In this episode of the NexChange Interview Series, we have Part Two of our exclusive interview with Wikipedia co-founder Dr. Larry Sanger. In Part One, Dr. Sanger shared his thoughts on Wikipedia and his current blockchain-based project, Everipedia. Here, Dr. Sanger talks about blockchain, decentralization, and tokenization. Have a gander:
Olga Yaroshevsky: Do you think that blockchain is able to revolutionise the way we perceive data ownership and data protection?
Dr. Larry Sanger: Revolutionise? Well, yeah, obviously. One of the things that I personally have been obsessing about in the last 6 months is privacy. After my phone was hacked in December, I started looking into how to improve my security. I went down deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, until I ended up basically abandoning Dropbox, iCloud and various others. I bought a NAS and hosted all my own data. I thought about using what’s called a zero-knowledge encryption, and I actually do that for backup. But even that is a little bit bothersome to me because a lot of the systems are not open source. You can’t really confirm that they are quite honest in how they’re dealing with your important data. The way forward is ultimately going to be blockchain and IPFS and other distributed technologies that allow us to securely, provably, privately store our data in a way that allows it to be synch across our different devices, with end encryption.
So, here’s the thing. This is a problem that I have with Google, for example. They don’t have to store your email, for example, in plain text. If they wanted to, they could make it. They could find ways to make it entirely zero-knowledge encrypted on their servers, no one would be able to read it, if they just publish the source code. We would be able to confirm, third parties would be able to audit their systems and say: yep, Google is not reading your mail. It’s just an example, of course, there’s a zillion systems that we depend on. But Google doesn’t want to do that! Google wants to be able to read your mail, because they drive great value from it, that’s why they host your mail for free.
It’s a huge problem, and one of the things that I am excited about blockchain for is that it represents a solution to this problem. I’m not really into blockchain for the investment side of things, to be quite honest. I’m not opposed to it, I love the idea of innovation in general, I’m not opposed to the idea of people making money. The shade elements do turn me off. But the thing that really attracts me to blockchain is the fact that it makes – and monetises! – all of this innovation. It’s basically the technology of decentralisation, that is ultimately for individual freedom.
OY: There is a strong opinion, and in the blockchain community as well, that tokenization and decentralisation are not always justified. Like, when you don’t have to tokenize it, you just want to. Do you agree that there are certain cases where you don’t have to decentralise knowledge, money, network, anything? What is the criteria of justified decentralisation and tokenization?
LS: It’s a hard one actually. As I’m often observing, as a lot of us are, you can tokenize practically anything.
OY: Anything! But what’s the point?
LS: Well, the point of tokenizing in general is that it enables all the advantages of blockchain, right? The way that I think of it is – if you are proving that there is a data trail, that certain pieces of work have been done, there is value built into the system that people can recognise, that’s why it’s tokenized.
Blockchain are, well, ledgers, and you can prove that certain bits of work have been done, or people have staked a certain amount of money, and the fact that everything is open actually represents – is itself – a store of value. The fact that the records are being kept in many different places, and represent, in many cases, real things, a lot of tokens are asset-backed, for example. All of that means that crypto is a natural store of value. And it’s generally better that we engage in more secure transactions, that there’d be transparency, in some cases, like a development of encyclopaedia. It really is a good that content development be decentralised. And if it so happens that those things are advantages to your company, then having a token is just a natural consequence. That’s how I view it.