Discipl: technology for a future society

Ivy walks down the park in Zuidhorn, a small eco-village1 in the north of the Netherlands. With her mind2 she browses through the latest posts on Akasha3 about growing sweet raspberries in a hydroponic robot farm4 in cold northern hemisphere winters. She sees that some daunting problems with productivity have been solved and that the solution has been verified to be safe and sustainable, so it will just be a matter of time before the local farm will have picked that up. Great, finally the fruit she loves most will soon be produced locally, picked daily, and used in all her favourite recipes. No more need for the artificial raspberry flavours from her highly praised cake-bakery-bot.

The world is transforming fast. 3D printing5, Artificial Intelligence6 and Robotics7 among many other new technologies, are driving automation. They are changing all aspects of life as we know it8, sooner than you think and inevitably9.

These fast technological developments evoke both positive and negative responses. Some people see their advantages, while others fear them. They are afraid of further job losses and an increasing two-way split in society between those who profit from new technological opportunities and those who lag behind. Topical examples from warfare (drones killing people), investigation (extensive surveillance) and politics (manipulation by means of fake news and censure) reveal that the technological revolution in which we find ourselves does not only have positive effects. However, technology does not cause all this by itself. It is merely an instrument10 and it’s people who determine how it is deployed. Still, technology is a very powerful instrument and it has a vast impact on the way we treat each other and our planet. Thus, it also offers wonderful opportunities: new products, increases in productivity, many things may be rendered far more efficient, and working becomes a lot easier and often far more meaningful as well.

It is often alleged that these trends can steer the world into two diverging directions: towards a fear-based panoptic world of control, manipulation and even apocalyptic devastation on the one hand, or towards a more human, supporting, cooperative and sustainable world on the other11 12 13. Which way are we going? Probably somewhere in between, judging by the Dutch cabinet’s reaction to the Dutch Social and Economic Council14’s report People and technology: working together. One thing is certain: the technological developments will fundamentally change our economic and political systems, and our society to boot.

An alternative, positive approach

Technology is an instrument and it’s people who determine how it is deployed. Is it, then, not obvious to aim for optimum deployment of technology? Let us no longer fear (or fight) technological developments, but embrace them instead. Let us speed up knowledge building, so that we can use these developments to create a better world, with a new kind of economy and a fair and safe society. A world where everyone can have their reasonable needs (honest food, comfortable housing, real care and proper education) fulfilled for free, without making other people suffer for them. In this world, technology is used to support all people, empowering them instead of restricting them or giving them work that need not really be done. This is Ivy’s world.15

For a government that works on behalf of the people, this means that it should put its effort and focus on creating an environment that supports this new society. An environment that helps people flourish without exhausting our planet. That is certainly possible: overpopulation is a myth if we use resources intelligently16. This society empowers people as in a cyan organisation17. It comes down to supporting self-sustainable communities for self-sovereign people. This means, for example, supporting projects such as ReGEN Villages.18 Supporting The Venus Project to realise their envisioned city19. And it means defining and supporting a certain type of social businesses that have an aligning vision and mission. But there is far more that can be done20.

Information platform for the new society

Creating an environment in which people will co-create this new world starts with a free lightweight distributed information platform, a next generic digital infrastructure. Here all people and things will co-operate to deliver the needs of every human being, empowering people to be the wonderful beings they are. This platform is called DIStributed Collaborative Information Platform (Discipl)21. Discipl enables a new socio-economic environment containing new business models that support various forms of collaboration. It provides a digital, future-ready infrastructure on which real time information is easily processed and stored in a single virtual source. It will totally change information services as we know them. Information can be distributed in correlation with other information managed by people themselves. Discipl meets the requirements of new laws, such as the GDPR22, and uses identification and authentication control out of the box. All this at zero marginal cost.

