Rick Falkvinge, the author of Swarmwise (inspiration for Ethereum) and founder of the Pirate Party, plans on shaking up the world with his new project called SwarmOps, which will be fully presented at the Swarm Demo Day this week on November 5th.
Ruben Alexander: What motivated you to start the Pirate Party?
Rick Falkvinge: The usual entrepreneur’s insight, to be honest. I was looking at policies being made in the information policy field and civil liberties, and thought “I can do this better”. So I did.
More specifically, the software patent monopoly debate in the European Parliament (which ended up NOT legalizing software patent monopolies) in 2004-2005 set me thinking, another harshening of the copyright monopoly in Sweden in the summer of 2005 set me thinking more, and the final trigger was the Data Retention Directive, mandating that all our communications and movements are logged to use against us in the future, which passed the European Parliament on December 14, 2005. That was just Stasi methods and were nowhere near acceptable. I registered the domain two days later, and spent two week setting up the site. (As a sidenote, early this year, the European Court of Justice agreed with me, undoing the Data Retention Directive in Europe, saying it violates fundamental rights to an unacceptable degree.)
What changes have you seen in Sweden’s copyright policy since the Pirate Party began?
Fundamental shifts that come and go with our popularity Above all, further harshenings became politically impossible the instant we started becoming visible. For example, there were plans to introduce “Three Strikes” in Sweden and a bill to that effect had been commissioned. In the meantime, the Pirate Party appeared. The commission’s report was just thrown straight into the rubber bin.
At our best popularity so far around the European Elections in 2009, pretty much all the other parties were competing in the “Who’s the better Pirate” game. It was real fun to see them trying to use mostly the right words in mostly the right order.
Our major legislative successes have been at the European level, though, where we got “Three Strikes” laws (like the French Hadopi) outlawed across all of Europe, where we brought a radical copyright monopoly reform into the mainstream, and where we were instrumental in stopping the anti-liberty agreement ACTA globally.
How were you introduced to Bitcoin?
It was impossible to not notice bitcoin 2010-2011 if you were following technical news sites. I think I read about it on Slashdot the first time. However, there were so many new concepts – lack of a central bank, public distributed ledger, cryptographically signed transactions, mining rewards – that it took a while for me to connect all the dots. When I had connected those dots and the penny dropped on me, I realized that bitcoin would just dropkick finance and banking as the world knew it, and I went all-in, converting all my savings to bitcoin and maxing out my credit line to buy more.
That got me some comments at the time. My favorite is still the top-rated (top-rated!) Reddit comment: “Is he out of his mind? I can’t even begin to comprehend the depths of the stupidity of that kind of reasoning.” I’m not entirely sure they still think so.
How were you introduced to “Bitcoin 2.0″ and cryptoassets?
It took me a while to realize that having solved the Byzantine Generals’ Problem – the distributed proof-of-work problem that underlies the blockchain – makes data scarce among consenting participants. In a world of perfect copying machines, we can make data scarce. That’s extraordinary. That’s when I realized currency is just the first major application of the blockchain, and that there will be many many more – anything scarce that requires a ledger will convert to the blockchain, sooner or later.
Equity and incorporation is probably the first successful post-currency application. There’s going to be so much more. Oh, and when we get Ethereum’s self-arbitrating contracts into the mix, we’re going to be challenging the very core functions of the nation-state government. You thought the copyright monopoly conflict was bad? The future is throwing shower sparks all around with the battle for power, where a government will try to save its own ability to keep ledgers (and therefore arbitrate what’s in those ledgers). It might as well try to legislate a different gravity.
Can you describe your Swarm #1 Class project SwarmOps?
How do you present accounting and volunteer management software – office back-end software – as sexy? Well, you could say that it’s written by people who absolutely loathe every form of paperwork, so the software hides all of it from plain sight and does it in the background. You could point out that it’s the missing piece of the bitcoin ecosystem, as native-bitcoin businesses can’t do their administration today without it. You could also point out that it was absolutely crucial for the Swedish Pirate Party to put two people into the European Parliament on less than 1% of the competition’s budget.
Swarmops is management software that doesn’t suck, plain and simple, which already makes it pretty unique. It allows for self-enrollment and puts people in touch with each other. It does accounting in the background. It pushes authority to the edges of the organization, where it does the most good. It keeps track of tens of thousands of volunteers and activists, where they are, and their closest point of contact. And adding bitcoin to the mix, it not only supports bitcoin-native businesses, it will also do cashflow on automatic.
How do you see cryptoassets helping 3rd world countries?
Enormously. There’s an economic concept called “leapfrogging,” where a nation or region just skips an entire evolutionary step and moves directly to the next. Africa skipped ubiquitous landline telephony, for example, and moved directly to mobile phones. I think Africa in particular has an enormous strength here, because for all their corruption, that corruption doesn’t take the same form as in the West, where incumbent industries buy laws that outlaw their more modern competition. It’s more… distributed and not designed to prevent progress. So I think the third world in general, and Africa in particular, has a superb opportunity to use blockchain technology for everything from land registry (as BitNation aspires to do) to the “System D” economy, which is today’s underground economy.
I think blockchain technology has the potential to get it and its applications banned in several places in the West just because it would unseat so many incumbent industries and vested interests, in which case the rest of the world – today’s 3rd world – would just steamroll over those who had chosen to stay behind the progress.
How has Bitcoin been received in Sweden?
Sweden got good broadband very early – I had fiber to this apartment in 1998, over 15 years ago – so there [has] been a lot of net entrepreneurship here. As usual, it stands between bureaucrats and entrepreneurs at present. The Tax Authority is arguing that bitcoin is a good, so tax (VAT) should be applied to it, but they’ve gotten the boot from every court so far, where the courts have said it’s a currency (“simply because it’s used as a currency”). They’ve currently appealed to the European Court of Justice, so that’s going to take a while. Until then, bitcoin entrepreneurship is a bit up in the air here.
And as usual, legacy banks are showing their most Stalinesque side toward any business even touching or thinking of bitcoin. That’s not going to help them in the long run, but it creates some short-term problems.
At the grassroots level, though, there is a thriving community.
Is there a live demo of your SwarmOps software online?
What are the terms of your cryptoasset issuance and is the SwarmOps cryptoasset name?
The cryptoasset’s name is SWARMOPSNPO – and holders are guaranteed membership in the Swarmops Association, getting voting rights to prioritize features, among other things. People who buy that asset will also get a separate asset at an 1:1 ratio which is redeemable for services later, if they don’t want to host their own Swarmops installation (the idea with a separate redeemable asset being that they shouldn’t have to give up membership/voting rights). There are also plans for a giveback program for some part of future operating surplus, though the exact details for this need to be carefully reviewed – it can’t be promised as a dividend because securities laws, nor arranged as a lottery for lottery laws, but the ambition is to do a significant giveback to the community from a future operating surplus.
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