You can’t have freedom, you can’t have human dignity, you can’t have ownership of your own stuff, without privacy. – zooko Feb 2022
Zooko and the Agoric founders have been collaborating on privacy technology for decades. Investment from ZCash was instrumental to launching Agoric.
Meanwhile, proof-of-stake is on the ZCash roadmap as well as research on bringing privacy to the Cosmos ecosystem. Note the recent Call: Overview of Tendermint/IBC/Cosmos - Zcash Community Forum.
There’s all kinds of cool Zero Knowledge stuff going on - efficient proof techniques, programming language integration… I wish I could keep track of more of it. What cool / promising stuff have others seen lately, I wonder?
By way of inspiration, in a March 18 Office Hours session on Agoric Foundations, discussion with Mark Miller included this bit on privacy:
Privacy Aspirations, Xanadu, and the Web
MarkM: One of the things that was an essential part of the Xanadu architecture was for nobody to be able to know what you’re reading. That’s the thing that I found most bizarre about the hypertext system that the world that then took over the world, the web, which is, with the web architecture, not only can the server that serves the document know what document you’re reading, but with, you know, the web 2 architecture, they can know where you are in the document, how much time you’re spending, looking at which paragraph, how your mouse is moving… The the degree of violation of privacy of people reading things to take in information is just something that just not in my wildest nightmares would I ever have thought that masses of public would have accepted that kind of loss of privacy.
So in any case, I very much absorbed from Ted. This notion that we’re at a choice point, that that humanity is at a choice point, that these electronic networks are coming, and it could be a 1984-style nightmare, or it could be a great liberating force. And I also very much took up the idea that it was our responsibility to figure out how to build the great liberating force; that that how it turns out, depends on what we build.
Thomas Greco: How do you think we… you said never in your wildest dreams would you imagine the current state of web 2, because you guys had such such great visions right for building this private
infrastructure. Where do you think things went awry?
MarkM: So part of why it went awry was actually, I’ll say my fault, or primarily my fault… which is in 1989, Dean and I both left Xerox Park to form the newly funded Xanadu – Xanadu had been going on unfunded on a shoestring all of this time until 1989, when Autodesk decided to fund it. We then formed this really wonderful startup to build out to to really build the Xanadu a hypertext system. And there were 2 things we got wrong.
One was: we had a notion of what features you needed simultaneously to have a hypertext system that will create good social emergent effects. There were basically 7 fundamental requirements… and this is laid out in my paper, The Open Society and Its Media, is what those 7 fundamental requirements were. And we built a system that that did those, but it took us longer than was expected. We kept having these triage meetings where we tried to figure out if we could drop something in order to get to market faster. And we kept talking ourselves into the fact that well, if you drop these things you get social pathologies. So you really need all 7 in order to get the kind of beneficial emergent social effects on the evolution of society’s knowledge that we were looking for that were motivating us. And as a result, the project went long enough that Autodesk, our funder, ran out of patience. Well, partially due to a management change at Autodesk. We were already in Beta with the with the product. It was, it was not well, not not in Beta. We already had the features working. We were demonstrating. We had the features working, all 7 features… but it was quite a long way from something that was a a commercially viable system at that time, by the time we ran out of funding.
The other thing we got wrong is: none of us appreciated what we would now call open source, which was then called free software, because Richard Stallman’s way of explaining the virtues of free software just didn’t make sense to us. It wasn’t until later, with the open source movement that we really came to understand the power of it.
But the result of those 2 things is that we built something where the technology itself was quite intricate and needed a bunch of work before it could be used commercially. And it was proprietary. So, without funding, it was hard to figure out how to to continue to advance the system.
The web came out with 2 and a half of our 7 elements, and took the world… and was a simple architecture, and was open source… simple enough, with text-based protocols – which is still kind of insane – so that you could, so that people are able to put together web servers on on with very, very little software, which which itself is, you know, quite wonderful that you could do it so simply. But with 2 and a half of the 7 elements, that proceeded to have all of the social pathologies that we were worried about. And in my paper, the Open Society and Its Media, there’s 2 paragraphs in that paper that I would say, really explain pretty damn well what we then later came to call filter bubbles and echo chambers and and all of those things.
So that’s that’s how Xanadu died, and it was in light of the death of Xanadu that Dean and I then left Xanadu and formed, with with Norm Hardy and others, Agorics, in the mid '90s, dropping the hypertext part, but taking forward the liberation goals. The decentralized cryptographic software systems, but now general purpose, computational systems that could support hypertext and other things could support just general purpose decentralized, secure, permissionless programming. If you can support that in general than any particular decentralized application like hypertext, you can, of course, build out of that.
So that was one of the formative elements.