2022-10-10 Conversation with Glen Weyl

2022-10-10 Conversation with Glen Weyl

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Good local time, everyone. This is not an episode of "Innovative  Minds with Audrey Tang", although the   format is somewhat like it. We  have Glen Weyl, my co-author of   the Plurality.net book for Collaborative  Diversity and Technology for Democracy. Welcome, Glen. Hi, Audrey. It's so great. It's always an honor  and a pleasure to speak with you.

In the Innovative Minds video podcast,   in the very beginning we toyed with the idea  of having the audience posting Slido questions. But because it was a studio  format, that never came to be. So I'm really happy that for  this particular convening,   we actually have Slido-driven  questions. So we'll talk for  

roughly half an hour and we already have  five questions voted by the people, right? So, we'll answer them in order  and Glen will probably take the first question, but we'll do a lot  of back and forth. Without further ado,   let's recognize "mashbean" 豆泥 Yen-Lin's  question, which goes like this. So Glen wrote — back in February — this article  called Political Ideologies for the 21st Century. The Gathering Storm expansion pack for the  Civilization VI video game, inspired the article,   with emerging technologies as well as the  polities that those technologies enabled.

In the article, Glen mentioned Corporate  Libertarianism, which is more closely   linked to the capitalism-fueled blockchain  technology ideology. But also within the web3   space there's also Digital Democracy,  that many DAOs, including of course,   many people in Taiwan who practice  digital democracy on top of web3. So it looks like to mashbean  that there's some competition,   but there's also some collaboration going on here.

So, how do you feel about the co-opetition  between the two ideologies in the web3 space? So I think, Audrey, you and I have always been  big believers in multi-sectoral collaboration. I think that's been central to many of the  things that you've accomplished in Taiwan. And I think, unfortunately, there's been a  period of time since the 1970s. where technology  

has increasingly been driven exclusively by the  private sector, with the public sector and the   social sector more in a defensive or protective  role rather than a shaping and engaging role. And I think it shouldn't be very surprising  that if you leave things entirely in that mode,   technologies have a tendency to reinforce  the systems in which they're created. The private sector has a capitalist logic,  and it's therefore not surprising that we   would see developing within a purely private  mode, this sort of extreme capitalist version. But on the other hand, that's come to  conflict with a number of social values:   environmental sustainability, legality, concerns  about risk and hyper-financialization, et cetera.

And I think it's my view that maybe most of the  activity, or at least most of the money in the   web3 space has gone in this hyper-capitalist  direction, and that's unfortunate. But that if   the public and social sectors engage, there will  very quickly be pressure against those outcome. That pressure will tend to select in favor of the   minority of things that are consistent  with these other principles socially. And so maybe in the end, all the problematic  things going on aren't so important, if we're able   to bring those other sectors to engage, because  they will act as a filtering mechanism and a   reinforcement mechanism for the important minority  of things that has this more democratic flavor. Okay, so you talked about  the competition part, right? There's the private sector logic as well as  the public and social sectors — currently   in the minority, but consistent reuse of  the technology. What about cooperation? Are there particular modes that you  see that currently the private sector,   like rich individuals or companies and so  on, are nevertheless interested, enticed,   by the potentials of the social  and public sector use of web3? Yes, absolutely.

I think one of the most important things  to recognize is as problematic as certain   elements of the hyper capitalist DeFi world  are, they are also critical to so much of the   possibilities that have opened up. We would  not be having the social conversation that   we're having even about the incredible  things that are happening in Taiwan. I believe if there were a broader web3  conversation that was lifting up interest   in this area. Conversely, within — I believe  strongly that while we've, you know, labeled  

our book "Technology for Cooperative Diversity and  Democracy", that if the tools that we are building   aren't capable of making business organizations  more productive, aren't capable of making personal   relationships richer, aren't capable of making  religious institutions, both more inclusive, but   also with a stronger foundation and more durable  in the digital age, then we will have failed. Because anything that is powerful at strengthening  democracy should also be powerful at strengthening   the way that people work together productively  and the way that they worship, and so forth. So, ultimately, I think most of the  applications of the things we're   developing, if they're successful, will  probably end up in the private sector. Yeah. So in the past 10 years in the g0v hackathons,  what I've noticed is that eventually the largest   private sector people in Taiwan — MediaTek,  Acer, HTC — they send people to g0v hackathons. They even have g0v hackathon affiliate clubs and  events and so on within their large companies,   precisely because they see this  as kind of collaborative research,   to the latest and greatest in public  sector entrepreneurship, so to speak.

