Nobody in the cryptocurrency space is thinking big enough.
That was the message from bitcoin developer and former Kurdish YPG militia member Amir Taaki at Devcon 5, the annual ethereum developer conference hosted this year in Osaka, Japan.
“I hear people talking about decentralized derivatives and mortgages,” Taaki said to an enraptured audience of hundreds on Friday. “Why are we not thinking about how to create dark finance tools we can leverage against government bonds?”
“We can crash national economies,” he said, adding:
“You see the crypto nouveau riche buying yachts and lambos [but] no one is thinking about what we can do on a big scale.”
For Taaki, who spent 2015 to 2018 in war-torn Syria fighting terrorist group ISIS, deploying cryptocurrencies on a national and even international scale has been top of mind.
“[In Syria,] I was in charge of technology projects for a region of about 5 million people. This was a great opportunity to deploy crypto on a massive scale … but most people weren’t interested,” Taaki said.
Taaki recounted approaching both ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin and Parity Technologies founder Gavin Wood for financial support.
Buterin’s response to Taaki’s ask of a $25,000 donation to fund his Syrian initiatives was ambiguous, according to Taaki. Taaki said Wood suggested he apply for funding through an official grants program.
Viewing the grants process as cumbersome and “bureaucratic,” Taaki seemed to take personal offense at the responses and called out the two on the Devcon stage for having “low social intelligence.”
Both Buterin and Wood were contacted to confirm this story though neither has responded as of press time. We will update the piece if we hear back.
“It’s hard to get donations from people to support something that’s strategically important to cryptocurrencies as a whole,” Taaki said, adding:
“It’s a problem that everything now is built off of personality and celebrity culture. … This is going to destroy our effectiveness as a movement.”
Moving beyond the tech
Taaki’s words resonated with many at the conference.
“I think he tries to keep the dream real,” said Santiago Siri, founder of Democracy Earth, a Y Combinator-backed nonprofit building digital governance technology. “I’m legitimately inspired by the values he stands for in this industry.”
Echoing that sentiment, Ann Brody, a Ph.D. student studying ethereum at McGill University tweeted:
“We need philosophical education to build a new system to serve the greater good via blockchain. We need to reinvent the hacker image. Thank you Amir.”
To Siri, the biggest takeaway from Taaki’s talk was the need to refocus on “how to become a superpower.” That is, how to advance cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology into becoming a force worth reckoning with.
“It can really be a rival to the internet in our civilization,” Siri told CoinDesk in an interview following Taaki’s talk. “It’s clearly not just a cultural change. It can also be a profound institutional change to our political order.”
But to do this, the industry needs to embrace its political side, according to Siri, and think more globally.
Siri highlighted initiatives such as the recently announced 1 Million Devs project as a welcome step in the right direction.
Announced at Devcon by ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin (who also heads ethereum venture studio ConsenSys), the 1 Million Devs project seeks to educate traditional web developers about the promise of blockchain technology.
Education, Taaki agrees, is key.
“It can’t just be education about the technology. It also has to also be a philosophical education,” Taaki said, adding:
“There needs to be a change on a big scale for cryptocurrency to realize its big potential. … We have to train not just hackers, but leaders.”
Amir Taaki speaks at Devcon 5, image by Christine Kim for CoinDesk