Web3 is set to transform the internet. Can it bring global social and economic change?

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360/Open Summit: The world in motion

June 22 – 25, 2021

The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) hosts 360/Open Summit: The World in Motion on June 22-25 online.

Event transcript

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Alex Zerden
Adjunct Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security

Nanjira Sambuli
Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Cathy Mulligan
European Research Area Chair, University of Lisbon


Khushbu Shah
Editorial Director, Rest of World

KHUSHBU SHAH: So most people don’t even know what Web3 is. In a casual poll done by Harvard Business Review, their readers in March 2022 said that about 70 percent of them didn’t know what the term meant—what crypto was, what bitcoin was, Bored Ape Yacht Club, and how—let alone what—the tech behind it might accomplish. So, through its supporters and advocates, it’s been linked to the potential to unlock ambitions around decentralization, to be a remedy to excessive centralization, which can stymie coordination, erode freedom, democracy, economic stability.

But even before we get to that question in the future, what is Web3? How are we going to use it? What does it mean for our future? What are its limitations and points of opportunity?

And so we have three incredible experts. First, Alex Zerden, who is the adjunct senior fellow, Energy, Economics and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security; Nanjira Sambuli, who’s a Fellow for Technology and International Affairs Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and joining us from Portugal, Cathy Mulligan, who’s a professor and director of DCentral Lab.

And so, Cathy, I think the first and most important question is what is Web3? Is it even real?

CATHY MULLIGAN: Let me, I mean, first say thank you for having me as a giant head in your presentation today. It’s great to be here.

I think for me, you know, the most important thing about Web3 is actually it doesn’t yet exist. What it is, is it’s a name. It’s a placeholder for a set of technologies that are under development in today’s world. So actually there isn’t a clear definition of Web3 as it stands today.

You know, its original meaning when we started to talk, when we heard whispers of Web3 at the beginning, was looking at things like Semantic Web and the use of open data across the internet to connect Web technologies together in a new and more integrated fashion. What we’re starting to see in today’s world is this idea of Web3 are these sorts of decentralization, blockchain, NFTs all starting to also be put forward as part of Web3.

That being said, basically, Web3 can be whatever you actually really want it to be. And for me, I think Web3 is really about looking at the power structures and the relationships that exist in the Web technologies and working out new ways of interacting around those and then developing the underlying technologies in response to those needs and requirements rather than what is happening today, really, which is that the requirements are being forced onto this moniker of Web3.

KHUSHBU SHAH: Thank you.

So, Nanjira and Alex, what do supporters believe it’ll be able to do? So, in theory, what does it promise? And then, in practice, what’s actually happening?

ALEX ZERDEN: So happy to kick it off, and thank you all for having me.

I think it is an idea that we—I agree with Cathy—that we don’t know where this is going to go. But I think there is a large cultural, economic, and technological movement afoot. And I had the opportunity to work in the Obama administration working on fintech strategy. And we worked on a report and a framework in saying: Where are new and emerging technologies going?

And a model that we had was the Clinton administration in the 1990s wrote a similar report about ecommerce. And so, in the middle of the tech boom, there was a lot of froth. There was a lot of venture investment. There was a lot of movement of people, of communities, onto this new internet that was more widely and publicly accessible. And many of those companies no longer exist today. Many of those projects no longer exist today.

But what was created was a vision for more integrated economic and digitally enabled platforms; and good, bad, and ugly. I mean, I think there’s a lot of challenges with that. We see it on the security side. We see it on the financial-inclusion side. We see in a range of different vectors. But at the end of the day, I really agree that we are dealing with a new culture, a new community, and I think a desire coming both out of the financial crisis and addressing other structural societal challenges, whether that’s driven by the pandemic or elsewhere, that people are looking for new opportunities, new technologies and new solutions for existing social, economic, political problems.

NANJIRA SAMBULI: I would add to that that it’s also about the governance, right. I think a lot of that movement in technologies is converging around challenging the existing models of governance at both local and global levels. So there are discontents about who’s been included, who’s been excluded, and who’s trying to disrupt the status quo, especially if it’s not been serving them. That’s an interesting undercurrent, often not spoken about, when we see a movement like this.

