Liq­uid democ­racy, liq­uid courage


The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • ARIEL DO­MINIQUE HENDELMAN

San­ti­ago Siri has a love/hate re­la­tion­ship with pol­i­tics. More pre­cisely, he hates pol­i­tics and loves democ­racy. The 34-year-old Siri grew up in Buenos Aires, where he lived for 30 years. Raised in an up­per-mid­dle-class neigh­bor­hood, he en­coun­tered an Ar­gentina ob­sessed with fi­nance, pol­i­tics and soc­cer (or foot­ball if you’re any­thing other than Amer­i­can).

Siri be­gan his ca­reer by cre­at­ing a video game that sim­u­lated the ex­pe­ri­ence of coach­ing and man­ag­ing a soc­cer team. It was the first PC game to be pub­lished in­ter­na­tion­ally from Ar­gentina. The game was about much more than sports. It dealt with a lot of eth­i­cal de­ci­sions. As coach, you could bribe the ref­eree or send in the hooli­gans. It was re­ally a game about cor­rup­tion.

Fif­teen years later, Siri finds him­self work­ing in the arena of pol­i­tics, and the seeds of his early work – as well as his for­ma­tive years grow­ing up in Ar­gentina, with the pos­si­bil­ity of ac­cess­ing the In­ter­net and per­sonal com­put­ers at an early age – fun­da­men­tally shaped him.

In Cal­i­for­nia in 2015, Siri co-founded the non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Democ­racy Earth. Sim­ply put, Democ­racy Earth aims to rev­o­lu­tion­ize democ­racy through blockchain and open-source tech­nol­ogy. (Wikipedia de­fines blockchain as “a grow­ing list of records, called blocks, which are linked us­ing cryp­tog­ra­phy. Blockchains which are read­able by the pub­lic and are widely used by cryp­tocur­ren­cies.” Open source refers to soft­ware that uti­lizes an open, col­lab­o­ra­tive de­vel­op­ment process.)

Siri wants to give power back to the peo­ple by cre­at­ing a peer-to-peer democ­racy. If that sounds like a lofty idea, that’s be­cause it is. Al­though Siri still prefers to think of him­self as a coder, the vi­sion he co-founded is grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially and be­com­ing more in­flu­en­tial each day.

“Ul­ti­mately, the idea boils down to ‘power in your hands,’” he ex­plains. “You have this thing you use ev­ery day, a cell phone, that now you can use to make a lot of things hap­pen. You can change how you con­nect with the global econ­omy and pol­i­tics – which is the part that we’re try­ing to solve – by us­ing the tech­nol­ogy that is al­ready al­most an ap­pendage of your body. Ev­ery­one gets it.

“What I found is that the main job of pol­i­tics is to fight against ev­ery­one’s sus­pi­cions, to dis­sem­i­nate gos­sip and win by any means. It’s a very nasty game. But I think the In­ter­net and blockchains are neu­tral­iz­ing that ground. They pro­vide very clear rules that no one can tam­per with.

“First of all, there is the as­pect of de­cen­tral­iza­tion and the ethos of that which is ex­pressed through dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy. It didn’t start with cryp­tocur­rency or with Bit­coin, it started with open source. It’s a long tra­di­tion. Right now, open-source projects are the largest funded projects in the world. Their eco­nomic im­pact and growth is sim­ply un­de­ni­able.”

Es­sen­tially, Democ­racy Earth sits at the crit­i­cal in­ter­sec­tion be­tween blockchain tech­nol­ogy and pol­i­tics. At its heart is Sov­er­eign, Democ­racy Earth’s open-source plat­form. Sov­er­eign pro­motes what has been termed “liq­uid democ­racy,” in which users can vote on is­sues or del­e­gate their vot­ing rights to oth­ers they trust through the use of to­kens. The goal is for Sov­er­eign to func­tion as a de­cen­tral­ized gov­er­nance plat­form that can be used by any or­ga­ni­za­tion, small or large.

“What we’re try­ing to do is drive this way of po­lit­i­cal sig­nal­ing from so­ci­ety on blockchain-based tech­nol­ogy and de­cen­tral­ized net­works that pro­vide a ground that no one can tam­per with,” Siri says. “We are pro­vid­ing a sim­ple way of vot­ing through these net­works and at the same time un­der­stand­ing what kind of sovereignty can be achieved through them. What we are do­ing with our tech­nol­ogy is pro­vid­ing a democ­racy plat­form for the gov­er­nance of any cryp­tocur­rency.”

