Security and ethics

Ethics and exploitation

In the security world there is a seemingly unique requirement according to Cory Doctrow in this video (which is a great watch BTW). I agree the security industry requires full disclosure of algorithms and methods to run effectively, but I do not believe this is unique. We all hear companies professing their ethics, it’s a badge of honour flung on every Wall Street bakers lapel and shared with every business marketing exec. Of course much of this is smoke and mirrors as exploitation is the heart of many businesses. We exploit customers and innovation. The common phrase on finding an innovation is ‘how do we exploit this’!

Ethics, I propose, like security cannot happen without openness and importantly the ability to adjust, just as security researchers do, why else make algorithms public? If a company finds itself using products manufactured by slave labour, it should immediately state this and how it was going to fix it. In many cases this does not mean shut the sweat shop as it could cripple very poor villages, instead the situation should be resolved properly and without further damage to the poor people caught up in this mess. Many PR experts will disagree as brand tarnish may happen, well guess what? we are part of a species and not a brand, it’s our number one priority to advance humanity, not to have shiny wee pictures of fruit on our computer lid.

Open ethics, or none

The conjecture here is that and ethical approach to business means an open approach. To be open requires great strength for many companies. The reason for this strength is the companies inability to act fairly, they may have sales people trained to ‘leave nothing on the table’ as many UK sales people will chant. An ethical company will have tiny problems being open. In MaidSafe we have tried many ways to achieve this so our code is open, our development is open etc. but that’s not even close to being open and ethical.

When I do talks or presentations, I handle them in a scary way for professionals in this field. I use no notes, don’t practise and never ever use slides. I have no idea what I will say and many times change track part way through a talk. This is possible because I think I have a few rules, never lie and never associate with liars, never exploit others but help them and never associate with overly negative or greedy people, where possible. This gives me great strength as I do not need to remember ‘the company line’ all I do is talk openly and freely about anything and it will be OK. Mistakes are something I need to learn from and I am in no way scared of these, that is very important to.

We tried to even record staff meetings and put them on line. After a couple we stopped, not because we are not open. We stopped because folk felt like they were on the Truman show. I fought this hard, but failed to convince staff it was worth the feelings of discomfort. I lose many such debates, but that’s important in itself. Now we host Google Hangout sessions and take questions from the public and answer them, there and then. We debate and argue in public, wow!. Surely that is dangerous? No the opposite, humans deal with humans and not scripts. So this actually allow people to see our strength through our flaws. As for ‘toe the company line’ then everyone does as there is no company line. We all share a vision and that is to provide privacy security and freedom to all the worlds people. This is as close to a company line as anyone needs. I think nearly everyone in the company knows my passwords and can read my emails, as I leave machines logged in at work so people can get at my mail. It is important to try and get to this stage, even for privacy advocates like me. Dichotomy? not at all, openness and privacy are bedfellows.

I firmly believe this model of speaking with business partners, mixed in with the public is very powerful. This means our algorithms are peer reviewed and market tested and adjusted in real time.  It is way better than company oversights, board meetings etc. this is us and its open.

Unless these types of actions are taken then it would be as hard to say we are ethical as it would be difficult to create a new encryption algorithm in secret. Both options would fail and the encryption argument has been won many years ago.

I believe it is now time to progress the ethics argument.

Sell value or shut

Any transaction that leads to sustainable business should be an exchange of value. If people exchange their cash (value) for your product or service then they expect the same or better value (for them) in return. Today many companies think this is achieved by telling the people they get value and tell them over and over in an attempt at neuro-linguistic programming. This is not a transfer of value. Many of these companies will profess and ethical approach, many even may give donations to charity and attempt to purchase their ethical stance. That should not work but it does seem to, but does it really (remember sustainability)?

There is something happening in society, we moved towards self interest and a ‘grab all the cash’ approach in the 80’s. Such behaviour was encouraged as the free (to exploit everything) market was touted as the way to all the riches of the world for all the people on the planet. That approach has led to the near collapse of our society. I think like many others the current approach needs dramatic change. Is this reflected in business practices though? Apparently not as we still hear daily of unbelievable corruption, or system failure.

This is where ethical companies can jump in and see huge profitability. Yes ethical to me means profitable. It seems people hear ethical and think philanthropic or similar. Ethical is an approach to transferring value more effectively than marketing heavy persuasion of unethical or closed business models. Consumer facing companies in particular benefit a lot here, as they try to sell value to the public they can benefit from including as many of the public in their thoughts and product designs. These companies would also benefit from the legions of supporters who will feel included.

Closed companies should be considered unethical just as a closed security algorithm should be considered flawed. Not until these companies can prove their ethics should they be considered ethical. Failure to do this should probably have the same effect as an unproven security algorithm.

Profit for the long-term

I have previously written that immense amounts of cash in people’s banks is not a good thing as society runs on cash like an engine runes on oil. Removing any of these two causes problems. Why then do I advocate profitability, is this not grabbing cash?  Well no! This is proving value and that in itself is all we need to be doing as a profit driven business. The investors in such business will reap great returns and they should. To keep investing again and again, is a great thing. These investors should include actual investors, staff, business partners and society.

In MaidSafe we are partnering with many companies who are like-minded. This in itself makes the proposition stronger. With the increase in value transfer between these companies we can provide a greater value transfer to people. As the machine kicks in then this value transfer leads to profit. To increase the profit, the model scales upwards. This does not mean MaidSafe becomes Goliath, it means it grows the eco-system around it. This profit is invested, not in MaidSafe alone, but in the eco-system. Each member of the eco-system is as important as the other. I think of this like grass growing, the single tall stem will be blown over as there is no protection, but if it shares food and light with those around it then it can grow tall with others around it for protection. This blade of grass (or company) is then a catalyst for a field of success. This strength allows more profit as the thing picks up.

Many companies would love this and maybe even profess to be doing it, but the difference is important. Like the consumer approach, each business needs to be openly ethical with each other business. People will go bad and greed can set in, in an open society this greed will be detected and removed quickly. This keeps strength in the system. So growing a large successful eco system and profiting will also need the same openness and provable ethics. The members of this system though will be both profitable and these profits will come from actually providing value.

A good nights sleep can be obtained with success that comes from smiling faces!

You cannot buy back ethics. No point in becoming amazingly rich at the pure expense of others and giving to charity then. It may be best to share as you grow. It may prove easier, stronger and more fulfilling, we will see.

