Keynote
The Disruptive Potential of Blockchain
Speakers:
Michael Casey
Catalina Briceno
Profile:
Michael Casey
Michael Casey is Chief Content Officer at CoinDesk, the leading media platform for the blockchain and digital asset community. He writes CoinDesk’s weekly Money Reimagined newsletter and co-hosts the podcast. Casey is also cofounder of Streambed Media, a blockchain-based digital rights management platform. Prior to joining CoinDesk, Casey was a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and on-staff Senior Advisor at the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, where he maintains a pro bono advisory role.
Soundbite:
“Until Bitcoin came along, we had no way of enforcing digital scarcity—everything digital could be reproduced. Rather than owning the MP3 or JPEG, you had a license to it. If you tried copying that and selling it—you would be sued.”
Michael Casey, on what digital copyright has historically looked like
Soundbite:
“Now we have a unique identifier connecting to both the creator and the history of the authenticated claim. On this, we can start to build a whole new legal framework.”
Michael Casey, on the provenance offered by the blockchain
Takeaway:
We live in an age of abundance where (some) have access to resources, content, you name it. However, one resource that is not abundant is attention. We all have myriad actors competing for our attention—which makes it tremendously valuable.
Takeaway:
An immediate benefit of the NFT economy is seeing marginalized creators flourish. A stodgy institution like Soethby’s is a gatekeeper, arbiter of taste, and caters towards a very particular (white) audience. Decentralized platforms make it easier for marginalized creators to bypass middlemen and all their historical baggage.
Book:
Published in 2018, The Truth Machine laid out a foundation for many of the idea discussed by Michael Casey in his keynote. Optimistically framing blockchain as a “society building tool” Casey broadly makes the case that the coming token economy, ‘digital plumbing,’ and shift towards a new era of (increased) self-sovereignty will be net-positive for both creators and consumers. While the changes underscored by Casey and other blockchain evangelists felt distant in 2017-8, it’s remarkable how real and tangible they’ve become in a few short years.
Takeaway:
After the NFT collectible craze we may see massive disruption in fundraising. The smart contract terms that direct a portion of secondary sales to creators can easily be used to seamlessly fundraise for worthy causes—piggybacking philanthropy on top of this booming corner of the economy.
Takeaway:
Decentralized Autonomous Organizations aren’t on the horizon—they’re already here. A tangible manifestation of crypto’s foundational decentralization, blockchain-powered governance is already being used in all kinds of communities. It’s early days (and a nascent toolkit) but we’re embarking on what will be an ambitious experiment in how organizations, fandoms, investor collectives, record labels, and you name it are co-managed by communities. Will this result in efficient synergy or more middling decision making? Time will tell.
Soundbite:
“We had the dot com bubble, people were throwing money at anything, but the reality is that all of that speculation—that capital—translated into brand new business models. We got Google, Facebook, and Web 2.0. To get to that with crypto we need to get through the speculative process in order to get to our new paradigms.”
Michael Casey, reminding the audience that the dot com boom was intensely speculative
Soundbite:
“You can own rights to a piece of digital real estate in the same way you can own rights to a house. Why does this matter? It relates back to Marc Andreessen’s famous essay ‘Why Software Is Eating the World.’ That process is intensifying and it’s speeding up economic opportunity.”
Michael Casey, alluding to the visceral thesis of the venture capitalist’s 2011 essay as the reason were seeing such explosive growth in crypto right now
Reference:
Earlier this year, Kei Kreutler wrote A Prehistory of DAOs,” a sprawling history of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations. Noteworthy DAOs, both active and defunct get air time, as does the significant influence of game guilds; ultimately Kreutler schematizes DAOs as “tokens, teams, and missions,” and “compelling environments players want to inhabit, recognizing narratives, aesthetics, and goals held in common.”
Profile:
Catalina Briceno
As a seasoned Executive and Scholar, Catalina Briceno addresses the digital transition of the media and cultural industries in her research work. Her expertise is based on 20 years’ hands-on experience as an executive producer, followed by decision-making positions within government-related organizations. She is currently a professor for the School of Media at UQÀM where she teaches Media Economy, Strategic watch and Foresight, as well as Information and Network architecture.
Soundbite:
“You spoke about crypto kitties, there’s this current pop culture project called Stoner Cats that’s an animated series that has big Hollywood names—Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Chris Rock—attached to it. It quickly raised $9 million for NFTs based on that intellectual property.”
Catalina Briceno, on one of the more high profile Hollywood-adjacent NFT projects
Soundbite:
“Currently, the returns from the crypto boom are very concentrated. An immense amount of wealth is in the hands of a small number of early adopters.”
Michael Casey, calling for more diversity and a deconcentration of wealth within the noveau cryporich
Commentary:
Michael Casey cited Silicon Valley’s current buzzword of choice: the “metaverse.” As a longtime reader of science fiction, I’m bemused by the universal adoption of this term to describe the virtual real estate of the coming crypto-era. As the writer Brian Merchant recently pointed out in a piece for VICE, the “metaverse” has always been a dystopian idea. The word comes from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash—in that novel, the metaverse is a successor to the internet, a massively multiplayer online game that entertains the desperate denizens of a world overrun by mercenaries and corporate overlords. While the metaverse serves as an escape from reality, it reaffirms its hierarchies and exclusions: the poor wear low-quality avatars and have limited access to the gated communities of the virtual world. This isn’t the first time that Silicon Valley has missed the point of its favorite science fiction novels—don’t get me started on cyberpunk—but I hope the leaders in this space take pains to ensure that the leap from IRL to the metaverse isn’t over another yawning digital divide.