Building a Meaningful Decentralized Community with cryptowanderer from KernelJun 14, 2021
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HOST: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of The Unstoppable Podcast. I’m your host, Diana Chen, and I’m here with our guest, cryptowanderer, from KERNEL DApps, east block--he’s involved in so many projects and he is one of the philosophically minded people that I have ever met. So I’m really excited to talk to him about his projects that’s he’s working on as well as some of his just general philosophies on Web3, on crypto and on life in general. So welcome. Thank you so much for being here.
CRYPTOWANDERER: Thank you very much for having me. It’s an honor.
HOST: Of course. So before we dive into some of the projects that you’ve been working on, I’m curious about your personal background and how you got into crypto. So take me all the way back to when you first heard about crypto and started diving in deep. What was it about crypto that got you interested and then how did you start learning initially?
CRYPTOWANDER: I think my story is polar opposites to the majority of people in that it was my father who introduced me to Bitcoin way back when he was involved with a very big bank in South Africa for a very long time and had been aware of Bitcoin from not long after it had started. He encouraged me to research it as a university student and I had taken accounting during school and hated every single second of it. So when he told me about this at first I said really, dad, I don’t want to hear anything about your financial tools. This is not something that interests me. I tried accounting for you in school. It’s not my cup of tea. So, you know, please just leave alone. I’m doing my thing here studying English and physics and I’m very happy. And so it was only a few years later--you know? He sort of let it slide. But a few years later he came back to me. He said that you know I really think that you should study this Bitcoin thing. It’s really interesting and--yeah, at the time I was sort of was this young and arrogant kid and Bitcoin wasn’t worth much. So I said, okay, fine, if you pay me a Bitcoin I will research this thing for you, which he did. And I ended up falling a long way down the rabbit hole and realizing this stuff is not just about finance. It’s about politics. It’s about the future of work. It’s about philosophy. It’s about trying to understand how it is that value is actually created and shared between human beings. So I got involved with the first projects who were working--what we called DCO's at that time. This was before Ethereum got started or anything. Primavera De Filippi and Joel Dietz and some other people put together a legal white paper and what we called decentralized collaborative organizations and that was my introduction to what crypto could be outside of the purely monetary uses, which in and of themselves were completely fascinating. That was sort of while I was finishing up my post grad. Instead of continuing in academia, which had kind of been my plan up until that point, I had ditched it all and dove right into Web3 and never looked back.
HOST: Amazing. That’s definitely a story I’ve never heard before--getting introduced by a parent to crypto.
HOST: And I was--so I mean hopefully you still held onto that Bitcoin that your dad paid you way back when.
CRYPTOWANDER: Either that--I didn't. I was so taken with this concept of DCO's that--you know? I was completely green, and I was a physics and English student. I had no computer science background, no coding ability whatever. So I was just kind of hanging out in one of these early communities on IRC and then we moved across to Slack when it kind of launched. And, you know, these people kind of welcomed me and then said, yeah, sure, we’ll help you out and teach you a little bit and you need to watch out for privacy and you should probably use a VPN and all of these kind of things, which I had no idea about. And then they were trying to raise some funds and I was the - - one day. I said, yeah, I have a Bitcoin. And everybody kind of looked at me and would be like what. You--where did you get a Bit? So, you know, that went towards funding that initial project which I really believed in at that time. It was--looking back on it now, I suppose an expensive lesson to learn. But also at the item completely worth it. You know? A necessary entrance fee to some of the deeper elements in the space I suppose.
HOST: For sure. So for somebody who is just entering the space now, how would you explain the whole ecosystem of crypto to them at a high level in a way to get them interested in it.
CRYPTOWANDER: It depends. I think that the stuff is so contextual that it’s difficult to answer that in a global sense. As I say, one of the things that really fascinated me and caught my interest early on was that I was expecting this to be a purely financial realm. You know? I thought that’s why my dad was interested in it and why he had slowly nudged me in that direction. But the implications of organizing in a flat, decentralized, peer-to-peer manner rather than using a master/slave architecture like we currently do for the create and dissemination of value are immense. And so to say that there is one way of approaching this or that there’s like one kind of coherent global narrative is, in fact, exactly the kind of thinking that we’re fighting against. Right?
This notion that there’s one coherent truth, one coherent and best way of organizing, one coherent way of representing value in the world and having people use that is exactly the thing which decentralized modes of organization are, you know, sort of questioning. So whenever people come to me and ask me, you know, particular things about why I’m interested in crypto or how to explain it to others, it’s always, well, where is this person coming from. You know? Because the thing that operating in the current system doesn’t allow you to do is--like it’s always this top-down imposition of a particular way of being in a particular narrative, particular approach to being in the world. Whereas, like, operating without titles in a world where you get to meeting with peers in this loose network that shifts all around the world. Before COVID it was very much a traveling circus. The idea is that you get to meet people where they are. And I think that’s one of the great advantages to crypto is that it’s not going to tell you how--it’s not going to tell you what to do. It's not going to tell you what is valuable but it is for sure as a result of this opensource, accessible and permissionless nature is going to tell you how to think about value, how to think about creating your own representation of it for those that you love and those that are close to you. And that shift from what is valuable to how can we cocreate it is a really fascinating one for me. And generally sort of speaking where I go--you know? What--you know? What is really valuable in your life and how can we create more of that? Because that is what tends to inspire people the most and speak most directly to their particular context without coming in with your kind of top-down imposition of, like, this is the way the world should be and this is what you should think about what stocks to invest in and, you know, that particular old-world kind of narrative.