So really it’s, I think, for the first time, one iteration of tech movement where we’re seeing all these things being discussed in parallel. And hopefully that could help us complicate the conversation about what can work, what type, what substance, going forward.

KHUSHBU SHAH: Cathy, are there any unintended consequences of depending on something like Web3 for users in terms of governance and power?

CATHY MULLIGAN: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, what we’ve been seeing in our research is we’ve been looking a lot at the down movement and also a lot of the, you know, different voting mechanisms that have been used.

And the idea behind the downs is that they’re supposed be decentralized autonomous organizations, and everybody is supposed to be able to vote, and everybody is supposed to have some kind of egalitarian sort of nirvana in these technologies that are being developed. The reality is that it’s really based on whoever has the most ethereum or the most money has the most voting power. So ultimately, you know, the power structures are not that different to what is happening in the day-to-day, where the person with the most money wins.

So there are a huge number of unintended consequences. You know, thinking that this is really decentralized is a big risk, I think, for many people. And it depends what you mean by decentralization. But the other issue is, of course, that the more that you rely on these kind of technologies, the greater and more embedded the digital inequalities become. So I think there’s a balance of power problem emerging in the world around control and access of data. And the Web3 technologies definitely feed into that as, you know, the previous lightning speaker was very competently highlighting.

KHUSHBU SHAH: Alex, you mentioned that this is—Web3 is creating new culture and new community, it’s new tech. You know, it’s also being utilized by big tech that was part of Web2. So is there the potential for Web3 to reinforce the current strata of power with companies like Google, and Meta, and Facebook—or, sorry—Amazon taking on stablecoin, crypto?

ALEX ZERDEN: Yeah, absolutely. And so we’re seeing what is a lot of tension and a lot of potential contradictions in this space. As Cathy mentioned, a push towards decentralization, but then a lot of actors involved in the space, particularly investors and technologists, are coming from very centralized, very well-resourced organizations, entities, and individuals.

And so within that, I mean, I think there is a very emblematic case study that we’ve seen just crop up over the past several years, which was the launch and ultimate decline of the libra/diem stablecoin project that was ultimately nonprofit Swiss organization backed by many large financial and technology companies, but for better, for worse, heavily associated with Facebook, now Meta. And while the organization attempted to develop a regulatory first, a highly technology inclusive and financially inclusive financial product that had regulatory support, it ultimately did not prevail.

Earlier this year the company dissolved. It sold its technology to a US bank. And just really serves as a proposition for the strong, legal, legislative, regulatory opposition—and other stakeholder opposition for substantial engagement and fundamental game-changing engagement between large technology companies and these new and emerging technologies. Particularly here, we saw, with a stablecoin product.

KHUSHBU SHAH: Nanjira, so thinking about that, and what we’ve seen happen with Web2, what’s currently happening with Web3, what does the landscape look like in the rest of the world? What’s the potential for opportunity there? Is there any?

NANJIRA SAMBULI: Yeah. I mean, at the moment you see, for example, in a number of African countries, people really trying to buy into the positive vision around Web3. And I think one really interesting space there has been the crypto finance dimension, where a number of African countries have users who are leading in the world with peer-to-peer crypto transactions. And that’s just really an indicator that the existing financial system is not working for them, so much so that somebody would rather, in a sense, risk a lot, or risk it all, in the crypto markets.

Now, what’s really interesting is that in terms of the infrastructure, in terms of the builders, there’s still not enough inclusion for some parts of the world, but there’s really an enthusiasm to be part of it and to write a chapter in how all these technologies are interpreted, appropriated, and so on. So it does really make a signal for those studying, those saying they’re supporting the building of whatever Web3 will be, to think about inclusion differently. Not that you build in the transatlantic and then you sort of export it to the rest of the world, but monitor the different movements and how people are trying to adapt to these technologies that are somehow within reach, but appropriating them to signal what is not working.

