Crypto Legislation Might Progress Beyond Talk in 2022
Financial regulators have for years attempted to apply existing laws to the multitude of issues created by digital assets. In 2021, leading federal regulators and members of Congress have begun to call for legislation to address these issues. As a result, 2022 may be the year when federal legislation finally addresses digital asset issues that have been growing since the mining of the first Bitcoin block in 2009.
Digital Asset Regulation in the Absence of Legislation
So far, Congress has left the task of addressing issues created by digital assets to regulatory agencies. Although a Congressional Blockchain Caucus formed in 2016, House and Senate members introduced few bills addressing digital assets until 2018. As of October 2021, Congress has not amended federal laws on financial regulation, which were last significantly revised by the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, to address digital asset issues.
In the absence of legislation, issues that do not fit well into existing statutes have created problems. An example is the legal status of digital assets, which can be considered to be either securities or commodities, and can even shift from one to the other over time. Years after the SEC’s 2017 report applying the definition of a security to digital tokens, the SEC and the CFTC have yet to clarify the distinction between securities and commodities for the thousands of digital assets in existence.
SEC Chair Gary Gensler has called for Congress to act, stating in August, “We need additional Congressional authorities to prevent transactions, products, and platforms from falling between regulatory cracks.” Gensler has reached out to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Ma.), who has expressed her own concerns about the need for legislation.
Legislation on Digital Assets in 2021
While regulators and members of Congress talked about the need for legislation, and the debate over cryptocurrency tax reporting in the 2021 infrastructure bill generated headlines, House and Senate bills proposing specific solutions to various issues quietly started to emerge.
Digital Token Sales
Several House bills attempt to address securities law barriers to digital token sales—some of them by building on ideas proposed by regulators in past years.
Exclusion from the definition of a security. Congressional Blockchain Caucus members have been introducing bills to exclude digital tokens from the definition of a security since 2018, and they have revived those bills in 2021. They include the Token Taxonomy Act of 2021 (H.R. 1628), successor to identically named bills in 2018 and 2019, and the Securities Clarity Act (H.R. 4451), successor to a 2020 namesake.
Safe harbor. SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce proposed a regulatory safe harbor for token sales in 2020, and two 2021 bills have proposed statutory safe harbors. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Republican leader of the House Financial Services Committee, introduced a Clarity for Digital Tokens Act of 2021 (H.R. 5496) that would amend the Securities Act to create a safe harbor providing a grace period of exemption from Securities Act registration requirements. The Digital Asset Market Structure and Investor Protection Act (H.R. 4741) from Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) would amend the Securities Exchange Act to define a new type of security—a “digital asset security”—and add issuers of digital asset securities to an existing provision for delayed registration of securities.
Stablecoins—digital currencies linked to the value of the U.S. dollar or other fiat currencies—have not yet been the subject of regulatory action, although Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell have each underscored the need to create a regulatory framework for them. The Beyer bill proposes to create a regulatory regime for stablecoins by amending Title 31 of the U.S. Code. Treasury Department approval would be required for any “digital asset fiat-based stablecoin” to be issued or used, under an application process to be established by Treasury in consultation with the Federal Reserve, the SEC, and the CFTC.
Serious consideration for any of these proposals in the current session of Congress may be unlikely. A spate of autumn bills on crypto ransom payments (S. 2666, S. 2923, S. 2926, H.R. 5501) shows that Congress is more inclined to pay attention first to issues that are more spectacular and less arcane. Moreover, the arcaneness of digital asset regulatory issues is likely only to increase further, now that major industry players such as Coinbase and Andreessen Horowitz are starting to roll out their own regulatory proposals.
Digital Dollar vs. Digital Yuan
Impetus to pass legislation on another type of digital asset, a central bank digital currency (CBDC), may come from a different source: rivalry with China.
China established itself as a world leader in developing a CBDC with a pilot project launched in 2020, and in 2021, the People’s Bank of China announced that its CBDC will be used at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February 2022. Republican Senators responded by calling for the U.S. Olympic Committee to forbid use of China’s CBDC by U.S. athletes in Beijing and introducing a bill (S. 2543) to require a study of its national security implications.
The Beijing Olympics could motivate a legislative mandate to accelerate implementation of a U.S. digital dollar, which the Federal Reserve has been in the process of considering in 2021. Antecedents to such legislation already exist. A House bill sponsored by 46 Republicans (H.R. 4792) has a provision that would require the Treasury Department to assess China’s CBDC project and report on the status of Federal Reserve work on a CBDC, and the Beyer bill includes a provision amending the Federal Reserve Act to authorize issuing a digital dollar.
Both parties are likely to support creating a digital dollar. The Covid-19 pandemic made a digital dollar for delivery of relief payments a popular idea in 2020, and House Democrats introduced bills with provisions for creating one in 2020 and 2021. Bipartisan support for a bill on a digital dollar, based on concerns both foreign and domestic in nature, could result.
