General

MaidSafe New Team Member: Dug Campbell

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Photo by NASA on Unsplash

As we hurtle towards the end of 2017, it’s time to take stock. And the verdict’s in: it’s been a crazy year in the world of cryptocurrency. But thankfully, in most cases, that’s crazy-good, as opposed to crazy-bad. That’s certainly the case for me personally at least. And this is why…

Back in January 2014, I organised the first Bitcoin Meetup in Scotland. As I wrote at the time, it felt like a bit of a leap of faith. Not in terms of the organisation (thanks to Meetup). But because the prevailing view amongst those few who’d actually heard of this ‘magic internet money’ was that the whole thing was a scam and destined to end in tears.

Whether real or perceived, it crossed my mind that there might be a reputational risk in becoming so deeply involved as an organiser. I don’t consider myself risk-averse in any way. But as someone who had enjoyed/endured a legal career of more than a decade, I’m hardly the best person to judge. After all, the risk of loss-aversion has well-known effects on decision-making.

But try as I might, I couldn’t get past one simple fact. I’d spent many months by that stage falling deeper down the proverbial Bitcoin rabbit hole. Late nights wrestling with explanations about the technology, engaging with the economic implications, debating the future potential and limitations. To me, it was clear that change – at a fundamental, disruptive level that would resonate across multiple areas of everyday life – was coming. And yet, as far as I could make out, no-one in Scotland had got together in a room  to discuss what was going on. The decision was made. I might be left sitting alone in that pub one evening – but surely there had to be others out there.  

The story of how the scene in Scotland developed after that first meetup (for which, to be clear, I claim no credit!) is an interesting one. But it’s not the focus here. Nor is the purpose of this post a chance for me to say ‘I told you so’ when we look at Bitcoin in 2017. I believe Bitcoin remains a technology in evolution with an indeterminate end state that has plenty of room left to run. The key thing here is the paradigm shift that’s taking place.

But that very first night in Edinburgh was important for another reason. I’m still in contact with many of the people that I met for the first time that night. But undoubtedly one of the most impactful conversations I’ve had was with someone who’d been one of the first to sign up for that meetup – a guy called David Irvine, who travelled all the way across from the West Coast of Scotland, from an outfit that went by the name of MaidSafe.  

I’d tried to research everyone who’d signed up before the meetup. Not in a creepy ‘let’s-track-you’ kind of way. But in a ‘let’s-build-the-community’ kind of way. I wanted to help people to keep the conversations going after the event. And I have to admit, my feeble brain had struggled to understand what MaidSafe did before the Meetup. But that changed when I spoke to David on that evening. And I was dumbfounded by the fact that a project with such huge ambitions and such far-reaching implications was taking place pretty much under my nose in Scotland.

Since that time, I’ve been heavily involved in the Bitcoin/blockchain scene, particularly in Scotland. But I’ve always been convinced that something big was happening in the mythical shed in Troon. Throughout my travels, I kept pointing people in the direction of the SAFE Network and discussing what it represents. That included asking Nick (Lambert, COO) to give a talk when I put on the Scottish Bitcoin Conference in 2014, running a Maidsafe-focused meetup and also sharing in the rollercoaster excitement of the MaidSafe fundraising in April 2014.

Fast forward four years and I’m delighted to say that I’ve now joined MaidSafe full-time as Marketing and Outreach Coordinator. Most people who start at a new company talk platitudes about their new employers. But you’ll have to take my word for it in this case. I’d continue to sing the praises of the SAFE Network even if I wasn’t working here.

This is why.

MaidSafe’s mission is no less significant than building a new secure network that will revolutionise the way that every one of us uses the internet. Many years ago, David had worked out that we collectively needed a better solution. And MaidSafe is in good company, with none other than the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, sharing similar concerns. In fact, Tim is working on addressing the same sort of issues with his Solid project at MIT

Over the past couple of years, the problems of data storage and security have only worsened. The concerns so presciently raised by MaidSafe eleven years ago have intensified in the collective awareness of society. We now see daily examples of sensitive personal information and data being hacked or misplaced by third parties. Arguments over privacy and net neutrality dominate the news. And new concerns over the excessive power wielded by giant internet companies are raised daily.  