And in Taiwan, the private sector people,  they do have a kind of attunement to the   social sector needs. It goes beyond just ESG,  it's sort of entrepreneurship, that will have   like certain dedicated small units within the  larger private sector, almost as connectors,   to the social and public sectors, but in a kind  of common mode, where people can say, "well, it's   in the commons. It's on GitHub, or GitLab, and so  on, and so it benefits everyone," although on the   private sector's time, and that's what enabled  Presidential Hackathon and so on to happen. Is your role within Microsoft something like that? Yeah. I mean, I think in many  ways that's the role I've served,  

but I would also say that I think it goes  even deeper into the private sector than that. Think about GitHub, GitHub's business model. GitHub is known as a provider of platforms for  open source software but their business model   is all based on internal, internally  open source projects within companies And I think that model goes  for all the things that we do.

So, you know, quadratic funding has  primarily been used in open and public   way to support open source software, but  there are public goods within Microsoft. We have many different divisions, and each  has their own profit and loss interest. And it's hard to get them all to produce  common infrastructure for the company. And that problem is really the same,  internally, as the problem open source software   faces in the world.

And so I ultimately believe that  in a really pluralist world,   these tools will be just as useful  in a completely open public way as   they will within particular nation states,  within particular corporations, et cetera. And that there will be a whole  world ecosystem that they create,   at many different levels of cooperation. Mm-hmm. So you're envisioning something  like Gitcoin Enterprise Edition? Exactly.

That's excellent. And that brings us nicely to the second question. Mashbean would also like  to know, there's this book,   published this July by Balaji  Srinivasan, called the Network State.

Within the book, one of the arguments, was that  inrapreneurship or entrepreneurship — anything   involving starting something new — is part of the  resilience in starting, bootstrapping a community. And a community includes, of  course, sovereign nations. So from the viewpoint of Plurality, what's  your take on this kind of entrepreneurship? Because we talk about collaborative  and cooperating diversity,   but what's the relationship between that  idea and entrepreneurship in general? Audrey, have you read the book? A little bit. Skimmed the book. Yeah. I actually have a review of  it that isn't published yet,   but I've been thinking a lot about the book. It's a very interesting and provocative  book, and very influential in the web3 world.

Do you have any reactions first? Well, I have read Vitalik's reactions  and your initial reactions on Twitter. I think it's a useful metaphor. Just like how  people can think about governance without a   tied locality, a territory; That's how  we talk about internet governance. The   thing with internet governance is that  it's kind of abstract. It's difficult to   get people all excited about the .tw  or in domains and things like that.

But the Network State provides a kind of certain  affinity-based -- so definitely more tangible,   I guess, than domain names. And you can also  do internet governance-like governance on it. So I think it has this popularizing, aspect to it,   much as you just said that the DeFi  world has a kind of popularizing idea   when it comes to the scale of diversity  and the scale of potential cooperation. Yeah.

There's this thinker called John  Dewey, who very much influenced   my thought. And he has a book in 1927  called "The Public and its Problems." In that book he argues that new technologies  create new patterns of association,   both just because of sort of social  dynamics, who can communicate with   whom and associate with whom, but also  because embed us in new patterns of what   economists would call externalities or  what he would just call interactions. Our actions come to affect each other in  different ways, and therefore the necessary   governance structures, change  with the changes in technology. Yet, the borders of nation state  don't, or at least don't much.

Even the subnational localities  don't change very much over time. And so he argues that what we need is the constant  emergent of what, what he calls new publics,   which will be these groups of  people that will come to govern   themselves in relationship to this  set of interactions that they have. He describes the figure of  what he calls an expert,   which kind of corresponds to what Balaji calls  a founder, but the expert is a bit different. And, and I think you and I have aimed, I  don't know if I've talked to you about this,   but you and I have aimed, I think to  build this book project around this   Deweyan notion of an expert, because Dewey's  concept of an expert is not a king or ruler. It's a convener. It's a convener of a new polity. So the crucial role of the expert is to let a  polity see itself, see the interactions that   it's having, and therefore come into a new form  of democratic governance that didn't exist before   because that set of people didn't recognize the  interactions they were having with each other.

