogonality
• Each pillar is independent of the others; Compromise of one pillar does not
lead to cascade failure of others

• The design space spanned by these basis is much larger than mere
“decentralization”. We can think about how to design for healthy attention
management and user empowerment.

• Savvy big tech companies already anticipate a meshed, edge-based future
for IoT. This “decentralized” architecture still preserves centralized control and
influence.

• Orthogonality gives us the philosophic and architectural concepts to
address this failure mode, and replace with open, humane alternatives.
Goal-oriented vs. Values-
oriented thinking

Decentralized tech (and tech in
general) tends to fixate on
goals

The ineffable aspirations of
dweb efforts seem to gravitate
around values
Thus, I’d like to change the
conversation around
“decentralization” as a How, to
“_______” as Values
Aspirational Values of D-Web
Sovereignty over data

Democratizing the web

Create space for innovation

???
WHITHER PRIVACY?
PETER WANG
@PWANG
Privacy
Why do we want privacy?
I first asked this question as a teen in 1993, 26 years ago.

Most answers I heard reduced down to: “So we can be pervs”,
“It’s my right”, “Because.”
Privacy gives us the space to develop our identity
& our future selves.
It’s not a hiding place.
It’s a womb.


Privacy Fosters Human Development
• For individuals: Lets us develop our identity, define who we are.

Lack of privacy means that what we believe about our selves cannot diverge
from what others believe about us (and one step further: what we believe
about others' beliefs about us)

• For peer-wise interaction: Enables intimacy, to build trust.

• For groups: Enables development of new inter-subjective infrastructure such as
memes, trust, culture.

Allows development of local trust. Not “Grand Unified Karma Score For
Banning/Promotion/Cancellation”.
No Digital Deadbolt
• Hotel room doors are locked by default, but everyone knows that the
hotel manager has a master key. 

• And the hotel room door has a deadbolt or latch to ensure that the
person inside has the last say on when the door can be opened. 

• There is no digital equivalent of the deadbolt, and users know this.

• “Don’t send it via email.”

• “You shouldn’t have taken that selfie!”

• We are slaves to our insecure digital devices.
Trust
Human Networks ≠ Computer Networks
• In a computer network, intelligence is at the ends, and the network
values connectivity and bandwidth.

• In a human network, the intelligence lies in the connection between
people, and the scarce resource that the network amplifies is Trust.

• A trusted connection is 90% of the signal.
Humane Communications
Every conversation is a space.

… with norms

… that participants can see, understand, and perhaps modify

Technologies which turn meatspace interaction spaces into digital ones
must have affordances for expressing norms.
End
Upgrade Human Communications
Every person’s attention is zero-sum

Every community’s [joint] attention is zero-sum

Every minute of high-quality human interaction displaces a minute of
exploited attention
Human Communications Networks
A good human network provides feedback for power & force

Provides the sensation of other people's emotional mass, and gives
us the ability to adjust our approach. (Like bumpers on cars!)

Intent is the basis of interaction. (Otherwise we only have reaction.)

The end goal is to facilitate the creation of:

Robust beliefs about others’ intents and beliefs (“inter-trust”)

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Rethinking Decentralization and Privacy for a More Humane Web

  • 2. Questions Everyone Asks Won’t decentralization just lead to re-centralization? If we have comms anarchy, what’s to stop even faster spread of malevolent actors? Isn’t it better to have centralized actors we can at least engage with, regulate, improve?
  • 3. “Better Centralized Actors” All existing centralized actors are structurally, legally, financially “stuck” in a mode where they must continue their exploitation of captive attention. (Not holding my breath) We are not just solving for The “Good Western Democracies”TM. Centralized architectures knee-cap local, collective informationing and sense-making. Will fundamentally inhibit new experiments & innovations in economics & sustainability.
  • 4. “What’s to Stop Decentralized Web From Becoming Horrible?” Nothing. If people are not incentivized to be jerks to each other, they will be nice to each other. … unless they are thrown into a global memetic thunderdome that profits from hijacking attention We just need to build a level playing field where good intentions can persist and build trust.
  • 5. Won’t Things Just Re-Centralize? Actually….. Yes. (Which is why our goal should not be decentralization.)
  • 6. Why Not “Decentralization”? It connotes a process to disrupt the status quo… …but suggests no vision of a better thing to replace it with. It suggests a topological fix… …but are our true problems merely topological?
  • 7. Three Pillars of Information Freedom Data Transport • Integrity • Security • Resilience • Privacy • Provenance • Security • Availability • Latency • Bandwidth • Privacy Identity • Self-sovereign • User controlled • Anonymity • Centralized & decentralized trust chains
  • 8. The Key: Orthogonality • Each pillar is independent of the others; Compromise of one pillar does not lead to cascade failure of others • The design space spanned by these basis is much larger than mere “decentralization”. We can think about how to design for healthy attention management and user empowerment. • Savvy big tech companies already anticipate a meshed, edge-based future for IoT. This “decentralized” architecture still preserves centralized control and influence. • Orthogonality gives us the philosophic and architectural concepts to address this failure mode, and replace with open, humane alternatives.
  • 9. Goal-oriented vs. Values- oriented thinking Decentralized tech (and tech in general) tends to fixate on goals The ineffable aspirations of dweb efforts seem to gravitate around values Thus, I’d like to change the conversation around “decentralization” as a How, to “_______” as Values
  • 10. Aspirational Values of D-Web Sovereignty over data Democratizing the web Create space for innovation ???
  • 12. Privacy Why do we want privacy? I first asked this question as a teen in 1993, 26 years ago. Most answers I heard reduced down to: “So we can be pervs”, “It’s my right”, “Because.”
  • 13. Privacy gives us the space to develop our identity & our future selves. It’s not a hiding place. It’s a womb. 

  • 14. Privacy Fosters Human Development • For individuals: Lets us develop our identity, define who we are. Lack of privacy means that what we believe about our selves cannot diverge from what others believe about us (and one step further: what we believe about others' beliefs about us) • For peer-wise interaction: Enables intimacy, to build trust. • For groups: Enables development of new inter-subjective infrastructure such as memes, trust, culture. Allows development of local trust. Not “Grand Unified Karma Score For Banning/Promotion/Cancellation”.
  • 15. No Digital Deadbolt • Hotel room doors are locked by default, but everyone knows that the hotel manager has a master key. • And the hotel room door has a deadbolt or latch to ensure that the person inside has the last say on when the door can be opened. • There is no digital equivalent of the deadbolt, and users know this. • “Don’t send it via email.” • “You shouldn’t have taken that selfie!” • We are slaves to our insecure digital devices.
  • 16. Trust
  • 17. Human Networks ≠ Computer Networks • In a computer network, intelligence is at the ends, and the network values connectivity and bandwidth. • In a human network, the intelligence lies in the connection between people, and the scarce resource that the network amplifies is Trust. • A trusted connection is 90% of the signal.
  • 18. Humane Communications Every conversation is a space. … with norms … that participants can see, understand, and perhaps modify Technologies which turn meatspace interaction spaces into digital ones must have affordances for expressing norms.
  • 19. End
  • 20. Upgrade Human Communications Every person’s attention is zero-sum Every community’s [joint] attention is zero-sum Every minute of high-quality human interaction displaces a minute of exploited attention
  • 21. Human Communications Networks A good human network provides feedback for power & force Provides the sensation of other people's emotional mass, and gives us the ability to adjust our approach. (Like bumpers on cars!) Intent is the basis of interaction. (Otherwise we only have reaction.) The end goal is to facilitate the creation of: Robust beliefs about others’ intents and beliefs (“inter-trust”)