HOST: For sure. Yeah. I find whenever I have a conversation with you I’m, like, just tell me everything. I’m just hear to listen. I need time to soak it all in and digest it before I come up with a response. But another thing about you is you is you are probably one of the most well-read people that I know. It seems like anytime I have a question or anytime I see you in Slack as somebody else asking you a question, you always have a resource for them to go to straight away. And it’s like you have all of these resources off the top of your head. I’m not sure how you do it. But what are some of your go-to sources or some of your sources of truth where you really like to find your information and go to for new learnings?
CRYPTOWANDER: It’s changed over time I suppose, again, as a result of shifting interests. You’re right that a great deal of my background was--you know? I was trained in reading. I have a master’s degree in English literature. So I really had to read a lot to do that. That’s the original. You would read a degree in English or read a degree in math. So that kind of use of the word read has fallen out of the language to some extent. But that is initially what that kind of tertiary training was about was being a talented reader. And so as a foundation there really is in my opinion very little substitute for developing your skill as a reader. One of the things that we suffer from online is the short attention spans that skip from article speed reading through 60 different tabs a day. And it seems to me that one of the differences that I have been privileged enough to experience as a result of my own training and reading these incredibly long books and having to concentrate for extended periods of time. It’s not so much a question of where I go to get resources. It’s the state of mind that I’m in when I’m looking at any given piece of information. So it doesn’t really matter where you’re going. But if you’re in a relaxed, open, meditative and slow state of mind then the information tends to sink in a far more meaningful way, and it connects to various other aspects of your life and perspective. So one of the things that I’m a big fan of is the notion of memory palaces. Right? That you can build in your mind these metaphorical structures and place within them certain important pieces of information. There’s many different sort of pneumonic techniques that have been practiced throughout the ages and best resources for that to answer your question about resources with resources there’s an incredible lady who works for Gnosis called Kei and Kei has an incredible blog called Our Machine dot net. She has a post on memory, which is I think one of the greatest that exists online. So a huge shoutout to Kei Kreutler because she is the best on this particular front these kind of palaces. So you kind of create a mansion and then at the front door, you place Vatalik’s blog because that’s the kind of go-to place for a lot of the really important precise technical information. But you can kind of like turn left and in the living room you can have Week In Ethereum you know, because that’s one of the better overarching kind of narrative pieces of what’s been going on in the community most recently. And then as you move into perhaps the kitchen there by the chopping board, you have like the Bankless Podcast because--I don't think they get everything right and they can be like a little roughly chopped from time to time, but they’re interesting to listen to and they give you good insights. So you build these kind of like pneumonic as I said houses or palaces and by having physical locations attached to particular pieces of information I’m never worried about remembering the whole thing, which is a terrible and anxious frame of mind to cultivate when you’re doing knowledge work. It’s just, oh, cool, I can go to my Ethereum mansion and I know that at the front door the Vitalik’s blog in the living room. There’s the Week In Ethereum news and I can move into the kitchen and there’s the Bankless guys doing their thing. It helps a lot. But as I say, you know, like everybody will have different techniques for this kind of stuff. What’s most critical is that these kind of distracted, anxious, fearful and dispersed ways of interfacing with knowledge that the Internet often incentivizes have to be actively trimmed back if you really want to find things, which are meaningful and which sit with you in a way that’s actually embodied rather than just sort of being conceptually understood for a day or two and then flushed out as the next lot of stuff comes in, which I think all of us are very familiar with. Right?
HOST: Yeah. I mean I was just going to say I’m so, so guilty of that and I’ve somehow never heard of the memory palace thing that you just said, which given how much academia I’ve gone through you would have that somebody would have told me that at some point. But I love that and I’m definitely going to go check out the blog that you mentioned as well Our Machine dot net. So before we dive into KERNEL one more thing I want to ask is given all of these great things about crypto like the way that you described it I think is hard for anybody to listen to and not feel drawn in or at least not feel some--an inkling of curiosity to learn more. But yet we are still in such early days of developing Web3 and building all of this out. So what do you see as some of the major roadblocks that we’re faced with today that are preventing widespread adoption of crypto and blockchain technology? I think that there is still largely as you say and mostly technical. A large part of my interests over the years has been in developing clients that would really in meaningful and efficient way allow people with resource-restricted devices in areas of low connectivity connect to creative benefit from these networks of shared value creation. So when Ethereum initially got going, the team that I joined was Status because they were building the right clients to work on mobile for Ethereum.
But very quickly it became impossible to do in the span of a few short years, running a light client was either not possible or just totally meaningless because all you would be doing is accepting the sort of validated states from people who running full nodes and you’re not actively a participant in the network. And so the greatest amount of work, I think, for us still has to do with the technical challenge of making sure that people with resources or restricted devices in areas of low connectivity, in particular in Africa--that’s where I live and what’s closest to my heart. But there are also developing areas of the world, Southeast Asia, and some parts of China, some parts of South America that, you know, people certainly don't have fancy laptops capable of running full archive nodes or even some of the lighter client versions. And they don't have they don't have the kind of bandwidth or connectivity to process massive amounts of information. Yet we still need to be able to participate in these networks and participate meaningfully. Not just kind of accepts the validated state from others with better connections and better hardware. And it goes along with a particular kind of narrative of, you know, like, you’ll find a piece on Vitalik’s blog called the philosophy of blockchains, which is about what meaningful validation really might look like and so there is a particular narrative to be told around, like, why it’s important to participate in these kind of networks and what meaningful participation actually means as opposed to just sort of signing up to Facebook and having an account and posting a few times. That’s not meaningful participation in the sense of validation. So as always it’s, like, the technical problem of how you actually make that possible in a consensus-based peer-to-peer network and then the narrative challenge of how you encourage people to understand that you need to take part. You know? So much of this is about just drawing audiences. No more audiences. Everybody is not participants and that sounds wonderful to people who are self-directed and for whom self-determination is a big part of their life and purpose. But for others who are not necessarily inclined to that way of being it’s quite a bit hill to climb to be, like, hey, you know, you should perhaps be able to define your own work and perhaps be able to define some of your own salary. Most people--in my experience I worked in a corporate web development agency for long time. You know? People are very happy to be told what to do and if you sort of tell them you should design your own projects and do your work it’s quite a confrontation for them. So those two things, you know, how do we encourage self-determination on the narrative sociological level and how do we actually build peer-to-peer consensus-based networks that can be validated and meaningfully participated with and from resource-restricted devices are largely unsolved.
