Ripping off the Blinders with Alex Gladstein

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When asked about what he’s up to, recently, Alex Gladstein (LinkedIn | Twitter) doesn’t mince words:

“We’ll, we’re here to rip the blinders off people’s assumptions about the way the world words when it comes to human rights and technology.”

That’s a tall order, but the more you listen to Alex, Chief Strategy Officer for the Human Rights Foundation, the more you can tell that he’s exactly the right person for the job.

When talking about cryptocurrency, it’s easy to only consider the financial consequences of new forms of technology without really thinking about the human side of things. But Alex is trying to change that, one conversation at a time. For him, the importance in this new wave of financial possibilities also has huge philosophical ramifications.

He wants people to think bigger, so we can get better.

Privacy is Key. Much of our conversations about cryptocurrency involve some aspect of concern for privacy. Gladstein is eager for us to dig deeper into what that really means. “So when you talk about encryption, let’s just say with encrypted messaging, you could say, ‘Oh yeah, that might be a problem because the dictator’s now going to be able to communicate with his daughter and son in a private way.’ But that would be totally missing the picture. No, the big picture is that encryption allows the million subjects of the dictator to communicate privately with each other. So I think we have to understand that things like public key cryptography and encrypted messaging benefit individuals and are a check on power, or they’re a check on the arbitrary use of power by whether it’s a government or a company. These things which are, I think, often called defensive technologies, are just that. They’re like a shield to protect us.” According to Gladstein, we’ve been conditioned to be wary of things that are “private” or “secret”, but we shouldn’t be:

“My general point though is that these things may sound a little scary. We’ve kind of been trained to think that privacy technologies are somehow bad or it’s for criminals or that cash is bad. Even Google kind of helps with this myth, because what’s the symbol for incognito on the browser, right? It’s some sketchy dude, right? But privacy is a human right. Actually, I think we need to be proud about it.”

When that ideal of privacy stretches into money, we all win. Electronic currency might be quicker and more fair, but there is also another side to this equation. All it is in the end is sort of keeping the idea of cash alive in a cashless society, keeping the idea of private money alive in a society where all the money’s digital, right? So you can’t really say that cash is negative. Cash is such an important part of how society has always functioned.

The answer? Moderation.

We don’t want to lose the freedom we find in privacy, but we also don’t want to shy away from technological advances in finance that could help close wage gaps, help solve some income inequality, and stop inflation. So, what do we do? The answer is in moderation and compromise.

“The metaphor would be when you go to the bar today, and, to get into the bar, the bouncer wants to look at your driver’s license. It says your address on it, which is ridiculous. The bouncer shouldn’t know where you live. But that’s kind of where our technology is, right? What if you could just flash something and prove to the bouncer that you were twenty-one without disclosing your eye color and weight and height and where you lived? That’s where we want to go.”

For Alex and the rest of the Human Rights Foundation, the goal is always centered around humanity: making it better for each other and future generations. The main thing we can do?

Stay aware. Get informed. “We want to preserve this system, meaning we want to preserve our ability as citizens and advocacy groups to push back and to help shape what our telecommunications and information infrastructure is. We want to make sure that cryptographic data, that we can secure our data and money. It’s very, very important, because if not, we’re going to end up with the Belt and Road, which is even coming pretty close to home. I see friends now on Facebook the last couple of days, sharing images of WeChat payment terminals in Miami and Houston. I mean it’s getting pretty close to home here, so I think we need to be really, really, really cognizant about this.”

To hear more from Alex, check out our full interview on The Mission Daily 


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