Time will tell whether this is the fu­ture of democ­racy, but Sov­er­eign, still in the very early stages, has 1,165 reg­is­tered “cit­i­zens,” all of whom have ac­cess to the soft­ware and can con­trib­ute to or mod­ify it. Democ­racy Earth has more than 9,000 fol­low­ers on Twit­ter and just shy of 4,000 on Face­book. Siri em­pha­sizes that the or­ga­ni­za­tion has reached ac­tivists, hack­ers, devel­op­ers and coders from all around the world who are at the in­ter­sec­tion of pol­i­tics and the In­ter­net. These in­di­vid­u­als are work­ing out ideas with the Democ­racy Earth team, which is com­prised of 14 peo­ple from 10 coun­tries.

Last year, an am­bas­sadors pro­gram was cre­ated to help spread the word about Democ­racy Earth’s ethos. “We now have 20 am­bas­sadors in 20 cities around the world,” Siri ex­claims. “From my point of view, this is in­cred­i­ble. The tech­nol­ogy is be­com­ing more tan­gi­ble and eas­ier to use ev­ery day. The pos­si­bil­i­ties of this

kind of change – us­ing the In­ter­net for po­lit­i­cal change – are very real. Bit­coin has proven that al­ready and it’s go­ing to keep on go­ing.”

When asked if Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence with the 2016 Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in­flu­enced the work that Democ­racy Earth is do­ing, Siri re­sponds that it was in fact the im­pe­tus. Ac­cord­ing to Siri, na­tion-states are in­com­pat­i­ble with the In­ter­net age. Na­tion-states, which emerged in the 17th cen­tury, have al­ways been about power.

“As com­plex­ity in­creases, as more in­for­ma­tion is be­ing pro­cessed and eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity grows, the world or­der of the na­tion-state re­mains the equi­lib­rium of power that keeps the world at peace un­til to­day, with the ex­cep­tion of a cou­ple of world wars in be­tween. With the In­ter­net, you have this mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that goes at the speed of light. Ev­ery­thing will end up be­ing con­verted into the spec­trum of trans­mis­sion of in­for­ma­tion that by def­i­ni­tion is global and is al­most univer­sal, as it’s go­ing at the speed of the uni­verse it­self. Na­tion-states can­not sus­tain our world, where we have such con­tam­i­na­tion. The United States re­al­izes that Rus­sia in­ter­fered with their elec­tions. I come from Latin Amer­ica, where they don’t care to in­ter­vene in elec­tions – they in­ter­vene in the gov­ern­ment it­self.”

Democ­racy Earth is, in essence, re­spond­ing to a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis and the acute po­lar­iza­tion of cit­i­zens, not only in Amer­ica, but around the world. Sov­er­eign’s bor­der­less gov­er­nance is rem­i­nis­cent of the song “Imag­ine” by John Len­non. How­ever mawk­ish the lyrics might be, it is safe to say the dream­ers have taken con­trol of the wheel. Sov­er­eign is cur­rently fo­cused on the gov­er­nance of ex­ist­ing crypto-net­works, since these have tan­gi­ble eco­nomic im­pact and large pools of to­ken hold­ers. But it will also work with po­lit­i­cal par­ties, stu­dents, unions and count­less other or­ga­ni­za­tions and en­ti­ties. Ac­cord­ing to Siri, a ros­ter or reg­is­tered or­ga­ni­za­tions will be made pub­lic soon.

“We’re see­ing the rise of populism and the re­treat of more demo­cratic habits. When we saw the Ber­lin Wall fall, it was a dra­matic im­age of the fall of the for­mer Soviet Union. It may have been the first episode which had to do with the fall of the na­tion-state.

“The In­ter­net is that new thing. Blockchains and Bit­coin are that new thing. We just need to make sure that ev­ery­one can par­tic­i­pate in an equal way. As this change takes over how we con­nect the globe po­lit­i­cally, it’s not go­ing against the idea of na­tions. I love the World Cup. I love Ar­gentina. I’m still heart­bro­ken af­ter the match with France where we lost.