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Posted in MaidSafe, strategy

Give a person the ability and they will change the world

Capitalism. Communism, Fascism, Socialism, Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Labour and all the rest of the prescribed rule-sets for humanity fail. Over and over again they fail and all we do is ping-pong between them. Some weeks the yellow shirts win and gloat then the blue shirts take back the crown. In each case all that happens is people get control, power and ultimately self-interest corrupts each system beyond recognition.

We all know this happens, we watch it and some of us partake in the game of X and O’s that we all know has no winner. What is it we are trying to do here in all these systems?

The answer is a fair society, a society where work is rewarded and value to society is recognised appropriately.

The answer to these issues may be right in front of our noses and about to jump onto the scene. This answer is:

Proof of Resource

This key reason allows people to build or do something of value. Have the value recognised mathematically and rewarded. This is a simple proposition that requires an advanced way of thinking to carry out. So what does it all mean?

Examples are always good, so lets take health. If there was a health ‘system’ that could recognise the purpose was to prolong healthy and productive life then we can make proof of resource. All that is required is a person does something, say take a person to hospital, offer primary care, prepare a meal and bed or whatever. All these things go to make up the resource of a health service.

So ultimately the service has to run at an ideal ‘cost’ and this is where proof of resource changes this world. The system values all actions by all actors in the scene based on the outcomes. So actions that lead to a positive and measurable treatment are rewarded (all actions, meaning even the smallest positive influence). The reward is based on a fraction of the total that everyone provides. So what does everyone provide? Well we identified a small list of players and they all offer something, time, ability and maybe even raw materials (food, drugs etc.). All of this ‘time’ is the system total. If the person who needed treatment then ‘got some’ and ‘paid’ for the treatment with some ‘proof of resource’ the system could balance based on the total of everyone’s effort and actions. This seems slightly recognisable and it should be, it is what all the isms above try to achieve but fail. They fail because they alter politically the ‘proof of resource’ for political and self interest, but if maths controlled this system then greed and self interest vanishes, interesting!

Utopia is a dream

Yes it is and this is not a utopian model. Until recently there was not a maths based system that was so prevalent and available as the current reach of the Internet is. As we see the power of a connected system unveiling itself in recent years, then we see corruption already being noted and in some cases even stopped. What we have not done though is to allow the system to be planned for society. This is what we must do. Let the system measure, balance and reward effort. We have the raw materials in front of us today!

Small efforts cannot be measured

This is true, a system that catalogues and tries to measure every little action will fail. We are not clever enough to do this and again self-interest programming this will be harmful. The answer is remarkably simple, measure outcomes and not actions. So instead of measuring each action for each patient, measure the outcomes of all the health system in this example. That’s easy, we measure life expectancy and work towards that. This gives us the system totals.

Now as we calculate all the smaller actions they must only add up to this total. This is the beauty of ‘proof of resource’ you cannot go past this total, no billionaire money jugglers here, no point lobbying congress, they do not do maths and cannot influence the laws of physics. Those days are numbered and rightly so.

As we recognise the system value, all we have to do is recognise all the parts that make it up and let the system reward each part.  Importantly the system should evolve to recognise every small part, so we sub divide ‘proof of resource’ to all the smaller parts. So for instance the ambulance part is a measurable resource it becomes a smaller system in itself with easily measured outcomes. Never mind the value in terms of dollars or pounds, that’s silly. All we need do is recognise the value as a total and sub divide this. If we do this with every system then it’s value will be subdivided into constituent parts with an overall total.

In the next post I will outline a system that does this in great detail. It’s not simple, but it should be truly ground-breaking. It is time to show the world that fair is the new success story and once and for all stop this success by cash total nonsense.  A billionaire only represents a system imbalance, we should not see that as a success, but a failure to balance. This is what proof of resource should achieve.  No isms any more just total value divided into constituent parts and awarded to actors in the system. People will call it an ism, but that will be short-sighted and easily proved incorrect. The world is about to change and it will be irreversible and fair. Money will become a mechanism to feed society and all its needs efficiently. It’s not easy, but it is completely logical. More importantly its calculable and repeatable as well as able to improve based on inference based maths.

Posted in complex systems, nature

Machines that own themselves in bitcoin part II

In the first part of this series I suggested that machines can own themselves. This seems reasonable and there are many good examples to show this, for instance, the self driving car that is a taxi. These are an incremental improvement on what we have today, there is more.

No pictures this time, I am on the road and Shona (our graphics whiz) is back at the office, I am sure she would say this post suffers greatly from lack of graphics and she is right.

Add autonomous networks to our picture

As I have said before though, bitcoin is a part of this system, there is much more required. One extremely important thing needed will be an autonomous data network. This is where MaidSafe fits into the picture. If these machines or systems could communicate, we will see real improvements. So, imagine again that self driving taxi. As one drives past a person looking for a taxi, it would automatically call any taxi in the proximity to pick up.

This is OK, but even we humans can do better than that. So now we add the ability to store, share and analyse data between all the taxis. Now what?

Now the cabs can take bookings, analyse traffic in real-time, work together to find the best repair deals and much more. Interestingly these taxis would not be killing anyone, breaking laws or telling lies about when they will arrive. They would also run at maximum financial efficiency, only charging what they required to say on the road. That seems like an improvement and one that actually costs less, saves fuel, helps the environment and provides a better service to us all.  This is only the beginning.

A proof of concept of this could be done now. We have bitcoin, MaidSafe is ready and Google have the cars and the capital. There is no reason these improvements need to be decades away.

The dark side

Before I move on though, there could be a dark side. If these taxi’s could now recognise people, get to know where you live, work and play. The service may improve. They could be waiting near where you will want one etc. as they analyse patterns and behaviours.  If the police and governments could use that data, its big trouble. This is where we are heading, but it is also why I keep harping on about autonomous machines and systems. If the limits of the system were defined correctly, spying will not happen, as it would break the maths. Of course there could be very good reason to allow some of these things to happen. If the laws could be into a system where they could be automatically carried out by machines, perhaps it would not be such a bad thing.

Imagine a thief spotted by the system, is captured and the crime stopped there and then, I am sure we all agree that seems like a good thing. Where are the limits though? This part will be a long way off, I hope.

Of course being able to code laws into a system would require the laws were logical, complete and that is another blog post, a worldwide legal system.

