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The Ledger: AI Meets Blockchain, Dfinity, Shorting Ethereum

The biggest criticism of blockchain technology is generally that the decentralization and anonymity—or at least pseudonymity—it affords will also facilitate illegal activity outside the reaches of government, such as illicit marketplaces where you can buy anything from drugs to hitmen.

That’s what ultimately led the U.S. authorities to shut down Bitcoin-enabled marketplaces such as AlphaBay and Silk Road.

Of course, in certain circles of diehard crypto enthusiasts and cypherpunks, such online bazaars of freely traded contraband are part of the utopian promise of cryptocurrency—the ultimate expression of monetary freedom.

So how can a blockchain project seek to create greater decentralization but still operate in the confines of the law?

Enter Dfinity, which aims to create a sort of decentralized cloud computer—or “Internet computer,” as Dominic Williams, Dfinity’s president and chief scientist calls it. The project’s blockchain provides it a governance system that keeps the various entities on the network on the same page, combining human-driven decision-making with algorithmic artificial intelligence, or AI.

“The Internet computer has this algorithmic governance system called the blockchain nervous system, which can get involved in all kinds of different aspects of the network,” Williams explains on Fortune’s latest episode of “Balancing the Ledger.” “It might allow someone to submit a proposal to close down something that some people think would harm the network, like an assassination market.”

“On the other hand, the governance also processes network operations instructions, like create a new shard or partition of computers, or move this module of software from that place to this place,” Williams continues.

Still, what if the majority of “neurons”—Dfinity’s term for the network’s units of voting power—favor an activity that regulators (and many citizens) would consider harmful to society, such as an opioid distribution market?

If decentralized social networks, financial institutions and other enterprises Dfinity foresees are to succeed—especially if they are powered by AI automation—they may still need to prove they can govern themselves in a way that broadly conforms to societal rules and morals.

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Jen Wieczner
@jenwieczner
jen.wieczner@fortune.com

THE LEDGER’S LATEST

Crypto Startup That Lets You ‘Short’ Ethereum Raises $10 Million by Robert Hackett

First Bitcoin Fraud Case Results in $2.5 Million Fine for Ponzi Scheme That Promised Outrageous Returns by Grace Dobush

Essential Advice for Businesses Considering the Blockchain by Robert Hackett

Your Alma Mater Wants Your Donation—Just Not in Bitcoin by Don Reisinger

Civil, a Blockchain-Media Startup, Cancels Its ICO, Offering a Full Refund to Those Who Bought Tokens by Kevin Kelleher

DECENTRALIZED NEWS

To the Moon… The Onion takes on blockchain. Post-Bitcoin Maximalism. Cryptocurrency loans are booming. Satoshi’s vision under debate as Bitcoin white paper approaches its 10th birthday. Blockchain+AI=Future? New Jersey Italian restaurant accepts Bitcoin. Bitcoin is now less volatile than Amazon and Netflix stocks.

…Rekt. Cypherpunk: “Satoshi would barf.” CFTC’s first anti-fraud enforcement action involving Bitcoin. Tether dumping continues. Cryptocurrency selloff signs. $7.5 million cryptocurrency wallet hack. A rollercoaster year for a Washington cryptocurrency company—and more of the state’s cities ban cryptocurrency mining.

BALANCING THE LEDGER

☝ Click to watch.

Dominic Williams, the president and chief scientist of Dfinity, joined Balancing The Ledger to talk about his ambitious vision for using blockchain technology to create the next generation of cloud computing, the future of decentralization, and more.

BUBBLE-O-METER

ICO meltdown. An EY study has tracked the performance of major initial coin offerings (ICOs) that were listed on a cryptocurrency exchange in 2017, and the results (through mid-2018) aren’t pretty:

  • 86% of the ICOs are below their initial listing price
  • 30% have lost “substantially all” their value

Still, ICOs have raised $15 billion in the first half of this year, compared to $4.1 billion over the same period in 2017.

MEMES AND MUMBLES

Hodor. Game of Thrones fans will appreciate a new campaign by eToro, the Israel-based trading platform that has recently expanded into cryptocurrency and plans to enter the U.S. market. The spot features Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays the character Hodor on the fantasy show, whose only lines consist of him repeating his own name, “Hodor.”

In search of new material to broaden his repertoire, Nairn has apparently taken the eToro gig—only to find breaking character is harder may be harder than he realized.

 

FOMO NO MO’

Don’t miss out: The New Yorker‘s latest issue includes a lengthy feature story entitled, “The Prophets of  Cryptocurrency Survey the Boom and Bust.” It attempts to explain blockchain technology and many related cryptographic concepts with various metaphors, because, the author explains, “The farther you travel from the familiar terrain of ‘the legacy world,’ where, one blockchain futurist told me, pityingly, I live—the better the chance you have of bumping up against the limits of your intelligence. You grasp, instead, for metaphors.” Here’s an example:

What would a world reconstituted by smart contracts look like? One grasps at legacy tableaux: office towers emptied of bankers, lawyers, and accountants; crypto-utopian settlements on hurricane-ravaged Caribbean islands; open-air barns out on the steppes, stacked with bitcoin-mining computers. In May, I attended the Ethereal Summit, a conference held in a former industrial glassworks in Maspeth, Queens. The symbolism—new order sprouting up in the derelict precincts of the old—was on the nose, as was the vibe: food trucks, local craft beers, a “Zen Zone” meditation tent. Here was blockchain as life style. Two big bathrooms, side by side, started out unisex, but by the afternoon of the first day the conference attendees, at the urging of no centralized authority, were self-sorting: men to the one on the right, women the one on the left.

We hope you enjoyed this edition of The Ledger. Find past editions here, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters here. Question, suggestion, or feedback? Drop us a line.