And that’s making for some really interesting tensions also with the governance in some of these countries, where you’re just seeing net attempts at banning stuff. And you’re, like, we’ve passed that era, man. I mean, like, think about a different way of doing it. And you’re seeing the tensions between generations as well, because then you have the regulators who lived through, you know, some wars. And others are living through new wars. And they’re, like, we don’t understand one another. So it’s really good lens in the rest of the world, really, to see how—what’s was talking about, the governance, the tech, the actors sort of converging in a complicated way, beyond what we would typically see in the sort of US-Europe dimension.

KHUSHBU SHAH: So, to that end, I have a question for all three of you: Can this—can Web3 lead to a truly decentralized system? Is that even possible? What’s happening? Who would like to take it?

ALEX ZERDEN: Happy to jump on it. I mean, I think there’s going to be features of decentralization. There’s going to be features of centralization. I think we’re in, again, a very nascent and early space, and I think this is a competitive atmosphere right now, one, among like-minded democratic countries and partners; and then, also, with—against authoritarian regimes of who is going to have the prevailing legal/regulatory regimes as well as technological supremacy in this case.

Coming from the national security perspective, the Biden administration released an executive order on digital assets really focusing on bringing these technologies into a sound regulatory framework, but what they called for was a study. So they wanted, across a number of verticals of international competitiveness, more further looking at US central bank digital currency and technology development, responsible national security considerations for the prevention of illicit financial uses—money laundering, terrorism financing, weapons proliferation, and ransomware. And then here in the EU—it’s timely that we’re in Brussels—they’re undergoing a major reconsideration of the framework for markets and crypt assets, and to understand what the future of digital asset regulation looks like here, and—while China, you know, very aggressively develops a central bank digital currency that is highly centralized, highly prone to surveillance equities. And I think the competition right now is both for technology, for talent, as well as for the most sound legal and regulatory regime that will enable these new technologies both in a centralized, decentralized, or some type of hybrid fashion to take root and to thrive, and I think that’s going to be the challenge over the next ten to twenty years.

NANJIRA SAMBULI: I think it’s more than just the tech, right, or the vision, all these competing interests in different geographies and how they play out. I mean, I think sometimes it’s even a question of whether we are all just bundling, you know, expectations around a certain term, because in a sense what happens is some systems compromise in a sense and become interoperable. And we’re seeing that with the conversations around open banking. You might see a lot more people get comfortable and get off the very, in a sense, extreme interpretation of decentralization.

That said, I think what we are seeing with this movement and why it’s converging around tech is just basically discontentment with the status quo. I read once that somebody said, you know, blockchain was a really a trauma response to the 2008 financial crisis, and it’s not a wrong way to put it. There are the systems that prevail in the world that are not working, and I think their value is being assigned and hope’s being assigned and, in fact, trust being assigned to this new idea of building something and hopefully seeding your expectations, your hopes, your aspirations to challenge what exists and probably did not include a lot of people. So time will tell and different geographies will tell.

KHUSHBU SHAH: Alex, I think you’ve worked on—sorry, Cathy. Please. Standard mute button.

CATHY MULLIGAN: Apologies. Sorry.

I was just going to say, I mean, you know, just actually, also, from a purely technological perspective, to classify these as decentralized technologies is really quite dangerous. So if you look at the traffic on bitcoin and ethereum, I think it’s 90—I think 90 percent of ethereum traffic and 95 percent of bitcoin traffic traverses one of ten networks in the world. There’s no such thing as decentralized or anonymous, actually, in this kind of space, and I think that’s a fallacy.

And what really worries me is people are using this as a response to—I completely agree with Nanjira. This is a response to status quo. There’s a problem with the status quo, but thinking that these technologies are going to solve that for us I think is massively dangerous. And we need to be extremely careful and think really deeply about how we implement them, but more importantly how we communicate…

And then, finally, you know, the thing about becoming totally decentralized, I don’t actually understand it anyway. We’re humans, right? I mean, if we become totally decentralized, we’re all living as one individual so it’s completely separated from each other. You know, it’s about humanity and it’s about our social norms, and the rest is the technology.

So sorry to interrupt.

