In the documentary Turning Point (2018), acclaimed director James Keach follows a team of medical researchers as they attempt to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The gripping and at times emotionally raw documentary captures the intimate details of a clinical trial as researchers test a drug for a disease that has no cure. In the United States alone, 5.7 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, making it the sixth leading cause of death and placing significant burdens on the U.S. healthcare system. This heartbreaking disease progressively deteriorates the brain—affecting the person’s memories, relationships, and independence. Many of us have seen these effects in relatives and people we love. The team of researchers in Turning Point have also experienced this reality as they’ve watched parents, grandparents, and patients suffer from Alzheimer’s—making their passion to find a cure a deeply personal pursuit. Currently, it is agreed that Alzheimer’s is characterized by a buildup of amyloid protein (or plaques) in the brain, and the formulation of tangled masses of fibers called tau. However, scientists do not know whether these plaques and tangles are causes or symptoms of the disease, making it extremely challenging to find a medication for prevention and treatment. In Turning Point, the researchers tested solanezumab—a drug they hoped would inhibit the buildup of amyloid proteins and in turn slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. In its early stages the drug attracted media attention and was highly anticipated as a breakthrough cure for the disease. However, in 2016 the clinical trial was halted as patients failed to show significant improvement. This setback was devastating, but does not mark the end of drug research for Alzheimer’s. Frank Logo, Chair of Neurology at the Stanford Neuroscience Health Center, said, “Even if it’s unfortunate news, each trial is tending to teach us a lot… and it’s giving many in the field confidence that we will have a drug that does work at some point”. Despite the challenges and setbacks of finding a cure, promising research in the prevention of the disease is underway. Innovations in imaging technology such as PET scans and MRIs are used to diagnose the disease, and researchers believe such tests will become even more critical in monitoring treatment and advancing early detection capabilities. According to John Dunlop, Vice President of Neuroscience Research at Amgen, “Despite recent failures, we have learned a lot and have much reason to be optimistic. This is particularly true when it comes to early intervention approaches…” Dunlop is not alone in his optimism, as scientists move forward with clinical trials and experimental research to detect Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages and attempt to slow its progression. Alzheimer’s disease is heartbreaking for everyone affected, but that’s not the only reason why finding a cure is imperative. America’s population is aging at a rate we haven’t seen before. According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2035 there will be more people over the age of 65 than there are people under the age of 18—an unprecedented demographic shift that the U.S. healthcare system is not prepared for. As the population ages, the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s will increase, and the cost of treating these patients will become insurmountable. In 2018 alone, it is expected that it will cost Medicare $140 billion to treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This cost will expand into billions and trillions of dollars as the population ages unless treatment to delay the progression of Alzheimer’s is found. Alzheimer’s disease places significant monetary and emotional burdens on society, and Turning Point shows the people at the forefront of tackling these obstacles. However, facing the immense challenge of curing Alzheimer’s cannot rest in the hands of a few researchers. We must mobilize communities to have a dialogue about this disease, and work as individuals, organizations, and government bodies to find a cure.

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
Hannah Bergstrom
Hannah Bergstrom is a Diplomatic Courier Correspondent and Brand Ambassador for the Learning Economy.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.