HOST: Yeah. It’s hard. Right? Because from the psychological side it’s--basically what we’re asking people to do now is completely the opposite of how everybody was raised to think and believe. Like everything that you were taught growing up as a kid, you know, like, you’ve got to work hard in school. You’ve got to, like, get A’s. You’ve got to basically do what he teacher says and then you got to get a good job where you go and do what the boss says and you be a good worker and all of these things. And that’s pretty exactly the opposite of how things are being built out now. And even going back to our traditional infrastructure where people are, like, I hate having someone to report to. I just want autonomy. All of these things. Even people who say that, once you’re actually presenting the with that autonomy they sort of don’t know what to do with it. So that mindset shift is huge for sure and I think that’ll definitely take some time for everybody to catch up there.
CRYPTOWANDER: Yeah. It’s one of the great contradictions that we’ve built a world computer and one of its primary uses will be to deprogram all of us. Right? That’s certainly - - .
HOST: Exactly. Yeah, yeah. So true. Okay. So I wanted to dive into KERNEL and talk about that. You’re one of the four KERNEL stewards. KERNEL is a community of people who are building Web3 and then also an opensource education program platform. So for people with KERNEL, maybe start by just talking a little bit more about what KERNEL is at a high level.
CRYPTOWANDER: KERNEL is more than anything a community of people who are keen to learn stuff about Web3 but also themselves because as I say there is the necessity not just to understand the kind of technical protocols and technologies that we’re working with but also to bring a certain kind of self-knowledge to any of the products with which we are engaged. These two things go together. It’s often been the case throughout my experience with crypto that’s, you know, we have--even if you forget about Bitcoin and Ethereum, we have the technology and the resources to make sure that poverty is eradicated in all of its dimensions whether that’s sanitation, housing, food, water--all of these things are solvable just given the resources and technology we currently have available even prior to 2009. What doesn’t exist the political will and the--not political will only, but the political imagination of people. Right? And so we don’t necessarily need better technology. We need better people. And KERNEL is fundamentally about this - - a community of people. We add 250 people in each new block, which happens every 16 weeks. So about three times a year. And the idea is both to teach and learn from the best technical people in the space but also to do so in a peer-to-peer collaborative fashion that helps us understand more and more about yourselves and our own relationships and who we are as human beings because it’s only really an understanding. The human being behind the technology that we can think about useful and meaningful and sustainable ways of integrating both.
HOST: Yeah. For sure. And so what was the inspiration behind it? What was the genesis story behind KERNEL?
CRYPTOWANDER: Well, my partner Vivek had gone through a particularly meaningful program at university. One of his extracurriculars was run by a man named Brett Harris who was one of the early partners of Bridgewater with Ray Dalio and Brett stepped away from this multibillion-dollar business to sort of become a professor at the University of Texas and run this project called Titans where he selected 17 to 20 of the most promising bright-eyed young students who were going to be the next titans of American industry. You know? And gave them a holistic education. They would meet every week. There would be pre-meetings for each week. They would have these dinners together - - explored as I say, like, the full range of dimensions and what it means to really be human, not just the sort conceptual intellectual knowledge, which so much of our education is focused on. This left a profound impact on Vivek who then as COO of Gitcoin really wants to replicate Titans but for the Web3 space. He wants to bring together the best brains and hearts from across the industry who he’d been privileged enough to interact with in his role at Gitcoin, and get them into the same room both virtually and physically hopefully once COVID has sort of passed, and see what happens Create these spaces for serendipity. He then came to me with, you know, here are a few blog posts that I think could potentially become the sort of syllabus that we’re going to teach. And of course I had some exposure to pedagogical modeling and education. It’s an interest of mine. And I sort of looked at the blog posts and thought, well, we can do a little bit better than that. And he conned me into kind of helping him out to build the full model that KERNEL now uses--this 8-week, 16-module, quite formal learning track that then serves as the foundation that we need to have more dynamic organic and less structured conversations that still are grounded in quite specific pieces of content and knowledge.
HOST: Yeah. And so then with the curriculum that you developed, you made the decision to make it all opensource. So actually anybody can go and see the curriculum for KERNEL without being part of the cohort or anything like that. Why did you decide to make all of this opensource instead of, you know, turning it into a paid course or, you know, so many paid courses out there? Why not try to monetize this and maybe speak also to the philosophy behind this whole opensource thing that is, like, so pivotal in Web3?
