Unstoppable Code: The Difference Between Can’t and Won’t

[ANDREAS] Wow, I am incredibly humbled and
honored to be here. This is such a fun event, and I’m really excited. I won’t be talking about
‘Mastering Ethereum,’ except for one thing. There are probably at least a dozen people
in this room who contributed to that book. I don’t know if you know the story, but if you don’t,
I worked with my publisher to make the books… that I publish through O’Reilly open-source, which
is something they don’t do with all of their books. Not just open-source eventually, but from the beginning.
You can download my books from GitHub, and read them for free. Of course, you can also buy them. Most importantly,
I had the freedom and privilege to write my book… as a collaborative project in
the true spirit of open-source. I am a very big believer in the Creative Commons.
That is one of the things we have which… none of the competition has. By “we,” I mean the entire open-source
community around cryptocurrencies. We don’t suffer from the tragedy of the
commons with closed, proprietary systems. We celebrate a festival of the commons
through our collaboration and creativity. When I do my work, I know that I am standing
on the shoulders of thousands of other people… who have put their passion and creativity into building
what I had the privilege of trying to explain in my books. That is a collaborative process. ‘Mastering Ethereum’ had 180 contributors,
who pushed more than eight thousand commits, submitting more than one thousand
pull requests and issues [as well]. More than a dozen of those people are in this
room today. Thanks so much to all of you. You know who you are. Thank you! [Applause] I was provided with what I’ve been told is a
Crowler. It was suggested that I have a sip… to loosen up, before I do my presentation,
but that would send me into a blackout. By this point, I can probably do a full-blown
Bitcoin presentation [while I am] blind drunk, but I need to be sober for an Ethereum presentation. This will need to wait until the
question-and-answer [session]. I will start drinking when we start,
and it will get better as it progresses. You will know that I have reached peak relaxation
if I suggest that you should buy XRP. [Laughter] At that point, I am clearly drunk, right?
I am glad you are all here and having fun. This is a tremendous conference which showcases
the culture and ethos of the Ethereum community, and the broader cryptocurrency ecosystem. I am really honored to be here. The topic
I want to talk about is a bit touchy, though. I want to talk about unstoppable code.
I bring a certain perspective because… I started with Bitcoin, and have been fascinated
by the cypherpunk ethos since the early 1990s. Yeah, I am that old. Part of that ethos is about using cryptography as
a defensive mechanism in order to claim, assert, and enforce our human rights. It is about using the magic of numbers,
not offensively but purely defensively. To an individual, it brings an awesome power that rivals
even the state or the most fearsome conglomerates. The totalitarian governments in the world can kiss
my 256-bit key, but they won’t be able to brute-force it. It doesn’t matter how annoyed, angry, or violent
they are with what I said, signed, or paid for. Cryptography gives individuals this ability to assert
power and sovereignty, to create the conditions… that allow them to express and enforce human rights. I strongly believe in these things.
I believe in freedom of expression and speech. I believe in creating diverse environments where
we all have powers that can’t be taken away from us. What fascinated me about Ethereum from the
very beginning was this idea of unstoppable code. You may have heard the slogan, “Unstoppable code,”
the first two words on the website during launch. I think it [reflects] a lot of the people
who were involved in this project early on, the same idea that also makes me interested
in Bitcoin and got me started on this journey. The idea of uncensorable speech, not because
you asked nicely or anyone likes what you said, but because they simply can’t stop you [from saying it]. That is a very powerful thing, more
necessary than ever in today’s world. We are gradually sliding into crisis after crisis.
We are seeing a rise of totalitarianism. It has never been more important to give people
all over the world the tools to express themselves, assert their rights, and to be sovereign. Right now, most of the Ethereum
space is very “Kum ba yah.” I love it. Unicorns, bufficorns, puppies and rainbows, this
beautiful wellspring of creativity, passion, and joy. The sense of possibilities. It will not last.
What we are doing here is important. It seizes power on behalf of individuals
from [the dominant] forms of power: governments, corporations, state
associations, cultures, and religions. It seizes power from these big [entities] and
gives them to little people. But sooner or later, the people who are losing their undeserved, abusively