International rivalry and bipartisan support may make the digital dollar a gateway issue for digital asset legislation in 2022. Legislative work on a digital dollar may open the door for considering further digital asset issues—including the regulatory issues that have been emerging for years—in 2022 and beyond.
More on Web3 & Crypto
2 years ago
This is a YouTube video:
Farhan Ali Khan
10 months ago
Introduction to Zero-Knowledge Proofs: The Art of Proving Without Revealing
Zero-Knowledge Proofs for Beginners
Published here originally.
I Spy—did you play as a kid? One person chose a room object, and the other had to guess it by answering yes or no questions. I Spy was entertaining, but did you know it could teach you cryptography?
Zero Knowledge Proofs let you show your pal you know what they picked without exposing how. Math replaces electronics in this secret spy mission. Zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs) are sophisticated cryptographic tools that allow one party to prove they have particular knowledge without revealing it. This proves identification and ownership, secures financial transactions, and more. This article explains zero-knowledge proofs and provides examples to help you comprehend this powerful technology.
What is a Proof of Zero Knowledge?
Zero-knowledge proofs prove a proposition is true without revealing any other information. This lets the prover show the verifier that they know a fact without revealing it. So, a zero-knowledge proof is like a magician's trick: the prover proves they know something without revealing how or what. Complex mathematical procedures create a proof the verifier can verify.
Want to find an easy way to test it out? Try out with tis awesome example! ZK Crush
Describe it as if I'm 5
Alex and Jack found a cave with a center entrance that only opens when someone knows the secret. Alex knows how to open the cave door and wants to show Jack without telling him.
Alex and Jack name both pathways (let’s call them paths A and B).
In the first phase, Alex is already inside the cave and is free to select either path, in this case A or B.
As Alex made his decision, Jack entered the cave and asked him to exit from the B path.
Jack can confirm that Alex really does know the key to open the door because he came out for the B path and used it.
To conclude, Alex and Jack repeat:
Alex walks into the cave.
Alex follows a random route.
Jack walks into the cave.
Alex is asked to follow a random route by Jack.
Alex follows Jack's advice and heads back that way.
What is a Zero Knowledge Proof?
At a high level, the aim is to construct a secure and confidential conversation between the prover and the verifier, where the prover convinces the verifier that they have the requisite information without disclosing it. The prover and verifier exchange messages and calculate in each round of the dialogue.
The prover uses their knowledge to prove they have the information the verifier wants during these rounds. The verifier can verify the prover's truthfulness without learning more by checking the proof's mathematical statement or computation.
Zero knowledge proofs use advanced mathematical procedures and cryptography methods to secure communication. These methods ensure the evidence is authentic while preventing the prover from creating a phony proof or the verifier from extracting unnecessary information.
ZK proofs require examples to grasp. Before the examples, there are some preconditions.
Criteria for Proofs of Zero Knowledge
Completeness: If the proposition being proved is true, then an honest prover will persuade an honest verifier that it is true.
Soundness: If the proposition being proved is untrue, no dishonest prover can persuade a sincere verifier that it is true.
Zero-knowledge: The verifier only realizes that the proposition being proved is true. In other words, the proof only establishes the veracity of the proposition being supported and nothing more.
The zero-knowledge condition is crucial. Zero-knowledge proofs show only the secret's veracity. The verifier shouldn't know the secret's value or other details.
Example after example after example
To illustrate, take a zero-knowledge proof with several examples:
Initial Password Verification Example
You want to confirm you know a password or secret phrase without revealing it.
Use a zero-knowledge proof:
You and the verifier settle on a mathematical conundrum or issue, such as figuring out a big number's components.
The puzzle or problem is then solved using the hidden knowledge that you have learned. You may, for instance, utilize your understanding of the password to determine the components of a particular number.
You provide your answer to the verifier, who can assess its accuracy without knowing anything about your private data.
You go through this process several times with various riddles or issues to persuade the verifier that you actually are aware of the secret knowledge.
You solved the mathematical puzzles or problems, proving to the verifier that you know the hidden information. The proof is zero-knowledge since the verifier only sees puzzle solutions, not the secret information.
In this scenario, the mathematical challenge or problem represents the secret, and solving it proves you know it. The evidence does not expose the secret, and the verifier just learns that you know it.
My simple example meets the zero-knowledge proof conditions:
Completeness: If you actually know the hidden information, you will be able to solve the mathematical puzzles or problems, hence the proof is conclusive.
Soundness: The proof is sound because the verifier can use a publicly known algorithm to confirm that your answer to the mathematical conundrum or difficulty is accurate.
Zero-knowledge: The proof is zero-knowledge because all the verifier learns is that you are aware of the confidential information. Beyond the fact that you are aware of it, the verifier does not learn anything about the secret information itself, such as the password or the factors of the number. As a result, the proof does not provide any new insights into the secret.
Explanation #2: Toss a coin.
One coin is biased to come up heads more often than tails, while the other is fair (i.e., comes up heads and tails with equal probability). You know which coin is which, but you want to show a friend you can tell them apart without telling them.
Use a zero-knowledge proof:
One of the two coins is chosen at random, and you secretly flip it more than once.