CRYPTOWANDER: Sure. In some senses, this to me is--it goes to the deepest core of what KERNEL is but also, like, my own experience in crypto, which is that, you know, ever since I joined the space and was working in particular on these DCO’s and Bitcoin early on, a lot of the narrative back then was, hey, you know, we’re redefining wealth. And that really caught me and I drank that Kool-Aid and it took a few years for it to really sink in and then I started asking myself, well, it’s wonderful that we’re redefining wealth and we’re going to burn down the banks and rewrite the whole thing. But what are we redefining it to? What does wealth mean in these new networks? And I’ve been through many different answers over the years that I’ve been involved. But the only one which has really stuck and the only really sustainable and meaningful one for this is enough. Right? The only genuine meaningful wealth is the knowledge that what you have and who you are already is enough. But this is fundamentally what I mean when I talk about integrating networks for value creation and distribution that exists between people but also self-knowledge about why it is that we do the things that we do. Why things like self-determination are important is because it’s the fundamental deep embodied human realization that who you are and what you are is already enough. This needs of course to be matched by your material circumstances, which crypto has given certainly me a great gift. Most people would not necessarily speak of this. But as a result of having been involved early on much of my salary in the early days was paid in crypto so I was in the position where, like, I’m not a particularly wealthy person. But certainly I’m much more wealthy than I would have been had I just been an academic, which was always originally my plan. So instead of trying to make more, the whole thing is like if I really want to redefine wealth in the world towards this more self-determined inner aspect of knowing already that I am enough, then that’s what I have to practice in the world. And as a result of that, you know, like, opensource work is in some deep sense a gift to posterity. Right? If you think about what Satoshi really did, whoever they are or he is or she is, it's the computer science equivalent of painting the Mona Lisa and then hanging it on streetlight in Paris. Right? You write this code, which is not--the code itself is not that advanced, but the entire conceptual apparatus by which it comes to exist is so advanced that, you know, - - it might as well have been written by time travelers and then dropped on a mailing list in 2009. And you give it as a gift to the entire the world because that’s the only way in which it can become Bitcoin. The same thing if you think about what Tim Berners-Lee did with the original Internet. Right? Like he knew that unless he gave away the source, it wouldn't become the Internet. Right? Like the protocol itself in some very deep fundamental way depends upon the gift of giving it away for free. Right? And so the same thing with any, like, educational content that truly represents and speaks to the heart of what is underneath so much of these networks, both the human and technological aspects of them. It needs to mirror the sense that, hey, I have enough and I don’t need to monetize this because actually what we’re after is a world not in which people have more money, but in which people have enough, in which people know that they area already wealth, in which in fact I don’t need money. Right? Can you imagine that, like, if we were able to genuinely redefine wealth to the point where, like, you don’t need money to live? That’s a worthwhile goal. Right? It’s not like the DeFi farm and getting three more zeros in my MetaMask account. That’s just the same thing in digital form. Right? Like the whole heart of this thing is about I don’t need a job to define who I am, what I identify with and what’s meaningful in my life. I don’t need money to live a stable, secure, and happy existence and to look after the people that I care about. If we can get to that kind of world, that’s something for me that’s worth living for. Otherwise, you know, we just do the same thing that we’ve always been doing and that’s fine. But it’s not as interesting as it could be.
HOST: For sure. That sounds very utopian the way that you just described it. And so when you were writing the curriculum for KERNAL--I’m just curious--what was--I guess like how was the curriculum structured? What were the things that--what are some of the core, I guess, you know, values behind the curriculum and what are some of the core things you were trying to accomplish, that you were trying to teach, and then how did you go about structuring? Because, you know, when we think crypto or even Web3 it’s so broad right now and it’s so hard to even nail down, like, a few key concepts to it. There’s so much going on. So I’m just curious how you thought about, you know, sort of prioritizing certain topics over others.
CRYPTOWANDER: Yeah. It’s a great question. Very simply, the syllabus is divided into eight lessons about Web3 technologies, which are quite technical and specific, and eight lessons about sort of personal approaches or way of thinking about them. So this is not, hey, this is what you should think about what we’re doing with blockchains or what is going on in Bitcoin or Ethereum or any of the other networks. Here is a model for how you can approach them. In particular, the model that we use is something called thinking in complementary opposites. Right? We sort of label it quantum thoughts and it switches the ability to see zero and one--the opposite ends of any spectrum. The fact that with up there’s always down. With north there’s always south. With dark there’s always light. Male, female, everything in the world of space and time exists as one of two. And not just one of two but that between them there is a spectrum of probabilities and that’s the whole point of the thinking methodology we put through in all of these personal lessons, which then informs how we interpret the technology specifics of it--all of the Web3 lessons--is that we’re not after saying that either end of the spectrum is necessarily correct, right, righteous, or good. It’s to see the spectrum as a whole and then you have the humility to understand that what you’re really trying to do is decide where on that spectrum your particular tradeoff best and efficiently lies given your own context and life and environment. So each week of the eight weeks, we’ll have one of these personal lessons and one of these Web3 lessons that build upon each other.