KHUSHBU SHAH: Well, Cathy—so, building off of that last point, so, you know, you mentioned that it could be quite dangerous to think about it as a decentralized technology. So—and then you mentioned the risks. And I think if—Alex and Cathy and Nanjira, if you could, build on this. Alex, I’ll come to you first. Are there risks, to Cathy’s point, in utilizing crypto or blockchain when human rights are in question, when we’re trying to talk about digital and democracy in one go, and governance and power?

ALEX ZERDEN: No, absolutely. And I think Cathy rightly called that out, that there is somewhat of a—there is tension right now between the concepts of decentralization and what is actually occurring. Also, most transactions are occurring through centralized exchanges for the snapshot today. I think there is a world where things move towards—you know, it looks a little bit different in the future and so I think that’s what the framing might be. But with respect to human rights issues, particularly with authoritarian regimes, I mean, I think we need to be very conscious about engaging particularly the financial use cases of sending money into authoritarian regimes. These are transactions that are on publicly available blockchains that anyone with a computer and internet connection can access, good, bad, or ugly, and so malign actors seek to use that just as, you know, those in the human rights community, those for financial inclusion also to use it.

And we’re seeing some things take root, so, for instance, Afghanistan: There are pilot projects underway to use stablecoins to provide better access to financial services for humanitarian assistance and some development aid, while still not falling afoul of sanctions against the Taliban under EU, US, and other laws. We’ve seen a use case of funds going into Venezuela against the Maduro regime to support the Guaidó regime for front-line health care workers, but these are nascent and these are, again, very early use cases. And to Cathy’s point, much of this is in a permission, in a controlled setting that doesn’t have the features of decentralization that some proponents may suggest for it. And again, so I think this gets to how do we enable it in a more financially inclusive way? How do we take the best of current market activities and then add other features that promote broader social goals?

NANJIRA SAMBULI: You know, to that, it would be really important—especially for groups that work on the rights space—to also remember that there’s the indivisibility of rights so that we also afford a nuanced way, when we calibrate this question of rights. And this tension always comes up a lot and when it gets too uncomfortable, then we fall into the dichotomy of authoritarian and democratic, which is about economic rights, because the tension will inevitably come up where, for some places, access to certain technologies does get them out of a dependency. And a good example here of a tension that’s playing out with Web3 as a moniker is in the Central African Republic. I don’t know how many of you know that it’s the second country in the world to try and adopt bitcoin as legal currency.

Now, whatever motivations behind the tech adoption of it versus the political motivations are not—are very important to analyze together, so that when we talk about rights in that context, it’s also about the right that the people of CAR, whether it’s their government representing them as a legitimate partner or not, to dissociate themselves from a system that actually does undermine their economic well-being. So that kind of complication is so important about how we will be talking about rights. We already have been behind in how we analyze the rights question, as far as what one will call Web2 or prevailing technologies go. But that indivisibility will be very important, especially when you’re thinking about rest of the world, because different countries will be like, well, what about our economic rights, you know, versus political? And it’s pointless to have rights sort of danced around as a trade-off, so bringing that entire complexity of these kinds of rights many people need to realize in real time will be very important.

KHUSHBU SHAH: So you mentioned rights tied to economic stability and financial opportunity. So so much of the emphasis of Web3 is financial, right? So is that even—does that leave any room for a translation of Web3 into democracy and power? Do you see any way that that could translate? Cathy, would you like to take that?

CATHY MULLIGAN: Sorry, I keep forgetting to unmute. Sorry, could you repeat the question? I missed the last bit.

KHUSHBU SHAH: Sure. So, you know, as you were all saying, so much of the emphasis of Web3 is financial and, you know, Nanjira was talking about rights as a trade-off for that reason, potentially. So is there room for translation of Web3 into democracy and power and governance when so much of the focus is finance and economics?

CATHY MULLIGAN: Yeah, absolutely. So I think—one of the fundamental issues, one of the fundamental problems with the cryptocurrency space and decentralization space for me at the moment is the fact that everyone is focusing on—you know, they’re focused on the price, which to me is a very bizarre thing to focus on. You know, the least interesting thing is the dollar price of bitcoin or ethereum or any of these technologies. What is actually genuinely interesting is the way that they are attempting to challenge the power structures.