In short, as the internet has increased in importance to our daily lives, so has the visibility of its major flaws. And crucially – these aren’t issues that will simply solve themselves. We can’t sit back and expect things to improve. Technologies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have helped to bring the benefits of decentralisation to the forefront of discussion. And even amongst those who remain cynical, few still believe our current architecture remains fit-for-purpose when it comes to the next few decades of human evolution.

In addition to playing a small part in helping to build a solution to a problem that increases with each passing day, there’s another big motivating factor at play for me here. With the emergence of MaidSafe so early in the chronology of recent events, I believe that many over the past few years have simply not had the opportunity to spend  the time to find out what the ultimate success of this project represents. I’ve been a member of MaidSafe’s forum (https://safenetforum.org/) since it was set up (not by the company but by enthusiasts around the world, it should be noted) a few years ago – and I’m constantly bowled over by just how engaged, respectful, intelligent and enthusiastic this community is.

Over the past few years, I’ve given many talks on Bitcoin and the blockchain scene in general. But the reality is that my advocacy has always been a response to the level of community engagement out there. The more people that found out about the subject, the keener they were to explore further. The similarities to me are striking. Today, I don’t think most people are aware that the SAFE Network project has been active for eleven years. Just let that sink in for a moment. Pre-Bitcoin. The project even had a prototype crypto-currency before Satoshi’s White Paper. As I said at the start, in the context of 2017, the SAFE Network is so far from being a hyped product it’s not funny. But it’s clear to me what the SAFE Network is: an open-source project that’s open to all that invokes a passion and belief in a community who are all driving in the same direction.

Remind you of something?

As I start working with the team on a unique project, I can’t wait to get out and do my bit. I remember a comment David made years ago. It was along the lines of “It doesn’t matter who achieves our goal in the end – but it does matter that someone does”. Joining a team that have been toiling away at some of the hardest technical challenges out there for over a decade – for the most part entirely unheralded and under the radar – there’s no doubt in my mind that that’s going to change soon. And I can’t wait to get started.  

If you want to get in touch and have a chat, please reach out. I’m pretty active on Twitter (@dugcampbell) or you can sign up and speak to thousands more via the forum (https://safenetforum.org/). In the meantime, we’re looking for some more people to join us at MaidSafe – so if you’re a UX/UI Designer, Software Support Analyst or Testing & Release Manager and fancy joining the team, please get in touch! 

SAFE Network Autumn/Winter 2017 Update

It has been a busy few months with the SAFE Network, we have had updates on the Network, the APIs and Browser as well as internal changes here at MaidSafe.  

As we continue to grow we have taken the decision to open an office in India.  As we already have a number of key front-end developers in Chennai this new office space will allow us to further develop this team and enabling greater internal collaboration. Being based in  the technological hub of Chennai will help us attract some of the best talent as well as interact with other tech firms, industry events and meet-ups.  We have found a great space in an IT business park which can house up to 30 staff, primarily the front end team.  Renovations and design of these premises is set to be completed by late January 2018. This is a very exciting project and we will be sharing pictures of the office, the renovations and updates on the forum.

As many of you who follow us on the forum and social media will know we have been experiencing some big changes in Scotland too.  We recently moved from our previous office in Troon to a new place in Ayr.  Although this is not a big move geographically it is a bigger and more comfortable space which we hope will allow us to continue to grow both the operations and development teams.  In October we brought onboard a Digital Marketer to help us improve our market presence and marketing strategy.  Alongside Nick, Sarah has been developing the near term marketing strategy; there is a focus on increasing our brand awareness, educating people about the network, improving the understanding  of Safecoin and its unique features, as well as showcasing the world’s first and only autonomous data network to a wider audience.

In line with this Nick has been busy promoting the network from Glasgow to Google. We attended and spoke at the  Scottish Blockchain Meet up in early November in Glasgow.  There was a strong turnout and some very interesting questions and discussion.  If you would like to join the next meet up, keep an eye on our Facebook. On 30th November Nick headed to Dublin to give Google an introduction to the SAFE Network.  Employees from across the globe joined the meeting through a video conference and many more watched the video subsequently.

To maintain the momentum, the marketing department will be further strengthened by Dug Campbell later this month. Dug has worked for a number of leading technology companies including Sky Scanner and MiiCard and has been an advocate of Bitcoin for a number of years, organising Scotland’s first Bitcoin conference in 2014 and speaking about it later that year at TedX Glasgow. With a wealth of knowledge and experience Dug promises to be a great addition to the team.

