Google and social media have been in the headlines. So has Bitcoin. Tech guru and conservative economist George Gilder now brings the two together in a fascinating and pertinent way.
According to a very recent WellsFargo/Gallup poll, about 2% of American investors — defined as people with more than $10,000 in stocks, bonds or mutual funds — own some bitcoin. Less than 1% are planning to buy any soon.
Yet about one in four investors are intrigued. You may be one of them.
I am the senior counselor to the Chamber of Digital Commerce, the world’s largest trade association which represents the blockchain industry. George Gilder serves on the advisory board of the Chamber of Digital Commerce and we’ve been professional colleagues, on and off, for decades.
As such, I was privileged to read his new book, Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and The Rise of the Blockchain Economy, thrice: twice in manuscript and again in hardcover. I rarely read a book once, much less three times, and reread twice it out of pleasure not duty.
The blockchain — the virtual “stuff” of which bitcoin was the pioneering (and remains the preeminent) version — is one of the hottest technologies in the world right now. It’s also one of the most controversial.
Marc Andreessen, the inventor of the Web browser and one of the most powerful venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, said to the Washington Post (the Post’s comments are in bold below) a few years ago:
“This is the big breakthrough. This is the thing we’ve been waiting for. He solved all the problems. Whoever he is should get the Nobel prize — he’s a genius. This is the thing! This is the distributed trust network that the Internet always needed and never had.” … So the business opportunity posed by this “distributed trust network” — as an investor, what do you see that you could potentially — “Hundreds or thousands of applications and companies that could get built on top. Is this, like, a billions-of-dollars kind of industry? “Yeah.” Trillions…? “Yeah!”
That high valuation is not mere rhetoric. As Bloomberg reported on August 2, “This year’s selloff in virtual currencies has done little to dent investor enthusiasm for initial coin offerings, which attracted a record $12 billion in the first half. That’s up from $7 billion for the whole of 2017 and a more than 50-fold jump from 2016….”
Meanwhile, legendary old school investor Warren Buffett recently called bitcoin “probably rat poison squared.” (This clearly was not meant as a compliment). Buffett’s long-time consigliere Charlie Munger called trading crypto “just dementia.” (Also not meant as a complement.)
So, who’s right?
Gilder to the rescue!
Gilder, for those space travelers recently returned from the long trip to Proxima Centauri, is one of the leading public intellectuals of our era. He wrote what Dr. Arthur Laffer, co-architect of Supply-Side economics, called “the bible of the Reagan Revolution,” the million-selling book Wealth and Poverty. Gilder was the living author most quoted in his speeches by President Reagan.
Since Reagan was the president who, in following the Kemp/Mundell/Laffer/Gilder recipe, set the course for multiplying world’s wealth by something like a (nominal) factor of seven, bringing over a billion people worldwide out of dire poverty in the process, Gilder is obviously a consequential public intellectual.
Nor was George Gilder a one-hit wonder. He went on to write a series of books on technology that propelled him to nearly legendary status. He flew high and moved markets with the Gilder Technology Report… until the Fed busted the dotcom boom. That implosion did not, however, undermine his prophetic qualities.
Ari Emanuel — arguably the most powerful man in Hollywood — attributes his success to George Gilder. As Emanuel wrote at Medium:
In 1990, I picked up a book by George Gilder called “Life After Television.” It changed my life.
It caused me to imagine technology that could move so fast that our industry might be gone in a decade or two. Most of the people where I worked couldn’t see that. They bet on the past. Because of George’s book, I bet on the future and left to start my own business.
It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I’ve never looked back.
George predicted a world where traditional network television programming ended because of computers, digital video and fiber optics. You can still call that box in your house a TV, but the TV business as we knew it in those days is gone. We didn’t have the words to describe all the inventions George talked about back then like “teleputers” and “channels of information.” But today we know them as iPhones and the web. The internet, mobile and streaming revolutions happened just as George predicted.
Watching George’s predictions happen, living through them and building my business around them, I learned that the cycle of innovation doesn’t stop after TV. Surviving the next revolution means connecting the dots early and trusting your instincts when things are about to change.
