With the world population estimated to reach an astronomical 9.8 billion by 2050, cities as we now know them are going to transform. While current population statistics show that over 54% of the total global population resides in urban areas, the World Health Organization predicts that these numbers will continue to rise steadily, with a forecasted 80% of the total global population residing in cities and surrounding areas by 2030. The internet of everything will impact highly urbanized areas around the world in unprecedented ways. High-speed internet access is becoming more widely available, the cost of connecting is decreasing, more internet abled equipment, sensors, and devices are being created at lower cost, and smartphone ownership is skyrocketing. All these are creating a “perfect storm” for the connected city of the future. As always, pop culture is a step ahead, having already imagined the cities of the future. Some in more dystopian ways than others. The futuristic cities in films such as The Matrix and Blade Runner often appear to be abysmal and filled with smog and decay brought on by a widening socioeconomic gap and extreme population density. But the future city doesn’t have to be depressing. With the recent increase in attention to eco-friendly city planning, for example, city planners are moving towards healthier buildings in order to benefit the environment and the employees who work inside them. At the recent Green Cities conference in Sydney, eco-friendly practices such as promoting energy efficiency, increasing investment in renewable energy infrastructure, increasing markets for net zero carbon products, and promoting offsets for remaining emissions were laid out as the first steps to reducing carbon emissions created by buildings. Similarly, the Green Cities conference has also recently created the WELL Standard, which rewards buildings that promote employee wellbeing by choosing the right lighting, discouraging sedentary behavior, and reducing indoor air pollution—all of which are being implemented across Sydney. On a general scale, urban experts have begun advocating for an increase in urban resident participation for groups who are normally marginalized, such as those in poor city areas, women and elderly, in order to address issues of poverty, gender violence, and accessibility. By fixing issues with poorly lit neighborhoods and increasing the number of ramps and widening walkways, for example, city planners can increase safety in neighborhoods as well as accessibility across the city. While there are many other issues with city planning brought on by overpopulation, advances in technology—especially transportation—could be used to expand city limits and decrease congestion. One of the most concerning challenges that movies like The Matrix and Blade Runner raise about future cities is that of the relationship between cities and machines. In Blade Runner, for example, the cities of the future are often conveyed through industrialist imagery, such as the existence of replicants, the metal exteriors of city buildings, and the presence of smog and pollution—all of which convey an image of the city as a machine. Similarly, in The Matrix, the central Mega City is created by machines, housing humans in a state of virtual reality with machines using human bodies as a power source. Despite the supposedly science fiction nature of machine-run cities that these movies propose, not-so-dastardly machine cities may actually be one of the most plausible forms of city building infrastructure in the near future. With the relatively recent conception of the Internet of Things, the concept of Smart Cities is becoming more and more probable. At its core, the idea of a Smart City is based on the interconnection between all infrastructures that make up a city, from traffic control to broadcasting stations to security systems and even energy plants. By connecting physical devices—such as a stop light or a security camera—to a software system that is connected to other software systems and artificial intelligence on a citywide scale, every form of infrastructure can act and react in a more fluid and intelligent way. Through the Internet of Things, intelligent machines will literally run cities, just as The Matrix and Blade Runner envisioned—though not necessarily in a nefarious manner. In a theoretical Smart City, for example, cameras and wireless systems could be used to monitor the health and status of the overall city while satellites and other orbital platforms could be used to monitor pollution levels, weather, and potential natural disaster threats. Similarly, energy systems could be optimized and work together with the Internet of Things, and integrated transportation systems could reduce traffic congestion and increase environmental friendly practices. On a smaller scale, these smart systems are already in use in homes—such as Amazon’s Echo and Roomba vacuum cleaners—and are poised to continue transforming houses into smart homes, potentially providing a model for future Smart Cities. However, much like the dystopian landscape that The Matrix and Blade Runner interplay between machines and cities, there are many potential dangers that will accompany our transition into Smart Cities. First, the challenge of transforming city infrastructure into an integrated software system will take massive amounts of raw data, power, and money—a task that is formidable even for the most prepared cities. Second, maintaining this smart infrastructure will require the creation of multiple redundant systems in order to isolate potential system failures on a citywide scale, should one portion of the infrastructure begin failing. Lastly—and perhaps most importantly—once a Smart City is established, the danger of natural disasters, terrorism, and cyber attacks makes city infrastructure especially vulnerable, and the consequences become increasingly disastrous as the city’s networks become more reliant upon each other. There is no question that the future is urban and smart. But while it is inevitable that technology will shape city infrastructure in new and exciting ways, it is perhaps more important that we prepare for the weaknesses that will accompany this unprecedented connectivity of people, things, and cities. About the author:  Ana C. Rold is Founder and CEO of Diplomatic Courier, a Global Affairs Media Network.  She teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host of The World in 2050–A Forum About Our Future. To engage with her on this article follow her on Twitter @ACRold. Photo by Steven Wei via Unsplash.  

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
Ana C. Rold
Ana C. Rold is the Founder and Publisher of Diplomatic Courier. Rold teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host of The World in 2050–A Forum About Our Future. To engage with her on this article follow her on Twitter @ACRold.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.