We are also now recruiting for a number of other roles in our Ayr HQ.  We continue to  look for a UI/UX Designer, Software Support Engineer and a Testing and Release Manager. To start a conversation and join this exciting journey email outreach@maidsafe.net

There has been extensive updates across the network recently and the team are continuing to make strong and consistent advances.  Since the release of Alpha 2 in mid-September there has been a number of test networks and key updates and changes.

Following the release of Alpha 2 there has been two new SAFE Browser releases, V0.7.0 and V0.8.0 both of which made incremental updates and fixed bugs. Following extensive discussion across the dev teams and community it has been decided that a custom Browser should be created following the reorganisation of Beaker since our fork that has made maintaining our current browser difficult.  While we did consider other browsers including Firefox and Brave the work-around were too extensive.  We are therefore creating a Electron-based browser and a Proof of Concept is currently in external testing. This pre-release can be downloaded here.

There has also been updates to the SAFE Apps Nodes.js and SAFE Web APIs following changes to the SAFE Client Libraries. SAFE App Nodes.js has been updated to take advantage of the master branch of the safe client libraries. Further to our commitment to open source and community focused development Nodes.js allows everyone to develop self-contained web apps in Javascript. The DOM API has been updated to reflect changes made in app nodes, this will reduce the number of handles the DOMS API need to expose and will simplify the web apps code. We hope that these changes will improve the developer experience.

The next big challenge for the team is the creation of data chains and we are now nearing the final stage. As you may remember from our previous blog, data chains allow the network to republish data if it should ever lose power.  We have begun coding the features to better express the fundamental and continue to test the design. These designs will be incorporated into the alpha 3 release.  A deeper dive on the data chains design is available here.

In Crust the p2p library integration is almost complete.  This will move reliance away from the slow and unfriendly peer to peer world of TCP and provide more reliable NAT traversal. Integration is a significant step towards a secure multi-protocol, randomised port encrypted network library which will be a great help to many projects, and offer greater security and privacy for users..

We once again want to thanks the SAFE community for your continued support as we work to create the SAFE Network and the levels of data privacy and security you all deserve.

The MaidSafe team.

 

Autonomous Data Networks and Why The World Needs Them

Photo Jingyi Wang

At MaidSafe we talk about the SAFE Network being ‘autonomous’, but what does that really mean? The phrase is something that we are becoming more familiar with, as we hear talk of autonomous vehicles and autonomous robots; as such we probably have a grasp of the underlying concept that autonomous machines do things for themselves. But how does this relate to data and why should we even care?

In simple terms it defines a network that manages all our data and communications without any human intervention and without intermediaries. In an autonomous data network humans take on a new role, we become the definer of rules and protocols that instruct the network on how to manage our data.

The SAFE Network

In practical terms, an autonomous data network is one that configures itself. All data on the network is automatically split into chunks and encrypted (utilising self-encryption) before being stored at random locations selected by the network. Resources are not added to it by an IT administrator; instead nodes join the network anonymously, and are split into small groups at random without any central authority. Each node performs a number of different and clearly defined tasks. These groups, we call them close groups, change as nodes disconnect from and reconnect to the network. They work together making decisions (such as where to store data, who has authority to access data…etc…) on behalf of the network based on the messages they receive. The more technically minded can read in depth about that here.

The network also optimises itself by creating more copies of popular data increasing its availability in order that data requests are served more quickly. This feature also enables SAFE websites to actually speed up as they get more visitors. This is very much contrary to the status quo where we have become accustomed to websites slowing down, or even crashing in severe circumstances under the weight of user requests. Should the network split for any reason, for example through loss of power, it will merge as power is restored, and it will correct faults, such as detecting corrupt data chunks and automatically replacing them with good copies as a result of the networks ongoing data integrity checks.

Remove the middlemen

This design sounds complex, and at the implementation level it is, the dark bags under the eyes of our engineers are testament to that fact, but at a high level it is simple. An approach inspired by the humble ant whose millions of years of evolution influenced the network’s design. Ant colonies exhibit complex and highly organised behaviour without a central authority based on a simple rule set whereby each ant fulfils different duties based on the needs of the colony. Similarly, nodes (computers) on the SAFE Network function in a similar manner where network nodes perform different functions based on the types of messages they receive.

The ant colony shows us that this self managing and self organising behaviour is possible on a massive scale. But why should we try and emulate ants and remove central authorities from the management of our data? Surely for something as important as this, humans are required to oversee operations?