Never one to rest on his laurels Gilder now moves us from Life After Television to Life After Google to make an even bolder prophecy. (Spoiler alert: imagine the Web in 3D virtual reality. Now… read on.) Gilder, an old pro at this, also authored Microcosm (a defining book about the semiconductor industry), Telecosm (a cult classic about fiber optics), and The Silicon Eye, among others.
Gilder has seen the future, and it works. Forget the dotcoms. They are yesterday’s news. So what are the dots to now connect, early, to survive the next revolution? Gilder steps forth to unravel the enigma of the blockchain, which he compellingly baptizes the “Cryptocosm.”
It’s a saga.
Computer chips and flat panel displays revolutionized our lives (as the stuff of the MacBook Pro on which I compose this review and, likely, the screen on which you read it). Fiber optics also revolutionized our lives (as the Web, on which I researched and submitted it, and infinite cable bandwidth — think Game of Thrones and so much more).
Then mobile transformed our lives. Now we are about to move from the Microcosm to the Telecosm to the Cryptocosm.
I am by no means alone in thinking Gilder prophetic. The Financial Times recently picked Life After Google as one of their three “business books of summer 2018.” Thus, far from being rat poison, blockchain promises to prove to be the next Big Thing.
Whether you are a veteran of or a newcomer to the blockchain space, Life After Google is likely to prove a revelation and a delight. (Also, you just might order an extra copy for Aunt Gladys who keeps asking you to explain bitcoin to her. Just don’t blame me if she becomes a crypto billionaire.)
In 23 chapters plus an epilogue, Gilder plays Virgil to your Dante in exploring the many circles of the Cryptocosm. If you are part of the 1% interested in investing in the Next Big Thing, or just would like to know what’s going to be upending your day-to-day life in the next few years — and how — you’ve come to the right place.
Bonus: Gilder keeps it fun, intuitive, and exciting. Life After Google begins with a breathtaking romp through the prototype Back to the Future ride through Hill Valley/a volcano/chased by a T-Rex in a virtual DeLorean.
This ride, which Gilder invested in and experienced in prototype, was designed by 2001: A Space Odyssey/Close Encounters/Blade Runner special effects wizard Douglas Trumble. It become a dominant theme park experience. Gilder gives you a private tour.
Gilder then takes us on as breathtaking a ride through what he calls Google’s “system of the world.” Google’s is a system based on “free.” But, as he demonstrates, it’s an odd kind of free — free, as in, literally, priceless.
Gilder finds this antithetical to true freedom. And to capitalism.
By not charging its users — you and me — for its services, Google places itself in a position to harvest immense amounts of data about us. It then uses that data to sell advertising. While this is not quite sinister in the way Senate interrogators like to portray it, this architecture holds within itself the seeds of its own destruction.
And Gilder holds that it violates Google’s initial prime directive, “Don’t be evil,” originally a sly dig at Microsoft. The original sin, and inescapable evil, of Google’s “system of the world” is that the data it thus collects are intrinsically, inevitably, insecure.
That system demands the hassle of passwords and two-factor authentication and so forth. And yet… the data are warehoused in ways that are intrinsically vulnerable to hackers and phishers and breachers and other nefarious sorts right out of The Inferno’s central casting.
Gilder meticulously documents how the lack of security is intrinsic to Google’s priceless “system of the world.” “Pricelessness” may sound pretty wonderful, à la Mastercard’s early 21st century ad campaign.
But it has an Achilles’ heel. The New Yorker’s February 7, 2000 article entitled “The Price Prophet” by its estimable economics bigfoot John Cassidy stated, “It is hardly an exaggeration to refer to the twentieth century as the Hayek Century.”
Why? Because of Hayek’s discovery of the power of price as an essential element to free markets and the equitable prosperity that liberty creates.
Capitalist pricing, not Marxist pricelessness, turned out to hold the key to obliterating poverty and improving the lot of workers — much to the astonishment of the naive Lincoln Steffanses of this world.