You show your pal the following series of coin flips without revealing which coin you actually flipped.
Next, as one of the two coins is flipped in front of you, your friend asks you to tell which one it is.
Then, without revealing which coin is which, you can use your understanding of the secret order of coin flips to determine which coin your friend flipped.
To persuade your friend that you can actually differentiate between the coins, you repeat this process multiple times using various secret coin-flipping sequences.
In this example, the series of coin flips represents the knowledge of biased and fair coins. You can prove you know which coin is which without revealing which is biased or fair by employing a different secret sequence of coin flips for each round.
The evidence is zero-knowledge since your friend does not learn anything about which coin is biased and which is fair other than that you can tell them differently. The proof does not indicate which coin you flipped or how many times you flipped it.
The coin-flipping example meets zero-knowledge proof requirements:
Completeness: If you actually know which coin is biased and which is fair, you should be able to distinguish between them based on the order of coin flips, and your friend should be persuaded that you can.
Soundness: Your friend may confirm that you are correctly recognizing the coins by flipping one of them in front of you and validating your answer, thus the proof is sound in that regard. Because of this, your acquaintance can be sure that you are not just speculating or picking a coin at random.
Zero-knowledge: The argument is that your friend has no idea which coin is biased and which is fair beyond your ability to distinguish between them. Your friend is not made aware of the coin you used to make your decision or the order in which you flipped the coins. Consequently, except from letting you know which coin is biased and which is fair, the proof does not give any additional information about the coins themselves.
Figure out the prime number in Example #3.
You want to prove to a friend that you know their product n=pq without revealing p and q. Zero-knowledge proof?
Use a variant of the RSA algorithm. Method:
You determine a new number s = r2 mod n by computing a random number r.
You email your friend s and a declaration that you are aware of the values of p and q necessary for n to equal pq.
A random number (either 0 or 1) is selected by your friend and sent to you.
You send your friend r as evidence that you are aware of the values of p and q if e=0. You calculate and communicate your friend's s/r if e=1.
Without knowing the values of p and q, your friend can confirm that you know p and q (in the case where e=0) or that s/r is a legitimate square root of s mod n (in the situation where e=1).
This is a zero-knowledge proof since your friend learns nothing about p and q other than their product is n and your ability to verify it without exposing any other information. You can prove that you know p and q by sending r or by computing s/r and sending that instead (if e=1), and your friend can verify that you know p and q or that s/r is a valid square root of s mod n without learning anything else about their values. This meets the conditions of completeness, soundness, and zero-knowledge.
Zero-knowledge proofs satisfy the following:
Completeness: The prover can demonstrate this to the verifier by computing q = n/p and sending both p and q to the verifier. The prover also knows a prime number p and a factorization of n as p*q.
Soundness: Since it is impossible to identify any pair of numbers that correctly factorize n without being aware of its prime factors, the prover is unable to demonstrate knowledge of any p and q that do not do so.
Zero knowledge: The prover only admits that they are aware of a prime number p and its associated factor q, which is already known to the verifier. This is the extent of their knowledge of the prime factors of n. As a result, the prover does not provide any new details regarding n's prime factors.
Types of Proofs of Zero Knowledge
Each zero-knowledge proof has pros and cons. Most zero-knowledge proofs are:
Interactive Zero Knowledge Proofs: The prover and the verifier work together to establish the proof in this sort of zero-knowledge proof. The verifier disputes the prover's assertions after receiving a sequence of messages from the prover. When the evidence has been established, the prover will employ these new problems to generate additional responses.
Non-Interactive Zero Knowledge Proofs: For this kind of zero-knowledge proof, the prover and verifier just need to exchange a single message. Without further interaction between the two parties, the proof is established.
A statistical zero-knowledge proof is one in which the conclusion is reached with a high degree of probability but not with certainty. This indicates that there is a remote possibility that the proof is false, but that this possibility is so remote as to be unimportant.
Succinct Non-Interactive Argument of Knowledge (SNARKs): SNARKs are an extremely effective and scalable form of zero-knowledge proof. They are utilized in many different applications, such as machine learning, blockchain technology, and more. Similar to other zero-knowledge proof techniques, SNARKs enable one party—the prover—to demonstrate to another—the verifier—that they are aware of a specific piece of information without disclosing any more information about that information.
The main characteristic of SNARKs is their succinctness, which refers to the fact that the size of the proof is substantially smaller than the amount of the original data being proved. Because to its high efficiency and scalability, SNARKs can be used in a wide range of applications, such as machine learning, blockchain technology, and more.
Uses for Zero Knowledge Proofs
ZKP applications include:
Verifying Identity ZKPs can be used to verify your identity without disclosing any personal information. This has uses in access control, digital signatures, and online authentication.
Proof of Ownership ZKPs can be used to demonstrate ownership of a certain asset without divulging any details about the asset itself. This has uses for protecting intellectual property, managing supply chains, and owning digital assets.