Discipl supports a society that resembles the Ivy example. That society may sound far-fetched or borderline science fiction, but we ask the reader to keep an open mind, as the technology needed to achieve this is available today. Our brain isn’t yet capable of grasping the complexity of reality23. For instance, no one believed that man could fly until on one day the Wright brothers did just that. Even if it takes some time before everyone will notice a breakthrough, it is proven over and over again that adoption of new technologies only seems to increase24. Many such breakthroughs are constantly happening and a lot more25 will follow.

It is important to understand innovative technologies that drive automation and their impact on society. To put more focus on the innovation for good, while keeping all current systems in operation in accordance with a Three Horizons Framework26. Moreover, it is necessary to do all this with a holistic vision in favour of society as a whole27. With Discipl, this has already started.

Discipl: beyond blockchain

Discipl is a technical platform for automated information services for and by society. You may well argue that it is a new kind of Internet, an enhanced Internet that, for instance, is much better at ensuring privacy. It can be compared to initiatives such as Ethereum and MIT Enigma28. Currently, Discipl is mainly a set of requirements and an examination of such a platform. It goes deeper than technological innovation, since it aims for a holistic perspective to supporting and thus promoting a newer economy and society. Besides, it is a collection and a repository of free and open source solutions.

Blockchain technology, which we wrote about in a whitepaper29 in 2016, has certainly been a breakthrough. Whereas it has not really become mainstream yet, it seems that blockchain may already be replaced by newer distributed ledger technologies. These new technologies actually introduce a number of things that were conditional to being able to attain the key properties we will need for Discipl:

  • Ready for a new world : Discipl is ready for the Not-So-Scary30 new world that is unfolding right now. A world that focuses on the positive opportunities that technology has to offer.
    • Smart Linked Datasources : Discipl stores information through smart contracts, which run autonomously within the platform. A smart contract is a computer program owning a miniature database. This database can only be modified by sending digitally signed messages to the contract that owns it. Smart contracts can make information available for combination and processing with other information stored in other contracts31.
    • Privacy : Discipl enables individuals (and things) to have themselves safely and uniquely identified within the platform (with multi-factor authentication) and facilitates creating different personas for specific uses privately but immutably linked to this core identity. This creates scope for ‘self-sovereignty’32. Smart Linked Data Sources themselves keep track of who (or what) is eligible to view or edit information. Information that is stored and processed in the platform is highly encrypted in a quantum computing resistant manner.
    • Legal : Making legal sources legible for man and computer. Explicit interpretations to be used in formal legal models, and in argument schemes for comparing alternative interpretations.
  • Ready for post-scarcity economies: Discipl is ready for new economies in which human needs are fulfilled efficiently and sustainably.
    • Open : Except that the Dutch government actually prefers this for obvious reasons, optimum transparency is crucial to the workings of such an important platform. That is why Discipl is made available under a Creative Commons license (CC-BY-SA, but GPLv3 for software). It should be effectively audited too, of course. Besides, solutions built in Discipl are encouraged to have an open world assumption; semantics should always support the real world rather than restrict it.
    • Free : It should be easy and free for anyone, citizens and organisations, to use Discipl on any device including smart phones. Discipl enables a new economic arena, as it were, and makes it available to new business models in which consumers can be producers and all kinds of cooperation will be supported. There is room for customers who want to pay. The platform itself however should be kept free, like the air we breathe33.
  • Ready for the IoT : Discipl is ready for the Internet of Things in which small devices conduct automated transactions with each other.
    • Scalable: Small devices can be nodes. The more nodes Discipl consists of, the more capacity it has for storing and processing information. To enable this, Discipl may have your device do at least twice as much work for others (in an automated way) as you are requesting from the platform yourself.
    • Big Data: Discipl enables efficient data processing from distributed apps.

To realise this, we shall probably need an Ethereum34-like platform that is free, privacy-friendly and scalable. Ethereum itself is already moving into that direction, especially now that big companies joined together in the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance35 to make Ethereum more scalable and privacy-friendly. Suitable alternative options are the IOTA ledger36 and TrustChain37. They are both very promising and are expected to go public during the summer of 2017. However, there are yet other new platforms38 like this. We are open to any kind of platform, as long as its matches the aforementioned aspects. Therefore, we have yet to see which platform will prove the most appropriate for our goals.