Gilder, in a personal email, instructs me, “One of the key flaws of ‘free’ is it obviates security. No one needs to steal free stuff.” Cue Kris Kristofferson’s and Fred Foster’s Bobbie McGee: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.… Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free….”
Then Gilder shows how the blockchain — the Cryptocosm — will cure the problem of insecurity baked into Google’s System of the World. Crypto promises to make our identities and our valuable digital property secure and to secure their value… for us, rather than for Google.
The company store was not a great advance of capitalism during the era of the so-called “robber-barons,” and it is no better today when it is dispersed through the cloud, funded through advertising, and combined with a spurious sharing of free goods. Marxism was historically hyperbolic the first time round, and the next Marxism is delusional today. It is time for a new information architecture for a globally distributed economy.
Fortunately, it is on its way.
One of the marvels of a George Gilder tech book is how he unfailingly takes us behind the interface on a tour of the workings of the system and the people who created these. He unfailingly shows us the fascinatingly intricate clockwork behind the hands and face of the watch. In Life After Google, Gilder takes us on a whirlwind tour of the World’s Fair of much of what’s actually inside the Internet… and the blockchain.
Gilder displays all this as a Cabinet of Wonders. Never a dull moment. Another fascinating element of “The Joy of Gilder” is his taking us to meet the Grand Architects of the Digital Universe, past, present and future.
Early on he escorts us into the very moment of the key conference — in 1930 — where a young super-geek named Kurt Gödel — empowered by the intellectual courage of the great von Neumann — quietly but definitively tipped over the first domino that destroyed the prevailing deterministic scientific model of the world.
Gödel, empowered by von Neumann, opened the door to a cornucopian cyber age. The blockchain now promises to restore its decentralized glory.
That moment led the world out of the desert of determinism and into the age of information theory. (It’s Claude Shannon’s world. We just live in it.) And if you dare to think of the greatness, rareness, muchness, fewness of this precious only endless world in which you say you live I have encountered no better guide to it than Life After Google.
Gilder’s excursion to 1930, however, is merely his genuflection to the Logos, the Original Word. He quickly moves us from “In the beginning” to a close encounter with the technological marvels of the world in which we live as obliviously as fish are to water.
The Greeks had four words for history: Logos (the Origin, as “In the beginning was the Word”); Mythos (our mythic antecedents); Epos (our Epic ancestry); and Rheimos (contemporary history). Gilder duly begins with the Prime Movers, the utterers of the Logos: von Neumann, Gödel, Turing, Shannon.
He then quickly takes us on a magical mystery tour of the Internet’s Mythic era. Meet Google’s founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the paladins of “Big Data.” Travel with them to Burning Man!
Gilder portrays the founders of Google as Titanic in two senses. They are the Titans in the pre-Olympus sense, primitive, barbaric, early gods such as Cronos, destined to be vanquished by the Olympian deities and banished to Tartarus. Titanic is also an allusion to a certain ill-fated ocean liner, in its brief day the grandest passenger ship ever yet built.
Gilder then moves us smartly along to confront the brewing epic battle for supremacy between the insurgent Olympians — featuring the paladins of the blockchain — and the currently reigning Titans. He introduces us to the powerful implications of the parallel processing chips made by Nvidia and of the implications of advanced materials such as the one molecule thick, 60X as strong as steel and 200X as conductive as copper, graphene.
Nvidia chips originally were just meant for gaming. Now they are being repurposed as crucial for innovations such as self-driving vehicles. And graphene promises to make “nano-machines, vehicles, and engines possible.” Gilder shows how hardware appears to be regaining technological supremacy over the software that has been “eating the world.”
This portends a tectonic shift in the world economy. Follow along!
Gilder is so steeped in high tech culture that he can readily expose the pretensions of the current reigning Masters of the Universe with their artificial hysteria over Artificial Intelligence. He reveals how their Asilomar conference of 2017 — convened to place an anathema on AI — was mis-founded on a materialist superstition. And he shares how this feckless conclave was held in the same venue as a 1975 conference predicting an apocalypse — apparently by 1985 — from genetic engineering. That never materialized. Neither, declares Gilder, will Elon Musk’s AI apocalypse.
