Suppose you have made it this far and are convinced that we urgently need to enter the Knowledge Age. How do we get there? Broadly there are two major change motions: building the new and changing the old. Or: change from outside and change from inside. I strong believe that we need both and that they re-enforce each other. Professionally, as a venture investor, I am primarily engaged in the former. Through our giving, Susan and I are supporting both.
One of the most exciting opportunities in building new systems is the development of blockchains and crypto currencies. A blockchain is a database that keeps a consistent state and is maintained by a decentralized network of participants (who are compensated for their effort in a crypto currency). Blockchains make it possible to build networks that do not have a corporate or government owner controlling the operation of the network. While still early, this means marketplaces without an Amazon or eBay, social networks without a Twitter or Facebook, publishing and discovery platforms without a Google, payment systems without Commercial and Central Banks, computation and storage without an Amazon (AWS) or Dropbox.
We are living through an explosion of new blockchain protocols being developed for a large array of different use cases. Many people share the excitement of passing the power of computation and information back to individual network participants (see section on Informational Freedom). There is also a new gold rush under way as the creators of a successful blockchain can become enormously rich, as has been the case with whoever created Bitcoin (the person(s) who are Satoshi Nakamoto) and more recently for the creators and early backers of Ethereum.
While any one new scheme has a high likelihood of failing (or even being an outright scam), the large number of experiments being run now will in the end produce a few global systems that have the potential to be transformative. One of the most exciting possibilities is that we may wind up with a universal basic income system built from scratch outside the existing government budgets and fiat currencies. There are a variety of projects under way tackling this including Circles and Duniter.
Not everything can be solved through decentralization via blockchains. Problems that require a very high degree of coordination will continue to require different approaches. Regulation and its enforcement are one example. For instance, we have made great progress with public health by requiring the proper treatment of sewage. We can't let every person or business pick their own standard, we need a process to evolve the existing standard and we need ways of enforcing it.
Some libertarian and anarchist blockchain proponents are dreaming of a world without any government power. But I don't believe such a world can exist. We will always need government because externalities (e.g. sewage) require regulation. But what government looks like, how decisions are made, and what types of regulations are passed can and should be dramatically different. For instance, as I wrote in the chapter about Democracy we need new approaches and blockchains can help build those. For example, DemocracyEarth is building Sovereign, a blockchain protocol that supports delegative democracy and the Aragon Network is building what they call a “digital jurisdiction.”
Blockchains are not the only way though to build exciting new systems. Throughout the text I have mentioned traditional companies and projects which are driving down the cost of education and healthcare using digital technology, such as Duolingo and Human Dx. Companies such as Kickstarter and Patreon, both traditionally venture backed, are growing the funding that's available for participating in the Knowledge Loop allowing more people to exit the Job Loop.
There are two projects that I am excited about supporting or helping create. One is an integrated platform for learning math, programming, engineering and science. These areas of knowledge are all closely related and yet the way we teach and learn them are often oddly disconnected from each other. The other is compiling a compendium of principles of knowledge. We have so much knowledge that it seems impossible to know more than a tiny fraction. But part of this is an illusion because much knowledge is a variation or application of an underlying principle. Collecting and explaining these will help make knowledge more accessible and also contribute to unification of seemingly disparate areas.
Much remains to be built and many of these new systems are still tiny with decades of growth yet to come. We have also had important technological breakthroughs outside of digital technology that need to be further developed and commercialized, including diagnosis and treatment using genetic and synthetic biology, distributed energy generation and storage using advanced materials.
In addition to building new systems we also need to work actively to reform and improve our existing institutions. Too many politicians and educators, and those backing them, are still stuck in Industrial Age thinking. They want to patch the existing system instead of making the big changes required to get to the Knowledge. That's not just unfortunate, but downright dangerous. Propping up a system beyond its useful life means that the transition, which will eventually become inevitable, will be much more volatile and worse for everyone.
The most important institutions to change are democracy and education. There are many efforts that one can be engaged in here. Susan and I have supported a number of them over the years. For instance, Represent.Us has been working at the state and local level in the United States to introduce anti-corruption legislation. The bills cover many areas of improvement to democracy including bans on lobbying and public election funding. For education we have supported University of the People, which makes a US accredited degree available to students around the world tuition free with only a small exam fee. University of the People demonstrates that higher learning can be much more accessible than it currently is.
Democracy and education are pillars the knowledge age, but so are local communities. Much as we may spend our time online, we still live in a physical place. And how well we can meet our needs depends greatly on the health of that community. Here Susan and I have have supported a platform called ChangeX that helps people find ways of improving their local community and connecting with others to do so.
Finally, the most important place for change to the “old” is each and everyone of us working on ourselves. It is so easy to be trapped in an Industrial Age mindset about such things as jobs and purpose, while at the same time having one's attention highjacked by online systems. Whether it is email or social media, staying in control of our attention requires conscious effort. Letting go of deeply culturally engrained notions of what constitutes valuable work and finding one's own purpose instead is hard work. As is retaining our emotional balance and capacity for rationality against an onslaught of messages designed to do the opposite. Thankfully, we can all start with small steps, such as putting our phones in do not disturb mode more often.
It is easy to be depressed seeing the news, and despite my optimism about where we can get to, I frequently find myself pessimistic about how we will get there. What helps me the most in those moments is knowing that we all face choices everyday that can help move the world closer to the Knowledge Age. I for one will keep iterating on World After Capital, backing new systems and together with Susan supporting interesting change initiatives.
My hope is that World After Capital will make a small contribution towards advancing the discussion. The increased freedoms which I propose are not all or nothing. We can start with them in small steps and in different geographies.
And even just starting the debate is progress. You may agree or disagree with the ideas presented here. In either case, I want to hear your thoughts and reactions. It is the critical process through which knowledge improves and societies advance.