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Exponential Finance, Singularity UniversityDavid Orban is an entrepreneur and a visionary global high technology analyst. He is CEO of the US-based technology platform and services company Dotsub, which powers captions and translations as subtitles in any language in online videos to remove barriers to multi-cultural communications. Orban was a co-founder of WideTag, a technology company providing the infrastructure for an open Internet of Things (IoT). He is also an Advisor and member of the Faculty of the Singularity University.

The Singularity University, co-founded by Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis in 2008 with the support of NASA and Google, provides educational programs, innovative partnerships and a startup accelerator to help individuals, businesses, institutions, investors, NGOs and governments understand cutting-edge technologies, and how to utilize these technologies to positively impact billions of people. Based at the NASA Research Park in the heart of Silicon Valley, the Singularity University is currently the most visible manifestation of the disruptive visionary spirit in which Bitcoin has its roots.

Orban is also the administrator of the popular Facebook group Bitcoin and the Internet of Money. CCN reached out to David to inquire about the “Bitcoin Singularity,” a term that keeps popping up in futurist technology circles.

The Bitcoin Singularity Brings Extreme Change to Financial and Internet Technologies

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David Orban, picture by Joi ItoDavid, what is the Bitcoin Singularity? And, by the way, what is the Singularity


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The first time I heard the expression “Bitcoin Singularity” was from my friend Nikola Danaylov, who used it on his successful blog and video interview series the Singularity Weblog. He sees it as extreme financial change, induced by the wide adoption of Bitcoin and similar technologies. An interesting aside in this is that Nikola used to be a strong critic of Bitcoin and skeptical about it, until he got deeper into its technology and applications, and turned around in his evaluation.

The Technological Singularity has many interpretations, but the most useful for our objective here I think is the one that looks at the implications of extreme changes in technologies, due to their exponential nature, in the lives of individuals, the workings of corporations, and the organization of our societies. Exponential technologies, the most evident of which is information and telecommunications empowered by the self-fulfilling prophecy of Moore’s Law, are those which double over a given period of time some parameter that defines their usefulness. In the case of computers, their transistor count traditionally, which translates roughly into their power, and which doubling every 18 months has been going for 40 years! Contrary to linear phenomena which are familiar to all and easy to account for, exponential ones have radical consequences that are difficult to predict even for experts.

Does the Singularity University accept payments in Bitcoin?

No, or at least not yet. I have been strongly supporting the introduction in the curriculum of a broader study of not only Bitcoin but more in general of the Blockchain, and this is happening. Also, in the Exponential Finance conference organized in New York by the Singularity University recently Bitcoin was featured in many sessions and panels.

I definitely believe that, just as other important changes from the past like open source software development approaches, every startup will have to consider Bitcoin in the near future, and justify why it has not taken a cryptocurrency route if they choose so.

What role will Bitcoin play in the development of the Internet of Things (IoT)? What role will the IoT play in the development of Bitcoin?

It is important to distinguish three layers of the cryptocurrency stack, which confusingly use as a historical accident the same name for different concepts. The Blockchain is the fundamental mathematical invention that allows the decentralization and the distribution of activities that before were assumed to be solvable only centrally. Bitcoin as a protocol and a network is a first implementation of this invention, and bitcoin (with lower case) is the application of the Bitcoin network to payments with its specific unit of account. So to get back to your question, I don’t think that bitcoin the payment system is going to have a large impact on IoT, and it is also unlikely that Bitcoin the network and protocol will see a large adoption in the IoT because of the way it is built today, and the consensus mechanism around its evolution which will impede more drastic changes in its workings.

On the other hand, the Blockchain is definitely a superior way for a network to self-organize, find its optimal topology, communicate among nodes, and allocate various types of resources to the nodes that need or deserve it most.

IoT proposals by various industry players are unavoidably based on centralized and hierarchical architectures, which can’t win against the newer approaches allowed by the Blockchain. It is very important, not only in terms of resource allocation, but also in terms of security and privacy to adopt topologies that are not based on the corrupt Google approach of finding better needles in larger haystacks.

Open, interoperable, transparent, permissionless approaches are needed that enable industry to develop standards that can positively interact with regulatory frameworks overcoming the gridlock of dead-ends in which we find ourselves in our rudderless views on privacy, business model evolution, stakeholder participation and more.

The stakes are very high, and if the pressure on the Internet increases to become a universal tool of surveillance and control, then unavoidably the evolutionary forces will turn what today we call the Darknet into the preferred infrastructure of the future global collaborative platform. Solutions will be found, for sure, the question is how complex and meandering the road is going to be to get there.

Do you offer Bitcoin micropayments to the participants in your crowdsourced video captioning and translation initiative Dotsub?

We offer Bitcoin as a payment mechanism for our clients, and are definitely ready to experiment in other ways as well to make sure that the Dotsub platform can maintain its edge as payment options evolve. For the moment Bitcoin payments are not available as compensation for micro labor tasks.

What are the three most interesting new developments in cryptocurrencies?

Many are holding their breath waiting for the release of the Ethereum protocol and network, which is very ambitious, and supported by a lot of people, as shown by the successful sale of Ether this summer.

The recent side-chain proposals also look interesting.

And in general, the decentralized app model which Bitangels popularized has not been widely understood yet, but in my opinion it has the opportunity of representing a shift that is as fundamental as the introduction of open source and the GPL 25 years ago.

In general the field is moving very fast, and these lists are bound to be old soon…

What if Bitcoin is used to send money to the ISIS?

I would be surprised if it were not already. Some would see this as disastrous and dangerous, in the belief that it will give a chance for anonymous and wide scale funding of ISIS. Bitcoin in reality is not anonymous, but pseudonymous, and it is not especially adept in the funding of activities that are deemed illegal in certain jurisdictions. I am not an expert, but I am pretty sure that ISIS is able to get large amounts of money through relatively traditional sources of diverting oil-revenues, for example, and, at least for the moment, Bitcoin would not represent a major need or opportunity for it. On the other hand it would be certainly very welcome by those who want to paint Bitcoin as dangerous per se, and in need of very strict regulations.

What other question should I ask?

You know that my motto is that question, indeed, and it is a good way to stimulate both introspective understanding of a situation and a challenge, as well as to conduct job interviews, journalistic interviews, and so on. And yes, by applying it to this we could find many more interesting areas to explore. I suggest that we do that, and that we leave the questions as eventual starting points for a future interview, and a surprise for your readers. I will be happy to read their comments, and to engage in a dialog not only with you, but with them as well both here an on the numerous platforms where we all participate online and offline.

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What do you think about the Bitcoin Singularity? Follow David’s invitation and comment below!

Images from Singularity University, Wikimedia Commons and Shutterstock.

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Posted by Giulio Prisco

Science writer, software developer, Bitcoin/crypto enthusiast.