Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Digital Currencies

Technically, digital currencies have been around for awhile depending on your perspective. That is, if you consider the fact that the world's currencies have been being traded and recorded in ATM networks, stock exchanges, and over the Internet for decades now.

However, what I'm going to write about today is alternative digital currencies such as Bitcoin. It is interesting, to me at least, to note that Bitcoin actually doesn't really differ much from traditional mainstream currencies in terms of how it spends. In technical terms, of course, it's quite different.

But what if we want to completely change the way that society uses money? What if we want to create a currency (or credit system) that actually gives us alternatives? Well I've been thinking about that. And I think I've come up with some viable ideas regarding alternative currency systems.

One of the main properties of traditional money seems to be the high degree in which it seems to be tied to the global markets and inflationary processes. It doesn't seem to be very conducive to decentralization strategies.

One of the main features that I would like to build into (or see built into) an alternative currency/credit system is a sort of natural independence from the whole...such that everyone can get a fair shake...an opportunity. Think about how each and every one of us has the same amount of time each day. We can spend it how we want. It's often one of the main determining factors of our monetary income, in fact. But what if there is a credit crisis/crunch, a bubble in a market or industry in which you are a professional, or some other global economic phenomenon?

The fact is that there are a lot of times where the opportunities (real opportunities) seem to be far more abundant than the cash that people have to trade for those opportunities. We need to notice the dichotomy between real natural resources and wealth and the artificial tool called money that we use to trade our skills and products for other products and services that someone else creates.

Of course, there's always the possibility to barter. Unfortunately, bartering can be time-consuming and this effect is amplified in our global and highly complex markets with tons of stuff being traded in the free market. It's just really hard to keep track of value when bartering. (not to mention...how would one save up value if you're bartering) I'm not discounting the role that bartering and negotiation can play in our lives. I think it can have tremendously good benefits in a lot of circumstances. But, let's be honest. Money is a highly useful tool.

Except when it's not. Money's not too useful if you don't have access to a whole lot of it. So what else can we use?

Keep in mind that we live and work in an open system. Our bodies and the plants and animals we eat are powered by the Sun. There's constantly lots of new energy being pumped into our environment. That's not to say that it's necessarily easy to capture that. But we are constantly building new infrastructure to help us capture more useful energy. And experts in every field are constantly finding ways to make energy do more useful ways and to accomplish the same task with less energy and less materials. Computers, for instance, can do orders of magnitude more calculations with a fraction of the energy input that it once took.

To cut to the chase, what I've been thinking about is a currency or credit system which would be completely digital (out of necessity) and which would have a minimum and maximum balance for all account holders. (people) Let's use the example of 0-100 being the range in which you could go. Everyone would start out with the same amount of credits and these would become immediately available for trade among your local peers, online bloggers, or whomever you want to buy from or support.

A term I've come up with that I think aptly describes this idea is Opportunity Credits. Why do I call it that? Well, the intent is that this system would be a more ever-present token with which people could trade with and which would be, by its very nature, more evenly distributed among people. By design, people would not be able to collect great piles of that currency. People would be able to collect great wealth. But that is not the same thing as the currency we trade with.

Wealth is the stuff that we use. Natural resources, land, water, air, a house, rare earth minerals, skills, relationships, health, etc.

Paper money (or digital for that matter)...or even Gold (especially just sitting in your vault) is not really inherently valuable. Admittedly, gold has more inherent value than paper money but how many people have a use, want, or need for a hunk of Gold. Sure, there's probably trace amounts of it in your smartphone but I doubt there are many people that have the capability or the interest in manufacturing their own smartphone. So is it fair to say that real wealth is pretty separate from the stuff we commonly trade in?

Anyway, back on topic. all currency is a medium of exchange which functions as a representation and measure of the value that we collectively perceive of certain things. And of course profits and savings are mechanisms which allow for upward mobility and wealth building.

Money transfers signals. Here's the thing...there's a plethora of different types of signals that people are interested in. There's a lot of different kinds of value. There's monetary value, all the different kinds of natural resources, brand establishment, customer relationships, trust, social capital, skills, time, opportunity, etc. Just to name a few...

It's safe to say that one single type of currency probably doesn't have the innate capacity to carry all those different signals very well. And, no, various country's currencies don't really count as different types of currency. Nor do I think that Bitcoin is different enough to count as a whole new style of market signal. Sure, it's a little different but it still has much of the same features. That is, individuals who are early adopters or who get lucky can easily have their wealth amplified inordinately beyond others who worked just as hard or harder or who have even more value to offer.

Not all currencies are created equal. Currencies are what basically "represent" us. They reflect what type of person we are, how skilled we are, or how much work we do. Or, to put it more accurately, money is meant to reflect the perceived value that we create for others. It doesn't always seem to hold true though.

Is money fairly and accurately representing us? You can make your own assessment and come to your own conclusions.

My vision is that we can come up with at least one new kind of currency or credit system which has the innate quality of supporting the local, individual, unique value and opportunity that each and every one of us is capable of. And hopefully it can help us each gain access to those opportunities in ways that traditional money doesn't seem capable of.

