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AIKON Head of Strategy on Freedom, Censorship, and Moral Responsibility on the Blockchain

This is episode two in AIKON’s Mighty Capital-sponsored podcast series on building blockchain products. Here, AIKON Co-Founder and CEO Mark Blinder speaks with AIKON Head of Strategy Rick Schlesinger. The wide-ranging conversation touches on why technology is morally neutral, the responsibilities of PMs when it comes to censor-proof tech, and how PMs can get started in blockchain. So grab your cafe au lait and your tightest black turtleneck. This episode gets deep into the philosophy of freedom, censorship, and moral responsibility on the blockchain.

On why technology is neither good nor bad

Not infrequently, blockchain and (especially) cryptocurrency get something of a bad rap. Critics say an untraceable and decentralized currency will be abused by criminals and generally used for nefarious purposes. But these technologies are simply human instruments, and as such are inherently neutral, morally speaking. Rick expands on this idea below.

“Technology is neither good nor bad. Humans are what imbue subjective value into anything, whether it's a car, a piece of land, the ocean, crypto.… People that are in war torn areas, instead of lugging gold and silver and diamonds, and whatever value you might have to get out of a really bad situation, now you only need a small USB thumb drive. You stick it in your pocket, and then boom, you can walk across into a safer area. And wow, you have all your money. 

Moral responsibility on the blockchain

“Then on the flip side, will this create the ability to evade sanctions? I think we also need to think about, well, are those sanctions morally justifiable? Who is the arbiter of moral truth in this case? As we think about technology, it's neither good nor bad. It's how it's being used. 

“The world has to wrestle with the fact that you're going to have encryption. You're going to have things that prying eyes and ears are just not going to be able to access. Is that bad? I don't know. It doesn't seem that bad on the surface, but I could understand if it's being used for nefarious means – for terrorism, for human trafficking, something really, absolutely evil. 

“We can't just expect technology to solve all of the challenges humans have had in our multiple thousands of years of history. Bitcoin’s going to come along and solve human trafficking? No. We still have a role for law enforcement, and a moral code to which we all uphold ourselves.”

On the moral responsibility of PMs and digital book burning

If blockchain technology is indeed not susceptible to censorship, what is the responsibility of the PMs and businesses building products on top of it? Is there a moral responsibility for the content produced there? It’s complicated.

Rick asks, “If you're building a product, are you going to be designing it for every single edge case of, say, evasion of economic sanctions, or putting something really offensive online so that you can censor or take that down? I don't really think that that's the best approach to product design. However, it is something that we do need to kind of wrestle with. 

“And we're seeing a lot of Web 2.0 companies fumble through this a lot. We are seeing incongruent censorship and de-platforming across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter. I mean, even Google search results, right? It's pretty messy…

“It's something that we as humanity are going to need to deal with. Because, from my perspective, if you start erasing and removing record on the internet, simply because you have been sort of pressured to do so, or you just felt it was right, I view that as a digital book burning… 

Preventing the erasure of history

“What we don't want is the erasure of history. We know how destructive that can be. Look at 1930s Germany, and the actual book burning that they did. Or at the Library of Alexandria. Look at what happened when the Bolsheviks took over Russia and led the Communist revolution. Look at what Mao did in Communist China. Massive amounts of not only book burning, but that then also ends up justifying genocide. So we should really be keen to our history and recognize that when you do have this sort of censorship of ideas, unfortunately, it can lead to even worse outcomes for the health and well being of humans…

“Does blockchain solve all this? No, I'm not gonna say that. But it certainly can be helpful. At least here, because you're on a distributed decentralized network, you have multiple records, on multiple servers ,on multiple computers globally around the world. And you can access some of those records, even if some of them go down. And I think that that is an important sort of disaster recovery perspective that we all need to start to take into consideration.”

On how PMs can get started in Web3

For PMs who are currently based in centralized Web 2.0 companies, how might they get involved in blockchain? Rick recommends “dipping your toe into the Bitcoin world. That could take on many different forms. It could just be buying a little Bitcoin. That could be reading the Satoshi Nakamoto white paper. It could be getting involved with a company that is developing products for Bitcoin. Or going into the Etherium ecosystem.”

Rick also says that “it's about learning the differences between how centralized companies and open networks are really operating. It's getting back to that core understanding. And from my perspective, the first rule is do no harm, and approach from a neutral perspective. Leave your biases at the door. Be open to learning. Be open to understanding, because you're going to meet, within this world, many different cultures, many different perspectives. And the perspective and biases that you may have today may be changed as you learn more.”

Mark agrees that the Web3 world involves encounters with a myriad of rich perspectives, adding, “I’ve got a personal axe to grind. I see a lot of people online, and in other podcasts, especially on the progressive side of the aisle – which is where my politics lie – talking about ‘Crypto Bros.’ And I've been in the tech industry a long time now. This is tech company number six I've been involved in. Blockchain is the most diverse geographically, most diverse philosophically, most diverse racially and gender-wise I've ever seen. 

“The tech industry is truly open to people – anyone, anywhere in the world. Don't believe what you hear when people talk about ‘Crypto Bros.’ Blockchain is something that is truly for everyone, if they know how to use it.”