Reality check

I see machines and services on the MaidSafe network calculating in real-time, the input’s and outputs of the systems language would be in a form that machines could quickly interpret. This data would be using many mathematical techniques, especially Bayesian Inference type tools, to enhance existing knowledge. As this will be real-time, then human understanding of this data will be minimal. It will also be a very limited view of the data that we humans could get. Decisions will be happening at very high speeds. At any time all we would see is a thought developing. I have no fear of misuse of advanced systems like this by humans. I think you need to bend logic to be evil and that act makes the system weak and easily defeated. It’s a reason I like computing and the sea (nature) etc. there are no lies in these things and that’s what makes them endure.

Now what can we do?

Medical advances

OK taxis are a good easy example, but this new system will bring things we could not imagine today. Take CT scans or X-rays, today we get them for specific issues when we feel some symptom. A doctor will get us processed to check our shoulder or whatever part ails us. A clinician will do the scan and a specialist (if we are lucky) will analyse the part of the scan that reflects the part in question. Why not scan out whole body?

The answer is humans are checking the scan and can only deal with small amounts of information. This is all only when we have suffered enough to begin this process.

If the medical machines such as scanners were all part of an autonomous system that could infer information as it went along then amazing things would happen. No longer would we have to wait until we we’re ill and have that part looked at. The whole body scan would be analysed by machines that will not miss anything. In addition the scans of every other person would be factored into the diagnosis. Where there were similar differences in organ sizes, skin impurities etc. then these factors would be included. This means you are treated by the best doctor in the world. the next person will take that title from you though.

Such systems would mean that we would be treated for ailments we never even knew we had or were about to get. Now it’s not difficult to take this several steps further and add in gene processing to the equation. Then the machines would be able to not only detect ailments, but be able to apply the exact medicine in the exact dose for our unique body.

So this is not machines competing with doctors, no there is no competition in this case.

The end of corruption

As machines award and search for suppliers and consumers to match requirements the days of bribery are over. A logical system would not understand what a bribe is never mind accept one. It makes no sense, invites errors into the system and would simply be rejected. The only way to win work will be to give a value that is now required, that is it.

The tax avoidance and evasion techniques employed by many large corporations and wealthy individuals, would simply not compute. These loopholes would just not exist.

Remove imbalances in world wealth

In a system managed by such machines, the supply should meet exactly the demand. This will mean that there will be a little borrowing to begin with, but as the system calculated all the parameters and adjusted its prediction models then supply would in fact equal demand. In such a system there would be zero trade deficit or debt. If the system had a baseline that ensured everyone had food, water, heat (or cool) and a comfortable dwelling then all additional perks may or may not exist during fluctuations in trade due to weather or unforeseen conditions in the marketplace. This would be most obviously implemented as a global tax the system made to ensure these basic needs. Over time these basics should include education and training to offer value to society.

Learn how to dream again

One place humans beat machines every time, is the ability to dream. These dreams make us unique and compel us to innovate, explore and reach beyond our capabilities. A trait apparently unique to us, or at least way more abundant in us than any other species we know of.

So many of us today, work very hard paying of debts we never created, for faceless people.  Even those of us lucky enough to have no personal debt are having to pay government debt. Today we are a society so unhinged and confused that we dare not dream of better things. In some parts of the world over 50% of wealth is in financial services, 30% of all cash is hidden offshore and we are all trying to make what’s left for us stretch to allow us to live a little.  If we remove the imbalances and work within a system that’s logical and to a set of rules we can easily see and agree on then these issues go away, immediately.

Then we will have people who can sit on hill in the sunshine and wonder WHAT IF?

Then we start moving forward again and reverse the decline created by imperfect and corrupt systems that we have in place today.

So just imagine a clear head, no worries whatsoever and just looking at a star or a bird or whatever and just think WHAT IF?

That is our logical destination and it will happen.

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Posted in bitcoin, MaidSafe

Machines that own themselves in bitcoin


Yes I really mean machines that own themselves. This is the first of a three-part series that will take the reader through my vision of the future. I see this future as within this decade, i.e. the next six years.


Imagine an AI machine is built, say a robotic waiter. Not too difficult, we almost have this already, but let’s add a tiny difference.


This robot waiter will serve food and drinks to people in a restaurant all day every day. It requires certain things such as:

  • Power
  • Repairs

The robot charges customers for each item they buy. The customer simply pays in bitcoin to the robots internal wallet. The robot can plug itself into a wall socket and recharge, of course paying the wall socket’s wallet in bitcoin. The robot can be paid by the establishment owner by the hour, or the robot could be paid a % of all orders. This is something that people will resolve as time goes by and choose different systems initially.

As the robot breaks or servo’s wear out (if using servo’s of course, another story) it will require repairs. This is a simple mechanism. The robot takes himself to the repair shop and of course pays the mechanic in bitcoin. Of course many security features will be built in such as a tamper proof wallet to prevent theft of the system.

As the robot requires no tips and will not steal, this scenario looks pretty workable, but let’s take it further.

Who built the robot?

This is easy, anybody or any company. This is a market driven environment and will be open to all comers. The competition to release these will be ferocious, eventually. The early mover position here will initially be costly, but the rewards could be significant.

These people can benefit in many ways, the robot could immediately pay a % of its takings to the builder, maybe even up to a certain level. After the builder is paid back, the robot can reduce its costs to the restaurant. The builder could sell the robot, the options of varying business models are truly staggering. In any case the opportunities for success are patently obvious though. Without bitcoin or similar these options are incredibly limited, if not impossible.

Who owns the robot?

This is potentially the beautiful part. After a payback period, the robot owns himself. It can go from restaurant to restaurant to find the best paying restaurant. It can tell the restaurant owner how much it has to charge to allow it to perform its duty. It can also be outperformed by a newer model that is faster, cheaper or in other ways more suitable.

What happens at the robot’s end of life?

At the end of life the robot will check itself into a builder. The builder will charge the robot for whatever bitcoin it has left and of course parts. The robot may be re-purposed to perform other tasks, upgraded to a later model etc.

Other obvious examples

  • Autonomous car, e.g. A car that picks people up, gets repaired and pays for its own power.
  • Service station attendant, pretty similar to above idea.
  • Aeroplane
  • Train

The list is pretty obvious and huge. This purely the tip of the iceberg though. For readers who have read my other blog post then part 2 may not be so much of a surprise. It may be though as the implications are pretty amazing and obvious.

