Massive government-run data dragnets. Advertising-based "free" cloud services working against the best interests of their users. Giant, unreadable end user license agreements. It seems that everywhere we turn, the walls are closing in on individual privacy and autonomy.
The situation is complex. Out of confusion and frustration, many users have already given up. Common refrains are "privacy is dead" and "I've got nothing to hide".
But revolution is in the air.
The internet and the web are decentralized by design. Protocols like DNS, SMTP and HTTP assume a network of peers, but during the last 15 years—our adolescence with these technologies—we have unintentionally centralized much of the internet's infrastructure. This hasn't been for nefarious purposes; it's been done out of convenience. Having a GMail account is simply much easier than running your own mail server; storing everything in the cloud is easier than maintaining your own backups. As an unintended consequence, we've made surveillance much easier and made invasive ad-based business models the norm.
A growing number of technologists are working to re-decentralize the net in surprising and profound ways. Free software and innovative peer-to-peer networks play an important role in this effort, but by far the most important tool is a new one: cryptocurrency. With bitcoin, we now have a natively digital money; a cash for the web; a currency that is as decentralized and flexible as the rest of the internet was designed to be.
At a glance, bitcoin may look like just another payment option, a fad, or a speculative bubble. On closer inspection, one begins to see that it can enable new business models by facilitating previously impossible economic incentives between peers. Once one grasps the fundamentals of cryptocurrency, one sees that its long-term implications and possibilities are as broad and deep as the internet itself.
And just like the internet, bitcoin is not a panacea. It is rife with its own problems and faces its own existential threats. In this talk, Chris Beams will share his findings from over two years of research into bitcoin and related technologies: the promise and the peril; how bitcoin may be able to create the first sustainable business models for the development of free software; how privacy may rise from the dead yet; and why the revolution will not be centralized.