Protocol Entrepreneurship Session | Edge Esmeralda

Thread for the protocol entrepreneurship discussion at Edge Esmeralda, June 28, 10 AM.

Some images to get oriented


Discussion tensions

We’ll do 3 30-minute discussions leveraging the skills around working with “tensions” we’ve developed this week at Edge Esmeralda to explore the topic of Protocol Entrepreneurship. If you’re following along online, feel free to weigh in here. People participating live: Please post your (group) thoughts on each tension below.

  1. Great Man theory (wikipedia, Straussianism) of change vs. Bureaucratic Heroism theory of change (n+1 article, David Brin article). Elon Musk vs. Mary Nichols – also think about Samo Burja’s Live Player theory as applied to both “Great Man” and “Bureaucratic Hero” archetypes and the quote “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
  2. Private innovation spillover theory vs. Grow-the-Commons theory. Nordhaus paper on Schumpeterian Profits and the Alchemist Fallacy, Elinor Ostrom Governing the Commons.; see also Peter Thiel idea of Creative Monopoly
  3. Protocols are Weapons of the Strong (eg China 5G) vs. Protocols are Weapons of the Weak. (eg: USB-C)

Private Innovation Spillover Theory vs. Grow-the-Commons Theory

Fuad, Mashal, Kevin, Kaliya, Jiordi, Rithikha, Venkat, Timber

  • Key people in Internet infrastructure building were unconditionally supported (“Do what you need to do”).

  • Gov’t sanctioned telecomms monopolies were Spillover; Internet was Build the Commons

  • Railroad was private first, public second. Internet was public first, private second.

  • Crypto was public first, private second. (E.g., Satoshi and Bitcoin)

  • Private solutions modularize context, whereas public commons solutions become unwieldy due to scope creep/trying to incorporate many contexts.

  • University example: Each U.S. State originally had an agricultural school and a liberal arts school. Goal was to upskill and/or educate the middle classes. Now, elite American universities are essentially privatized.

  • Medical patents example: Developing countries wanted to waive patents in order to accelerate CV-19 vaxx production. Patents encourage initial innovation, but real progress is often achieved after patents expire, as in the case of steam engines in the Cornish mining industry.

  • Commons status depends on who can access that commons. Federal forests are difficult to participate in; regional parks are easier to interact with.

  • Wildlife management examples: Farmers tend to eradicate wolves as they have strong incentive to do so, even if it’s illegal or frowned upon. How national parks manage predator populations is more holistic, taking into account ecosystem balance, i.e. relative predator prey populations along the length of the food chain.

  • Individuals desire assurance that their efforts to build a commons will be matched by others, not necessarily compensated.

Great Man Theory of Change vs. Bureaucratic Heroism Theory of Change

Day, Tim, Jiordi, Rithikha, Kei, Timber

  • Point of fragility vs. limited creative upside.

  • Bureaucracy able to go into sleep mode (e.g. Microsoft, Satya).

  • Bureaucracies select for a different skillset in their leaders.

  • It’s easier to credit Great Men for inflection points in tech and society.

  • Unionization is a bureaucratic Hero’s Journey.

  • Bureaucracies are complexity sandwiches (Simple at the top, simple on the front lines, full of competing + tangled functions in the middle).

  • Individuals are more chaotic; bureaucracies smooth out variance.

  • Both Great Men and Heroic Bureaucracies are facing crises of institutional memory

  • Pre-1960s: History is driven by great men, either within or without bureaucracy

  • Post-1960s: History is driven by emergent forces, and individuals less agency than previously thought

  • Internet is a good example. Not attributed to a great man, really. CERN, DARPA, and other orgs are the “agents” behind it as much as individuals like Tim Berners Lee and Al Gore.

  • Great Men can preserve their influence in external memories, such as books or the priesthoods that grow around them. A different type of institutional memory.

  • Bureaucracies and institutions can’t plan for novelty. So they follow an evolutionary step-function, rather than a continuous series of mutations that lead to gradual progress. E.g., NASA’s essence was replicated in SpaceX, even though SpaceX is considered a Great Man project (perhaps rightly so)

  • Great Men can create stronger brands than bureaucracies. Individuals have more potential to create striking aesthetics because committees greatly dilute personalities.

  • Dynastic governments in China have exhibited tremendous staying power, even as control over those institutions changed hands so much over centuries.

Protocols are Weapons of the Strong vs. Protocols are Weapons of the Weak

Kei, Chenoe, Jiordi, Rithikha, Venkat, Sachin, Nathalia, Timber

  • Standardization is a weapon of the strong, interoperability is a weapon of the weak. The latter is more accommodating of heterogeneity.

  • Standards can be used as a defense against larger organizations through something like autarchy.

  • French is a top-down standardized language, English is more interoperable. Is English a language of the weak and French a language of the powerful?

  • Protocols have accumulated in workplaces to the benefit of worker rights, but protocols have also extended the reach and depth of slavery at different points.

  • Work protocols can be used to increase efficiency, safety, quality, etc. But a style of strike known as work-to-rule allows workers to basically legally evade work by following protocol to the letter.

  • Protocols have peaceful and weaponized states.

  • In times of crisis, we fall back on our strongest behaviors. This is tribe-to-tribe behavior. The powerful and the weak are perhaps two types of tribes.

  • For protocols to be a weapon of the weak, the weak have to be sufficiently networked. Protocol weaponization must be visible to other “Weaks”.

  • Documentation weakens a protocol. In low-documentation environments, such as a city without a formal address system, individuals become central nodes. Increased legibility and specificity favor powerful committees?

  • The true weapon of the strong is a crisis. Only the private and powerful can resolve crises quickly. Bottom-up aid networks emerge as well, but are survival tools rather than weapons.

  • Protocols are typically peacemaking tools?

  • Evasion is another form of warfare. The weak can enter areas unprotocolized by the strong, such as wilderness zones too costly for governments to police.