Photo David Higgins

Well, for a start humans are, well human. At our best we are creative, brilliant and passionate, but at our worst we get tired, emotional and we make mistakes. Many data breaches are caused by human error and attackers rely on human interaction to carry out attacks. Researchers at security company Rapid7 found a substantial decline in security alerts on weekends and public holidays which they attribute to less employees interacting with malicious emails, attachments, links and websites. This is in part a result of a lack of training and awareness, only 20% of companies provide cyber security training to their staff, and only 33% have formal policies in place to guide employees.

Human error has also played a significant part in problems with Silicon Valley’s best known companies. In 2011, developers at cloud storage provider Dropbox introduced a bug that left their 25 million client accounts unprotected for 4 hours. Dropbox were subsequently alerted to the problem by an external security researcher and fixed the authentication issue.

Late last year Twitter deleted the account of their CEO Jack Dorsey who lost 700,000 followers in the process citing an ‘internal mistake. Around the same time Facebook deleted posts addressing fake news by their CEO Mark Zuckerberg in error.

While the irony of these incidents can be amusing, they do expose a more serious issue. Not only are humans prone to mistakes, it also highlights that we are afforded access to our accounts and our data by the service providers. We do not really own our information in the true sense of the word. Access to our own data can be removed at any time by the providers either mistakenly or at the request of others.

Physical Security

Physical security plays a hugely important part in all of this. This is one of the major features that an autonomous data networks provides. In data terms, physical security is where the data cannot be: deleted, changed, corrupted, and/or accessed without your (the data owner’s) consent. Only by removing humans from the management of our data can physical security be provided, and is only possible when the storage locations are unknown to anyone but the network, and the user cannot be identified.

Any service where data is stored on servers, federated servers, owned storage locations, or on identifiable nodes, cannot ensure the security of data and brings us no closer to real unfettered ownership of our data. This also includes blockchain based solutions.

The SAFE Network provides physical security by ensuring that only the network knows where the data is and only the user can access it. Even MaidSafe staff don’t know who is on the network, where they are based, what has been stored and where the data is located. SAFE users make a deal with the network and only the data owner can delete or modify the original piece of data with the network verifying who has the right to access each piece of data.

Autonomous things are already starting to have a huge benefit across a number of industries and we are just scratching the surface in finding out how they can positively impact upon our relationship with our data. Rather than making data more secure, the human element unfortunately has the opposite effect and can lead to data loss, theft, inaccessibility and a fundamental lack of ownership.

SAFE Network: Mobile Tech Preview

As MaidSafe continues its progression in the role out of the network, we have hit another important milestone that we would like to share. We now have SAFE mobile applications, running on Android and iOS, and today we have released some demonstration apps to showcase this progress. iOS requires some code updates and app certification to be ready for user testing and is currently limited to testing via the iOS simulator.

It is important to note that these apps should be considered as a technology preview, a very useful proof point for us that the SAFE Network accommodates mobile devices. This is the culmination of several changes that have been made over the past 9 months, including a new data type and a new access mechanism, in the form of the ‘Authenticator’. In time we will provide mobile developers with the tools and documentation that they would need and want to start developing SAFE mobile apps. In the meantime, please refer to today’s dev update for instructions and requirements for running these apps for yourself.

The Authenticator
The first of these applications is the Authenticator. This is the focus of the imminent alpha 2 release and the mechanism by which users securely access the network, while maintaining control of each SAFE applications access to their data.

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SAFE Messages
The second application is a stripped back and simple mail app. It provides end to end encrypted messaging that uses the public key of the recipient to encrypt the message, ensuring that only the recipient can read its contents.

Alpha 2
The mobile tech preview comes at an exciting time in MaidSafe’s development roadmap, a welcome lead into alpha 2 which we will be releasing next week, on Thursday the 21st of September. This latest alpha will incorporate the Authenticator, a new SAFE Network access mechanism that is network enforced, and as you can see from today’s announcement mobile friendly. We look forward to providing more detail next week.

At MaidSafe, our development approach has been different to many other projects in the space. We have focussed on the hard problems first. This is not a criticism, just recognition of a different approach. Rather than putting out a network that gives little thought to the security of the data on it, or ignores the issue of how it will scale to millions of users, we have prioritised finding solutions to these big questions up front. This may create the appearance that we are moving slower than many of the other larger infrastructure projects in this sector, but in tackling the more challenging issues from the outset, in a methodical and transparent way, we anticipate being well placed to provide the decentralised infrastructure of the future.

