There’s hardly any information infrastructure that cannot and will not be attacked by hackers, whether it's our phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, or data centers and the internet as a whole. In the past, both small and large companies have been equally affected, such as Facebook, RUAG, Yahoo and Sony. Neither have critical data and infrastructures been spared—just think of the WannaCry ransomware attack which also hit English hospitals, the Stuxnet computer worm used to sabotage industrial plants, or the theft of health data from 1.5 million people in Singapore.
The outlook for the future Internet of Things (IoT) seems no more encouraging in this respect; billions of devices on the internet will offer an even broader target. A foretaste of this is the October 2016 incident where thousands of inadequately secured IoT devices so crippled a central infrastructure that Amazon, GitHub, Twitter, the New York Times and several other large websites were unavailable for hours. And such threats won’t stop at the hardware either, according to the latest reports of spyware in servers and critical weaknesses in modern processors.
Letting rules dictate
As a result of such attacks, regulatory requirements in companies and organizations are becoming increasingly complex and wide-ranging. One example is the Swiss federal government's new ICT minimum standards, comprising 106 measures that go seamlessly hand in hand with international standards and certification guidelines. The compulsion to adhere to standardized and regulated procedures in our private and working lives is leaving us exhausted and helpless, making us more and more dependent, weakening our intellectual abilities and rapidly reducing the benefits of digital transformation. Yet it seems we’ve settled into this dependent role and found the solution to the problem in adapting our own behavior.
But things are on the wrong track here. If something has to be controlled and constrained, it’s not us humans in our private and work life, but the underlying infrastructure: the hardware, software and information systems.
Safety is the solution
It must be our ambition to build an internet that prevents any significant attack on the communication infrastructure and allows to use machines and infrastructure safely. It’s possible: Over the past six years, researchers at ETH Zurich led by my colleague Adrian Perrig have developed the SCION internet architecture.
SCION delivers security, availability and performance for any networked system and service: data transmission at high bandwidth, secure communication of sensitive data, protection from denial-of-service attacks, high availability of critical infrastructures, and no data is redirected to servers or countries for which it’s not intended. The technology is so well-developed that it’s now being used by banks and various internet service providers in Switzerland and internationally.
Safe and trustworthy haven
These recent advances in new internet architectures must be exploited to improve the security and performance of networked systems, whether for communication between federal agencies, for the exchange of highly sensitive information such as electronic patient files between hospitals, health service providers and research institutions, for communication between research bodies, or for the safe operation of our energy supply.
To achieve this, we in Switzerland must summon the courage to roll out a globally leading technology, a "Made in Switzerland" product, in a nationwide flagship project. This would be a significant stride towards an export hit—internet security from Switzerland. Right now, we have the opportunity to position our country as a safe and trustworthy haven, a global frontrunner: Switzerland, the safest internet country in the world.
Editor’s note: this article was originally published by ETH Zurich and republished here with permission.
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.
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