Although technology is triggering the development of Discipl and has vast influence on the solutions that will be built on it, it is still possible to design inadequate solutions. Thus, there is a lot to research even if no concrete technical platform is available yet. Until now, this has been the case for many blockchain projects involving a government organisation. Looking at possible solutions platform-independently during our research, we notice a simple pattern that could be seen in many blockchain use cases and blockchain projects conducted so far. The pattern also emerges in the proof of concept projects that ICTU has been involved in. It has the following characteristics:

  1. Self-Sovereignty : It is a basic need for any human being, as well as a basic human right to be acknowledged in their existence.
  2. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) relations : A use case is always about peer-to-peer relations between self-sovereign people as actors.
  3. P2P relations identify : The relations identify the self-sovereign people into a role of the use case.
  4. Value transfer as an incentive : The incentive for having the use case is one or more value transfers.
  5. Value transfer provides context : The value transfers provide an applicable context for the use case.
  6. Context implies law/regulations : Context comes with relevant institutions and/or law and regulations that thus become involved in the transfer.
  7. N-party group chat : Transfers are processed as transactions in an N-party group chat with all people and institutions, law and regulations involved.

This differs from the way in which we currently are solving things. If someone wants to conduct a value transfer with others, for instance a (government) organisation, it looks like this:

  1. Person : Someone goes to the window of a trusted third party. It does not matter whether this is a physical or digital window,.
  2. Organisation : “Who are you?” Identification by means of a centrally controlled ID.
  3. Organisation : “What would you like to do? Which data have we already registered about you and others involved? You might want to submit your data again, just to be sure (because, to be quite honest, we can’t really trust our data). Our organisation has determined and interpreted applicable rules, laws and regulations for everyone.” This provides the context.
  4. Organisation : “This is the result of what you want, given the context.” Value transfer is denied or implemented (but it is often not immediately effective everywhere).
  5. Organisation : “You don’t like the result? Go to some other window to appeal” (not always obvious or easy).

In Discipl, the interaction above can be replaced by the following:

  1. Person : Someone opens an application (or is assisted in doing so by family, friends, or a functionary).
  2. Person : “I am a specific person and I want to do this, so this is me and this is what you need to know about me and my relevant history. You can validate that it is authentic.” Please note that the person can do this through a single action.
  3. Smart Contract : Rules/laws and regulations interpreted into an open source smart contract are automatically evaluated in full transparency, proposing some result in the application chat.
  4. Person, after having the application ask him/her, “Will you accept this result?”: “OK, agreed” or “I do not agree”.
  5. Community: If all persons involved are agreed, the result is effective immediately and globally, because all actions are registered. If a person did not agree, the case can be automatically handed over to an appropriate local group of people for evaluation within a reasonable timeframe. This may overrule the implementation and interpretation of laws and regulations (which eventually must result in changes of laws and regulations). If necessary such a consultation may escalate several times, all the way up to highest jurisdictional court in the larger community.

This way, no one is coerced due to automated decision-making and a faster feedback mechanism for laws and regulations is automated. This also implies looking at laws and regulations from a different perspective39.

 

There is no reason to believe that bureaucrats and politicians, no matter how well meaning, are better at solving problems than the people on the spot, who have the strongest incentive to get the solution right.”

— Elinor Ostrom

 

Social impact

Such a system and support mechanism has a vast social impact. Communicating through this platform has a pattern (in technical terms: N-party group chat) that closely resembles non-violent communication40, which also promotes the self-organising ability of local communities in an automated and real-time way. This is a trend in itself41 that is also highly suitable to support a needs-based economy of abundance. Needs such as self-sovereignty, good shelter, good education, good food and health. People can take care of this themselves once we make it easy for each other by automating resource allocation, governance and jurisdiction.