applied power in this equation will start fighting back. At that point, we will find out
how unstoppable the code is. What kind of code needs to be unstoppable?
What code do we need to build that is unstoppable? Just like with free speech, the only speech
worth protecting is that which deeply offends. Innocuous speech does not require protection.
In some cases, it doesn’t even deserve it. Journalism is about publishing what people don’t want
you to publish; everything else is public relations. Have you heard that quote? The only speech worth protecting is
the speech people don’t want to hear, and the only code that needs to be unstoppable
is the code that someone is trying to stop. That is worthwhile. That is exciting.
Governance is the killer app for Ethereum. Unstoppable code is also the killer app,
but between them there is a subtle tension. That tension does not appear until
you start doing interesting things. You see, there used to be a time when
Bitcoin had not offended too many people. We were still in the “laughing at ourselves”
stage, the ridicule stage of development. Then something interesting happened, called the Silk
Road. How many people have heard of the Silk Road? All of you, very good. I won’t ask. [Laughter]
I am sure it was just insulin and asthma inhalers. Good stuff there you were buying, and you should. The Silk Road brought Bitcoin to the limelight
prematurely and scared off many bitcoiners. It generated a ton of bad publicity that haunts Bitcoin
to this day. It associated the spending of money… with the consumption of narcotics. [Laughter] Of course, if you want to malign a technology,
[talk of] drugs is the first step, followed by child abuse, then terrorism is step three, but you might re-arrange
them depending on your government’s proclivities. If you want to [stir] up a nice big dollop of censorship,
you will pick one of those three wrappings to deliver… to the sheep, and tell them why it needs to be stopped. I am no prude. When it comes to
the consumption of narcotics… and buying things in underground
black markets, I understand. I think of drugs [in terms of] biology.
Did you know that dolphins get high? You know about pufferfish, right? If you annoy them, they
puff up and excrete a toxin on the surface of their skin. [That toxin is] annoying at least, and potentially
fatal to most fish. Except for dolphins, who get high. Dolphins get high off pufferfish poison.
They will gather in a circle around a pufferfish, [a dolphin will] squeeze it in their mouth until it
becomes annoyed and releases a bit of the toxin, and then they puff, puff, pass. [Laughter]
They understand the etiquette of puffer chewing. If we were the first species to not get high,
that would be an anomaly [in the animal kingdom]. Evolutionary speaking, there is
no species that doesn’t get high. When it comes to drug markets, I am a pragmatist.
There is a reason people want to use [online] markets. The reason is really simple:
you can’t be stabbed over TCP/IP. It is really simple, it is all about [reducing] violence.
[Online markets] have a very interesting effect on drugs. It immediately removes violence, which [decreases]
the risk-based premium, and drives prices down. and driving organized crime out of the market. I will not try to persuade people that we should legalize
this stuff here. Colorado is doing a pretty good job. But I will try to persuade people that
these things will [continue to] exist. This will keep happening because there has always
been demand, and there will always be supply. Where demand and supply exist,
markets will always emerge. What do we do about that, as a community which is
coding platforms that are potentially unstoppable? Right after the Silk Road [emerged], the
conversation around Bitcoin changed rapidly. Until then, quite a few large corporations
were talking about [becoming involved in it]. They came up with this great phrase, “We are interested
in the technology behind Bitcoin, the blockchain.” That is the sound of ten thousand marketing officers
backpedaling furiously, because they just read… an article about Bitcoin and drug markets.
“Oh shit. Take it off all the posters!” And now I have news for you: “We are interested
in the technology behind Ethereum: smart contracts.” That is a phrase you will hear in the next few years,
as people will start backpedaling furiously. The reason for that is, Ethereum [could] succeed in
being a viable platform for writing unstoppable code. The next Silk Road will be fuelled by DAI, running
on Swarm with Whisper communications, as a fully autonomous DApp, without administrators
that you can give two life sentences plus forty years. It will be unstoppable. The moment people figure
this out, there will be calls to every prominent person, committee, foundation, authority,
and governance body in Ethereum. Anyone who seems to have any control.
They will say, “Yes, this is cute. But stop it.” “You have had your fun now. Yes, we heard about