Financial Exchanges Without disclosing any details about the transaction itself, ZKPs can be used to validate financial transactions. Cryptocurrency, internet payments, and other digital financial transactions can all use this.
By enabling parties to make calculations on the data without disclosing the data itself, Data Privacy ZKPs can be used to preserve the privacy of sensitive data. Applications for this can be found in the financial, healthcare, and other sectors that handle sensitive data.
By enabling voters to confirm that their vote was counted without disclosing how they voted, elections ZKPs can be used to ensure the integrity of elections. This is applicable to electronic voting, including internet voting.
Cryptography Modern cryptography's ZKPs are a potent instrument that enable secure communication and authentication. This can be used for encrypted messaging and other purposes in the business sector as well as for military and intelligence operations.
Proofs of Zero Knowledge and Compliance
Kubernetes and regulatory compliance use ZKPs in many ways. Examples:
Security for Kubernetes ZKPs offer a mechanism to authenticate nodes without disclosing any sensitive information, enhancing the security of Kubernetes clusters. ZKPs, for instance, can be used to verify, without disclosing the specifics of the program, that the nodes in a Kubernetes cluster are running permitted software.
Compliance Inspection Without disclosing any sensitive information, ZKPs can be used to demonstrate compliance with rules like the GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS. ZKPs, for instance, can be used to demonstrate that data has been encrypted and stored securely without divulging the specifics of the mechanism employed for either encryption or storage.
Access Management Without disclosing any private data, ZKPs can be used to offer safe access control to Kubernetes resources. ZKPs can be used, for instance, to demonstrate that a user has the necessary permissions to access a particular Kubernetes resource without disclosing the details of those permissions.
Safe Data Exchange Without disclosing any sensitive information, ZKPs can be used to securely transmit data between Kubernetes clusters or between several businesses. ZKPs, for instance, can be used to demonstrate the sharing of a specific piece of data between two parties without disclosing the details of the data itself.
Kubernetes deployments audited Without disclosing the specifics of the deployment or the data being processed, ZKPs can be used to demonstrate that Kubernetes deployments are working as planned. This can be helpful for auditing purposes and for ensuring that Kubernetes deployments are operating as planned.
ZKPs preserve data and maintain regulatory compliance by letting parties prove things without revealing sensitive information. ZKPs will be used more in Kubernetes as it grows.
1 year ago
Bitcoin's technical innovation: addressing the issue of the Byzantine generals
The 2008 Bitcoin white paper solves the classic computer science consensus problem.
The Byzantine Generals Problem (BGP) is called after an allegory in which several generals must collaborate and attack a city at the same time to win (figure 1-left). Any general who retreats at the last minute loses the fight (figure 1-right). Thus, precise messengers and no rogue generals are essential. This is difficult without a trusted central authority.
In their 1982 publication, Leslie Lamport, Robert Shostak, and Marshall Please termed this topic the Byzantine Generals Problem to simplify distributed computer systems.
Consensus in a distributed computer network is the issue. Reaching a consensus on which systems work (and stay in the network) and which don't makes maintaining a network tough (i.e., needs to be removed from network). Challenges include unreliable communication routes between systems and mis-reporting systems.
Solving BGP can let us construct machine learning solutions without single points of failure or trusted central entities. One server hosts model parameters while numerous workers train the model. This study describes fault-tolerant Distributed Byzantine Machine Learning.
Bitcoin invented a mechanism for a distributed network of nodes to agree on which transactions should go into the distributed ledger (blockchain) without a trusted central body. It solved BGP implementation. Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous bitcoin creator, solved the challenge by cleverly combining cryptography and consensus mechanisms.
This is not financial advice. It discusses a unique computer science solution.
Bitcoin's white paper begins:
“A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.” Source: https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/training/annual-national-training-seminar/2018/Emerging_Tech_Bitcoin_Crypto.pdf
Bitcoin's main parts:
The open-source and versioned bitcoin software that governs how nodes, miners, and the bitcoin token operate.
The native kind of token, known as a bitcoin token, may be created by mining (up to 21 million can be created), and it can be transferred between wallet addresses in the bitcoin network.
Distributed Ledger, which contains exact copies of the database (or "blockchain") containing each transaction since the first one in January 2009.
distributed network of nodes (computers) running the distributed ledger replica together with the bitcoin software. They broadcast the transactions to other peer nodes after validating and accepting them.
Proof of work (PoW) is a cryptographic requirement that must be met in order for a miner to be granted permission to add a new block of transactions to the blockchain of the cryptocurrency bitcoin. It takes the form of a valid hash digest. In order to produce new blocks on average every 10 minutes, Bitcoin features a built-in difficulty adjustment function that modifies the valid hash requirement (length of nonce). PoW requires a lot of energy since it must continually generate new hashes at random until it satisfies the criteria.
The competing parties known as miners carry out continuous computing processing to address recurrent cryptography issues. Transaction fees and some freshly minted (mined) bitcoin are the rewards they receive. The amount of hashes produced each second—or hash rate—is a measure of mining capacity.
Cryptography, decentralization, and the proof-of-work consensus method are Bitcoin's most unique features.
