Tim: Why were you dismissive of Bitcoin in the beginning?
Sean: I told you that it was "nerd money". But what I really meant is that people, amateurs, thought that they could make a money, and to me that was nonsense.
T: But if it was Apple you'd be fine with it?
S: Sure, because it's institutions that have always made money.
T: How about Amazon?
S: Makes sense too. So, a professional says they can make a money, I said, "Yeah, okay." To me, money is a professional thing. It's not an amateur thing.
T: Okay. So, let's say in the history of the advent of technology, what about amateurs? What did they make? Who did the PC? IBM?
S: No, two guys in their garage, right? Steve-
T: How about the operating system? Who did that?
S: True. It wasn't IBM, it was Gates right?
T: Well how about the internet, who did that?
S: It was academics, right? It definitely wasn't AT&T.
T: Okay, so if Bitcoin was started in 2005 do you think it would have a chance?
S: People didn't feel the pain of the financial system until much later. So no, they wouldn't-
T: So what institution fell where people thought it was a failing institution? So what happened?
S: People lost their home, literally.
T: People lost their homes.
S: Yeah. It's the most painful thing on Earth.
T: And losing their homes or property, property loss, then they now think Bitcoins there, why?
S:Yeah. Because, they can see what happens. When / if the banks fail, then they lose their home. So there are direct correlations.
T: They didn't feel that the financial institutions were dead. They had lots of faith in it, right?
T: What about in today's society ... you're reading the Economist ... What institution is failing us right now?
S: Social media companies.
T: And how is Facebook failing us?
S: Well, it's very simple. I mean, Facebook failed to even know that the Russians were influencing our election.
T: What about Equifax. How did Equifax fail us?
S: They failed to keep our data safe.
T: How did the US government fail us in terms of Obama, and what about what you see with Snowden? How did they fail us? Did they fail us?
S: Yeah. You can say they failed us too. I mean, they used our trust, they used our data.
T: What exactly is the Economist's article, that you were talking about?
S: About the Facebook one?
S: Basically they're saying that the promise of social media was to bring democracy to the entire world. But, in actuality, what's happened so far, at least, is that it's ripped through democracy in the developed world.
T: Okay. So-
S: It's had the reverse effect.
T: And you see all these views. So how are we going to bring that back?
S: You have to bring the data under control of the individual again. Just like the amateurs made their money, the amateurs have to make the data ownable.
T: But it's also bad for creative professionals. What is happening with all these musicians and artists out there?
S: The artist feels that the system has robbed them of the ability to make money. It's robbed them of the ability to actually do creative works. They say now it's all driven by money, that they don't get.
T: So let's talk about art. People say is only dominated by the super rich. So what about art? What is the whole issue about art in the last ... Now it's only in the hands of rich people right now. Super rich? Right? What's going on with art? Why does Casey Reas want to do art trading?
S: Ah, that's a good question.
T: Where does he want the control back to? The galleries?
S: Yeah. I mean basically, we tried to say hey, can we get galleries, can we get the museums? Can we get the auction houses to take this blockchain stuff seriously, and they all kind of laughed at it. That was in 2015. We tried again mid 2017. In the end Casey said, well let's just do it ourself.
S: He's an artist that builds his own tools. I’m sure he just thought I can build the system the way I think it should be built.
T: So that artist is going to back to the basics, back to the artist. Because in the 1950's, 1960's, the everyday man could buy art. Nowadays it's out of reach for the ones that are there, right? Don't you see that?
S: Yeah, true.
T: Now you see our commonality with what Bitmark plays in the role of society today? I think we started two or three years before a lot of these trends were happening. Where data, our individual rights, or property rights were there. But now, people are talking more and more about it, but they just don't see the underlying issues. You got to cut through all the noise, explain what is going on. And why Bitmark is the solution.
S: What's going on with these ICO's now? What does that say about this stuff?
T: Very good question. So what does it say? It says I am unsatisfied with how the public markets raise money. We'll do it on our own. And everyone says, I would dismiss it. This thing doesn't work. And they have a lot of scams, but you know what? It's working. And these VC's are like, what? Oh he's raising money? Outside of our domain? What's going on. Most VCs are not investing in Bitcoin. What's happening? It's going on it's own. But what about other stuff? That's what's going on.