SAFE Network Development Summary – May 2017

We’ve had quite few requests on social media and on email these past few days requesting updates on development progress. These messages serve to remind us that not everyone has the time or the inclination to read the weekly development updates which we post each Thursday onto the forum. So many projects, so little time! So the intention with this post is to provide a summary of the most recent events and our hopes and expectations moving forward.

Image: Richard Tilney Bassett

Roadmap
The best place to start is our development roadmap, which we updated and published late last week. This web page tries to encapsulate all the complexities of development over time on 1 page so it’s pretty high level, but it is this snapshot view that most people seem to appreciate. You will notice that the roadmap outlines the major aspects of development and a rough indication of the order in which we anticipate tackling them.

You will also notice that we haven’t included timescales. In the past we have provided timescales for ‘launch’ of the network. These have always been wrong despite our best efforts. We have found it difficult to estimate timescales since, we believe, so much of what we have been working on is brand new technology, sometimes completely bespoke, and other times building on the work of other projects. Testing is also interesting, it really helps us understand more about how the network fits together and how it is utilised by our community, but invariably leads to more tweaking and testing with previously unplanned and unknown rework and test durations.

We believe that publishing release dates that have a high degree of uncertainty attached is not helpful to anyone and can cause more frustration than not publishing them at all. Network related development is typically where the biggest black holes are and as we get into incremental development client-side, we anticipate time scales will become more predictable.

Stable decentralised network
In late March we released test 15, a network that incorporated both data centre resource as well as enabling user run vaults. Within this release, users were also able to run the SAFE Browser, Launcher and demo app, which continue to facilitate the storage of private and public data, as well as create public ID’s and publish SAFE websites.

After 3 days of running a stable network without any lost data we realised we had reached an important milestone. While we had done this extensively in private tests, it was fantastic to see it running publicly and see the community reaction to it. Of course, life has a sense of humour and shortly after it became apparent that a script had been written that created fake accounts and filled the relatively small network with data, stopping the creation of new accounts or the uploading of new data. This was really helpful to us as it enabled us to find out what happens to the network when it reaches capacity in a real world setting. The fact that it behaved as expected was reassuring, although we’d be lying if didn’t admit to finding the spam attack a little frustrating. This is of course something that the integration of safecoin would stop, as the requirement to ‘pay’ to store data will make the attack expensive, while the incentive of safecoin to farmers would lead to a significantly bigger network.

What now?
Looking forward we are currently focussed in 3 main areas:

  • Catering for mobile devices.
  • Enabling greater user participation.
  • Improving the resilience and robustness of the network.

Mobile
The patience app developers have shown to this point is soon to be rewarded. The process of converting our APIs away from a REST paradigm to SDKs was essential to cater for mobile devices, as the requirement for REST APIs to maintain state would not have worked with mobile devices that disconnect and reconnect regularly. Users of the SAFE Network will gain access through the Authenticator, a secure gateway that protects user credentials from the application itself. The Authenticator is currently being bundled with the SAFE browser and will enable users to securely authenticate themselves onto the network, or enable them to browse publicly available data without logging in.

To implement Authenticator the team required to add a new data type, mutable data. The new data type improves the network efficiency, saves bandwidth, and provides the granular access control required by mobile platforms.

With mobile devices being so ubiquitous throughout the world, enabling mobile client access to the network, mutable data has been receiving significant focus. From a resource provision perspective, both alpha and beta versions of the network will require laptop and desktop and in time single board computers to earn safecoin when it is released. In time, we will look at enabling mobile devices being able to farm for safecoins when plugged into a power outlet and when in range of WiFi, however, as we will detail below this is not a priority for now.

More alphas
Some of the example applications that have been created are currently being ported to suit the new data type and to be compatible with the new APIs. The team are updating the documentation and are testing the applications using a mock network, and they seem to be far more stable than previous iterations which looks positive. We anticipate alpha 2 will encompass the new Mutable Data type and Authenticator, SAFE Browser DOM APIs and Node.js SDK, along with example apps, tutorials and documentation.