One of the key things that I think is very important around the Web3 space is the fact that this technology needs to be designed, discussed, and communicated with everybody. We’re at a point in time where technology is not just sitting within the boundaries of a corporate environment. It’s moved beyond the boundaries of the firm and it’s now in our society and our economy in a very broad and deep way. That means this technology belongs to everybody. It belongs to everybody to help define what its future is.

So, you know, often I will talk to people who feel that they don’t know anything about Web3 and therefore don’t have the right to make any kind of requirements or place requirements on this technology. But quite frankly, everybody should be placing requirements on this technology, from teachers to politicians to lawmakers to people who drive buses. This is a technology for everybody to help define.

NANJIRA SAMBULI: That is so true because all too often, even in how we talk about, write about technologies, we have this unintended effect of intimidating the very people who should seed values or challenge the assumptions.

And even just taking it from a sort of, like, dichotomy of transatlantic and rest of world, there’s a whole imposition dynamic where we have to wait till the citizens of the US and Europe impose upon the companies and the—and the governments to do this thing. And the rest of us are, like, since we are not being heard in your corner of the world, it does—it does play to what Cathy’s saying.

So to your question about how the dance between the technology, democracy, and power go, I think we’re seeing it little by little but then it ends up becoming a tradeoff. When, you know, Kenyans and Nigerians, for example, list global indices as users of peer-to-peer crypto, they’re trying to get back power from the banks because the cost placed on even revolutionary technologies like M-Pesa in my country, Kenya, become so priced. And people are like, you know what, forget that; I will risk it in the crypto markets to make sure the dollar amount of whatever I’m trying to send gets to the other side—says that the structure, the power that a few other people have gotten despite the revolution that was brought by the technology is being calibrated.

So going forward, really analyzing beyond talking about the tech will be very important because following the people and in a sense following the money will get us to understand the shifting dynamics between the values we want to see in the world.

ALEX ZERDEN: Yeah, and I think that’s been a beachhead. I mean, I have a bias coming from the financial regulatory space, but I’m actually very, very bullish on where the technologies go that are completely and wholly unrelated to financial services. I think this has been a way to incentivize market participation. There’s been a tremendous amount of investment activity and interest.

But getting back to some first principles, I mean, we say crypto shorthand, but that—it comes from cryptography. And I think we are seeing really game-changing investment and engagement from both investors and technologists in improving cybersecurity and improving cryptography to preserve personal information, whether that be financial or otherwise. And that’s been the most interesting shift to me, seeing some of the brightest minds from government, from technology, from finance, from other spaces move into Web3, this very, again, amorphous space, but to—as a signal to really invest in new and emerging technologies for social goals. I think people are looking for, you know, purpose. And we have an anonymous individual or group of individuals—Satoshi Nakamoto, who founded bitcoin, you know, in the thralls of the—of the financial crisis. But you know, I think there is this effort to push towards greater privacy preserving and greater security in how—and disintermediation in how financial transactions occur. But I’m happy to make a bet—happy to be wrong, but hopefully I’m right—in ten or twenty years the use cases of these new and emerging technologies will be much farther beyond these initial financial case studies we have.

KHUSHBU SHAH: So one last—oh, yes, Cathy. Please go.

CATHY MULLIGAN: I was just going to say I would absolutely love to know what Satoshi Nakamoto’s perspective is on what’s happened in the crypto markets.

KHUSHBU SHAH: So that was my last—that’s my last question, actually, before we answer some questions from the audience, which is, so, in recent weeks we’ve seen a significant shift and a lot of chaos—Web3; cryptocurrency; even stablecoin, which was meant to sort of offset some of the instability of crypto. So it’s sort of faltering, right? Crypto’s faltering. NFTs have imploded. So are we at—I know you just gave me some solutions, but is the bubble bursting? Forecast something for us.

