Peter Thiel writes regarding the failure of Democracy to preserve freedom and some possible technofix strategies. He includes are thoughts about creating freedom in Cyberspace, Outer space or on the high seas. I think it would be interesting to build certain distributed Internet apps that could change the dynamics of freedom, including reputation systems, gifting/barter systems and user-controlled Internet apps.
Peter’s article resonated strongly with my experience and my interpretation of history. As I see it, Democracies suffer from slow erosion of freedom over time, much like the increase of entropy in a closed system or overgrazing in the tragedy of the commons. Legislated freedom acts like a public good – and as such is under-produced.
I also agree with the thesis that technology seems has strong effect on the production of public good. This is especially true of communication technologies, such as the printing press, phones and the Internet.
There are several technology projects I am interested in that could change the dynamics of freedom:
Distributed reputation systems – such as described in Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom – would allow fluid transmission of reputation information, enabling ad-hoc decentralized organization. It would reduce the dependence on monolithic institutions / walled gardens, such as eBay, Amazon, credit bureaus and other systems that enable centralized control.
Gift/barter economies with distributed record keeping – such as described in Bruce Sterling’s short story Maneki Neko or as practiced at Burning Man.
User-controlled Internet apps – allowing people to own their data and applications rather than ceding control to third party application providers. It would be a step further in the evolution of open-source, and it would parallel the aims of the AGPL.
Interested in any of these? Please drop me a note.
(Note: the term Technofix is usually used pejoratively, but I like it.)
Update: Michael Anissimov writes about Peter’s article and muses about the differences between socialism and libertarianism being moot once scarcity is reduces by advanced technology. I tend to agree.