S: So again, it's the amateurs saying that we can build a better Wall Street than Wall Street.
S: And it's easy to say it's nonsense, but then you have to look at the passion behind it, right?
T: All movements happen from the outer fringes of society. It's the stuff that amateurs work on, in their garage, that becomes mainstream 10 plus years later. Can we go back to Openmoko [Sean’s previous company]? What was the issues that caused Openmoko, or the concept of an open source phone, and what made that possible?
S: It was the carriers. They would dictate what phone would go on the network. That was crazy. The carriers dictate what phone would go on the network. The phone companies dictate what software can go on your phone. It was insane.
T: And that was close to 2005, 2006.
S: The whole thing was busted open. But, it bust open so far that now Apple dictates what could go on the phone and Google dictates what could go on the phone. So you got two now. Is it better than before? Sure, it's much better than before. But we do have new gatekeepers now.
T: We just have two versus one.
S: Well... they are far more benevolent in their gatekeeping. You can now, more or less, install what you want on your phone.
T: Let’s go back to the theme of failed institutions. The Roman Catholic church was a failed institution, unlike the Protestant. Anything can happen when an institution fails. Things break off, and there's new vines that grow out of it. What are the famous institutions that we have in society today? How does that pertain to our right for these things? I don't know how to tell the story, but when I use the Bitcoin analogy, and ask you those questions, you go, hey, okay, there's a chance there. How does that pertain to Bitmark? How do you show all this?
S: Well Bitcoin was clear because it was about the banks, right? There was a specific institution. The thing with Bitmark, is that it's about property. And you say, well, what institution is failing us in terms of property? And that's a meta question. I probably have to bring it down to one more level of concreteness. What institution is failing because of a specific property right? For example personal data that should be ours. Or data assets that we're creating for art and music.
T: So let me ask you. What gets ripped in the press nowadays? Facebook.
S: Yes. Of course.
T: What else?
S: As Trump likes to say, the fake news media. The mainstream media, and their fake news. What he calls the fake news on media, are the institutions, the ones that have been for a long time. Like the New York Times, Now he's beating up on Washington Post. He calls it like Amazon Washington Post, right? It's these institutions that have been around for a long time.
T: Now I may not agree with Trump. But is there an element of truth there?
S: There's an element of truth that these institutions are not in tune with the pain that's being felt by regular people. Back to Facebook for a bit longer – The reason that I don't get on Facebook, and the reason that I don't share photos of my son on the internet, is because I have no clue how my data is being used.
T: Right. A lot of people on Facebook do share everything. So when he hear about the Russians exploiting news they upset. So what are we upset about? It's not that Trump is upset.
S: In the Facebook case, I think there’s this naiveness that if everything is data driven, if everything removes the people, if you're aggregating all this data, and if you're curating a news feed, that there's no manipulation. That somehow that's better than the way it was before.
T: So if you ask someone, let's say your mom, about it, what would she say?
S: Something like Facebook, through the filtering of the news, they deliberately reinforced what you think you want to read. They can time how long you read something, what you click on, and so they can give you more of what you think you want.
T: What does the Economist think is the root of the problem?
S: It's hit really deep into the attention economy, and what it means to try to monetize peoples attention, and it becomes a race to the bottom. And that, in some ways is destroying democracy. That’s what they're saying.
T: So is Facebook the victim?
S: They're both the victim and they're the means of doing the crime.
T: So what are they? How do you stop the fake news problem people are upset about?
S: Well what's interesting here is that Facebook is essentially saying is they can't stop it. They probably have 5 million buyers of these ads every day.
T: So how can we stop it?
S: Don't know. That's the real conundrum here.
T: Facebook says they can't. Or rather they cannot shove away the cash from their ad business model.
S: It’s like the financial blow-up in the last decade. Wall Street probably also knew they did wrong. You look at the way they talk about it now. But then they had no solution either, right? Bitcoin was an alternative solution. It was, let’ss bring power back to the people and see what happens. Zuckerberg is out there doing focus groups, doing everything he can to figure out how to fix it. But he can't fix it. His institution's been hijacked.
T: His system’s been hijacked. We need a Bitcoin-type solution to restore power to the people.
S: Someone needs to make the tools so everyone can be their own Facebook.