Saturday, December 30, 2017

GUEST OPINION: Why Black Folk Should Like Bitcoin and Love Blockchain

By Norman Weekes

So it’s happening again. Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain technology are about to change the way we live and work. Since I know this it means any window of opportunity is probably shut. Although this time as the train leaves the station, we might be able to hop the caboose before it’s gone. We are in another time of transition and opportunity in tech. History is repeating itself and maybe this time we won’t screw it up. We stand at the crossroads of knowledge and innovation and it’s time to decide how to take advantage of this opportunity. It’s another chance to be producers and not consumers. We can program, not be programmed. A chance to have a seat at the table the next time a hostile entity decides to exploit technology to weaken our democracy or play the race card.

Let’s take a quick trip in the Way Back Machine to get some perspective. Way, way, way back to
2009. Balloon Boy was fake news. Michael Jackson died. Fort Hood nutjob kills 12. Obama ushers in Post-Racial America. Race problem solved! Myspace employed 1600. Mark Zuckerburg was 25 and Facebook started the year with a paltry 150 million users. Bitcoin was less than $1.00. If your business, church or non-profit had a crappy website it was sorta ok. And the black community settled for sorta ok when it came to technology. Very few of us were coding, learning to program languages, majoring in computer science or self-designing mobile apps. Our businesses, churches, community organizations were slow to have a presence on the web. Slow to adopt social media, SEO, email marketing and other tech tools to advance business goals and social agendas. Disparities in educational funding, school to prison pipeline efficiencies and lack of STEM students helped keep us out of the Silicon Valley revolution.

Of course, the frat boys and venture capitalists made sure the doors remained for the most part, shut. The new mania over bitcoin and blockchain won’t mean new money opportunities for us. We should expect VC funding for blacks and Latinos to remain at or less than 3 percent. Silicon Valley has aggressively expanded it’s meaning of diversity to white women, not blacks or Latinos. Innovation and funding will need to happen by any (legal) means necessary. ICOs may provide another source of capital besides VCs, but many ICOs are scam vehicles or coins whose ROI will be less than a roulette chip. It’s still a funding possibility that may be more accessible than VC money.

So now Bitcoin and Blockchain show up on the financial scene like Beyonce and Jay Z at the club. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and global payment system. It’s a decentralized digital currency which needs no bank, single administrator or government. The network is peer to peer and transactions take place between users directly using cryptography. Transactions are verified by a network of nodes recorded in a public distributed ledger called the blockchain. Any oppressed people should be excited about a global currency that involves no third party and provides pseudo anonymity. This along with the irreversible nature of transactions is a big reason criminals were early adopters.

Bitcoin = smoke. Blockchain = fire. A 1400% annual increase makes for a plenty of smoke. Bitcoin is fun, interesting and sexy. Tell your boyfriend you just bought a condo in Dubai with Bitcoin. Cool. Follow the roller coaster volatility and listen to the old guard yell “get off my lawn with your new-fangled currency!” Watch bitcoins disappear from exotic sites like Silk Road, Mt. Gox, and see pump and dump ICOs spring up like mushrooms. Watch as Coinbase struggles to stop their site from crashing because of the new signups! Check out yet another picture of the Winklevoss twins making millions in bitcoin for just smiling and not being you! It’ll be a great movie one day.

But the blockchain is where innovation will take place. The distributed ledger is an excellent platform to deploy, track and transfer assets. You can have a public or permissioned blockchain depending on your objectives. In 2015 the Linux Foundation started the Hyperledger Project to advance the platform for business use. The blockchain is today younger than the Internet was in 2009 and Hyperledger isn’t even in my spellcheck. Solidity, a smart contracts programming language which runs on the Ethereum blockchain is only four years old. Innovation will be more powerful as the diversity of ideas increase. If only because of the number of Asians in this space, we should see a little more diversity than we’ve seen from The Valley. My hope is a decentralized open sourced technology based on mathematics makes the possibility for manipulation, discrimination and exclusion extremely low. That’s very appealing when the increasing wealth gap has a disproportionate effort on your community, or banks act with less transparency than the Mafia, or a bank account is not attainable, or the boys in tech practice a White Like Me philosophy.

In antebellum America, the Reconstruction era, the Old Jim Crow and the New Jim Crow the black
community built businesses, created wealth and participated in capitalism usually to see it destroyed by systemic racism, violence and specific laws. But we continue to achieve accomplish and innovate. Decentralized design based on mathematics should make it harder for the Invisible Hand to screw any class of entrepreneur, and therein lies the promise.

Go buy some bitcoin to see how it works. Research the blockchain to imagine how it can change your business. Imagine how hard voter suppression would be using blockchain identity verification. Combine our toughness, imagination, creativity and soul with hardcore math on a decentralized platform and see what happens. We missed the first train but we’re still at the station. The next train might be a bullet train.

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