And that's, I think, very much modeled  in the way we're thinking about the book. As you know, we're gonna put out some material  that hopefully will help a community see itself   in that material. But then, they  will become the maintainers, and   it will become democratically accountable  to those people who connected with it.

And I think that the Internet was originally  imagined by people like J.C.R. Licklider,   as a foundation for that kind of  what I would call a network society   where people are part of multiple  intersecting emergent publics.   Now, he only did it for communication  protocol, so it was very first step. But I think what we're all working towards is  creating that kind of a network society, not a   world where everyone choose their favorite little  statelet and is completely committed to that.

But where everyone participates in many of  these emergent democratic polities that are   constantly emerging and shifting and I  think that that is the right vision of   how we need to imagine the way in which  networks will transform governments. Yeah. As you talk about the expert versus the  founder, I'm reminded of Steve Chen,   co-founder of YouTube, in my video podcast,   who talked about how the "founder" is  almost always a retroactively coined myth.

Like when YouTube was first founded and he had  many co-founders with experiences in PayPal and   so on It's almost never about a personal hero.  It's almost never about this one insight that   drives the entire market segments. It is more or  less, about a bunch of people who vibes similarly,   who builds social connections starting from  their very different, diverse communities,   and try and fail a few times, and then finally  finding a product- or service-market fit. And then of course, the myth-making begins,  and then we retroactively build a founder myth. And what I'm hearing from you seems to say that  it's this process. There's more facilitating,   reflective process, that we're focusing on.

And instead of a particular  branding or a particular founder,   we want to enable everyone to have  this kind of network-making power. Am I reading you correctly? Yeah. I think that's quite related to some of  the discussions we've had about artificial   intelligence, because I think it's in the nature  of human myth-making and narrative discourse.

to need to invest that communal feeling in   something that's imagined to be an  agent. A single agent, you know? Yep. So we call these collective statistical models  that we create "artificial intelligences" and we   call the community that creates a new platform a  "founder", because we want to hear the story of,   Gilgamesh and Enkidu, or the  story of the Homeric heroes. Right? Like, rather than tell the history  of Greece, we tell the Homeric myth. Right. And so it's a very human way

to encapsulate a collective effort to,  in the story of a heroic individual. Mm-hmm. "Can you list some examples  how designer storytellers,   marketers, and publishers might be able to help?" And I interpreted that as weaving new form of  narratives, that. shows different possibilities   about the emerging technologies that is somewhat  decoupled from this individualistic mythic heroes. Yeah.

So, I think that there are all kinds of ways that  people can help with the book project. Publishers   are one thing we've had a really interesting  struggle interacting with, because they're   very tied to a very specific economic model,  even if, it's not necessarily more lucrative. So we, we can use help from publishers who want   to be creative and innovate on  possibilities all over the world. But I think one of my favorite roles that I hope  people can play, is what I would call translators,   but not just translators in the language sense,  what I would call subcultural translators. So I'd love a version of the book, a  fork that is for deeply Christian people,   that uses scriptural references and that tells the  story of what we're trying to tell in the language   of the Christian tradition, or in the language  of the Daoist tradition or in the language of   Buddhist or Animist traditions, et cetera.

I'd love versions that are highly technical   for computer scientists and economists  that translate our words into symbols And I'd love versions that are purely visual,   or almost purely visual, a comic  book or something like that. It's in that plurality of  different ways of speaking   that I think the book can  reach its greatest potential. Of course, I'd love some of that to  feedback into the original root but   there's only so much that we're  going to be capable of cohering.

And I hope there will be parts that  cohere and then there will be many   parts that don't cohere and that try  to tell the same thing differently. Yeah, indeed. You may or may not know, we've just  launched this event called Ideathon,   where we ask everyone to imagine how future  is like in 2040. We call it #2040Plurality. The top 10 ideas that corresponds  to cooperative diversity will,   in addition to of course, having Soulbound  Tokens issued, get some expert guidance into   making these visions immersive experiences. I  truly believe that one of the ways to go beyond,   the individualistic heroic myth is to  simply situate someone in a future. I was inspired by science fictions a lot, as  you know, and one of the interesting examples   I encountered was "A Tale of Two Futures"  telling about a more dystopic and a more   utopic future using near future technology  by Pistono of the Italian five star movement.