your unstoppable code, smart contracts, and DApps.” “Just stop it, okay? Now it has a drug market. You need
to stop it now.” The smart people in Ethereum will say, “Well, I can’t.” “I won’t.” Can’t? Won’t?
What is the difference between “can’t” and “won’t”? Two life sentences plus forty years is
the difference between “can’t” and “won’t.” When you say you want governance, beware what
you ask for. Governance changes “can’t” into “won’t.” The moment you go over that line,
what started as an ability becomes a responsibility. If you claim you don’t have the ability anymore,
that responsibility just became negligence. Criminal negligence. Governance and unstoppable code
will form this very fine line that we must tread carefully. Is your line the Silk Road? Probably not.
I mean, look where we are. Look at this crowd. What about child porn or terrorism financing?
Here is the problem: we all have a moral compass. We all have a set of principles and ideals
that we would like to believe are universal, that we all believe in one code of conduct. Where do you [source] yours? Maybe from
a book, evolution, parenting, or socialization. Maybe from Montessori. I don’t know, but you
[acquired] it somehow. You have a moral code. Well, I have bad news for you. It is not universal.
It is highly subjective and incredibly relative. Let’s talk about moral relativism, which
is a fun topic especially for conservatives. Are there any conservatives having
an aneurysm in this house right now? I am a moral relativist, not because I believe that
moral relativism is the moral choice. Ironically, it isn’t. Moral relativism is the pragmatic recognition that,
when I look around me, read my history books, and look at other cultures or religions, people
with other capabilities and chances than I did, they don’t share my morality. I am hard-pressed to find any two people
who share everything in their moral code. This is where the crux of governance
versus unstoppable code comes to a head. Every conversation I hear about governance
among affluent, privileged northern American… or western European people who
share 90% of a common morality code, but only represent 15% of the human population… I am wondering, what are you thinking when you say that
governance must be subservient to a legal framework? That we need an anchor based in law?
Whose law? Maybe you assume your law. I wouldn’t assume that. Every time someone says,
“That is illegal,” your response shouldn’t be, “Oh, right.” [Your response should be to ask],
“Where? Illegal where?” If you understand one thing about the law,
you know that is the most important question. In Denver? In Colorado?
In Wyoming or South Dakota? If you leave Colorado after having partaken, and go
to South Carolina, they can arrest you for possession, for the trace amounts in your bloodstream. They don’t share Colorado’s laws.
You don’t need to go very far to cross that line. [You may not even] know that you crossed that line,
but the law suddenly changed very radically. Just in this country. If you go a bit further out,
things become really weird. We live in a bubble. We assume that our morality is the true one;
the one true doctrine, ethos, and culture. “USA!” But the truth is, we live in a varied world.
When you talk about governance and applying law, the fundamental problem is where, and whose law.
Boy, you will hate some of those laws. My existence is illegal in at least four countries.
Not my ideas or my actions. My existence. I am an atheist. In at least four countries, even
if I say nothing, as long as someone could prove… [that I am an atheist] from something I have said
in the past, then that is my label. Non-religiosity. It is a pretty narrow claim to make. It is not an
earth-shattering description of what defines me. But I am worthy of the death penalty
in at least four countries, just for existing. Anyone who is LGBTQ? Your existence
is illegal in about eighty-three countries. In North Korea, only six hairstyles are allowed for men.
This is the fifth country where my existence is illegal. [Laughter] You may have noticed that I managed
to call this a hairstyle, as if I have a choice. Denial. The point is, the morality and laws
that you apply will be highly relative. If you set up a system of unstoppable code that is
globally [accessible] and borderless from day one, you will need to contend with two possible
scenarios: either no laws or all laws [apply]. The second option is impossible.
You cannot comply with all laws. There will be contradictions. In some jurisdictions,
what you are doing is illegal. I will just go for ‘no laws.’ Fuck it. Unstoppable code.
No permission, no apologies, no reservations. Think about this for a principle: for every bad
application for unstoppable code, I can think… of one hundred good applications. [Though they will seem] abhorrent to
countries that do not share my moral code, such as self sovereignty for women in Saudi Arabia.