“Con­nec­tion to a na­tion is very real. But the na­tion-state hav­ing the fi­nal say needs to be ques­tioned. It’s ex­tremely cen­tral­ized, ex­tremely cor­rupt, and the world is smaller now. We need to in­clude ev­ery­one and find tech­nol­ogy that can help scale col­lab­o­ra­tion in un­prece­dented ways and break down these walls. It’s go­ing to take fight­ing, but we have the In­ter­net. We can start. It’s pos­si­ble.”

THROUGH HIS tire­less pro­mo­tion of Democ­racy Earth and Sov­er­eign’s liq­uid democ­racy, Siri re­cently found him­self in Is­rael for the first time, at a con­fer­ence spon­sored by the Charles and Lynn Schus­ter­man Foun­da­tion that in­vites en­trepreneurs from around the world to spend a week in Is­rael.

“It was truly an in­cred­i­ble trip,” Siri states. “I’ve read a lot about the tech­nol­ogy scene in Tel Aviv. I read Start-Up Na­tion. Ev­ery sin­gle in­vestor and part­ner that I have is Jewish, so I wasn’t ready to be sur­prised by the scene in Tel Aviv. But I was.

“A big part of the trip was the geopo­lit­i­cal di­men­sion. I emerged with a much bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what has led to the con­flict and how it has scaled to be­come a global con­flict. It was deeply in­spir­ing. The last part of the trip was the spir­i­tual di­men­sion. It was my first time in Jerusalem and it re­ally felt like I trav­eled back in time. I was raised Catholic, but I al­ways felt close to Jewish cul­ture. Is­rael helped me un­der­stand why. It was a beau­ti­ful place and a great end of the trip for me.

“We went to the Old City and to the Western Wall. We also went to Mitzpe Ra­mon, where the whole group spent the night. I’ve done con­fer­ences all around the world in all types of lo­ca­tions and stages, but this was the best by far and I have no idea what I even said. I re­ally fell in love with Is­rael.”

Siri hopes that Democ­racy Earth will in­flu­ence ev­ery­one ev­ery­where in the com­ing years. He notes that the defin­ing fea­ture of democ­racy is that it must take ev­ery­one into ac­count, which is dif­fi­cult with all the bi­ases and ig­no­rance peo­ple har­bor. But Siri be­lieves democ­racy can be achieved and that pro­vid­ing gov­er­nance to real eco­nomic com­mu­ni­ties is the best way to be­gin.

“We are work­ing right now with dif­fer­ent crypto-economies that are very in­flu­en­tial in the tech­nol­ogy scene,” Siri adds. “But as an or­ga­ni­za­tion, we have a man­date to build tech­nol­ogy that helps ev­ery­one par­tic­i­pate in the ben­e­fits of these types of economies, in a way that it de­cen­tral­izes ev­ery sin­gle kind of cen­tral­ized author­ity, es­pe­cially na­tion-states. We need to de­stroy any radar, not go un­der it. The radar sim­ply can­not com­pute us be­cause we repli­cate in­for­ma­tion like oxy­gen.”

Sov­er­eign can be run on any com­puter, tablet or smart­phone. No one is cor­rupt­ing the choices or vot­ing pow­ers of its cit­i­zens. The key to vot­ing on the Sov­er­eign plat­form is that it is done through to­kens, which pro­vide an ef­fec­tive proof-of-iden­tity sys­tem that runs on blockchains. Siri be­lieves if they get it right, this sys­tem could be­come the back­bone for pro­vid­ing univer­sal, ba­sic in­come to any ser­vice that wants to pro­vide it.

“If we get this right, it could be very dan­ger­ous and we will do our best to get it right,” Siri says. As one Sov­er­eign user put it, tech­nol­ogy is not the prob­lem but the an­swer. To vote is to use one’s voice, the strong­est and most prac­ti­cal ac­tion that any­one can take as a cit­i­zen. Sov­er­eign’s tech­nol­ogy is rais­ing the quiet voice of the voter un­til it be­comes an un­de­ni­able roar on global is­sues that af­fect ev­ery­one, and pro­vid­ing a check­mate to the na­tion-state.

(Photos: Democ­racy Earth)

‘ES­SEN­TIALLY, DEMOC­RACY Earth sits at the crit­i­cal in­ter­sec­tion be­tween blockchain tech­nol­ogy and pol­i­tics.’ SAN­TI­AGO SIRI, in Ber­lin, wants to give power back to the peo­ple.

(San­dra Miller)

WITH DEMOC­RACY Earth co-founder Herb Stephens in Ta­hoe, Cal­i­for­nia.

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