So it's a kind of political statement, a  political philosophy packaged as science fiction. And I was like, yeah, a lot  of what's in the book about   empathy-building machines and so on, could really  work if it's delivered in an immersive form. So I truly believe in multimodal storytelling,   and I hope that the plurality book  can benefit from those futures. That's fascinating. There's a... the chair of our board  at RadicalxChange, Christopher Thomas,  

is putting on an exhibition at the Institute of  Contemporary Art in London, called Another World,   where he's displaying some of these immersive  future possibilities. Hopefully there could be   some kind of a collaboration to help bring  some of the insights from your ideathon to   that experience in London and in Berlin. That would be excellent. Continuing into the next question which reads,  "how might the Taiwanese project mentioned in   the article", in the book announcement —  because many project leaders are within   the audience now — so "how can they play a more  active role in leading this global movement?" What do you think? I profoundly believe and have now  dedicated a lot of my life to the   proposition that the Taiwanese experience  is a uniquely important one for the world.

It's uniquely important for substative reasons,   because so much has been accomplished and  it's such a hopeful example, but it's also   uniquely important for symbolic reasons,  which is that, as has been widely reported,   there are great divisions within Western societies  today, within many liberal democratic societies,   and those divisions are undermining the capacity  of the societies to effectually act on this area. But, and of course the technologies that  have been developed in Taiwan can be a   powerful part of addressing that problem. But  even more than that, the mythos of Taiwan,   I believe can be an important driving  force in addressing them, because   the stories unite people across many of the  standard divides in liberal democracies. The challenges of technology and the challenges  of authoritarianism are two of the few things   people widely are concerned about in liberal  democracies. I believe that one reason Taiwan   has succeeded so much is the presence of those  challenges that have been so acute in Taiwan.

And if it can act as that sort of narrative  focus, that maybe even more than it deserves,   but just as a narrative, brings home to people  the challenges that they need to face up to. I believe it can bring people together   around a common purpose. I think to some extent  Ukraine has done that, but Ukraine has done it   in a way that is focused on a particular  territorial dispute rather than primarily   on a set of technological tools that might be  scalable to address problems in other countries. So I believe the symbolism of  Taiwan is incredibly important. So, to circle back to the question, I hope that  folks in Taiwan will keep doing their good work,   but I also hope that we can find more and more  platforms for bringing in a narratively compelling   way, that story to people all around the world  and making them feel a pop cultural presence,   just as other pop cultural elements have  come from Taiwan to the rest of the world,   in the common discourse in those countries. Yeah, indeed.

I remember in the past couple years, when  I talk about how we fought off the pandemic   without a single day of lockdown and  the infodemic — the disinformation   crisis — without any administrative  takedowns, there's this kind of sense of   disbelief from people from western liberal  democracies, listening to the stories. When I was speaking to the  UK New Local conference,   the general reaction was that it is too good to  be true and then is too different from the UK.   I was like, yeah, if you don't want to call it  the Taiwan model, call it the New Zealand model   because New Zealand played the same playbook to  even better effect, I would argue, than Taiwan. But yeah, those existential proofs,  that polarization is not inevitable,   that social media doesn't always  lead to antisocial media behaviors,   that we can decouple proprietary platforms  from social networks in general and so on. These are the points I believe that you pointed  out repeatedly, that Taiwanese people kind of take   for granted, but most of the world doesn't,  and that's the voices we need to amplify.

I mean, I think frankly there is  quite a bit of implicit racism,   not in the aggressive or anti form, but just  in the stereotyping form, there's this view   among people in Western countries  who are mostly of Caucasian origin,   that Asian people are all ethnically the same,  and that they all get along with each other. And I think it's important to tell  the story of the diversity in Taiwan,   of the indigenous communities, of the divisions  between those who came earlier to the island and   those who came with the nationalists, and  how those line up with political divisions   and how that mirrors the ethno-political  divisions that exist in the United States,   and just understand that it is not as if Taiwan  is just an island of inherently cooperative,   homogeneous robots or something  like that, you know what I mean? Confucian, worshipping robots or something... "Confucius robots". I like that.

Yeah right. So truth to be told, I think there are more  folk Taoists in Taiwan than Confucius believers. But anyway, the point I think which you  made very succinctly is that Taiwan is   not just a story of cooperation,  but also a story of diversity. And only when the diversity parts are well  understood by the Western counterparts, can   we truly... I wouldn't say influence, but at least  build a bridge into the collective consciousness  

of the modern dialogue around the possibility of  overcoming our differences by building bridges. But bridge-building is currently not as lucrative  as the top talents who get paid on the more   authoritarian or the autonomous engines sort of AI  or, for that matter, the more speculative parts of   crypto. So how much does money play a role in  all these, in especially retaining top talents? What do you think? First of all, there are important ways  we have to imagine for changing the even   money based incentive structures.  So you can imagine social medias,   social media companies having a  very different business model. And a lot of people suggest that the right   alternative business model  is selling subscriptions.