The thought behind the syllabus is that, again, like in order to best teach about a new field of knowledge, the content itself has to be structured like what you’re teaching about. That’s how you really produce persuasive and engaging content. And so the whole course is a blockchain in some sense. Like each lesson builds upon the other and depends up on it. So we start with the trust and then trust grows into value and meaning, which grows into money and speech, which grows into governance and liberal radicalism and arts into some wider areas, in particular scalability and gift giving. All of these things depends in a blockchain-like way all the way back to the beginning. And then also in each week there are sort of three or four curated pieces of material, other talks, or articles written by people who have been involved with crypto from the beginning and how gave these kind of culturally very important speeches or presentations or articles over the years that sort of summarized into these briefs but then also, like, link into the syllabus. It’s not just a question of overwhelming people with links, which is what most people’s approach is. Oh, you want to learn about crypto. Here’s an awesome list. Take the hundred links that you find here and good luck. The whole point with KERNAL is to find the three or four most applicable pieces for that week’s Web3 and personal lesson and then link them in highly specific and crafted ways, so that you don't have to necessarily go and read the whole essay yourself or watch the hour-long video. You can read the brief and understand exactly what the most important parts of that particular presentation were and how it links into the overall ambits of the syllabus. The other questions are a little bit more different to answer because you’re right that it’s such a burgeoning and new field, but it's very, very difficult to understand what concept we should pin down and teach about as opposed to any of the other hundred that we could possibly be doing. The intention with a lot of the stuff was to try and create evergreen content. So not to teach about how to specifically use - - D version 0.6 because we’re already on 0.8. It’s much more like what are the kind of conceptual underpinnings, the--what you might call philosophical leanings of the cryptocurrency in general and where it comes from that are always true at all times for all people. Of course, it’s not always possible to check of all of those boxes.
But that’s certainly the intention is that these pieces ought to be relevant still in five to ten years. So they can’t depend on a particular technology. They can’t depend on a particular way of doing things. They have to speak to what is fundamental and shared whether one is talking about Bitcoin, Ethereum, Monero, Zcash--whatever it is. What is shared and similar between all of these different networks that is interesting to learn about and then inspires the people that build them. And finally whom am I trying to teach? Well, again, it comes down to honesty. Because the person who I was trying to teach is me. There’s this old Zen phrase, you know, of like you don't write for other people. I don't write for other people. I write for the great blue sky. You know? There’s a sense of, like, a devotional aspect to meaningful work, which goes beyond audience or who is going to be reading them within your own time and space. One does work out of devotion because it’s good to do it, because it feels right, and mostly because you’re the primary beneficiary. You know? I’ve been involved with crypto now for nearly a decade and it was a fantastic opportunity for me to gather all of the different things that I’ve been exposed to and all of the different ways that I’ve come to know about this stuff into one coherent picture, which is, you know, it always kind of existed in the somewhat hazy memory palace in my mind. But it had never been put onto paper and, you know, it was the opportunity to do that and of course it’s imperfect and it leaves much to be desired and many gaps. But it’s a beginning and that’s quite exciting.
HOST: Yeah. I think one of my favorite things about it as I’m going through this most recent cohort is I--you--the curriculum really is all about teaching a man how to fish and not catching the fish for them. Right. So like you said the individual projects that you want to learn about are the technologies. That of all that will come through the community. The Slack is incredibly active and there are a lot of other small group meetings and discussions that form literally every single day of the week. And I think that’s where you’ll probably learn more about what’s the newest solidity or the newest technology or the newest projects--things like that--but learning how to think, I think that will be applicable to not just--not even just learning about crypto but learning about anything for the rest of your lives. So I was wondering too, like, when you’re going through all of these applications for people that want to join the program, what are the things that you think about when thinking about forming this community. Like what is the ideal community that you want to form within KERNAL?
CRYPTOWANDER: I think that the thing that I look for the most particularly in applications always honest above everything else. The skills that are needed across the crypto industry can be taught. The kinds of people that we need are quite specific and they are those that are, like, as honest and accountable as the technology itself is. Right? And that is rarer to find because it is a character trait which takes--it’s not that these things can’t be cultivated. They absolutely can. But it’s that it’s significantly more work and the kind of education required is often more difficult to quantify the kind of deprogramming that the world computer has to do for, you know, not to cause divisions because there are some very good people. But like a trader at JP Morgan is very different from a kid just coming out of some IT school in Bombay who is really much more open and hasn’t had the kind of corporate conditioning perhaps that some of those others had to experience. This is not to say that, you know, we take home the IT student from Bombay and no traders from JP Morgan. We actually have a few JPM people in the current cohort because they’re incredible people. But as I say the primary thing that we look for is really an honesty. And it comes through in people’s applications. Some people will put in significantly more effort into answering these questions. The questions that we ask are very broad and they can be answered in one line and they can be answered with essays. I tend to be more interested in interviewing people who are willing to take the time to write out how the genuinely feel and to be honest about where they are and what they sort of hope to achieve. The most important thing--the reason why I kind of look for honesty in a lot of stuff is because, again, the KERNAL is very much about a walking a middle way between head and heart. Right? We have to have the intellectual capacity to work at the forefront of human knowledge. We have to understand complex technologies. We require discernments and the ability to use the rational mind and reason. It is a necessarily but insufficient prerequisite for really meaningful engagements. What else we require is hearts. You need people who are passionate, who are willing to conspire with, which means to breathe together like conspire. Breathing together. If you really want to have a revolution that is not televised, which is fundamentally about dancing, then you need really good coconspirators. You need people with hearts. You need people who understand rhythm and that’s more a case of sort of reading in between the lines of these applications. And then once we’ve processed the applications, we do interviews. We sit down with people face-to-face as good as we can manage at the moment and speak with them. And in that way it becomes a highly curated people we kind of know already and who as I say exhibit the kind of combination of technical skill and human being, which is an achievement. Yeah. So that’s kind of what we look for.
HOST: Love it. And then over time how has your changing--or how has your thinking changed in terms of the community that you want to form if it has at all? I’m thinking, you know, like one thing that I think this particular cohort that I’m in is--that stand out to me is how diverse it is. I think that’s a super cool thing because generally in this space, you know, you see a lot of white males and very little representation from other demographics. And so--the people that I’ve met so far in my current cohort are so diverse and I’m just wondering is that something that was a conscious thought that went into the application process or has that just evolved? Has crypto really reached the masses so much that the applicant pool really was just that diverse?