Image: Clint Adair

Alpha 3 will see our focus shift onto enabling a greater number of users to run Vaults from home by integrating uTP. Presently users must TCP port forward, or enable UPnP on their routers which requires a little set up in some cases. Adding uTP support will make for a more seamless process for many while making the network accessible to more users. uTP is used in some BitTorrent protocols and when implemented effectively helps to mitigate poor latency and facilitate the reliable and ordered delivery of data packets.

During this phase we will also integrate node ageing, a feature that make the network more resilient to consensus group attacks. The team will also implement the first part of data chains, a feature that has been planned for a while which it is anticipated will ultimately enable the secure republish of data should the network ever lose power, and to provide validation that data has been stored on the network.

Looking ahead
Beyond alpha 3 we will focus on:

  • Data Chains, part 2.
  • Data republish and network restarts.
  • A security audit of the network
  • Test safecoin
  • Real-time network upgrades
  • Network validated upgrades

As has been the case to this point we will continue to release multiple test nets regularly between each alpha network to prove the technology in a public setting, and to mitigate against the code regressing.

We continue to be grateful to the huge support of the people that take the time to run these networks and report back, you all know who you are!

The Power of the Crowd Series – Part One: The Problem


Prologue
This is the first in a series of articles offering a perspective on the internet today and its impact on society, economies and geo-politics. It is my belief that the internet is broken, but rather than engage in a proper debate about how we fix it the policy makers and regulators are simply trying to band-aid the existing infrastructures. Therefore it is up to us, the users of the internet, to take back control, because we recognise the power the open web can offer everyone on this planet. At a time when discord and disunity seem to be more common place we need to champion the opportunities, accessibility and collaboration it was originally designed to offer.

Therefore in the spirit of the Cluetrain Manifesto and the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace we should be looking to create a new set of guiding principles. We need to frame the debate about the future of the internet, before its fate is decided for us by politicians and business people, who do not share our vision. We first need to have a discussion about the problem child that is today’s worldwide web, air the challenges and difficult decisions we need to take, because we all must accept that compromises need to be made. The internet today is not the same as it was 20 plus years ago. It will be important to hear arguments from all sides, before we attempt to achieve consensus.

Ultimately it is my belief that we need some form of new social contract about the purpose and role the internet plays in our lives. We all see its potential, its ability to be a force for positive change, but we have all seen its dark side. This discussion is an overly ambitious attempt to seek shared values about what we should expect from the internet in terms of our freedom, privacy, accessibility and opportunity….today I’m asking the power of the crowd to join in the debate and help to find solutions.

The Power of The Crowd: The Problem
When Thomas Friedman wrote “The World is Flat” in 2000 it was hailed as one of the most influential assessments of the impending impact of the Internet. Although we were just about to experience the burst of the dot com bubble there was huge optimism about its potential to level the playing fields for everyone around the world in terms accessibility to information and creating opportunities to collaborate. However, Friedman also highlighted the many in-built inequalities in the existing social, economic and political structures that could potentially have an adverse effect. While he suggested that flattening the world would create new opportunities for those who had previously had little or no chance of social mobility it would also create unpleasant consequences for established economies, such as fierce competition for jobs and downward pressure on incomes.

It could be said that he painted a less than rosy picture in which everyone could really only look forward to uncertainty and instability:

“…today’s workers need to approach the workplace much like athletes preparing for the Olympics, with one difference. “They have to prepare like someone who is training for the Olympics but doesn’t know what sport they are going to enter…”
Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat, 2000

Wind the clock forward to 2016 and we are witnessing both the positives and negatives of “The Flat World.” Economies in the developing world have grown rapidly, the global middle class has expanded, leading to greater social mobility, life expectancy and better standards of living, but equally increasing the demands on resources and the environment. Economies in the developed world have slowed down, productivity has continually declined and incomes have not grown in line with inflation. Of course if I was looking at this purely from a technology and entrepreneurial perspective I could argue it has created huge wealth, especially thanks to the first and second generation of internet companies, ranging from Amazon to Uber. Living standards have not declined in developed economies and we have very much benefited from access to the cheaper goods and workforce coming from the developing nations.

Even so, the suggestion that technology, and more precisely the Internet, has broken down barriers, redefined social norms for the better and created a more equal, fairer society would be an overstatement of the facts. In reality a small handful of technology companies (with a few minor exceptions) are the ones who have all the power and control of the infrastructure we use – you just need to look at the world’s rich list for proof that certain individuals and companies have done very nicely! As citizens and consumers we are dependent on them to give us access to services and communications tools, which originally were designed to be accessible to everyone.