ALEX ZERDEN: Oh, I love it right now. And I’m not—I mean, you know, I feel for those who got in the market late and people have lost a lot of money, and I want to be sympathetic and somewhat empathetic to that. But I think this is where the most creativity comes in. I think this is where the most dedicated creators are investing and putting their time and staying through not just the froth and the heady days. And I’m really, really excited for what comes out of this cycle of it and this downcycle.

NANJIRA SAMBULI: I guess it’s refreshing that the hype crashed faster than with Web2. We waited a bit too long and we rode the wave. So, yeah, where we come from here gets more interesting. I agree with Alex on that.

CATHY MULLIGAN: And as a researcher, can I just say now doing my research is a lot cheaper?

KHUSHBU SHAH: So, with that, I think we have a few questions. First one: The conversation on Web3 appears reminiscent of techno-democratic optimism that accompanied the emergence of Web1, Web2. You’ve all touched on this. Do you think that the aspect of decentralization and user empowerment are farfetched and we should proactively regulate the space preventatively?

NANJIRA SAMBULI: Well, I don’t know about regulating preventively and what that would look like, because that sounds deeply political, right. But I think it’s an opportunity to also make sure we reverse this narrative that regulation is always behind innovation. I think the regulatory space also has to adapt at a quasi-faster speed than, you know, the innovation, because we need the guardrails. We need to have balance. And I think what Web1, what Web2 have shown us, this notion of just innovate first and apologize later, the move fast, break things is breaking things big time.

So I would say it’s an opportunity to see whether the regulators should be retiring a lot more people and getting fresh perspectives, right, would be great into the space, because we do need people who are thinking about how we prevent what’s happening now from being the norm or being a constant disruption. That’s how I would think about regulation.

ALEX ZERDEN: Yeah. I think there have been a lot of lessons learned from Web2, so the creation of larger tech companies and the kind of lack of regulation, arguably, at the outset. I think there’s a much more reduced window now. And I think regulators and legislators, as well as civil society, are much more proactive now.

There is a regulatory framework in place for a lot of crypto today. There’s, I think, surprisingly, again, a bipartisan consensus from the Trump administration to the Biden administration in a lot of ways from the US side about the need of responsible innovation. That has been the buzzword or buzzphrase essentially since the Obama administration. And so we have this continuity.

And we’re seeing potential bipartisan legislation hit just this week from Senators Loomis and Senator Gillibrand on ways to be more proactive. Government still needs to stay on its game. It is a lagging indicator as new and emerging technologies come to the fore. But I think there have been a lot of lessons from big tech that are being integrated right now. And we also saw that in the Biden administration’s executive order.

CATHY MULLIGAN: There’s also some really, really interesting examples. You know, there’s a new regulator interaction going on in the United Kingdom which is looking at, you know, bringing Ofgem together with the FCA together with the ICO, which are, you know, the different types of regulators for the different parts of the digital world. And they’re pulling them together in a new way to try and understand the overlaps between the types of regulation.

I think the other thing is we are rapidly moving into an area of technology being so complex and so difficult it’s actually almost very difficult for a human person—you know, a human to fully comprehend all of the implications. What I would love to see is, you know, we’re seeing all of this technology rolled out by corporations, I think we need our governments to be as tech-savvy and also as well funded from a technical perspective, because what you would need are, you know, regulators who are using technology to flag to themselves, oh, there’s a problem emerging over here.

That’s a new type of regulatory approach where they’re watching what’s emerging on the market. They’re getting that from a data-driven perspective rather than from, you know, a human perspective. So I think there’s a double-edged sword here. And the more technology that’s out in the market, the more technology the regulator is going to need. And it also requires a new type, as Nanjira and Alex have mentioned, a new type of person in that regulatory environment.

KHUSHBU SHAH: So that leads me to the final question, which is we’re at a crossroads right now. We actually—it’s very hard to see the future. So what is the best-case scenario from each one of you, and what is the worst-case scenario? How—could this potentially implode, and how so?

You want to take that first?