Bitcoin uses encryption
Bitcoin employs this established cryptography.
digital signatures based on asymmetric encryption
Hashing (SHA-256) (SHA-256)
Hashing converts unique plaintext data into a digest. Creating the plaintext from the digest is impossible. Bitcoin miners generate new hashes using SHA-256 to win block rewards.
A new hash is created from the current block header and a variable value called nonce. To achieve the required hash, mining involves altering the nonce and re-hashing.
The block header contains the previous block hash and a Merkle root, which contains hashes of all transactions in the block. Thus, a chain of blocks with increasing hashes links back to the first block. Hashing protects new transactions and makes the bitcoin blockchain immutable. After a transaction block is mined, it becomes hard to fabricate even a little entry.
Asymmetric Cryptography Digital Signatures
Asymmetric cryptography (public-key encryption) requires each side to have a secret and public key. Public keys (wallet addresses) can be shared with the transaction party, but private keys should not. A message (e.g., bitcoin payment record) can only be signed by the owner (sender) with the private key, but any node or anybody with access to the public key (visible in the blockchain) can verify it. Alex will submit a digitally signed transaction with a desired amount of bitcoin addressed to Bob's wallet to a node to send bitcoin to Bob. Alex alone has the secret keys to authorize that amount. Alex's blockchain public key allows anyone to verify the transaction.
Now, apply bitcoin to BGP. BGP generals resemble bitcoin nodes. The generals' consensus is like bitcoin nodes' blockchain block selection. Bitcoin software on all nodes can:
Check transactions (i.e., validate digital signatures)
2. Accept and propagate just the first miner to receive the valid hash and verify it accomplished the task. The only way to guess the proper hash is to brute force it by repeatedly producing one with the fixed/current block header and a fresh nonce value.
Thus, PoW and a dispersed network of nodes that accept blocks from miners that solve the unfalsifiable cryptographic challenge solve consensus.
Bitcoin accepts the longest chain if rogue nodes cause divergence in accepted blocks. Thus, rogue nodes must outnumber honest nodes in accepting/forming the longer chain for invalid transactions to reach the blockchain. As of November 2022, 7000 coordinated rogue nodes are needed to takeover the bitcoin network.
Dishonest miners could also try to insert blocks with falsified transactions (double spend, reverse, censor, etc.) into the chain. This requires over 50% (51% attack) of miners (total computational power) to outguess the hash and attack the network. Mining hash rate exceeds 200 million (source). Rewards and transaction fees encourage miners to cooperate rather than attack. Quantum computers may become a threat.
Visit my Quantum Computing post.
Quantum computers—what are they? Quantum computers will have a big influence. towardsdatascience.com
Nodes have more power than miners since they can validate transactions and reject fake blocks. Thus, the network is secure if honest nodes are the majority.
Table 1 compares three Byzantine Generals Problem implementations.
Bitcoin white paper and implementation solved the consensus challenge of distributed systems without central governance. It solved the illusive Byzantine Generals Problem.
Source-code for Bitcoin Core Software — https://github.com/bitcoin/bitcoin
Bitcoin white paper — https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf
Genuinely Distributed Byzantine Machine Learning, El-Mahdi El-Mhamdi et al., 2020. ACM, New York, NY, https://doi.org/10.1145/3382734.3405695
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1 year ago
The nine novels that have fundamentally altered the way I view the world
I read 53 novels last year and hope to do so again.
Books are best if you love learning. You get a range of perspectives, unlike podcasts and YouTube channels where you get the same ones.
Book quality varies. I've read useless books. Most books teach me something.
These 9 novels have changed my outlook in recent years. They've made me rethink what I believed or introduced me to a fresh perspective that changed my worldview.
You can order these books yourself. Or, read my summaries to learn what I've synthesized.
Fooled By Randomness
Nassim Taleb worked as a Wall Street analyst. He used options trading to bet on unlikely events like stock market crashes.
Using financial models, investors predict stock prices. The models assume constant, predictable company growth.
These models base their assumptions on historical data, so they assume the future will be like the past.
Fooled By Randomness argues that the future won't be like the past. We often see impossible market crashes like 2008's housing market collapse. The world changes too quickly to use historical data: by the time we understand how it works, it's changed.
Most people don't live to see history unfold. We think our childhood world will last forever. That goes double for stable societies like the U.S., which hasn't seen major turbulence in anyone's lifetime.
Fooled By Randomness taught me to expect the unexpected. The world is deceptive and rarely works as we expect. You can't always trust your past successes or what you've learned.
More Taleb. Some things, like the restaurant industry and the human body, improve under conditions of volatility and turbulence.
We didn't have a word for this counterintuitive concept until Taleb wrote Antifragile. The human body (which responds to some stressors, like exercise, by getting stronger) and the restaurant industry both benefit long-term from disorder (when economic turbulence happens, bad restaurants go out of business, improving the industry as a whole).
Many human systems are designed to minimize short-term variance because humans don't understand it. By eliminating short-term variation, we increase the likelihood of a major disaster.