Posted in bitcoin

Bitcoin blockchain is not a thing, it’s a design pattern


Imagine somebody in the decentralised Internet space for over 10 years seemingly attacking the first decentralised information system?

This is not an attack on bitcoin!

Bitcoin as a decentralised system of value transfer is indisputable. It has proven that to be the case and it’s growth is now exponential. Many features are being created, many people now invest in a multitude of ways, it is a wave of innovation that will lead the way for us all.

Is it guaranteed to work? Well no, but it has led the way towards the information based world being managed by agreed algorithms and this is hugely important.

A decentralised system is a phenomenal solution to many issues today. There are many things we need to get decentralised fast and money is an obvious first choice. I have been to bitcoin meetups and conferences etc. it is amazing to see the grungy enthusiasm and I am certainly including myself there.

I firmly believe bitcoin will be around for many years, as I said before though it may be the broom with many new heads and several new handles. It will have to be, that’s evolution.

This is an attack on centralised structures

So we all know of centralised structures being an impediment to innovation and furthering of humankind. We have seen banks now fail dramatically. We have seen the financial system fail dramatically. We have seen government manipulation of finance fail dramatically. We have seen many ways that a centralised solution to a mathematical problem creates failure and it must. The handling of wealth is a purely a maths problem and must be handled by maths. The handling of information of all kinds falls into this category.

So we all know that! It goes further though. Mt Gox is a centralised structure in bitcoin and it will fail in its current form, I believe all closed source, human manipulated systems in bitcoin will, and should fail!

What about the blockchain then?

I hear blockchain being touted continually as a solution to everything and it’s frustrating. Bitcoin is not a great solution because of the blockchain. Bitcoin is a great solution because it can cryptographically confirm transactions in a manner that is not reversible. The blockchain is a mechanism to agree the lock, that’s it.

Many projects say, we will build X on the blockchain so it’s guaranteed to work right?  No!

Instead I would like projects to state how they will make use of decentralised mechanisms, fixed in space and time via an agreed and open algorithm that serves a specific purpose. This is key to building on bitcoin, not adding code and figures to a centralised (even if it is distributed) data structure. The blockchain is currently a distributed centralised data structure and this is important.

What I mean is that the blockchain is not decentralised in itself and it must. Decentralisation that is partial in my mind is only distributed. The further we can decentralise then the more robust our systems will become.

It’s the human psyche to just build on the first bit of a system like this. The systems just now like MasterCoin, Ethereum etc are great, do not get me wrong. We need to keep innovating for sure. We must, though, extend what bitcoin has started and that means we must continue to decentralise information systems at their core as well as extending them where it’s seemingly obvious, as in the earlier examples.  It’s the reliance on ‘the only blockchain’ that concerns me. These projects can exist without doing that, if we get it right.

The key to decentralised systems is decentralisation

In nature we see many decentralised systems, ants, plants, wolves etc. Nature has a ton of decentralised systems and it works. We need to pay attention to this. An ant does not grow a paw and become a wolf, a sunflower does not grow its roots in a wolf. These systems are decentralised and at their heart they have their own ‘blockchain’. They co-exist in an eco system that allows them all to survive with connections at the edge!

I think nature shows a system of decentralised species that are all co-dependent, but not by sharing parts of their core system with each other. They do share design patterns and are all co-existing in a system with varying degrees of co-dependency. The co-dependency is very loose in general and these co-dependent relationships can be replaced by other relationships as the system evolves. for instance Native Americans may have depended on Bison to survive and now depend on other species, the co-dependency is not fixed, the failure of one species does not necessarily end another. So in this case co-dependency is a fleeting notion in a huge system of co-existence locked in time.

What I mean by this is that many species will feed other species in many ways, food, altering environment, protection in numbers etc. The world we live in is a huge system of interconnected decentralised systems. They are interconnected though and not built on each other. If wolves become extinct, ants will probably survive, close symbiotic relationship related species may die out, but in essence the whole system keeps going and importantly improving.

If all of our decentralised systems shared ‘the blockchain’ then we design against the systems nature shows us to work.

Is the blockchain bad then?

No the blockchain as a design pattern is evolving for now, it is incomplete as a pattern. It is one mechanism to decentralise information. In the case of bitcoin this is decentralising the agreement of where coins or wealth is currently located. It’s structure may change and it should, that’s evolution.

The blockchain as a single centralised data structure is OK for now, it works and will continue to work for a while, perhaps a very long while. It will not last though and I feel it must decentralise at least. That’s perhaps not so difficult, but I would add a merkle tree approach is not the answer, it’s just an easier to manage centralised data structure (it has a root). The answer is very complex (still not difficult) though. It requires taking the core bitcoin thinking and growing that. At maidsafe this is all we do and we have done that for years now. We know it’s a very tough transition in thinking and requires a completely different view of data structures, I believe Satoshi also went through some of the same debates and issues we have had to overcome. I also hope he would agree with this piece.

What about projects built on the blockchain?

I believe these are a good thing! Now that seems to fly in the face of what I have laid out so far, is this not the ant growing a paw? Well yes this is in many ways bad. To have many projects depend on a centralised data structure is bad. The core protocol could take down the eco system so it is bad in that sense.

The intent is great though. I believe these projects do not need to be locking themselves into ‘the blockchain’ they simply need a mechanism of an agreed mathematical lock. Bitcoin agrees this for them and they can flourish. They do and will continue to flourish if their offering is of value. That’s evolution again.

If the blockchain could be distributed and become a design pattern then we will all win. If any project fails (including bitcoin) then it should have a positive net affect (evolution again). This is what I believe must happen and this will need a larger set of algorithms and data protection to be made available to the world. If we are to manage information effectively and in a way that allows failure to exist in a non threatening manner then the future of decentralised systems will be unstoppable.

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Posted in bitcoin, complex systems, MaidSafe, nature

A compelling business strategy for a fair world

This is going to be a bit of a long post. There are many ideas and responses to recent comments that I would like to clear up as well as some suggestions that would be good to get comments on.

Is the world changing?


Well it would seem so, the collapse of the financial system that now seems to depend on rapid changes to the value of currencies around the planet. The overthrowing of governments. The exposing and subsequent disgust at the financial sector bonuses, government corruption  of both politicians and lobbyist groups. The collapse of housing markets. The wars that seem to just never go away and even less so, seem justified. The growing gap between dying people and others who languish in wealth beyond counting. Yes the world is changing and no wonder!

