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- There have been a lot of conversations about Bitcoin over the years. Is it a currency or an equity or a commodity? Is it a store of value? Is it a “settlement mechanism”? Is it not money at all, but merely an example of a decentralized application on the Blockchain? The short answer is: none of the above.
- Bitcoin is a self-organizing collective intelligence. As such, what it becomes is entirely a function of what it can do — that is, it is a function of the capacity of its collective intelligence to overcome the challenges that it encounters in its environment.
- In order to explain what I mean by this, I’m first going to have to spend a few minutes laying out what I mean by self-organizing collective intelligence.
- The Development of Self Organizing Collective Intelligences (SOCI)
- The basic dynamics of a SOCI is as follows:
- It begins as some sort of attractor — some aesthetic sensibility or yearning — that is able to grab the attention and energy of some group of people. Generally one that is very vague and abstract. Some idea or notion that only makes sense to a relatively small group.
- But, and this is the key move, when those people apply their attention and energy to the SOCI, this makes it more real, easier for more people to grasp and to find interesting and valuable. Therefore, more attractive to more people and their attention and energy.
- Thus begins the generative loop: as the SOCI becomes more real and attracts more people it begins to encounter challenges. Maybe Impressionism is being rejected by the status quo and it needs to find some way to display itself. Maybe hand-coded HTML is too burdensome and clumsy and this SOCI needs to get easier to use.
- If the SOCI has enough capacity within its collective intelligence to resolve the challenge, it “levels up” and expands its ability to attract more attention and energy. If not, then it becomes somewhat bounded (at least for the present) and begins to find the limit of “what it is”.
- So now we wait. Will the “hard fork” be the next level up for the Bitcoin SOCI and lead to an expansion of its ability to attract more intelligence? Or is this the hill that Bitcoin can’t climb and the beginning of its senescence?
- This is the current question. But as interesting and important as this question is on its own terms, the real meaning of the Bitcoin experiment is deeper. This is because Bitcoin represents a new form of SOCI and is the first real test of the power and adaptive capacity of this new SOCI organism.
- What is the essence of this new form of collective intelligence that represents so much potential? My guess is that this can really only be answered with the benefit of hindsight. But I’ll venture a guess:
- It is intrinsically global. More to the point, it is geographically unconstrained, and, therefore able to take advantage of any attention and energy anywhere in the world.
- It is intrinsically virtual. In other words, it is able to connect with resources anywhere with minimal lag and at minimal cost.
- Regardless of the specific result of the Bitcoin experiment, we are clearly in the middle of a new era. As I discussed in The Future of Organization, a lot of smart people are currently hard at work understanding, generalizing and optimizing the deep code of these new forms of collective intelligence.
- The limitations of Bitcoin’s approach to motivation and collective action are well understood and new technical layers like Ethereum’s smart contracts and Backfeed’s distributed governance system magnify the potential intelligence of this kind of SOCI at least as much as the neocortex magnified the intelligence of the mammalian brain.
- I really wish the reality and importance of this new frontier were more broadly understood. My sense is that over just the next five years this new form of SOCI will go through its gestation, birthing and childhood development stages. The result will be a form of collective intelligence that is so much more capable than anything in the current environment, that it will sweep away even the most powerful contemporary collective intelligences (in particular both corporations and nation states) in establishing itself as the new dominant form of collective intelligence on the Earth.
- And whoever gets there first will “win” in a fashion that is rarely seen in history.
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