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Code Your Own Utopia

My latest at Al Jazeera, on Bitcoin’s most ambitious successor, Ethereum. This may or may not be the future, but for now it’s the hype:

Even the most flexible platform comes with certain built-in tendencies. Ethereum, for example, makes it easier to build organizations that are less centralized and less dependent on geography than traditional ones and certainly more automated. But it also creates a means for corporate ownership and abuse to creep ever deeper into people’s lives through new and more invasive kinds of contracts. To perceive the world through a filter like Ethereum is to think of society as primarily contractual and algorithmic, rather than ethical, ambiguous and made up of flesh-and-blood human beings.

How this new ecosystem will take shape depends disproportionately on its early adopters and on those with the savvy to write its code — who may also make a lot of money from it. But tools like Ethereum are not just a business opportunity. They’re a testing ground for whatever virtual utopias people are able to translate into code, and the tests will have non-virtual effects. Idealists have as much to gain as entrepreneurs. As for any utopia, though, the power struggles of the real world are sure to find their way in as well.