Indeed we would do well to remember the words of the Cluetrain Manifesto and the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, because it would seem we are a million miles away from their virtuous intentions.

“We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.”
John Perry Barlow, February 8, 1996


The Cluetrain Manifesto: 95 Theses

1. Markets are conversations.
2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
38. Human communities are based on discourse — on human speech about human concerns.
39. The community of discourse is the market.
40. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
72. We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.
73. You’re invited, but it’s our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!
78. You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.
89. We have real power and we know it. If you don’t quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that’s more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.
The Cluetrain Manifesto, 2000

Today I believe the very thing that was supposed to break down physical and virtual barriers has failed. Nearly 50% of the global population is without effective access to the internet, never mind possessing the skills and education to exploit its potential. Indeed economically the gap between the world’s richest and everyone else has continued to get worse. Some commentators argue that traditional command and control organisations are dead, because the Millennials and all subsequent generations will refuse to work in the same formal, traditional structures. Sure, in the rarefied atmosphere of Silicon Valley and other tech hubs around the world that approach may be true, but it is not generally the case. If anything it has taken away opportunities for many in established industries as disruptive technologies based on the internet have turned business models upside down.

Politically everyone pointed to the Arab Spring as a sign of “hope” that instant, unfettered communication could lead to significant political and economic change. We saw Obama become the first President to exploit social media to engage audiences and everyone said that was a good thing for democracy. Likewise some would argue Trump has used the same mechanism to give voice to those people who have been forgotten in the great tech rush. Others question whether we’re now in a situation where (allegedly) student hackers in Macedonia can create a news agenda to decide a Presidential election in return for a lucrative income from digital ad revenue.

Furthermore, the threat of cyber-attack, enabled by the internet, has encouraged governments around the world to adopt far more aggressive stances around national security. Cyber-spying is the latest fashion where any Government with enough money can employ professional hackers to steal industrial secrets or bring down the national grid of a nation state they are not getting along with. And of course if your Government doesn’t like what you’re doing they’ve probably just passed a law to allow them to spy on you without requiring much in the way of legal oversight.

So, if this has left you feeling thoroughly despondent…good. We should all be pretty disappointed with how the internet has turned out and the effect it has had or not had on all our lives. Frankly it is time, now that the internet is more than 20 years old, that we sat down and had a proper conversation about where we want it to go next. It cannot carry on as it is, but we face difficult questions with no easy answers.

Of course we could just stick our heads in the collective sand, but I’m pretty certain that will only make things worse…

Developer Case Study – Dsensor

Decentralized Mapping Protocol Project – Dsensor

Continuing our series of case studies highlighting early stage application development on the SAFE (Secure Access For Everyone) Network, Dsensor is being developed by James Littlejohn. James explored various platforms to store and protect the data he would be collecting and decided to use the SAFE Network, because it reflected his belief that the network should not be driven by economics, but be focused first and foremost on the data.

MaidSafe’s fully secure, decentralised approach supported James’ view that knowledge or data should be in the complete control of user. While it is early days, Dsensor’s use of the SAFE Network APIs in its proof of concept form shows its potential as a viable platform for the management of data. James was also attracted to the SAFE Network, because of its strong encryption, and its ability to break data into chunks before scattering it around the decentralised network of nodes. This ensures the highest possible security and privacy for users when combined with the decentralised architecture, which avoids offering hackers central points of attack on a network, as we experience in today’s centralised, server-based model.

Being open source and supported by a strong community in the SAFE Network forum also means James has ready access to experts and potential partners, who can help to build out the application and trouble-shoot any technical questions. In the future James may also explore using safecoin to incentivise participation on Dsensor.

The Problem with Science

James Littlejohn has been involved in entrepreneurial projects since the dot com boom and while investigating opportunities around text mining identified an opportunity for lifestyle linking analytics, particularly in the area of wearable tech. In the course of his evaluation he recognised a broader application to data mining and analysis in the field of scientific and academic research. James assessed a number of drivers, including emerging technologies and changing economic conditions, which were beginning to have an effect on the way research was conducted.

Firstly, walled garden applications such as Facebook and wearable technologies were becoming more prevalent, and while they were a rich source of data on human activity, access to that information was restricted. At a time when the internet is supposed to be democratising many aspects of work and social life this is endangering an important source of information on lifestyle and health patterns, which could benefit societies around the world.

