Is Mr Robot a glimpse into our tech-onomic future?
The internet’s favourite fictional Robin Hood (Elliot Alderson) has finally hung up his hoodie, forcing us to return to our own parallel reality.
For those who have not yet plugged into Mr Robot (using a dVPN?), the series follows hacktivist group “fsociety” who are on a mission to take down conglomerate E Corp and consequently erase the world’s debt.
The narrative picks apart some of society’s deepest flaws – including the growing divide between the top 1% and 99% at the hands of modern capitalism – with philosophical intensity.
It tells us the world’s financial and corporate structures as made of glass. The hammer that can shatter them to pieces is made of code, clever social engineering and anarchism.
And with most systems already migrated to the digital realm, just one man and his keyboard can bring a global powerhouse to its knees.
Back in the real world, hackers launched a ransomware attack against Travelex, the foreign currency company. The hack has crippled their worldwide systems, forcing their stores, airport counters and exchange services offline and leaving customers stranded.
Life imitating art?
Mr Robot predicts a haunting future for our tech-dependant society based on these very real events; the modern-day revolution is digital, technology is the weapon, and everyday people are still the casualties.
Cash is dead
The world economy falls apart following fsociety’s 5/9 hack against E Corp’s global banking network. The CEO swiftly launches a new digital currency for its clients and millions of customers, a substitute for fiat cash.
There are blunt negotiations with the US Treasury Secretary, who is asked to endorse Ecoin as a government-sanctioned currency before the population turns to the alternative – Bitcoin.
“The problem here is hard cash is fading, rapidly. That’s just the way of the world right now and Bitcoin is spreading, and if Bitcoin takes over we are all in a world of hell…
With “Ecoin” we control the ledger, and the mining servers, We are the Authority. I will make sure you have visibility into every single wallet that is open, every loan, every transaction. You want to regulate it, be my guest… I’ll give you backdoors, side doors, tracers, whatever you want.”
Is this propagandist, American corporate dream already filtering into our financial system?
The battle against Bitcoin
For anyone familiar with the origins of Bitcoin, they’ll understand that Ecoin is a violation of everything it stands for.
As the original and most popularised cryptocurrency, Bitcoin is a virtual currency that is issued, managed and used by everyday people.
Emerging out of the wreckage of the global 2008 financial crisis, it promised a new monetary system that could help people stay afloat as our economies are sunk by corporate greed and government corruption.
Termed as “the internet of money”, cryptocurrencies shift the value we assign to cash to a digital form that is as fast and borderless, yet more secure than encrypted messaging. It moves throughout a trustless, decentralized network and is secured by a technology known as blockchain. Anyone can take part and help maintain a public blockchain.
Yet cryptocurrency – and its underlying technology – is already being hijacked by governments and businesses the world over.
Stranger than fiction? Ecoin already exists.
While extreme libertarians designed the blockchain to decentralize government and corporate power, some fear it could consolidate it instead, undermining cryptocurrency’s anti-capitalist aspirations.
“The same hype driving cryptocurrency speculation has also attracted banks, governments, and corporations—exactly the authorities it was designed to circumvent.” – Ian Bogost, The Atlantic
As a global lender, JP Morgan moves more than $6 trillion around the world every single day, and they want to move their infrastructure to a company-managed blockchain to instantly settle payments between their clients. Once launched, JPM Coin will be the first blockchain-based currency issued by a major U.S. bank.
Facebook too has joined the cryptocurrency party with their infamous Libra Coin, “potentially shaping the already vast powers of the Silicon Valley giants into a borderless, unaccountable techno-oligarchy.”
With over 2.4 billion monthly active users, Facebook could become the largest (pseudo) bank in the world.
But cryptocurrency that lives on a permissioned ledger – a privately-run or corporately managed blockchain – centralizes control, removing its democratic, privacy-preserving nature, and therefore any hopes of social and financial empowerment for the individual.
Money is already seized by governments and banks habitually. Pair this with an ability to continuously monitor, track and block your entire life savings, and your control is complete. This would complement China’s political and economic strategies, which are centred around state-control and anti-privacy measures – such as their social credit system.
Sovereign and corporate cryptocurrencies cannot really be considered cryptocurrencies at all. They abandon the integrity of blockchain technology’s breakthrough design; its in-built trustlessness, transparency and immutability.
With banks, governments and businesses, nothing changes – they control the chain and the currency, from its supply and distribution to its inflation rate and pegged value.
For the hacktivist that lives in all of us...
So Mr Robot got it right.
In a world where we are being sold the illusion of economic progress, how can we claim back cryptocurrency for ourselves?
We can start by supporting open-source projects who are building on public blockchain architecture. We can educate ourselves about the non-speculative value of cryptocurrency (and how to use and store it safely). And we can start experimenting with a range of decentralized applications that give its users control while honouring their privacy and autonomy.
Our dVPN is a blend of all these things – and more.
For many of us, the internet is a place to freely roam. But many online citizens are trapped behind digital walls, stopping the free flow of ideas, voices and truths.
We are building a new online era, democratising the web itself so that it’s free and open for all. Our peer to peer network powers its own VPN while laying the foundations for the new Web 3.0. Everyday web users become nodes to protect you against censorship, surveillance and cybercrime and get paid in cryptocurrency for it. Anyone can become a node to help us fight the good fight.
There are many exciting other projects out there also trying to make this new online world a reality.