An option for the future

MaidSafe has been a journey of a lifetime. I say that as I believe you could not do it twice. The focus, attention and complete tenacity of all of us involved has been pretty tough to say the least. It’s not about working hard, many do that, it’s not about sacrifice, many die for a country or cause and none of us died. It’s the sheer effort of introducing something that’s hard to understand and harder to implement. That is a task that I for one underestimated. Anyway would I do it again? definitely!

The technology MaidSafe has created is extraordinary in many ways. No less than the fully distributed nature of the network, which I believe is a worlds first, only if you ignore almost every single species that has existed over the years. In terms of technology and invention of humankind then I think it is right at the edge of the level of change we can accept. I think many reading this blog will know enough about MaidSafe to have an understanding of the overview. The detail is absolutely fascinating though and I wish everyone could see it. I think it represents something truly revolutionary and of such benefit to us all that it’s just a privilege to have seen it, never mind be a small part of its creation.

So we can establish the MaidSafe technology is at the very least, innovative, novel and commercially applicable. If that sounds like patent talk, it is and I will come back to that later.

Strong technology fails without a strong business model

The best technology in the world will fail or delay for many decades without a cohesive and thought out business model. Even fully Open Source projects will agree, the need to engage the world as it is, must be done with careful thought. In many ways the business model has to be innovative and novel to introduce a new paradigm successfully.  Here in the UK and maybe further afield there has been a shift in the economic climate towards financial sector modelling. This has lead to businesses being run by ‘professionals’ not versed in the very art that created the business. This piece assumes no such nonsense and instead realises innovators who invent complex advances are probably able to count and when absolutely necessary read a spreadsheet.

So a strong business model is required. I would go further and say an innovative business model is required. This should be something an innovator does, it will require deep thought, investigation, measuring and an execution plan. This will have to take into account existing models in order to make the changes necessary in society for a step change.

Patents are not the root of all evil

OK lets get controversial! Patents were set up to allow inventors to be able to profit from inventions, not to be used as a weapon of mass destruction and killing innovation as they do today.  There are many opinions on patents and their value. In software particularly they are a double edged sword. In any case if you are innovating and get attacked by a patent troll then you may be finished.

So instead of bringing a knife to a gunfight, get ‘tooled up’ and get yourself protected. MaidSafe has a pretty large patent portfolio which cost a fortune. Many people attack when they hear this, oh no you are bad, evil and many more insults. In any case, we have patents and I am delighted. We are going to turn up to a gunfight with much more than a knife for sure.

As MaidSafe is extremely innovative, it allows certain advantages. To be awarded a patent you have to show how you can implement the claim. This means your application should have enough information that anyone versed in the art could reproduce your claims. So as nobody has created an autonomous network with self authentication and a PKI system that’s implemented in maths alone, we have a great advantage over others. We can make broad claims, very broad.

This means that we have a patent portfolio that covers a wide area and this area is central to a distributed Internet to exist.

Whoa! that sounds very dangerous!

It is and we are not afraid of the risks. That and to also protect us and the technology while we ironed out all of the kinks. I would hate to think what would have happened if a large incumbent had got this technology and extended and locked it into their own network. A network that allowed no competition and could enhance vendor lock-in, we have all seen that previously, it’s bad for innovation.

Don’t try and take over the world, be part of a new world

So what do you do when you have technology that could disrupt nearly every other company out there? I mean every company, no matter how large or powerful. Well the first thing to do is find friends, like minded people to share the initial costs of getting started. These are your seed investors. We were very successful there. Then build your product and think the whole time how this technology could change the world. Stay excited and focussed.

As the technology is ready, then it’s time to launch your attack on the status quo. Do not run in front of a speeding car or a machine gun nest. Others may not want you to succeed, initially the jealous then later the dangerous. It’s time to find more friends. These, like your investors should be great friends. These people take you to the next stage. For us these friends are all the projects, people and companies who will help build the decentralised Internet.

One of the things you must do for your friends is to include them at the final steps of launch. When all the wrinkles are flattened and the bugs under control and you have a working system, get some friends involved. These new friends, the users of your invention, your customers, are going to have to be amongst the best friends you get. They do not need risks involved with getting your product ready, they have their own battles to fight and you need to supply the ammo.

MaidSafe supplies its customers with an amazingly powerful armament. That is technology that dramatically improves customer experiences and  helps people to live with privacy, security and the freedom to communicate, share and store information of all types. This is done with no infrastructure costs or any start up worries related to registering interest etc. No API keys and no limit on what can be achieved. That’s all great, but we also do something that adds significant benefit. We use the very broad patents to protect the sphere these customers will be operating in. That’s right, when our friends are drawn into a gunfight, we bring in the heavy artillery.

Together we present a larger and more powerful force to enable us to make the changes to this world and improve it for everyone. As opponents try and continue to enforce rules, regulations and oppressive regimes on people, we free them.

What about the projects that develop, do they patent?

In my opinion, if there are terrific innovations, I would prefer they did get defensibly patented. These days, whether it is right or wrong, it is the current landscape. It’s better to be protected and fight against innovation stifling businesses, rather than be closed down by a judge somewhere. This is a symptom of the world we live in today. No point in creating a brilliant application with phenomenal ideas and somebody patents around you, stifling your ability to grow that application. It will happen.

I hope the MaidSafe network can create a container for all the associated projects to place patents in. These would be used by everyone to help everyone else and protect this new culture from the ravages that plagued the old ways.

What about this dual license thing?

A quandary for many and it’s a shame the licensing system is so complex and seems to have become a war-ground with opposing forces completely at odds with each other.

The GPL license issue

This works very well for us. I met a chap who is well known in the GNU community who told me, you will hate the GPL and want to kill it eventually. For your company to succeed you will have to tell everyone how evil the GPL is!

Oh how I laughed (internally), this is where people miss the point. GPL is not bad in our case. It allows the code to be protected by a fantastic community. That community need fear nothing from us as the network owners, because in GPL world we do not own the network or the code, great! A problem solved. If the MaidSafe network is to be the underpinning of the decentralised Internet, how can it be owned. So it’s not owned any more.

The Non GPL license issue

This is the license the GNU person thought was our goal. Yes this is where we will make our revenue, sometimes, but a goal? To me it’s like a fisherman wishing the only bit of water was surrounding the fish he wanted to catch at that moment, insane!