ALEX ZERDEN: Sure. I mean, I think, kind of consistent with how some of the biggest optimists think about this, this is a new layer of the internet. This spawns a new generation of technological innovation that helps a lot of people, either for financial inclusion, increasing access to technology, increasing—improving democratic participation. I mean, I think there’s a maximalist case there. The downside is I think some of the—technology is inherently neutral. So I think there is a lot of overlay here about how it’s used and, potentially on the downside, exploited, where this leads to greater social harms, greater social ills, and is an accelerant rather than another force to kind of exacerbate existing social economic inequalities and tensions.

NANJIRA SAMBULI: I would speak of an interesting case scenario as the most positive, least negative outcome, just because, again, all the interests including geopolitical ones that are playing out. The demand that, you know, Web3 is taking on technologies means it’s playing into the demand for the raw minerals and the extractive industries involved, and climate, and energy. All those are being roped in, into what this happens. Best case scenario, everybody figures it out and we combine and move along. But really, the resources—if one person starts saying we want to keep this for ourselves versus the other, all those interesting tensions will continue to play out. So brace yourselves, I suppose.

KHUSHBU SHAH: Were you—to ask for more information, I think we’re already seeing it play out. Have you—sort of, where are—I think we are in some kind of worst-case scenarios in terms of climate and the effect—

NANJIRA SAMBULI: And just even in democracy. I mean, the—some dependencies have been created on certain technologies. And I’ll speak on this in terms of development. Some parts of the world being told: You need this technology to get X or Y done has already put people in such a fraught space that it’s—the solution has become more technology to get you out of the bad technology. And so that leads us into this space where I’ll very concretely put in the example of the Kenyan election that’s about to happen, where we’ve been procuring technology, election tech, to, you know, foolproof the election. And now we are in the cycle of procuring more tech for the reelection cycling, making the elections more and more expensive, while they become more and more illegitimate.

So if somebody then now presents Web3 oriented—we were just talking about votecoin, right? You can hook up this thing where there’s a blockchain that will, you know, be immutable, and all that. Those dependencies will continue to be created, but the burden is being borne by those who should not be taking on the hype cycle, those who should be doing the incremental stuff. That, for me, is the biggest risk. And we’ll continue to see a lot more of that. And then if you do not toe a line, if you do not vote a certain way at the UN, lights out, right? That’s a real scenario we could be looking into. So interesting case scenario at best, with a smile.

CATHY MULLIGAN: Well, I guess I will give mine. I’ll start with the negative scenario, from my perspective. You know, the worst-case scenario for me is this all gets co-opted, you know, by financiers, you know, by corporations. And then you end up with—it’s a form of corporations becoming a de facto government if you are not properly controlling for some of these activities. Where, you know, digital technologies move beyond the boundaries of the firm, they start having really big sort of effects across lots of different parts of society.

The utopian vision that I hope—you know, I continue to work for increasingly worried that it might not happen. But that—you know, for me, bitcoin and all of these kind of things, they’re actually the world’s greatest thought experiment that we have in our generation. It’s a fantastic though experiment about one thing: What is money and what is power? And what does it actually mean? What do we need money to be? Or else, what do we need these digital power relationships to do for us? So the utopian vision would be that we actually collectively, as humanity, manage to have a decent discussion around some of those things, and implement some of the ideas within that technology.

KHUSHBU SHAH: Any answers, anyone?

NANJIRA SAMBULI: No. I was just going to say, Cathy would know that we’ve tried to be in a room in those conversations. And those have not gone well. No, it will be also another experiment in global governance too, I think, because we’re all being affected by these technologies in disproportionate ways. However, all too often when—and we’re seeing this even in this time we’re living in—people who come together to say they want to think about the future of tech, always assume it’s about those who should be in the room and those who create the tech, and often not those who also use—you know, presumers, as I call them, the mix of consumers who then appropriate in creative ways, and therefore have a say. So it’s also really an interesting experiment in how you make truly global governance, not just of technologies but of a digital age.

KHUSHBU SHAH: That is a really interesting point to end on. And I have so many questions for later. Now I wanted to thank all three of you for engaging in this conversation. And thanks to all of you for listening in.

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