This system will only work if people have something to choose from. How that may work becomes clear in the app prototype that the team from the municipality of Zuidhorn designed at the recent Dutch Blockchain Hackathon 2017, where Discipl was first presented. The teams were requested to present a working prototype for Discipl. Zuidhorn designed an app that makes it easy for partners in the social domain to offer their services to local residents. For instance, assistance for families living in poverty. Residents that are looking for assistance, informal care, or for instance a bike for their child can see at a glance where they may apply. The exchange can take place without administration and without funding.

This also resembles WeQuest.it42 in which fulfilling the highest needs is rewarded with karma, the quality of the service is rewarded with reputation, and time is used as currency depending on the type of need. It is all about fulfilling needs, using donations that have been provided out of solidarity. For once our reasonable needs are met, there’s plenty of scope for a human need we all share: to give out of solidarity.

 

An agreement is only successful if it’s truly voluntary and wholehearted. Any agreement based on fear, shame, guilt, desire for reward or obligation, is unlikely to sustain itself into the future.

— Miki Kashtan

 

To substantiate the above, we shall provide some examples from a government perspective. This may enable Discipl:

Example 1: Identity and Authentication

Self-sovereignty : Anyone can create an account in the platform and through this be authenticated, register, be accredited, verify or create and use personal data stores.

Example 2: Open Registration

Shelter : Just like the current BAG register containing all addresses and buildings can now be publicly made available as open linked data, Discipl can store all this information in a decentralised way for anyone to read and use in their solutions. Identified and authenticated local stakeholders may register streets and buildings as they are being built. Or maybe buildings and streets, when they are needed and therefore planned and built in an automated way, will register themselves as official addresses and buildings.

Example 3: Accreditation

Education : Multiple solutions are already under development for conducting accreditations, for instance educational certificates that are based on blockchain. Technologically, this is not different from the last example. These accreditations can be created, edited43 or verified within the system.

Example 4: Verification

Food : A new type of Codex Alimentarius44 : what food and medication is really good and allowed? Through the use of big data, open registers and, in some cases, through accreditation of people, other people might be able to verify that certain types of food and medication, along with everything around it, such as processing methods, are being used without problems in other communities or may be produced and applied safely locally. In the case of medication, this could take place without other people identifying the persons whom the medication is prescribed to.

Example 5: Personal data store

Health care : Storing patient records in private data sources is mentioned as an obvious use case for distributed ledger platforms. This combines the various examples above. Within Discipl, patient records can be verified, processed and combined, while respecting the patient’s privacy. Access to information is restricted to identified, authenticated and accredited users.

Please note that all this is merely a thesis, which needs further research. Through Discipl, we are inviting people to help us do that. We want to discover and explore the possibilities, mainly to work with them. Not by talking about them, but by doing and experiencing!

We’ve only just begun”45

We are working with TNO, TU-Delft, Focafet, oseno.nl, De GasFabriek, Coinversable, Tradle and various other expert partners to experiment with numerous use cases. Such as those in the examples above. Together we conduct research to develop an actual platform.

In a follow-up to the Municipality of Zuidhorn team, which won the Reinventing Government track at the Dutch Blockchain Hackathon, we are collaborating with Forus foundation and DUO, CIBG, the Dutch Tax Authorities and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (MinOCW) on: direct payment of child care benefits, a diploma and teachers’ register and other projects. Together with other municipalities, such as Haarlem, Drechtsteden, Molenwaard, Emmen, Almelo, Hollands Kroon, Lingewaard and Utrecht we are working on: a new e-voting system, a solution for preventing people with debts to get into further trouble and a solution for digitising paper certificates, among others. With the Dutch Identity Data Authority (RvIG), part of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (MinBZK), we assist in the Blockhain Coalition (Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, MinEZ) to respond to digital identities in future. Together with the Dutch Tax Authorities, 216 Lab and IBM we help solve the VAT Carousel fraud. Another kind of collaboration in the context of Discipl is the one with KPN, Rabobank, the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (KvK), Schluss and Tymlez. In this instance we help develop a personal data store solution around a register of commerce in combination with financial services.