We need everyone to create decentralised applications, that means, schoolkids, enthusiasts, tinkerers, open source projects, free projects, community projects, commercial projects etc. Yes we want an ecosystem that encompasses all walks of life. We want all the water to still be in the sea and other fish for later on for everyone.

So if anyone wanted to link our code into their application, for instance, they can, in any way they want. They can statically compile our code and we don’t care, we just hope they succeed in whatever their goal is. Simple!

They can build applications, sell them, give them away, raffle them or bin them, all comers welcomed and more importantly able. No hindrance, no registration and no hassle.

How does MaidSafe make money then?

Aha, that good business model issue, yes I agree this is an important point. It’s so important in fact that we have thought about it long and hard and only at the end of the journey have we unveiled our plans. Yes we got to the line first, checked the landscape, confirmed our thoughts and put our plan in place. We have two immediate options here and we think they are both very fair. Our mantra has always been, profit follows value. i.e. profit is not something to be forced from people and yes you should leave something on the table. Greed fails, it always has and always will.

Option 1, license fee

As a project, open source (except GPL) or commercial brings in revenue from a MaidSafe enabled project then our license kicks in. That is there is a 1% payment to be made to MaidSafe. This is a small amount and known in advance. It’s super simple to allow projects to factor in as a cost of goods sold item on their business plan. It’s also at a level to not cause grief and should provide significantly more in return through continued advancements in our technology.

What I like about this, especially, is that if a project builds a product and it does not work out for them, i.e. little or no sales, then their investment in terms of MaidSafe is extremely small if not zero. That’s fantastic for innovation.

Option 2, Token based system

There is a fantastic paper here that outlines a phenomenally exciting proposition. This is a proposition based on utilising systems of crypto backed tokens (or currency if you like). There are many options available here and they all need investigated. Essentially a project like MaidSafe supplies tokens to another project who builds on top of the platform. These other companies then increase the value of their token as they become successful in the marketplace. This in turn increases the tokens that MaidSafe has. So a mechanism to increase wealth, yes, but so much more.

Every company with such a token now sees their value increase as others increase the value of their own business. Now it gets interesting, wealth starts flowing through the system and nothing moves, no bankers or third parties got involved, it was just some calculations. This means the wealth increases and is free of the professional services burdens and fees associated with wealth movements today.

This is at an early stage and many questions need to be worked out, such as do you pre-create tokens (called pre-mining in many areas), or create them as projects are created, is there a finite amount, do they convert to other currencies and token systems etc. These are all mechanical questions, but in a decentralised world this is all possible. That’s what is exciting, the possibilities are immense and these are paths no human has walked on before. We are charting new territory here and there is no need to be scared, we know we will not fall off the end of the world. It’s what growth this value will bring for everyone that is exciting.

What if somebody just steals the code and does not pay or take a token?

Well my first thought is, I am glad they stole our code. My second is they possibly could not afford to pay and maybe the project failed in some way. Those are probably quite good reasons and easy to understand.

If, however, a project was generating substantial revenue and not paying or increasing the value of tokens then they are a threat to the community. In this case they have broken the law with respect to a license agreement, bad enough and I would not like to be in that position. That is very hard to defend. But it’s not over yet.

The thieves have not only broken a license agreement, they are acting outside the community. They threaten our friends and network. They are outside another important thing, they are outside the protection of our patent umbrella, they have also broken patent law, so they have a license issue but they also have a trading issue now. This is looking serious for enemies of the community.

As I said, do not bring a knife to a gunfight; if large companies steal from the community we bring in the hounds of hell.

Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?

OK, you may have noticed the Martin Luther King Jr rip off in this section’s title. You get the book here, I feel it’s the least I can do.

It’s just a perfect question for MaidSafe. Many think immediately, change equals chaos, whilst others see it as bringing a better sense of community. Take the case in point, we had to change slavery, we had to change child labour laws, we had to stop killing indigenous people etc.  Change can be very good and nature requires us to keep probing the unknown. So let’s investigate some of that unknown now!

Options for the consumer Internet

This is a particularly easy issue for the decentralised community. The easy wins here are:

  • Private data sharing (e.g. DropBox, etc.)
  • Video provisioning (youtube, vimeo etc.)
  • Social networking (FaceBook, Twitter etc.)
  • Email and messaging

There is a plethora of ‘low hanging fruit’ that would benefit immensely from decentralisation. Ask any of the businesses mentioned if they would like their infrastructure to be secure, reliable and free. I think the answer is obvious. Now ask their users if they would prefer to not have their identity taken and used in advertisements or have their activity tracked to advertise to. We know the answer to that one too, I think.

Well how do they profit?

Good question, maybe some don’t. Others will come up with ingenious mechanisms I cannot foresee. They should be innovators, right?

There are in fact many ways to profit. advertising is still possible. Build advertising into the app, select adverts from a network location that’s sorted on some categories, geographies etc. and serve these to the user. Significantly though there is no need to take user data, store it and mine it. All the matching for advertisements can be done in your application. Simple, cheap and in no way a harm to privacy of users. It’s still possible to measure advertising impressions etc. It just reverses the proposition, where advertisers get what they want, users get what they want at no cost to their privacy and security, now that’s great.

There will be a ton of opportunities to commercialise applications on the market.

Options for AI/robotics

I spoke with the RoboEarth project a while back on this very issue. One of my goals is Autonomous Distributed Intelligence. This is ONLY possible when there is a secure network that is not owned by anyone and takes decisions based on sound logic (math based).  The RoboEarth people really liked the idea of not storing AI data on the public web, under the control of server admins and maybe corporations.

Imagine being able to have our machines all communicate on a network with the ability to securely share data that can be ranked on validity and shared. Add in some inference techniques and you have the culmination of intelligence recalculating continuously.

What could that achieve?

An experiment I am currently looking at is with robotics. I have 3d printed parts of 2 robots now and need to reconfigure a couple of beagleboards as brains. These already compile and build all the MaidSafe code (small ARM devices). They will join the MaidSafe network when it’s up an running.

I will then locate these robots at opposite ends of the house and have face recondition software on them. When people come in the front of the house and introduce themselves to Alebert1 he will upload the image and tags etc. to the share. When the person goes to the back of the house Albert2 will be able to greet them by name.

In a similar manner, teach Albert1 French and Albert2 knows French at the same time (almost).