After exposing some of the key fallacies and spurious assumptions of the currently reigning Titans of Tech, Gilder moves us from Mythos to Epos, from the mythic age to the epic age we are now entering.
Here come the insurgent Olympians, prominently among whom are the wielders of the blockchain. Gilder provides us with a revelatory imaginary encounter with the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of bitcoin, and then introduces us to the ferociously brilliant Vitalik Buterin, “a child prodigy on a Mozartian scale,” the inventor of Bitcoin’s main rival (or complement), Ethereum.
Gilder then escorts his readers to meet several enfants terrible of tech who you likely have not — not yet — heard of. Prominent among them is Austin Russell, who is successfully incubating the key laser-radar technology to make self-driving cars safe and affordable. This is “orders of magnitude better than the competition from Google and others,” reports Gilder.
Russell is a Thiel Fellow. His company, Luminar, is partly funded by Peter Thiel. Thiel, a founder of PayPal, the first major investor in Facebook, the money behind Palantir, is known for many things. One of these is his trope, “We wanted flying cars. Instead we got 140 characters.”
Thiel, who Gilder calls “the master investor-philosopher,” blurbs Life After Google thusly: “George Gilder shows how deep this assumption ‘that the world’s future is nothing more than the next moment in a random process’ goes… and why it’s wrong….”
Call what is happening “Thiel’s Revenge.” The Olympians overthrowing the Titans is a drama wherein Thiel might be cast as Zeus. The fall of Big Data will occur at the hands of the “flying car” pioneers.
Moving along from Logos to Mythos to Epos, Gilder escorts us into an up-close-and-personal look at contemporary history, Rheimos. Enter the blockchain.
Gilder conjures a phantasmagoric imaginary encounter with Satoshi and pursues a delightful parlor game as to who Satoshi might (or might not) be. This, in turn, gives way to his recounting of a dramatic “Battle of the Blockchains” — between bitcoin maximalist Craig Steven Wright, who claimed to be, perhaps as a pretender, Satoshi himself.
Wright, and bitcoin, are pitched against Vitalik Buterin — another Thiel Fellow — and Ethereum.
In its effect on our business, technology, and economic life, Buterin’s contribution is paralleled only by Satoshi’s blockchain itself.… In the history of enterprise there has never been anything like the launch of Ethereum.
Which blockchain will prevail?
Andreas Antonopoulos … compares bitcoin and Ethereum to “a lion and a shark.” Each will dominate in its own domain. Each will suffer from limitations and tradeoffs.
Drilling down further, Gilder takes us out of the abstract to the concrete: Blockstack, a company designed to go “out into the electronic night… to light it up with an architecture for a transformed Internet — a metaworld of trust beyond the seven layers of communications technology.”
Gilder introduces this world-transforming startup with a meditation on the “Metaverse” as invented by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. He then moves on to the human story of Blockstack’s founder, Muneeb Ali, born in a village in Pakistan. By dint of genius and persistence and, although Gilder does not say so, Insh’Allah Ali escapes from his deeply humble origins to become a potential savior of the Worldwide Web. (Advocates for generous immigration policy: take note!)
As 70 percent of all links came to be handled through Google and Facebook, [the Web’s inventor, Sir Tim] Berners-Lee feared that his Web was dying. He would become a Blockstack enthusiast. “When he heard what we were doing he did a little dance,” said Blockstack’s software chief, Jude Nelson.
The Internet stack had become a porous and perforated scheme in which most of the money and power could be sucked up by the big apps at the top run by companies such as Google. What was needed was a blockstack that could keep the crucial IDs and personal data and pointers to storage addresses in a secure and immutable database on the blockchain. …
[S]ecurity is not an app or a video game. It is an architecture.
Where is Gilder, and the world, going with this?
Ali described [the blockchain] as “the most sophisticated and complex and yet elegant and beautiful program I ever came across. And the main thing it does is it gives power back to the people.”