Use cases regarding financial services may not seem relevant in Ivy’s world, but they are relevant if we think tall and start small in today’s world. As long as a project pursues the aspects of Discipl, particularly the free and open source aspects, it is allowed to be part of our workshop.

We invite you to follow the projects on http://discipl.org and Github. We aim to have the first few working solutions available in 2018. For the ICT architects among us: an article providing an architectural perspective in Discipl in the context of NORA will follow.

It has become a hot sunny day. At the pub, Ivy orders Tinkels Beer for her and her friend, which comes straight from the new local Tinkels robot brewery. She has just turned 21 today and the actually quite good-looking robot bartender says to her: “Hi Ivy, happy birthday. So, two Tinkels beers coming up. May I remind you that now you’re allowed to drink you should drink responsibly?” A guy, sitting at the bar looks at them. When Ivy has moved away, he asks the bartender: “Does she come here often? Do you know her name?”. The bartender smiles and replies: “You know I don’t have access to that kind of information in the context of this conversation without her consent”. Why not ask her yourself?”

9 CGP Grey (2014). Humans Need Not Apply : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU

10Boundaries between technology and real life forms are fading, though. In future people might marry robots (although some people already seem to be married with their phones). In our view, this is different from what is to be called merely technology, as then these robots should actually be classified as life forms and probably having rights accordingly. That discussion is out of scope here.

11Standing, Guy (2011). The Precariat. The new dangerous class.

13The Venus Project. Paradise or Oblivion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yqgMiBuJ4U

15 Inspired by: Kashtan, M (2015). Reweaving our human fabric. Working together to create a nonviolent future. Also: The Venus Project : https://www.thevenusproject.com/

16http://www.theresourcebasedeconomy.com/2015/03/overpopulation-is-it-a-myth/

17Laloux, F. (2015). Reinventing Organisations. And: https://www.werf-en.nl/jos-rovers-de-toekomst-is-aan-cyane-organisaties/

23Vitale, J. en Ihaleakala, H.L. (2015). Zero Limits

25NatGeo Times (2015). 10 Unbelievable Future Technologies That Will Change The World In Your Lifetime : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrio51C-Bxg

27Hardjono, T., Shrier, D. en Pentland, A. (2016). Trust: Data, A New Framework for Identity and Data Sharing

30https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/magic-kingdom/mickeys-not-so-scary-halloween-party/ : There is a vague connection between Disney’s idea’s which resulted quite differently as originally intended in the Epcot theme park and Jacques Fresco’s The Venus Project and for that matter with post scarcity economies. This relation can also be found in one of the few literature books about such an economy: Down and out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow. As you can read in this book, such an economy is no guarantee for a perfect world. By referring to Disney’s Not-So-Scary Halloween festivity we want to indicate this “new world” is certainly not as horrifying as a dystopian new world order that some people describe, but fun and quite innocent.

31In a similar way as it is done with Linked Data; smart contracts are uniquely identified and can form the ontological subject of subject-predicate-object triples it stores and are able to combine it with linked data from other. smart contracts.

33Which is not absolutely certain anymore, by the way: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/08/world/fresh-air-britain-china-bottles/

38 Also interesting: tradle.io en coinversable.com

40 The chat records correlate facts that are concluded from previous ones and input from actors. These facts can be contradicting however. This is allowed and will never mean actors are excluded from society. It also should not prevent their reasonable needs being met; a dialogue should be open until this is the case. More about Nonviolent communication: Reweaving Our Human Fabric, Working Together to Create a Nonviolent Future, Miki Kashtan

41 The Future Of Jobs, 2027: Working Side By Side With Robots, Forrester, 2017

43 Not as in a kind of editable blockchain. The platform would keep track of all edits, while the history is only available to relevant users. For a person, the right to be forgotten in relation to certain data could be implemented if setting the data for just this person is available from his or her personal data store. It can thus be undone by that person himself or herself.

45 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5okgtXrV8AM, fragment from Room 1408. Do we make our own happy end?