Now start dreaming of the possibilities. I do and they are endless. The system will as I said earlier allow for inference to alter existing data as new variables are known.

Options for medicine

A decentralised Internet holds exciting medical advances. Imagine you had access to your records. Only when you give a doctor access can the doctor see them. In case of illness then you have nominated others who can also do this (using n+p data dispersal techniques).  Now you are in charge of your data.

Another aspect could be that all machines taking scans report as the robots do. The results of all scans are shared between all medical machines and they can use inference again to build up patterns and check results. If these machines could access medical records in an anonymous fashion, amazing things would happen. You go for an MRI scan of your hip, the machine, unlike a human can process all the scan details and compare with others. The machine notes you have some growth or similar where the doctor was looking. In this case the machine notes you have a very small imperfection in an organ, apparently unrelated and not even considered by the human doctor. The machine notes that every time these two events happened a single dose of pill X cures it all. Meanwhile the human doctor is booking surgery to cut parts out of you, unnecessarily.

Not to get rid of doctors, but to provide this amount of information and cross referencing would be a dramatic help for us all. That is only the start, now think of genetics and proteomics, the advances could be astounding.

What about longevity, it is really exciting and I do not think this glance even touches on the possibilities.

Options for trade

Bitcoin has been pretty remarkable for MaidSafe as it shows that even a system that is not fully decentralised makes so much sense. If we take bitcoin and merge it with a fully decentralised system we can achieve massive improvements. Secure wallets (simple), decentralise the blockchain (privacy returns) and add in transaction accountability via scripting (aka Ethereum project) and things start to look bewildering.

I have not even started on the possibilities here, worldwide voting systems, autonomous corporations etc. the list is incredible and the future will make all of our heads spin and life will be significantly better.

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Posted in MaidSafe, nature

Why do I keep going on about ants and nature.

Quick post this time. I answered this in an email today and figured, posting it may mean I repeat it less 🙂 So here it is:

PS Can you remind me of your ant analogy wrt your network?

Yes no problem ( I visited Deborah Gordon in the Gordon Institute at Stanford to discuss)

Deborah studies Harvester ants and did a TED video about it (very interesting). She noted several good points
  1. The ants act independently
  2. The queen lays eggs and can have no impact
  3. The ant colonies are 150Million years old and are very sophisticated and complex
  4. There are 4 types of ant in the study (harvester, forager, cleaner and soldier), she painted them all to test this.

As ants leave the nest they rub against each other and detect patterns. So an ant may have been a forger yesterday and therefore goes to do that job today. Brushing past other ants they bump into each other and from their scent they can see the pattern. If there are many cleaner ants then the ant becomes a cleaner, too many harvesters, she (all ants are female except for the breeding season where some males are born and fly to new nest sites) becomes a harvester (no need to forage today) and so on …

People talk about AI as building larger smarter computers (IBM Watson etc.). My conjecture is that it’s not a large thing you build, it should be like ants. Lots of very small things with very few rules that are easily followed. Deborah did like this approach as I attempted to dispel the AI myth of a supercomputer. Each complex system should not do too much, like ants they have a limited function to do, too many functions is inordinately difficult to cope with. It’s the combination of complex systems that make up larger systems, not building Goliath systems, humans are not that smart (yet).
So in maidsafe our network nodes are like ants, they will react to different messages and routes of messages and change their persona (harvester -> forager etc.). This builds a very large scale complex and sophisticated ability, in the same way nature does (cells in the body are the same, neurons in the brain etc.). We have about 7 main personas.
The variables involved to build a single complex system like Watson are in my opinion unnatural and not found in nature (it’s like creating God or something silly like that).
So complex colonies or cell groupings is in our ability and in maidsafe we have done this to create a very complex system that manages data. It does so using three guiding principles for the node.
1: Protect self
2: Protect data (food)
3: Protect network (colony)
Each of these rules govern what a node will do, so it will delete bad data, it will self terminate on getting a virus (others will terminate it as well). It will terminate itself to save some data. It will lose data to save the network.
It’s a bit of a mind shift for everyone, but in my wee world inside my head it makes perfect sense and it’s a replica of natural systems in action,
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Posted in complex systems, nature

Lavabit will always happen when servers are involved

One thing we can depend on as humans, power corrupts! Whether the Roman Empire, the British Empire or the ‘isms’ such as Communism, Capitalism etc. greed always leads to power struggles and then these are won, that society actually dies. It is simple to work out why, this piece is not about that. This piece is about a simple and logical mechanism that will protect our digital society from the ravages of the power-hungry governments and corporations that have gone or are going out of control.

Why do we keep doing these things and not changing our approach?

Insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein,

Will secure servers help (we have great encryption)

No, simple, as humans are involved, greed and corruption will happen.

Will web of trust or friend networks fix this?

No, simple, as humans are involved, greed and corruption will happen.

Ok then will a top-secret closed source highly encrypted private network work?

No, simple, as humans are involved, greed and corruption will happen.

What about the recent things like Tor etc. do they help

No, simple, as humans are involved, greed and corruption will happen. (human involvement at servers)

What will then ?

That’s easy to say but hard as hell to create. The answer is a fully maths based network that provides encryption, obfuscation and protection of data and communications. It has to be a self maintaining system and have a somewhat symbiotic  relationship with humans. It should allow humans to access its services but importantly the network should never store human readable data. Bitcoin gives us a preview of what may help, decentralisation of core services protected by logic and maths. We should not all jump on bitcoin but look closer at what it teaches us. Logic and security are obvious. Servers and centralisation are unnatural and will always fail.

This should be obvious to humankind by now!

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Posted in Privacy

What happens when an autonomous data network meets an autonomous trade mechanism?

BC_Logotype A breakthrough in decentralised trade. Bitcoin is changing the financial landscape and is very likely to do so at a speed we will not understand. Humans find exponential growth difficult, or perhaps impossible, to comprehend.

In the West or developed world we still talk regulation, stability and many more nefarious issues and unrelated complexities that bitcoin will thankfully never recognise.  Bitcoin does all this using cryptographically secure algorithms. These algorithms make sure that transactions are guaranteed and irrefutable.  In this respect bitcoin does it’s job and does it exceptionally well.


On the other hand MaidSafe is a fully decentralised autonomous data network. As with Bitcoin, MaidSafe uses cryptography to secure data and data based transactions, including communications.

Where is the synergy what does it all mean?

