How a Worldwide, Web3 Turing Machine Could Free Your Time and Your Mind
We often focus on the cryptocurrency aspect that Web3 will enable, but the coming blockchain revolution is about a lot more than just the private, programmable money it makes possible. There is plenty of speculation – it’s practically its own sci-fi subgenre – about machines one day becoming too intelligent and making mankind obsolete. But that doesn’t have to be the path at all.
Sydney Bright in Bitcoin Magazine traces the history of computers from Babbage’s difference engine to the “worldwide Turing machine” that Web3 will enable, and he argues that just like with every other technological advance, it can free people from tedium, including thinking, so that they can be more mindful. It sounds strange but stay with it, it makes sense in context.
I have heard the idea that human beings are the caterpillar that will create our butterfly replacement: robotic life. However, I think this prediction is misplaced. It conflates logical intellectualism with life, and misrepresents what the worldwide Turing machine means for our human progression. What are we building? The internet is a global communication network that allows for information transfer. We created a worldwide Turing machine that would record, remember, filter and process information for us. Bitcoin was the next great decentralized innovation built on this worldwide Turing machine. What does it do? It records, maintains, manages and keeps our monetary infrastructure safe. Soon, we will have incredible robots and AI. They will farm for us, build for us, clean for us, etc. We are making a worldwide Turing machine to do all our thinking-oriented tasks.
To what end? The philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead once said, “It is a profoundly erroneous truism that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”
This is precisely the point. We are building a machine that will do our tasks so that we do not have to think about them anymore. In our modern, Western, analytically oriented culture, we believe that thinking is the highest form of being. We become afraid of the notion that a machine will replace our need to think because we believe it is what makes us unique. However, it would do us wonders to let go of this hubris. Knowledge is not the final frontier of understanding reality; wisdom is.
This idea is well elucidated by Daoist philosopher Zhuang Zi (庄子) in this parable:
“Yan Hui said, ‘I am making progress.’ Zhongni replied, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I have ceased to think of benevolence and righteousness,’ was the reply. ‘Very well, but that is not enough.’ Another day, Hui again saw Zhongni, and said, ‘I am making progress.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I have lost all thought of ceremonies and music.’ ‘Very well, but that is not enough.’ A third day, Hui again saw (the Master), and said, ‘I am making progress.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I sit and forget everything.’ Zhongni changed countenance, and said, ‘What do you mean by saying that you sit and forget (everything)?’ Yan Hui replied, ‘My connection with the body and its parts is dissolved; my perceptive organs are discarded. Thus leaving my material form, and bidding farewell to my knowledge, I am become one with the Great Pervader. This I call sitting and forgetting all things.’ Zhongni said, ‘One (with that Pervader), you are free from all likings; so transformed, you are become impermanent. You have, indeed, become superior to me! I must ask leave to follow in your steps.”
The message I glean from this passage is that it is the absence of analytical knowledge — rather than the presence of it — that allows one to arrive at a state of enlightenment. In other words, rather than the typical idea that knowledge and thinking are what we need to arrive at the truth of the world, wisdom achieved through mindfulness brings one to that higher state of understanding. This is what meditation contributes to. It is the practice of acquiring a calmer mind that is more present to gain greater wisdom of ourselves and our universe. This is what makes human beings extraordinary. It is what makes beings of biology special. Intellect is the talent of the computer, while wisdom is the talent of life.
Machines can take over the laborious nature of our lives, so we may find time to simply be. An understanding of this consequence can be achieved from the economics of a hyperbitcoinized world. One of the arguments in favor of Bitcoin is that it can replace our current monetary system based on fiat money with a system replaced by sound money. A fiat currency system is defined by inflation, whereas a sound money system is characterized by money that has its purchasing power determined by markets, independent of governments and political parties. This is crucial to consider. In an inflationary world, the cost of living continuously increases, which means that every paycheck is worth less than the previous one. This incentivizes people to spend money rather than saving it. Policymakers tend to favor this system because this spending stimulates the economy — which helps the rich get richer as the poor get poorer. Instead, it is a deflationary environment that would benefit us most. In a deflationary economy, the cost of living goes down every day. The next time you get a paycheck, even if the paycheck has the same number on it, it grants you a greater purchasing power. Savings become more valuable daily, even if there is no interest, therefore, someone can retire sooner. Imagine if 100 years ago, it took 60 years to save and retire. For the next generation, it took 40 years, and so on. Eventually, in a deflationary system, it took only one day to have enough wealth to retire. Eventually, people would hardly have to work to save enough for them to live the rest of their lives with abundant free time. Of course, this is not only because of the monetary system; it would be largely due to the advancements in technology that make our lives easier and more manageable. If Bitcoin didn’t exist, this could still happen.
The worldwide Turing machine will grow and replace many of our jobs. However, without Bitcoin, the monetary system would funnel all the wealth to the rich and powerful and the poor would not see the full benefits of the advancing economy. We already see much of this today: Rich people live incredibly luxurious lives without having to work excessive hours, while middle- and lower-class people work hard every day with only tiny bits of wealth to show for it. With Bitcoin, everyone can benefit from advancing technology. It does the “thinking” for us in keeping track of global transactions, accounting, etc., so we do not have to rely upon corrupt central banks to do it. This way, all ships rise with the tide. Again, the worldwide Turing machine will think for us so we can live tranquil and relaxing lives.