Once, we put out every forest fire we found. Then, dead wood piled up in forests, causing catastrophic fires.
We don't like price changes, so politicians prop up markets with stimulus packages and printing money. This leads to a bigger crash later. Two years ago, we printed a ton of money for stimulus checks, and now we have double-digit inflation.
Antifragile taught me how important Plan B is. A system with one or two major weaknesses will fail. Make large systems redundant, foolproof, and change-responsive.
Reality is broken
We dread work. Work is tedious. Right?
Wrong. Work gives many people purpose. People are happiest when working. (That's why some are workaholics.)
Factory work saps your soul, office work is boring, and working for a large company you don't believe in and that operates unethically isn't satisfying.
Jane McGonigal says in Reality Is Broken that meaningful work makes us happy. People love games because they simulate good work. McGonigal says work should be more fun.
Some think they'd be happy on a private island sipping cocktails all day. That's not true. Without anything to do, most people would be bored. Unemployed people are miserable. Many retirees die within 2 years, much more than expected.
Instead of complaining, find meaningful work. If you don't like your job, it's because you're in the wrong environment. Find the right setting.
The Lean Startup
Before the airplane was invented, Harvard scientists researched flying machines. Who knew two North Carolina weirdos would beat them?
The Wright Brothers' plane design was key. Harvard researchers were mostly theoretical, designing an airplane on paper and trying to make it fly in theory. They'd build it, test it, and it wouldn't fly.
The Wright Brothers were different. They'd build a cheap plane, test it, and it'd crash. Then they'd learn from their mistakes, build another plane, and it'd crash.
They repeated this until they fixed all the problems and one of their planes stayed aloft.
Mistakes are considered bad. On the African savannah, one mistake meant death. Even today, if you make a costly mistake at work, you'll be fired as a scapegoat. Most people avoid failing.
In reality, making mistakes is the best way to learn.
Eric Reis offers an unintuitive recipe in The Lean Startup: come up with a hypothesis, test it, and fail. Then, try again with a new hypothesis. Keep trying, learning from each failure.
This is a great startup strategy. Startups are new businesses. Startups face uncertainty. Run lots of low-cost experiments to fail, learn, and succeed.
Don't fear failing. Low-cost failure is good because you learn more from it than you lose. As long as your worst-case scenario is acceptable, risk-taking is good.
The Sovereign Individual
Today, nation-states rule the world. The UN recognizes 195 countries, and they claim almost all land outside of Antarctica.
We agree. For the past 2,000 years, much of the world's territory was ungoverned.
Why today? Because technology has created incentives for nation-states for most of the past 500 years. The logic of violence favors nation-states, according to James Dale Davidson, author of the Sovereign Individual. Governments have a lot to gain by conquering as much territory as possible, so they do.
Not always. During the Dark Ages, Europe was fragmented and had few central governments. Partly because of armor. With armor, a sword, and a horse, you couldn't be stopped. Large states were hard to form because they rely on the threat of violence.
When gunpowder became popular in Europe, violence changed. In a world with guns, assembling large armies and conquest are cheaper.
James Dale Davidson says the internet will make nation-states obsolete. Most of the world's wealth will be online and in people's heads, making capital mobile.
Nation-states rely on predatory taxation of the rich to fund large militaries and welfare programs.
When capital is mobile, people can live anywhere in the world, Davidson says, making predatory taxation impossible. They're not bound by their job, land, or factory location. Wherever they're treated best.
Davidson says that over the next century, nation-states will collapse because they won't have enough money to operate as they do now. He imagines a world of small city-states, like Italy before 1900. (or Singapore today).
We've already seen some movement toward a more Sovereign Individual-like world. The pandemic proved large-scale remote work is possible, freeing workers from their location. Many cities and countries offer remote workers incentives to relocate.
Many Western businesspeople live in tax havens, and more people are renouncing their US citizenship due to high taxes. Increasing globalization has led to poor economic conditions and resentment among average people in the West, which is why politicians like Trump and Sanders rose to popularity with angry rhetoric, even though Obama rose to popularity with a more hopeful message.
The Sovereign Individual convinced me that the future will be different than Nassim Taleb's. Large countries like the U.S. will likely lose influence in the coming decades, while Portugal, Singapore, and Turkey will rise. If the trend toward less freedom continues, people may flee the West en masse.
So a traditional life of college, a big firm job, hard work, and corporate advancement may not be wise. Young people should learn as much as possible and develop flexible skills to adapt to the future.
Sapiens is a history of humanity, from proto-humans in Ethiopia to our internet society today, with some future speculation.
Sapiens views humans (and Homo sapiens) as a unique species on Earth. We were animals 100,000 years ago. We're slowly becoming gods, able to affect the climate, travel to every corner of the Earth (and the Moon), build weapons that can kill us all, and wipe out thousands of species.
Sapiens examines what makes Homo sapiens unique. Humans can believe in myths like religion, money, and human-made entities like countries and LLCs.