Both of these networks provide very valuable services. Bitcoin has already seen many projects sprouting from its tremendous start. I think these projects are terrific, but some are dangerous. I say dangerous as these projects attempt to use bitcoin’s transaction log technology as a panacea for all decentralisation. This in my opinion is very dangerous and incorrect.

The transaction log is data, peoples wallets are data, bitcoin is not a data network. It’s a network to facilitate trade. This includes money based transactions, contracts and other financial instruments, hopefully not to many or to complex, we all know where that leads.

The bitcoin network is fuelled by transactions and manages these transactions, this network has transactions at its core and the network is programmed to manage these transactions. I think of it as the network is designed to facilitate transactions and requires transactions to survive.

The MaidSafe network is a data network and manages data. It is fuelled by data and requires data to survive. It is designed to facilitate the secure manipulation of data, not the transfer of money. MaidSafe could be extended to do this, but why, bitcoin is already here. There should never be a need to re-invent a wheel and this is a classic example.

It should be obvious to the reader now, these systems are indeed unique, different and at the same time full of synergy. Wolves are not deer but in a world full of decentralised autonomous systems they are part of a larger system and live together. We call this system nature and bitcoin and MaidSafe form a part of this amazing conglomeration of complex and advanced system.

How exactly can they live together?

Entry into the bitcoin network requires, proof of work (i..e. mining) or transfer of fiat currency into bitcoin via an on-line exchange or direct cash transfer, in person or through ATM’s etc.

MaidSafe uses a different model for successful participation. This is the provision of physical resources. These resources are disk space, cpu and bandwidth. This is done in a way that means MaidSafe uses what users are not using (free space etc.).

Not everyone will mine bitcoin, so they buy them. Not everyone will be have on-line available disk space so they may wish to buy some. This is a terrific starting point, if people sell their unused space via bitcoin, it means information leakage is minimised, this is a good thing in a secure and privacy enhancing network.

Staying with that thought for a moment,  why should bitcoin only reduce the data leakage, why not completely eliminate data leakage?

As I said earlier, bitcoin has data, the blockchain and wallets. The bitcoin network is not a data network, it does not distribute and secure data! MaidSafe does though!

Securing wallets is “bread and butter” for MaidSafe and simple enough to understand. The blockchain on the other hand is another matter. Here are some initial brainstorming ideas:

  • Store the transaction log as a file on the network
  • Store each transaction separately
  • Store each bitcoin as a unique address
  • Store each mBTC as a unique address
  • store wallet addresses and allocate BTC to these

There is a multitude of ways to distribute the blockchain and some would offer complete privacy of transaction, whilst maintaining the integrity of the bitcoin themselves. This is a discussion for the bitcoin core developers and there are some projects looking at even more ways to achieve this. I mention it for completeness, it’s not a requirement in any way for these technologies to work together. 


Now it gets really interesting. In the bitcoin community there are already decentralised companies and communities being considered, these are called DACs.  Imagine for a second, if these communities could share data and communicate with a level of assured privacy, just as bitcoin assures transactions.

Imagine WikiLeaks and organisations similar to that being able to host their services and also receive donations securely and safely.

More importantly than this, we could be facing a time where innovators and entrepreneurs across the globe can start a business and compete on a level playing field. This means no infrastructure costs either in terms of payment ability or data infrastructure costs. A single person company in the middle of Africa could complete with any Silicon Valley start-up in almost any field. Incumbent operators who ignored this technology pairing could find themselves with serious competition at lightening speed.

The globalisation that has been discussed for many years may eventually be coming to fruition and bring with it a levelling of the whole worlds economies. I think that would be an amazing effect of these networks and their future iterations. 

By amortising innovation across the globe we will not only empower many more people, but we will increase the speed of innovation in all areas. The days of a countries children dying of simple medication and lack of water whilst others worry about how many televisions per room they have, will come to a swift end. As we remove these injustices we will all live in a more peaceful, secure and progressive world. I for one look forward to that a lot.

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Posted in bitcoin, MaidSafe

MaidSafe a network that shares more with a currency than data


I am constantly asked what MaidSafe is and I struggle to explain it and others struggle more to understand, if they can be bothered to listen. Understandably many people will not watch a 12 minute video or read hundreds of pages of technical information to ‘get it’. 

Many people pigeon-hole this technology in the age-old tradition of trying to quickly understand it, so we get comparisons to Freenet, Tahoe, Skype, Tor, Wuala …. the list is endless, basically anything with data or distributed in the title is presented as ‘the same’. I see now readers will sense a frustration here.

I get frustrated, not because I think people are stupid, but because I think I am stupid. As Richard Feynman agreed, if you cannot explain something in short simple way, then it means you do not understand it enough yourself. I believe this is the case here.

I have been excited about bitcoin for a long time now and this excitement is not limited to what it can do for us all, that’s another story altogether. The excitement is more to do with what it is. Bitcoin is a distributed, decentralised system and that decentralisation is the key to its success.

The bitcoin community is educating itself and others at pace now. This exchange of ideas, comments suggestions and debates are all expanding peoples minds in bitcoin. All of these issues show the sheer strength of bitcoin (the network) and what it can achieve. Bitcoin’s future is immense and will continue to be further understood by later portions of society. This is great news.

If bitcoin is to be explained to a person using only the technical aspects then it would fail. Cryptography is not well enough known to be used as a way of educating people what bitcoin is. Alternatively explaining bitcoin by saying, it’s just money or currency will also fail, bitcoin is not that and it’s like comparing a tyre with a car.

What has helped is the early adopters feverish optimism and innovation. This has created bitcoin services, products, markets and opportunities. Now people all understand this. So bitcoin flourishes and grows, great! 

Nowadays, people would not consider bitcoin being another version of dollars, Rmb, pounds,  tulips or linden dollars etc. We all know it’s something completely different as it is a network run by maths, logic and has no possibility for human intervention. This is now starting to be understood as a good thing.

MaidSafe pre-dates bitcoin by at least three years, but has the exact same approach, but for data and communications infrastructure. This is why MaidSafe cannot be explained easily, this link has never existed previously and now with bitcoin’s popularity growing we can begin to make this comparison and distinction. So MaidSafe is not a ‘me too’ technology and in fact takes decentralisation slightly further as it has no blockchain component. This is just a small difference though, as far as people are concerned

MaidSafe is bitcoin for data

and that’s the easiest explanation I can think of.

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Posted in bitcoin, MaidSafe

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