"The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." -William Gibson

Let's distribute the future a little more evenly, shall we?

Cheers to Optimization...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Google Announces Calico: What does it mean for the future of Health?

With the notably vague announcement of Calico by Google, pundits and nerds alike are left wondering about the details of what this will mean for emerging healthcare trends and life extension technologies in general.

Larry Page, CEO of Google, who originally made the announcement on G+ here, had this to say: "I’m excited to announce Calico, a new company that will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases."

The startup involves Art Levinson, the Chairman of Genentech and a director of Hoffmann-La Roche, as well as Chairman of Apple.

I thought that my good friend Gideon Rosenblatt wrote up a great encapsulation of what we know so far in his post over on Google+. Gideon suggests that Google may leverage their significant search capacity and expertise as an entry-point into the genomic (genetic) bio-informatic sciences. If there's one thing Google's good at, it's big data. They index it, graph it, and use algorithms to help people find what they're looking for within that massive set of data.

Gideon says, "What do you want to bet it has to do with smart approaches to managing the data in our genetic code? That's my bet, but it will be interesting to see how this story unfolds over the next year and beyond. I just don't see the company straying that far from its core competencies and this bet is by Google, not Google Ventures."

Some are wondering if this announcement has something to do with Google's semi-recent hiring of the famous visionary, Ray Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil is well known in the Transhumanism circles and is well respected as an accurate predictor of famous trends such as his Law of Accelerating Returns. (definitely well worth your time if you haven't read about it yet)

And others note the similarities with the work of Aubrey de Grey, a renowned anti-aging researcher and evangelist...also well respected in the Transhumanist, technological, and life extension communities. He's the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation, (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) a non-profit devoted to researching "negligible senescence" and rejuvenation therapies.

de Grey has come up with a framework for classifying, studying, and targeting various types of aging processes which he believes to be comprehensive:
Cancer-causing nuclear mutations/epimutations—OncoSENS
Mitochondrial mutations—MitoSENS
Intracellular junk—LysoSENS
Extracellular junk—AmyloSENS
Cell loss and atrophy—RepleniSENS
Cell senescence—ApoptoSENS
Extracellular crosslinks—GlycoSENS

Increasingly, the bottleneck in science and health is becoming information-based. We have so much data we don't know what to do with it all. Biological organisms are extremely complex from a "static" viewpoint and significantly moreso when you realize that biology and chemistry are anything but static. If we have any hope of reaching a more useful understanding of what causes aging and the associated diseases, we are gonna need a lot of professional research, the right digital tools, and a large research effort.

The truly beautiful thing about science these days...or any subject/field...is the incredible access we each have via the Internet. The World Wide Web is really changing the landscape of science. Ideas can come from anywhere; anyone. Projects can be initiated and supported by ad-hoc "virtual" teams from around the Earth. Questions can be asked from experts in fields we know very little about. An altruistic individual can help disseminate knowledge and raise questions and spark conversations about virtually any topic and anyone interested can chime in. Google+ is a fantastic blessing we have and I'm extremely grateful that Google built that amazing social network...and indeed this very blogging platform I'm typing this in.

Open-Source is a concept, philosophy, movement, and more...practically speaking, it is one of the many wonders of our digital age. An enormous opportunity for volunteers to achieve huge milestones, projects, or even breakthroughs by simply collaborating, hacking, and co-creating together. Small contributions add up to sometimes become world renowned public services, products, knowledge, etc.

So what am I bringing up this optimistic view of self-organizing online interest/topic-oriented communities for? Well, I think that citizen scientists, research hobbyists, and nerds who like to dabble in various subjects that interest them at the time...are a key ingredient in humanity's mission to get everyone healthier and (more) immune to aging.

There are scores of startups and even big established corporations moving into this space. There are numerous fitness trackers, such as Fitbit, the Nike Fuel Band, the Jawbone UP, and the MyBasis that have sprung onto the market recently and more to come. There is Watson by IBM. They are doing some amazing things in healthcare.

Not to mention the whole lifehacking movement and bio-hacking. (I find bio-hacking incredibly exciting by the way.)

I will shamelessly mention that I am also personally invested (time-wise...not so much financially) in this whole health/anti-aging scene. I spend a lot of time reading and researching about cutting edge science about disease and nutrition. This is an area I'm paying close attention to. I think we can each contribute in our own way. And indeed health really requires personal responsibility anyway. We can't just pay for it. We have to put in the effort, go to the gym, go on a run, do pushups in your room, do pullups at the local park, eat right, get quality sleep...whatever you've gotta do to take yourself to the next level.

So this definitely appears to be an area that is growing rapidly. I'd really appreciate some feedback and would love to hear what my readers have to say about this new venture by Google. Are you as excited about the possibilities and opportunities of radical life extension as I am? p.s. sorry if my thoughts are disjointed. I'm working on it.

Cheers to Optimization!
Think for yourself, with others in mind...