[That is] abhorrent to their culture. A DApp that [helps] thirteen-year-old brides to
escape the hell-hole of their impending marriage. Insert four or five countries here,
where that is abhorrent in their culture. It would be moral in my view,
but it is not my view that matters. If you create a framework for unstoppable code,
what applications can we write as human beings? What applications will we write as human beings?
I think we will write some great applications. While we don’t share morality, one of the
common themes of humanity is goodness. We all share that. The vast majority
of people, given unstoppable code, will [create applications] that enable them to give
their family a future, their children an education, health care, sanitation, housing, and opportunity.
That is what people do with freedom. [Applause] Guess what? Freedom itself is abhorrent in dozens of
places around the world. Unstoppable code can fix that. But if you apply governance to override,
overrule, backtrack, remove, and reverse, you will have the ability and then [responsibility]. You will be asked where ever your code appears,
which is in every jurisdiction, to exercise that ability. Maybe you can say, “No,” because they can’t
reach you. But they will reach you somehow. You live in at least one country. You never know… We might fuck up an election, and then our own
government is “asking” us to do abhorrent things. What will you do then?
Governance is a double-edged sword. With the DApps we have today, in many
cases we need to have an “oops” clause. Oops, I locked $150 million in my
multi-signature [wallet system]! Oops, my decentralized autonomous
mutual fund just blew up! Yeah, okay. We may need some forms of governance.
But be careful when you put those in. Think carefully about what capabilities you want to
give to whom. Ability quickly becomes responsibility. Then, not acting becomes negligence.
You will find yourselves unable to travel… to a lot of countries if you start doing
the wrong things with governance. If you do put an “oops” clause, make it an
“oops” clause that blows up the entire DApp, preferably so you can fix that problem and
start a new one with less of an “oops” clause. Don’t put an “oops” clause that allows you to reverse
only one transaction or narrowly tailor an intervention. There is a principle in United States law,
which is the idea of a common carrier. A common carrier is like a service provider or
platform that does not create or post content; therefore, they have a degree of immunity
from [responsibility for] the content posted… or transmitted across their platform by users. if I use a phone and arrange a conspiracy to commit
a crime, AT&T is not responsible for stopping me. They cannot be held liable. They cannot and
will not tailor responses to specific content. If they were picking and choosing,
exercising discretion and moderating, if they demonstrate the ability to remove
some content, then the requests will pour in. I’ve been in some of these offices and seen it happen.
There is a fax machine in the corner. Every few minutes, it spits out the page, with an eagle holding
a sword and shield at the top, that says, “Sheriff of [Piss-Fuck Podunk
Little Town] compels you to do this.” If you open yourself to that, you will soon
learn the names of some very exotic places, followed by the words “cease and desist.” So don’t. Don’t allow content-based restrictions.
Don’t build systems where you have moderating ability. Don’t give yourself the power to stop unstoppable code.
Embrace the fact that what we are doing is important. It will require courage. Before long, we will
hear some very non “Kum ba yah” sounds… from the Enterprise Alliance, the corporate partners,
senior executives and board dudes, the consultants… and all of the MBAs. We need to remember why we are
doing this, why we are building this. Because there is no point in building
stoppable code. We already have that. It is called “the cloud,” an international surveillance
engine. You put your data on other people’s computers, so they can rape your privacy every day
and make billions [of dollars]. [Applause] We already have stoppable code. And if we
will build more stoppable code, for god’s sake… Don’t do it on an infrastructure that so hard to scale,
so bloody inefficient, and so difficult to explain… that just explaining the most basic concepts takes
420 pages and two years of my life! [Laughter] [In that case], I would have a suggestion:
Microsoft SQL Server Enterprise Edition, with a replication engine. Got it? [AUDIENCE] Ripple!
[ANDREAS] That is the platform for stoppable code. [Centralized] databases. We have them [already].
They work, they’re efficient, we know how to use them. There are thousands, if not millions, of people
trained on them. We don’t need that platform. This platform is for unstoppable code.
This platform is our promise to the future: We will do things differently, because it matters.
Thank you. [Applause]