CRYPTOWANDER: I’m careful with these questions because I’m not a fan of identify politics and often very interesting necessary and meaningful conversations about the best deal inclusion can kind of slide into those. The KERNAL application process is very consciously engineered to encourage much more diversity then you would generally see in the crypto space. It’s something that we have thought very consciously about and actively designed for and will continue to do. But that doesn’t mean that it’s how we identify. Right? I think that’s--there is again like a middle way to be walked between the recognition which is just obvious and based on very clear statistical basis that 95 percent of the people involved in this particular industry are young white males. And that--the reason why I sort of begin with the identify politics piece is that, like, as a white young man myself I can’t necessarily make a moral statement about whether that is a good or a bad thing moralistically. But what I can for sure say just observationally is that it’s a monoculture and monocultures are really, really negative. We all suffer from it. So it’s not like this necessarily moralistic thing of we ought to be doing things in a certain way. It’s much more a case of what is genuinely the best and most efficient way to get together a group of people who can genuinely have serendipitous interactions and the answer to that is that you definitely don't get a lot of white men into the same room. That in order to cultivate the kind of serendipity that we’re interested in, we need lots of women. We need lots of people of color. We need people of like radically different backgrounds, languages, and sort of cultural programming in order to reflect clearly the things about ourselves which we wouldn't necessarily be otherwise able to see. And so, yeah, it's been very consciously designed that way not because as I say we have, like, a moral approach to these things but because it’s genuinely the best way to do it.
HOST: Yeah. I know. I completely agree. I think when we’re thinking about building the future of the Internet, it’s very scary to think that we would have one group of people build the future of the Internet and how the entire global population lives. And so to me, you know, I agree. I think it only makes sense to have a very diverse representation of people from all over the globe and all different backgrounds build the future that we’re all going to be living under. So that--I’m 100 percent with you on that. And so last thing about KERNAL. Anything that you can tease for, you know, new things that you’re developing at KERNAL for the upcoming year or the upcoming cohorts, and then how can people apply if they want to apply? Are applications open right now? What do people need to know about that?
CRYPTOWANDER: Yeah. Applications are open on a rolling basis. If you go to apply.kernal.com, you’ll be able to apply for block four there, which begins September. There is a scholarship program available for women and people of color because that’s part of the conscious design process. Things that I can tease. One of the aspects of this conversation that we’ve spent some time on is talking about memory. And one of the core pieces of KERNAL is the extension of what is called the pneumonic--like the pneumonic medium. Right? So pneumonics are ways of remember things and it was a concept that was really crystalized by a man called Andy Mitushak who was the ex-head of R&D at con academy and another man called Michael Neilson, who is a quantum computing specialist, and a very active Internet citizen. And the two of them recognize that these spaced repetition memory systems, which use flashcards much like you see on Anki or Duolingo or any of these language learning apps where, you know, you sort of like get tested on what this word is in Spanish and then if you get it right then, you know, and you get tested on it in a week again and then if you get it right then, then only in two weeks, then a month, and then sort of three months later. You have this spaced repetition prompts. There’s really good cognitive science behind that that shows that, you know, a small increase in efforts in terms of coming back to review these cards results in a much, much greater attention of the basic details that you need in order to sort of engage in more creative and synthetic thoughts. So Andy and Michael built a whole site called Quantum Country where they teach quantum computing using the pneumonic medium and they wrote a whole essay explaining. They called it transformative tools for thoughts because the idea being that, you know, we have these new online media. We shouldn't just be trying to replicate the same sort of learning environments that we have with pen and paper. We need to actually make use of the medium and one of the greatest ways in which we can make use of the medium is make it easy for people to remember what they’ve read such that they can engage in these higher order thinking skills. The problem that they identified is that there’s no funding available for these kind of public goods because such a transformative tool for thought would alter the thinking patterns of an entire civilization, which is very much in line with the goals of the early computing luminaries like Alan Kay and Doug Engelbart and a lot of people, you know, back in the sixties at Xerox PARC involved in some of these wonderful projects from the history of computing. Of course we have tools to solve public goods funding problem. Right? And so one of the core drives of KERNAL is to not just build the pneumonic medium but a pneumonic medium using the same flashcard system that Andy and Michael both for Quantum Country but adding token economics to it. So that is--the flashcards exist at the moment.
So you can use them on KERNAL for free. And as you said at the beginning of this interview the cost content will be forever opensource and free. But what we will do is, you know, bake in a token model behind the flashcards such that you will need to stake a certain amount of die to use the flashcards while the content remains forever free. Once you’ve completed the course and the spaced repetition after it and really have the most important concepts kind of baked into your understanding of what these networks are really about, then you can claim back the initial fee that you staked, or you can use the fee to mint some learn tokens and participate in a longer and more sustainable fashion with the community. And we’re also, you know, kind of able to make sure that for those who do choose to mint learn tokens, you know, when your funds are staked and you’re going through the course feeds sort of lock that in a DeFi while that earns a certain amount of yields and you get to benefit from that if you choose to mint learn tokens as well. So you’re, again, the idea being that you are using the tools that you’re learning about as you’re learning about them, and benefitting from them as well, the long-term goal being that wouldn't it be cool if we could have like continuous online learning environments that don’t leave students in debt and yet still generate the kinds of profit required to make sustainable, beautiful, and high-quality content for the people who design them. And that’s kind of a long-term goal, you know, eradiate student debt and make everybody happy online. But that’s obviously sort of milestone 25 or whatever. We’re currently on milestone three.