These myths facilitate large-scale cooperation. Ants from the same colony can cooperate. Any two humans can trade, though. Even if they're not genetically related, large groups can bond over religion and nationality.
Combine that with intelligence, and you have a species capable of amazing feats.
Sapiens may make your head explode because it looks at the world without presupposing values, unlike most books. It questions things that aren't usually questioned and says provocative things.
It also shows how human history works. It may help you understand and predict the world. Maybe.
The 4-hour Workweek
Things can be done better.
Tradition, laziness, bad bosses, or incentive structures cause complacency. If you're willing to make changes and not settle for the status quo, you can do whatever you do better and achieve more in less time.
The Four-Hour Work Week advocates this. Tim Ferriss explains how he made more sales in 2 hours than his 8-hour-a-day colleagues.
By firing 2 of his most annoying customers and empowering his customer service reps to make more decisions, he was able to leave his business and travel to Europe.
Ferriss shows how to escape your 9-to-5, outsource your life, develop a business that feeds you with little time, and go on mini-retirement adventures abroad.
Don't accept the status quo. Instead, level up. Find a way to improve your results. And try new things.
Why Nations Fail
Nogales, Arizona and Mexico were once one town. The US/Mexico border was arbitrarily drawn.
Both towns have similar cultures and populations. Nogales, Arizona is well-developed and has a high standard of living. Nogales, Mexico is underdeveloped and has a low standard of living. Whoa!
Why Nations Fail explains how government-created institutions affect country development. Strong property rights, capitalism, and non-corrupt governments promote development. Countries without capitalism, strong property rights, or corrupt governments don't develop.
Successful countries must also embrace creative destruction. They must offer ordinary citizens a way to improve their lot by creating value for others, not reducing them to slaves, serfs, or peasants. Authors say that ordinary people could get rich on trading expeditions in 11th-century Venice.
East and West Germany and North and South Korea have different economies because their citizens are motivated differently. It explains why Chile, China, and Singapore grow so quickly after becoming market economies.
People have spent a lot of money on third-world poverty. According to Why Nations Fail, education and infrastructure aren't the answer. Developing nations must adopt free-market economic policies.
Elon Musk is the world's richest man, but that’s not a good way to describe him. Elon Musk is the world's richest man, which is like calling Steve Jobs a turtleneck-wearer or Benjamin Franklin a printer.
Elon Musk does cool sci-fi stuff to help humanity avoid existential threats.
Oil will run out. We've delayed this by developing better extraction methods. We only have so much nonrenewable oil.
Our society is doomed if it depends on oil. Elon Musk invested heavily in Tesla and SolarCity to speed the shift to renewable energy.
Musk worries about AI: we'll build machines smarter than us. We won't be able to stop these machines if something goes wrong, just like cows can't fight humans. Neuralink: we need to be smarter to compete with AI when the time comes.
If Earth becomes uninhabitable, we need a backup plan. Asteroid or nuclear war could strike Earth at any moment. We may not have much time to react if it happens in a few days. We must build a new civilization while times are good and resources are plentiful.
Short-term problems dominate our politics, but long-term issues are more important. Long-term problems can cause mass casualties and homelessness. Musk demonstrates how to think long-term.
The main reason people are impressed by Elon Musk, and why Ashlee Vances' biography influenced me so much, is that he does impossible things.
Electric cars were once considered unprofitable, but Tesla has made them mainstream. SpaceX is the world's largest private space company.
People lack imagination and dismiss ununderstood ideas as impossible. Humanity is about pushing limits. Don't worry if your dreams seem impossible. Try it.
Thanks for reading.
1 year ago
This post is for you if you can't read or study for 5 minutes.
If you clicked this post, you may be experiencing problems focusing on tasks. A few minutes of reading may tire you. Easily distracted? Using social media and video games for hours without being sidetracked may impair your dopamine system.
When we achieve a goal, the brain secretes dopamine. It might be as simple as drinking water or as crucial as college admission. Situations vary. Various events require different amounts.
Dopamine is released when we start learning but declines over time. Social media algorithms provide new material continually, making us happy. Social media use slows down the system. We can't continue without an award. We return to social media and dopamine rewards.
Mice were given a button that released dopamine into their brains to study the hormone. The mice lost their hunger, thirst, and libido and kept pressing the button. Think this is like someone who spends all day gaming or on Instagram?
When we cause our brain to release so much dopamine, the brain tries to balance it in 2 ways:
1- Decreases dopamine production
2- Dopamine cannot reach its target.
Too many quick joys aren't enough. We'll want more joys. Drugs and alcohol are similar. Initially, a beer will get you drunk. After a while, 3-4 beers will get you drunk.
Social media is continually changing. Updates to these platforms keep us interested. When social media conditions us, we can't read a book.
Same here. I used to complete a book in a day and work longer without distraction. Now I'm addicted to Instagram. Daily, I spend 2 hours on social media. This must change. My life needs improvement. So I started the 50-day challenge.
I've compiled three dopamine-related methods.
