Hackers Congress

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Jamie Bartlett:

"Parallel Polis was putting on something called the Hackers Congress; a three-day gathering for Europe’s collection of crypto-anarchists, bitcoin enthusiasts, libertarians and hackers. The theme was Decentralised. “The concept of authoritative state is gradually becoming obsolete,” read the programme. “The rise of sharing economies with reputation models, digital contracts and cryptocurrencies makes the role of central governments useless.” The congress was designed to work out how to speed up its demise." (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/04/forget-far-right-populism-crypto-anarchists-are-the-new-masters-internet-politics)


Jamie Bartlett:

"When I arrived early on Saturday morning, the whole place was teeming with (mostly) men in their 20s or early 30s speaking in competent Atlantic English. The 3D printer whirred in the background, postcards of the elusive creator of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, were being sold, and eyes stared at lines of the incomprehensible language of computers: java, ruby, C++. At events and clusters, groups of these future-dwellers complained about inefficiency as if it were a cardinal sin; discussed “how to build a stateless world”; praised Edward Snowden; laughed about crap government IT; weighed up the latest anonymous and secure messaging apps; and talked excitedly about bitcoin and something called “blockchain”. Frank and Smuggler – two German crypto-anarchists – wore facemasks all weekend, because they were worried about facial recognition technology.

I hadn’t eaten since I left London, so the first thing I did on arrival was join the queue for food and coffee. But my Czech currency, koruna, which I had dutifully exchanged at the airport at near criminal rates, was not accepted. “We only take bitcoin,” said the assistant. Parallel Polis is the one place in the world that accepts only bitcoin. In case you don’t know yet, bitcoin is a digital currency. It is secure, pseudonymous, and fast, with no central authority controlling value or supply. It’s a currency that operates independently of the government, and can’t easily be traced back to individuals or taxed. At Polis the staff are paid in bitcoin; rent collected for their co-working space is paid in bitcoin, too. I got a little plastic card with a QR code, and transferred bitcoin on to it using one of the three specialised ATM machines. From that point on, every time I wanted anything I scanned the QR code. Ping! A coffee. Ping! A Red Bull. Ping! Some goulash. Ping! A postcard of Edward Snowden. I didn’t use koruna once.

Given a bitcoin was worth around £300 back then, and is now trading at close to £2,000, my cup of coffee cost approximately £25 in today’s money. Some of the staff have probably now retired. A few years ago crypto-anarchists like these were the only people using bitcoin. Even though it’s now used by millions of people, and accepted at a growing number of businesses as a legitimate form of money, it was originally designed by a crypto-anarchist as a neat way of undermining central bank’s control over the money supply. It is a revolutionary idea wrapped up as efficiency gain. Bitcoin is more than a currency, it’s a new way of handling information. It uses blockchain, which is a technique to create a massive, distributed, tamper-proof database that anyone can add to but no one can delete, because no one controls it. Millions of pounds of investment are pouring into bitcoin and blockchain from governments, banks, IT and financial services, all excitedly eyeing up a novel way to store information or prove asset ownership securely. Specialists reckon it’s as revolutionary as the internet itself." (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/04/forget-far-right-populism-crypto-anarchists-are-the-new-masters-internet-politics)