HOST: I love that. I feel like we could probably record a whole other episode just on the education system and how broken that is how that’ll change in the future. But I do want to give you a chance--I’m trying to be conscious of time here. I do want to give you a chance to talk about the other projects that you’re working on as well. So I think dapps and EthBlock are two that I’ve seen. And tell me if I’m missing anything too. But can you just maybe give a brief description of what those are and I’d love to hear, like, the genesis story too, like, how you got the idea for those and why you’re passionate about them.
CRYPTOWANDER: Sure. Dapps is the one that I’m sort of most directly responsible for. Status one of the first organizations to do an ICO back in 2017 sort of before the craze really of going later on that year. And in the course of running that ICO, we put out a white paper that made various different propositions about what would be possible with the token. This was kind of before anybody had one. So it was all clear sky thinking. And one of the major propositions in that paper was that we could use a token as a means of curating useful decentralized applications that you could interact with through Status because not only was Status a mobile client for Ethereum but it would also be, like, a sort of window from your phone onto all of the applications that you could use that lived on Ethereum. Of course screen real estate on mobile phones is very, very limited. And so whoever gets to the top of those lists needs to be providing the most value to the community. We thought that there was an interesting way of doing that that was not available to the Web2 giants. You know? This thing of providing the most value to the community is very, very difficult to define. Because if you say that it’s stars or likes or views or user review or any of these things, each one of those is very easy to manipulate or to cyberattack. And, you know, you can just spin a bot farm in China and get a million different Twitter followers. You can do the same for YouTube views. You can do the same for Amazon reviews. There’s no good way of sort of curating those top spots on the shelves. It’s the single biggest whole in Amazon’s business model. You know? They’ve had this thing of every single time they find a bottleneck, they just turn that bottleneck into the next platform. That’s what they did with Amazon Marketplace. It’s what they’ve done with AWS. All of these things that were becoming internal bottlenecks, they just made the customer-facing and went from a closed organization to an open platform and are now the biggest business on the Internet. What they cannot solve is advertising. Because while you have infinite shelf space if you’re an online retailer, there’s only so many top shelf spaces. And while Amazon earns a billion dollars a year in advertising revenue, the incentives are fundamentally misaligned. Instead of getting people with products that they actually mostly need and that are best value for money, the products that they see are those that belong to the people who are best at marketing and who have the biggest marketing budgets, not those that are necessarily making the best products. And that is a big problem, which it cannot solve with the platform.
You can only solve it with the protocol. And that’s what dapps is. It’s a means of curating d-apps using only tokens. It works extremely simply. So whoever stakes the most tokens--in this case the Status network token--ranks highest with the very simple caveat that the more tokens you stake, the cheaper it is for anybody to down vote you. So that ensures that those who have higher amounts of resources and have the capacity to stake large amounts of tokens can do so and benefit from it. But it’s easier for the community to express sentiment, which moves their ranking in meaningful ways. Moreover, it gives us a very, very easily quantifiable metric by which we can measure who is providing the most value to the community because if I stake tokens to ranked that SNT is locked out of circulation, which means that the entire community of token holders benefits because less SNT in circulation generally means higher prices per SNC. So you are literally in a very quantifiable economic sense providing value to the community. There are many other interesting aspects of even this very simple mechanism because market design is a beautifully second order cybernetic process. That can also belong in another podcast. Just to kind of carry on in this roll, EthBlock art is not something that I built but I was very, very happy to be an active community member and early supporter. Adrian Lebus who is the head of the user experience team at MegaDAO just in his spare time, you know, he was really fascinating having come out of the sort of demo scene, which was this deep Internet subculture and this sort of late 90s, early 2000s. And in fact--I mean even before that. They did 64K intros and these kind of things already interesting to go and Google if anybody has made it this far into the podcast. Kind of google the demo scene and 64K intros. This is the scene that Adrian came out of and he was really interested in how can find alternative ways of representing the data that Ethereum is generating all of the time. You know? This thing of having a block of JSON data with all sorts of arbitrary hexadecimal numbers that represent the log outputs and the transaction hashes in that block and all of these kinds of things mean very little to human beings who process information in fundamentally different ways than computers do, and we need to find some other ways of doing this. He began by sort of drawing these really beautiful--it’s now the called the signature style on EthBlock.art, which was the first one that he did--just these kind of like beautifully flowy random lines based on the data from any given Ethereum block. It would produce this image on a canvas that he could render. And that has now grown into a vibrant ecosystem of artists, coders and collectors. The idea being that you can come in as a coder. You can make your own block style. So this is where you would code the parameters that say if the data says this then produce this kind of visual output.
If the data says that, then produce that kind of visual outputs. So it’s like sort of this code template for producing each of the images for a block and with that you have to sort of specify a number of user-set parameters. I can change the color or the zoom or the Z access rotation or whatever. And then that gets rendered on a canvas in the sights and artists like me who doesn’t necessarily have the technical ability to like go in and code against raw hexadecimal Ethereum data but certainly understands what blocks were meaningful when the DAO was forked or when the Berlin hard fork took place or these kinds of things and look at those particular blocks, add my particular sort of artistic signature by tweaking these user parameters, choosing specific blocks that are relevant to the history or just relevant to me. You know? Like people have done it when my son was born. That was this block and they’re going to give that. And then you can sort of make--you can mint an NFT from that block, which is generated purely indeterministically from Ethereum data. And you get to earn that NFT and various different collectors collect that NFT and there are grand plans to make NFT’s of NFT’s of NFT’s in the whole design system, which I’m sure Adrian would be better to have on the podcast and speak at length about this because this notion of being able to represent information in more human meaningful ways again goes to the heart of what it means to develop humane technologies, to integrate our own being and ways in the world with the tools that we have in constructive, beneficial and networked ways that allow us to relate, that allow us to transact, that allow us to create together in ways that were perhaps not possible prior to this.