100 thoughts on “Unstoppable Code: The Difference Between Can’t and Won’t”

  1. thank you Andreas not for re-placing the church in the center of the village, but for reminding the inhabitants around what the village has to be.

  2. Fight the power, and resist the temptation of it. I don`t want no peace , just give me equal rights, freedom and justice. Peace would be nice but we are human, seams we like to fight been doing it from the beginning our of time.

  3. Andreas is wrong about the meaning of governance. The real governance comes in where blockchain meets the real world. That will have to exist in order to have any real service automata. These rules are for the oracles (people who confirm blockchain events written into contracts). These are for the trusts incorporated for off chain data sources. These things will have to be maintained. And who is allowed to do this is critical, as they have the potential to corrupt. With crypto, governance does not equate to governments (as we know it). Governments will adapt simply because much of their burden will be lifted by technology.

  4. Why are they trying to say things like " interested in blockchain but not necessarily bitcoin"? I thought bitcoin was blockchain. Are they interested in a knockoff of bitcoin? What level of violence would the state commit to convince people to buy bitcoin?

  5. Andreas, you are very inspiring. Keep up doing exactly what you are doing. The future needs men like you.

  6. So funny…spellcheck highlights Andreas' name as a spelling error.
    …Don't feel bad, Sundar is invalid to Google as well:P

  7. If this speaker is truly a "moral relativist" and Evolution is the foundation of his worldview, why does he speak negatively of permissioned blockchain, central authority, the privileged etc? These sound suspiciously like moralistic statements (albeit of the particular Marxist, Anarchist variety, with a touch of Cyberpunk) nevertheless this is merely the speakers subjective preference. If Evolution-driven Moral Relativism is the rule of life, as he claims, we have a curious situation, we are faced with the meaningless chatter of the Great-Grandchild of a single celled organism, emerged by random chance processes billions of years ago, now a homo sapien pacing on a stage holding a microphone speaking as if the destiny of humanity rested on this… very… talk. Sure is a lot religious zeal for a self-proclaimed Atheist and moral relativist. A listener is faced with one of two conclusions, either the speaker does not truly and deeply believe what they claim (Evolution/Moral Relativism), or they are not capable of living consistently what they claim to believe (Survival of Fittest is the Norm in Evolution, but you can't complain about it because that would be a moral claim – oppression, abuse, brutality, all are merely subjective definitions and ultimately meaningless noise in an indifferent universe). Either way it's not intellectually consistent. For a broader perspective and an alternate viewpoint, Andreas, or anyone else with similar notions, would do well to read "Escape from Reason" by Francis Schaeffer.

  8. Brilliant Argumentation; In 32 min, 27 sec., Andreas methodically/unequivocally dismantles foundations of majority of cryptocurrencies, summing it all up in an interrogatory of 3 little words: "Can't or Won't"? Last time something as succinct, yet powerful, was Mohammad Ali's impromptu poem, to this day the shortest poem ever written: " Me We."

  9. We should write code based on natural law. the only part where i would disagree with Andreas here. The only wrongs are forms of theft. Theft of property, of life, freedom and health. Otherwise as it pertains to governance i agree with the man.

  10. is is just me or is there an optical illusion…he walks behind the chair but the cord does not get tangle with the chair

  11. Andreas is absolutely brilliant but I cannot understand why he concentrates on Ethereum when Cardano is far superior by every metric.

  12. 10:20: In Russia you can buy drugs legally in any supermarket. It is called 'alcohol drinks' and cigarettes. I think this hypocrisy must be stopped.

  13. No reason to be so smug about it, the problem with moral relativism is that it means there is no basic morality, which is not a great thing for humans as we have seen

  14. I used to think exactly like this, but as I’ve matured and learned, I realized moral relativism is a path to literal hell. When you take it to it’s logical conclusion, power become all that matters and things break into misery and chaos

  15. If you’re trying to tell me that child porn is just a relative thing, I call foul, it’s an absolute abomination and disgusting I don’t care what culture you are from. Thank you

  16. Dolphins getting puffed video! – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msx3BAhIeQg

    Follow Michael Trooder on Twitter for more interesting and funny videos, EOS

  17. "we celebrate the festival of commons" that hit me for some reason and … diversity is what will make Bitcoin thrive as a technology

    Thank you Andreas and the entire Bitcoin, Ether and crypto community for being so great!

  18. Ethereum Blows away bitcoin in every way- It actually has a community that doent want to disable the project completely. ETH is the Future period.

  19. i share many of your views about blockchain, but you are too much of and ideologue, beautiful words but near zero pragmatism, just like bitcoin fees

  20. Standing applause for this man helping enlighten the ignorant, we were all born onto this planet with equal share and access to all its abundance yet the system has been set up to control us through banks and the government. freedom to all! fight for your freedom, reclaim your power and right to be a human being.

  21. but they reversed the chain after the DAO hack, so isn't this just a big facade from ethereum developers? also, if it can be proved that you wrote the code for this "unstoppable" application, then you can still be prosecuted, even in the case where you legitimately couldn't stop it from running.

  22. With unstoppable code, it would be interesting to see what kind of moral consensus would rise out of it. We will still have to interact with eachother in the real world.

  23. Oh God! What a gift this man is to the Crypto Community! I just love him – Amazing! One of a kind!!!!!!!!!!!

  24. i come from india and there is very little knowledge abt crypto currency atleast now i joined the train but lol i hate myself for missing the bitcoin train….now i cant afford it 😀

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