Day-long dopamine detox
First, take a day off from all your favorite things. Social media, gaming, music, junk food, fast food, smoking, alcohol, friends. Take a break.
Hanging out with friends or listening to music may seem pointless. Our minds are polluted. One day away from our pleasures can refresh us.
2. One-week dopamine detox by selecting
Choose one or more things to avoid. Social media, gaming, music, junk food, fast food, smoking, alcohol, friends. Try a week without Instagram or Twitter. I use this occasionally.
One week all together
One solid detox week. It's the hardest program. First or second options are best for dopamine detox. Time will help you.
You can walk, read, or pray during a dopamine detox. Many options exist. If you want to succeed, you must avoid instant gratification. Success after hard work is priceless.
Maria Urkedal York
1 year ago
When at work, don't give up; instead, think like a designer.
How to reframe irritation and go forward
“… before you can figure out where you are going, you need to know where you are, and once you know and accept where you are, you can design your way to where you want to be.” — Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
“You’ve been here before. But there are some new ingredients this time. What can tell yourself that will make you understand that now isn’t just like last year? That there’s something new in this August.”
My coach paused. I sighed, inhaled deeply, and considered her question.
What could I say? I simply needed a plan from her so everything would fall into place and I could be the happy, successful person I want to be.
Time passed. My mind was exhausted from running all morning, all summer, or the last five years, searching for what to do next and how to get there.
Calmer, I remembered that my coach's inquiry had benefited me throughout the summer. The month before our call, I read Designing Your Work Life — How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work from Standford University’s Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.
A passage in their book felt like a lifeline: “We have something important to say to you: Wherever you are in your work life, whatever job you are doing, it’s good enough. For now. Not forever. For now.”
As I remembered this book on the coaching call, I wondered if I could embrace where I am in August and say my job life is good enough for now. Only temporarily.
I've done that since. I'm getting unstuck.
Here's how you can take the first step in any area where you feel stuck.
How to acquire the perspective of "Good enough for now" for yourself
We’ve all heard the advice to just make the best of a bad situation. That´s not bad advice, but if you only make the best of a bad situation, you are still in a bad situation. It doesn’t get to the root of the problem or offer an opportunity to change the situation. You’re more cheerfully navigating lousiness, which is an improvement, but not much of one and rather hard to sustain over time.” — Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
Reframing Burnett at Evans says good enough for now is the key to being happier at work. Because, as they write, a designer always has options.
Choosing to believe things are good enough for now is liberating. It helps us feel less victimized and less judged. Accepting our situation helps us become unstuck.
Let's break down the process, which designers call constructing your way ahead, into steps you can take today.
Writing helps get started. First, write down your challenge and why it's essential to you. If pen and paper help, try this strategy:
Make the decision to accept the circumstance as it is. Designers always begin by acknowledging the truth of the situation. You now refrain from passing judgment. Instead, you simply describe the situation as accurately as you can. This frees us from negative thought patterns that prevent us from seeing the big picture and instead keep us in a tunnel of negativity.
Look for a reframing right now. Begin with good enough for the moment. Take note of how your body feels as a result. Tell yourself repeatedly that whatever is occurring is sufficient for the time being. Not always, but just now. If you want to, you can even put it in writing and repeatedly breathe it in, almost like a mantra.
You can select a reframe that is more relevant to your situation once you've decided that you're good enough for now and have allowed yourself to believe it. Try to find another perspective that is possible, for instance, if you feel unappreciated at work and your perspective of I need to use and be recognized for all my new skills in my job is making you sad and making you want to resign. For instance, I can learn from others at work and occasionally put my new abilities to use.
After that, leave your mind and act in accordance with your new perspective. Utilize the designer's bias for action to test something out and create a prototype that you can learn from. Your beginning point for creating experiences that will support the new viewpoint derived from the aforementioned point is the new perspective itself. By doing this, you recognize a circumstance at work where you can provide value to yourself or your workplace and then take appropriate action. Send two or three coworkers from whom you wish to learn anything an email, for instance, asking them to get together for coffee or a talk.
Choose tiny, doable actions. You prioritize them at work.
Let's assume you're feeling disconnected at work, so you make a list of folks you may visit each morning or invite to lunch. If you're feeling unmotivated and tired, take a daily walk and treat yourself to a decent coffee.
This may be plenty for now. If you want to take this procedure further, use Burnett and Evans' internet tools and frameworks.
Developing the daily practice of reframing
“We’re not discontented kids in the backseat of the family minivan, but how many of us live our lives, especially our work lives, as if we are?” — Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
I choose the good enough for me perspective every day, often. No quick fix. Am a failing? Maybe a little bit, but I like to think of it more as building muscle.
This way, every time I tell myself it's ok, I hear you. For now, that muscle gets stronger.
Hopefully, reframing will become so natural for us that it will become a habit, and not a technique anymore.
If you feel like you’re stuck in your career or at work, the reframe of Good enough, for now, might be valuable, so just go ahead and try it out right now.
And while you’re playing with this, why not think of other areas of your life too, like your relationships, where you live — even your writing, and see if you can feel a shift?