HOST: Yeah. I think it’s really cool. It takes something that is, you know, otherwise--maybe some people would view as ugly like a transaction hash--just a long string of numbers and letters that mean nothing--and turns it into something really beautiful. It kind of reminds me of Proof of Beauty. I don't know if you’re familiar with them, but we had them on the podcast and it sounds like a similar sort of project, you know, taking transaction hashes and turning them into generative art. And that also ties in pretty well with this tweet that I pulled. So we always end every podcast with an explain your tweet segment. And for the sake of time I’m just going to pull one tweet today even though you’ve got tons of good ones. But this one that I pulled is from April 29th, 2021. You tweeted live in the layers and litter the world with art. These little acts of loves lay the ground for a beautiful life here, now and after. My favorite NFT of all time. Thank you for being you, Ali Spagnola. So I know we didn't get a chance really to talk about NFT’s, which are the hot topic of the day. But can you try to explain what this NFT is that you’re describing and then why is this your favorite NFT.
CRYPTOWANDER: Well, first of all live in the layers and little the world with art is a riff on a Stanley Kunitz poem, which is live in the layers not the litter. It’s one of the most beautiful poems I know of in the English language. I encourage anyone to go and read it for themselves because it’s profound. The reason that I was inspired for this tweet--Ali is a quite famous Internet personality outside of crypto circles. She’s constantly spreading joy. She’s an absolute--she really is just joy in a Twitter stream or, you know, wherever you interact with her and kind of unapologetically so. And she often gets criticized you know by people who are sort of more cynical. The kind of more fourchant approach to life tend to troll her a lot. But she just has for years been this ray of hope for me on the Internet because she’s unapologetically herself and she’s like super, you know, idealistic and she can come across as a little bit naïve. But the sincerity and the joy that she radiates is something which I think is unique and deeply meaningful. It’s something that has really kind of spoken to me over the years--all of these different videos and little songs and ditties that she does. She’s also like a weightlifter and she’s so many--she’s like--so many dimensions or her life and she’s willing to kind of share a lot of that which I think is really beautiful because she again uses the medium of online communication in ways which many others do not. And for the longest time, she has been doing this free art project. She is herself formally trained as an artist and she’s painted--I think--I forget the exact number that are involved in this NFT but it’s like 14,000 paintings that she has painted and given away for free. Or maybe it’s--so maybe it’s like 2,800 paintings over 14 years. But she’s doing this like free art project for the last 14 years. And she paints these, like, kind of comic book--she has a very particular style, which is vibrant and colorful and quite simple, and she sort of paints them and then sends them to people. And she made one image of all of these thousands of paintings and turned it into an NFT. So it's this 14-year art project. This whole timeline of hers, which is fundamentally about gift giving, about artistic ways of being in the world which are not about purely financial representations of value. And she’s collapsed all of that into this single representation, you know, this whole timeline into, like, one beautifully colorful, vibrant, joyful explosion of NFT goodness. You know? And it was kind of funny. If you watched that video, which is linked in that tweet, it’s just my first half a million dollar NFT and I don't think it went for anywhere near a half a million dollars. But she has this whole like self-reflexive part of the video where she’s talking about I haven't solved this NFT yet. But if I call it a half a million dollar NFT then it will interact with the algorithm in a particular way and search results will increased more. And so this whole self-reflexive thinking about, like, hey, I know that there are algorithms that rank this kind of content online and I can actually use the way that those algorithms work, which is often in a highly--you know? People use it in a very manipulative way. But she is one of the few people in the world who understands that sincerity and manipulation are no different. It just has to do with what is called the logic of anticipation in terms of how you interact with these things. So the algorithm is never going to change and you can use it to manipulate people to really, really detrimental and nefarious ends. But if you’re Ali and you’re this ray of delight and hope in the world then you can use the same algorithm with exactly the same reasoning but for like deeply sincere reasons, which is to, you know, fund the continued creation of these free artworks that she paints and sends to people and which, you know, bring joy and color and hope into their lives. So I was--yeah. I mean if Ali ever watches this, I love you Ali. You’re the best. Don't ever let anybody get you down. So, yeah, that was the NFT.
HOST: I love it. I love it. Maybe we’ll try to tag her on Twitter or something and see if she’ll give us a listen. Well, thank you so much for being here. I really enjoyed our conversation. I learn so much from you every time we speak, or I hear you give a talk or anything like that. So I really appreciate you taking the time. Before you go, just tell people where they can find you if they want to connect with your personally and then also give everybody a reminder or where they can go to find KERNAL, dapps, and EthBlock art.
CRYPTOWANDER: So you can always find me at cryptowanderer on Twitter. That’s best. Kernal.community for the KERNAL free and online learning environments. DIP.PS dapps for dapps. It’s one of the only Palestinian domains in crypto and EthBlock.art for all of your artistic needs. Yeah. Thank you very much for having me on. It’s been delight.
HOST: Amazing. Thank you so much. Thank you listeners for tuning on as always and we’ll be back soon with another episode of The Unstoppable Podcast.