Software for revolution

Blockchain as a technology for revolution

Pro-democratic riots galvanized by students broke out in Hong-Kong over China’s rules for the next elections. The protesters demand that Beijing withdraw its political interference and framework for reform from HK. It is dubbed as the Umbrella revolution because the protestors are wearing facial masks to protect themselves against the pepper-spray and the umbrellas to shelter themselves from the heat. As the Arab spring turns to fall, there is hope for the residents of Hong-Kong through technology and this goes far to show how much our lives have been changed by invisible software that now dominates the world. It’s almost like the microbiota in the natural flora that we can’t see, software is becoming the foundation of linking humanity in a way that was unimaginable before. Have a look at the world turning to a better future:

One common theme in most of these protests is that the Internet somehow goes missing in the areas: It happened in Egypt, with a massive blackout and now China’s government blocked Instagram. These pathetic attempts are mostly in place to prevent any accurate information leaking out about the protests and it also hides all the horrible things that governments do to those protestors. Generally they hope that the spirits of the protestors are broken by the time the information goes out, but really in the age of internet, aid comes long before. Our society is changing and the world is becoming more connected together, Kim-Mai Cutler (@kimmaicutler) mentions that:

“For the first time, we have an opportunity to create what could be known in international relations as ‘participatory peace,’” he said. “In other words, this would be a peace in which the societies would be involved. Peace imposed by leaders is not sustainable. Social networks allow people to ask themselves if they want peace, and how they want it. We could have dialogues between thousands of people, rather than a few elites.”

That brings me to the point about software in this brave new world. You can check what technologies are blocked in China at some given time using this website but the neat thing about it is that HK protesters found a way: Using the FireChat App. Mesh networking technologies that have mostly been used by developers, are becoming more popular and being used by pragmatic folks for creating these decentralized networks. Even if the internet is gone, people can still connect to each other, and best of all they can still share the news to the world outside. Apps like FireChat allowing users to create their own meshnets which work without internet based on proximity are incredibly powerful in this aspect. Projects like Hocnet and CjDNS are trying to expand the meshnet capabilities of apps like FireChat and we see their impact in times like at HK.

I wonder about the use of blockchain to facilitate these technologies. Blockchain is a major cornerstone of Bitcoin and one of Satoshi’s most ingenious creations. Colored-coins are an interesting layer of protocols to create the next-generation applications based on Bitcoin. Aside from simply transfer of money, Bitcoin 2.0 applications can tremendously assist in situations like this. What would be the properties of such a crypto-system?

  • It would allow for communication based on proximity.
  • Messages can’t be deleted once on the blockchain
  • Transferring a 10-12 tweets long tweetstorm
  • Transfer of pictures

Datacoin already allows for the data-upload features, and we have very similar decentralized microblogging applications but none all integrated into one platform which is where I see the future headed towards. It doesn’t have to be something very fancy either: All we need is application interfaces to which we can tie together the Datacoin scripts to push data on to the blockchain. These are some incredible challenges that software today can revolutionize. I hope to be organizing a hackathon soon around this topic: How can we better push Mesh technology to create crypto-systems fit for situations like in HK. These would be entirely complementary to apps like FireChat. Google Ventures has a recipe on this, they are called design sprints which help carve an outline and the infrastructure behind such an effort:

The product design sprint: a five-day recipe for startups

We hope to organize one soon at UCF and I will definitely post more in the future about our experience applying the Design Ventures to such an important civil movement. Design is changing the world and tackling situations like this is the first step in making it happen.