Secondly, the sustained economic impact of the financial crisis was creating significant pressure on public funding for research at a time when it was needed more than ever. Technology and the availability of large amounts of data is leading to opportunities for breakthroughs in a wide variety of academic and research fields. If the funding is not available via traditional public sources then there is an urgent to find new forms of investment. The rise of alternative cryptocurrencies could potentially address this point, offering a new, fairer way to incentivise and reward individuals for participating in research projects. For example, James envisages a scenario where the grant funder might ‘tokenise’ a percentage of their funding money and issue it via a science blockchain (like Dsensor). This would help to ensure the funding could be traced directly ensuring good governance of scientific research projects and fairer access to resources.

The final driver for a new model reflects an on-going debate about the model of peer-reviewed scientific research. For a number of years there has been a recognition of some fundamental weaknesses in the model in areas such as the replicability of research. In a poll conducted by Nature in May 2016 more than 70% of researchers admitted they had tried and failed to reproduce the experiments of other scientists and more than 50% failed to reproduce their own experiments. Of course this is in part due to the nature of frontier scientific research, which is reliant on trial and error, but there are clearly inefficiencies in the process.

Furthermore, there are questions about efficiency of current research models – in 2009 Chalmers and Glaziou identified some key sources of avoidable waste in biomedical research. They estimated that the cumulative effect was that about 85% of research investment – equating to about $200 billion of the investment in 2010 – is wasted. A blockchain provides a potential solution to this reproducibility crisis as Dr. Sönke Bartling and Benedikt Fecher outline in their paper, “Blockchain for science and knowledge creation.” Although scientific research should be delivered at arm’s length from the individual contributors it is ultimately reliant on individual scientists to gather and interpret data without bias. It is also often reliant on finite data sets, controlled samples or clinical trials, thus limiting the ability to cross reference the findings against other data sources.

Given the availability of data via the internet and the rise of automation technologies, such as machine learning, James believes that if individuals have control of their information they can decide to contribute their information to research projects without the interference of third parties such as academics or technology providers. Using automation scientists, academics – and more importantly citizen scientists – can draw data from anywhere in the world beyond the confines of a specific controlled sample and review independently to provide a data driven outcome.

Building A Blockchain for Science Research – A Truth Engine for Mankind

James’ investigation of text mining approaches led him to peer to peer models, which were enabling the owners of data to take control of how and with whom their information was shared.  

It led to the development of Dsensor.org (Decentralized Mapping Protocol), a peer to peer network for science knowledge to be investigated, discovered and shared. It has been based on the principle of science “SenseMaking” and it is designed to evolve peer review to a computational consensus model.  Using Dsensor if a scientist creates a thesis and wants to test it the scientist enters the hypothesis in computational form (called a Dmap in Dsensor speak) . The Mapping protocol then automates the testing of the science, starting by trawling the Dsensor network for relevant data from other peers. That data is then sampled and ‘scored’ based on its prediction power to verify or challenge the thesis until a computation consensus is established.  Science attaining this status then becomes ‘computationally active’ in the network meaning any peer has the ability to tap into the collective knowledge and feed in their own unique sensor data get the insights from the science working for them.

James has the ambitious goal to become a “truth engine for mankind” ensuring science is based on openness, transparency and reproducible results, essentially checking the accuracy of peer review.  Dsensor intends to deliver this outcome by building a network of trustless peers, which has inherit vast complexity making it economically and technically very costly and difficult to corrupt.  Dsensor, currently at proof of concept stage utilises  the Ethereum blockchain, using its cryptography and a variant of the proof of work process to create a technological and mathematical state where even with colluding computers it is impossible to game the system.   Rather than creating complexity using a proof of work Dsensor creates uncertainty using random sampling, in particular the selection of peers from the network and data sampling techniques.  The data sampling techniques are selected by each autonomous peer and the network sampling is a property of the Protocol for selecting peers from a Distributed Hash Table. In theory once the network gains a certain size the economic cost of gaming the network with false sensor data to support a fraudulent scientific computation will become extremely costly.

Additional safeguards include the role of reproducibility in science.  This creates an immutable audit trail or “mapping accounting” entries that support the most truthful science available to the network.  These networks are called GaiaBlocks and are open to be challenged by any peer on the network.  Scoring of the science also provides a rating model for scientific research and individual peers on the network.  Peers with poor outcomes will be demoted in favour of more highly rated scientific computations.