This is about finally making the Internet really secure instead of perilous. This is about causing the inventor of the Web to do “a little dance.” This is about giving power back to the people.
And, not so incidentally, this is about making self-driving, possibly even flying, cars, real thereby ameliorating or even ending America’s road-bridge-and-tunnel infrastructure crisis through innovation instead of a trillion dollar government spending spree.
Buckle up. Gilder gets even more dazzling.
He is now inventor of the Brave Browser designed to remedy “the bad effects of cookies and turns the tables on every top-down Internet empire.”
Eich is doing this though something called BATS:
“Basic Attention Tokens” to bring down Google. Or at least send Page and Brin back to the drawing board for a new strategy. The mild-mannered Eich will hit them with a billion BATS.
Gilder met Eich through mutual service on the advisory board of OTOY, a leading enterprise in the field of virtual reality, one using the blockchain to create:
’Scuse me while I kiss the sky.
Gilder takes us into a grand finale worthy of July 4th fireworks on the national mall in a chapter titled “The Rise of Sky Computing,” quoting OTOY co-founder Jules Urbach as using the blockchain to offer “A decentralized and open global rendering system… foundational for disruptive services and platforms to evolve from the post-mobile world of immersive computing….”
Life After Google thereafter glides into a graceful denouement, declaring that,
Governments and investors everywhere should welcome the explosion of creativity in crypto, preparing a new financial system of the world for the moment when the fiat currency piñata bursts at last.
Gilder strikes a prophetic note in his penultimate chapter.
The revolution in cryptography has caused a great unbundling of the roles of money, promising to reverse the doldrums of the Google Age, which has been an epoch of bundling together, aggregating, all the digital assets of the world.… By reestablishing the connections between computation, finance, and AI on the inexorable metrics of time and space, the great unbundling of the blockchain movement can restore economic reality. Crucial will be the emergence from the crypto-welter of metrics tied to the scarcity of unfolding time. Satoshi was correct in mimicking gold, but because he did not fully grasp the sources of gold’s success, he erred in his parameters for the bitcoin. Satoshi’s error provides opportunities for others only to the extent that they grasp the nature of money and time.
A computer industry for a world of information should be oriented to the creative dimension of virtual reality rather than the flat universe of the materialistic superstition. A successful system of the world should be devoted to rendering the full complexity of the human mind.
Shades of Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland! Gilder here seems to be promising us that the blockchain will move us from a two-dimensional digital universe as now defined and dominated by Google to a three-dimensional digital universe, both metaphorically and metaphysically, where our dignity and liberty are restored.
For us civilians, this portends a more dramatic leap than the one from silent films to talkies, from black-and-white to color. Our world is about to transform, in large measure through the blockchain. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Recently, Vint Cerf, who, with Bob Kahn, was the Internet’s rightly beatified co-inventor and is now Google’s chief Internet evangelist, put out a teasingly derogatory tweet about the blockchain. Therein he embedded “a simple flow chart,” a box with the question “Do I need a Blockchain?” with an arrow pointing to a box that says “No.”
If Cerf reads Life After Google he just might toggle that “No” to “Yes.” Cerf is, after all, a world-historical genius. In any case, it would be riveting to watch a debate between the author of Life After Google and Google’s chief Internet evangelist to, well, hash it out.
Also, maybe, just maybe, after reading Gilder, Google will upgrade its System of the World. Sergey and Larry might be a couple of Burning Man hippies. If they are, they are also among the smartest hippies who ever lived. Bring it on.
In writing Life After Google, George Gilder has outdone himself. The author of the bible of the Reagan Revolution has now written the bible of the Cryptocosm. The Cryptocosm is a technological breakthrough that promises to transform every aspect of our lives.
Gilder is its essential guide.
Whether you are reading as an investor, as a voter, or simply to indulge a healthy citizen’s curiosity about the way the world soon will work Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and The Rise of the Blockchain Economy will endow you with the genesis block of an invaluable roadmap to the future.
Buckle your seatbelt and prepare for a ride Back to the Future like nothing else. Welcome to the Cryptocosm.