White House web page from 1997, “frozen in time.”

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong posted a long tweetstorm about his visit to Washington DC to meet with policy-makers. He linked a video of the Clinton Administration’s 1997 E-Commerce policy rollout as a model the US should use today, based on Al Gore’s statement, “first, do no harm.” The message, according to Armstrong, was to “think about the downstream effects” of signals sent to the market.

I was in the room for this, having served on the White House task force and edited the Framework for Global Electronic Commerce. It was hugely important, but not entirely as Armstrong suggests. …

Shortly after World War II, U.S. State Department official George Kennan wrote an anonymous article in Foreign Affairs advocating a strategy of “containment” of the Soviet Union. It became the foundation of U.S. Cold War foreign policy.

We seem poised for a new era of containment. Only this time, the power to be contained is not military or political, but economic. The theatre of conflict is not heavy industry, but information technology. And the object of containment is not Russia, but China. There is, however, a big problem. …

A really important paper (or technically extended abstract) by Christian Catalini, Ravi Jagadeesan, and Scott Duke Kominers was posted last week. It goes to the heart of the choices facing the blockchain community today. It’s short (6 pages) and equation-free, so it’s more accessible than most technical or economics papers.

The authors are affiliated with Calibra, Facebook’s subsidiary associated with its Libra cryptocurrency initiative. Calibra funded the research. The conclusions are, unsurprisingly, consistent with Libra’s design. It’s no accident the document was released the same day as the Libra announcement. That said, it’s not a Libra document; it’s an academic…

This army isn’t the Chinese challenge we need to worry about.

People in the technology world love the word, “disruption.” Though widely mis-used, the concept draws valuable attention to the fact that change is sometimes discontinuous. Nassim Taleb’s idea of the black swan similarly resonated because it emphasized that the present is not always a good guide to the future.

The most important potential disruptor in the world today isn’t a technology or a company. It’s a country: China. Over the next few decades, China could alter the foundations of the longstanding world order. Those of us in the West need to consider this possibility. Not just in the naïve sense…

It’s two big innovations and one promising idea

Image: Luca Florio via flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

These days it’s hard to avoid pronouncements about how cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology could change everything (or at least, create massive wealth). Yet there’s an equally loud chorus labeling them a massive scam, useless, and dangerous. And a surprisingly large audience still doesn’t understand what’s going on. One big reason for the confusion is that we’re not all talking about the same things.

The truth is that there isn’t a blockchain phenomenon to be for or against. There are three.

The three communities share a basic set of design principles and technological foundations — but the people, goals, and prospects…

(Originally published June 8, 2018 on LinkedIn)

An amazing chart from Morgan Stanley, cited by the Financial Times, sheds new light on the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency phenomenon. As is usually the case, good data and good stories are mutually reinforcing. The chart alone doesn’t tell us why things are happening, or even entirely what things are happening. Instead, it helps understand what events in the real world were significant. And offers evidence to support hypotheses, whether about the past or the future. …

There is a comment attributed (almost certainly incorrectly) to Albert Einstein, in which the great physicist was asked to explain how radio works:

You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.

Bitcoin and the blockchain can be explained similarly.

To understand Bitcoin, first you need to understand traditional “fiat” currency issued by…

(Cross-posted and revised from Facebook)

Has anyone seen a good recent financial analysis of Uber? I’m sure private equity investors and Wall Street analysts have built models to evaluate whether to invest (now in private offerings, or later after the IPO). Is there anything publicly available?

Everyone points to Uber’s huge fund-raising numbers and rapid growth. But as the old saw goes, if you’re losing money, you can’t make it up on volume.

A company with massive growth still isn’t a valuable — or even viable — business if it’s not profitable today and future revenues don’t scale faster than future costs.

I’ve been thinking about what I would be thinking about, if I were thinking about gamification right now.

For context, I teach a massive open online course on gamification, which is the application of digital game design techniques to business and social challenges. I co-wrote a book on the topic. I’ve been an advocate for the value of game thinking in business and beyond. But I haven’t done much gamification work lately.

Partly, I’ve been concentrating on my other research areas (blockchain, big data, and telecom policy at the moment). And partly, I’ve been focused on how the country is…

I spent yesterday with my wife and son at Gettysburg, site of one of the most significant battles of the Civil War. I’d been there before, but as with so many other things, the present circumstances in America cast experiences in a new light.

What was so striking was how clearly those at the time, and afterwards, saw the significance of those three days in July 1863 on the outskirts of a Pennsylvania farming town. You hear in in the journals of the combatants, in the scrupulous records and copious memorials that started not long after the end of the…

Kevin Werbach

Wharton prof, tech policy maven, digital connector, pesctarian, feminist. Co-author, For the Win; author, The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trust.

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