But I actually don't think that would  make things all that much better. I actually think the right business model for  social media is selling to a range of collective   organizations, but not selling them advertising  spots, selling them quality social network. Because individuals are not those who are  interested in paying for a functional,   social network, because individuals as  individuals are interested in their node,   they're not interested in the  performance of the overall network. Organizations are interested in the performance  of the network, and in fact, Microsoft sells   software to organizations, mostly sell to business  organizations, somewhat to governments, but you   can imagine replacing advertisements with churches  and local governments, national governments,   et cetera, paying for algorithms that bridge  the differences within those sub-graphs. In fact, the amount that governments are already  devoting to all kinds of cultural programming,   all kinds of live et cetera,  you put all that together,   that could easily pay for the  revenue of these companies. So at a macro level, you could create incentive  structures where the product became a healthy,   functioning social fabric, paid for by  all sorts of people who are part of the   social fabric rather than a social fabric  that engages people to purchase products.

So I think even the money based incentives  can change, but it's also important to   recognize that money is only one of many  incentives that everyone responds to,   and people seek money not for its own sake,  because there's money that doesn't — people   talk about money is giving directly  to people — but it's not true. Money doesn't actually buy you anything.  Money buys you investments in family,   investments in community,  investments in other things.

So if we can directly provide people the ability  to achieve those goals that they have, which are   usually collective goals of some form, even if  it's just at the family level or just at the   local community level, then that's just as strong  inducement for people to participate as is money. Money is a solvent of sorts, but one thing  it can dissolve is some of those bonds,   which are the things that we're trying to  purchase with the money in the first place. So I believe that, speaking to the  issues that are near to people's heart,   whether it be environmental, social justice,  religious community cohesion, et cetera, is   just as important as is redirecting the flows  of money to be consistent with those values.

Yeah. So I was reminded of the  RadicalxChange idea of plural money,   in which that there are money that is  like US dollars or fiat in general,   that enable people to exit or to  quit communities and move somewhere. it provides mobility, which is good, but  also there are other kinds of money that   bonds people. In the small town that  I used to live in, the Garden City,  

the Garden City tried to issue their  community money, and it worked for a while. But of course using pre-web tools,   it's very difficult to scale it to the  kind of communities across regions. Ultimately, it would only work for people who  almost meet day to day, and that speaks to the   kind of tightly bonded community like  churches and so on that you mentioned. So it seems like one of the financial incentives  could be, uh, building sort of community money.

Plural money that is programmable, and enable  people to join, the causes and rest assure that   they will be supported by like-minded people and  communities on the endeavors that they care about,   without having to prepare a lot fiat to  enable them to quit any day because people   at the end of day understand that they're,  they're in it for any number of years. So I think that's a quite compelling   alternative to the kind of individual  entrepreneurial, global nomad story. And I ultimately think, money is a very  simplistic solution to a very complex problem. And I think that complex problem is that we   have social relationships that  are deep and important to us.

And yet, we also seek out  relationships across diversity   that cross over the boundaries of  those intimate social relationships. Money is a shortcut to that. It's sort of a one shot answer, like,  okay, so now let's just leapfrog to   this completely universal thing that  I can use with anyone in the world. But there's other approaches  to doing that. They're just   kind of computationally more intensive. So, there's friends of friends relationships,  that can connect you — as we know from the   literature on six degrees of separation  — to just about anyone on the planet.

Now, finding that six degree of separation  connection, at least historically, has been   complex. It's been beyond the computational  capacity of most governance systems, but,   TCP/IP has shown that it can be traversed,  at least for sending packets of information. And if we learn how to use that to send packets of  trust, packets of love, packets of friendship and   commitment, and not just packets of information,  then perhaps the role of this shortcut can   be reduced, and the role of community can be  enhanced with the help of assistive technology.

Well, that's an excellent vision. Because there's only so many Slido  questions, I believe we're done for today. However, Glen will be online  right after airing this pre-recording and answer your  more Slido questions live. But until next time... Live long and prosper.

2022-10-28 23:09

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