Andreas Antonopoulos' Key Note Speach
Presented at Bitcoin South; Speakers list and videos
Antonopoulos is the author of Mastering Bitcoin, a Public Speaker, Coder, Entrepreneur, and Advisor to The Board at Blockchain.info. BraveNewCoin sat down after his presentation at Bitcoin South, and asked Antonopoulos about his life in Bitcoin, and the inspiration for his talks:
Antonopoulos: A Journey Into Bitcoin
I have been involved in security now for more than twenty years and I have worked as an industry analyst, as a consultant, as an advisor to start-up companies, in the area of distributed systems, cloud computing and security. So this was a perfect technology to apply my skills, and I found it fascinating. I had been wandering around doing freelance work and consulting in the space of cloud computing and networking. Then I stumbled across Bitcoin and it just changed my life. I then decided to work on this full time.
It was towards the end of 2011 that I first started getting seriously interested in Bitcoin, and it became my full time obsession at the beginning of 2013. I have always been interested in psychology and sociology and human interaction in society. I have always been interested in forms of government and human organization. Things like law and constitutional order and because my passion has always been computers and programming from a very, very young age, I was always mechanically inclined. I find these very fascinating parallels between the way we structure societies and the way we run computers. Not that society should run like a computer, that would be a totalitarian fascist nightmare, but forms of organization, self-organization and structures and the architecture of things always purveyed my thinking. I think, over time, I have tried to find ways to see the parallels between them.
I think it is very important to explain technology, by explaining how it will change society and how society can benefit from it. Most people are not interested in the decentralized nature of the blockchain, but they are interested in the idea of reducing the cost of international remittances for immigrants and the poorest people or bringing economic inclusion and opportunity. So I see these end benefits as the thing I need to focus on and then explaining how Bitcoin can make those things happen.
The work I do kind of evolves over time, so in any presentation I do there will be some old ideas mixed with some new ideas and I try them out on audiences and if I like them and they like them, I reuse them and continuously evolve it. It’s kind of like a work in progress. The particular idea of talking about Bitcoin as a content type has been brewing in my mind now for about three months and it all crystalized during a dream. I know that sounds hokey, but I often think about a topic or mull a topic just before going to sleep to kind of prime myself and I’ll often wake up in the morning with some kind of insight that I didn’t have the night before and I make sure to write it down quickly before it disappears into my sleep state. Some of the ideas, narrative and story structure came to me while I was dreaming about it. Embarrassingly enough I sometimes talk about topics in a dream, like I do a seminar to non-existent people. I think about it later, that was a pretty good speech, I’ll steal from myself. It’s a really weird process, but it’s just constantly evolving. I have this unique privilege of being able to talk to hundreds of people every week, all around the world, and engage with different communities in Bitcoin and learn from everyone in this community. I see my job as collecting all of these ideas, distilling them, and then channeling them out. It’s a team effort and the entire Bitcoin community is my muse.
Bitcoin: Where We Are Today
The Bitcoin community probably started as a fairly homogenous community with certain characteristics and certain world view attitudes and over time it has broadened very dramatically. The Bitcoin community is starting to resemble a more and more mainstream cross section of the population, and it’s not entirely mainstream yet. We are still very early adopters. There are a lot of technically minded people. It’s mostly men. It’s mostly Caucasians, but gradually that trend has broken and you are seeing more and more diversity as it begins to represent society as a whole. Adoption is going to drive that. So within Bitcoin, there are all kinds of constituencies. What is amazing to me is that Bitcoin is primarily a neutral platform in that it doesn’t say how you should use it, it simply empowers individuals.So people project onto Bitcoin their own perspectives, their own politics, their own world view, their own aspirations, their own theology and in some cases their own dogma. I find that fascinating that people can take a neutral platform and then see in it what they want to see. I try to focus on the fact that in the end Bitcoin is about recognizing ownership in a decentralised way and what’s interesting about that is in our world today that is a radical enough proposition. Even though it’s a simple truth. A simple truth is now a radical statement.
Bitcoin: In The Future
To me the most interesting mass market for Bitcoin are the 2.5 billion unbanked, and the up to 6 billion under banked in the world, who have not been accustomed to surrendering their control to a bank, consider both their banks and their governments to be organised crime syndicates because in most cases they are and would quite happily operate today in relatively decentralized cash based economies, and barter based economies. I think Bitcoin is quite a natural fit for that population. Now, if you’re talking about Western societies of structured mortgages with leans, bank escrow and trust all of those kinds of things. Well the good news is that any illusions of security that the Western world had about its banking systems were pretty much obliterated for an entire generation in 2008. That has given young people at least, a broader perspective and if you pull and look at surveys that talk to the younger generation especially the people who are under 25 when the economic crisis happened, they have no trust in banks. Banks are the least trusted institutions in society, and governments are a close second. The idea that bankers brought you the great depression and geeks brought you the internet who do you want to trust your money to?
I think that resonates with an entire generation. It’s a pretty easy idea to expand on. Now, there is always going to be people who still think that somehow banks offer protection, quality, trust, and security. They will cling to that idea, but it’s an antiquated idea.
Writing A Book In The 21st Century
The book Mastering Bitcoin, is being published by O’Reilly Media, they are a well-known publisher of technical books for developers and the book is aimed toward developers although the first couple of chapters are quite accessible for people who want to understand how Bitcoin works. One of the things I agreed to early on in the process when I proposed the book was to release it under an open source license and to use a collaborative process for development. Now O’Reilly the publisher, that’s not a coincidence, O’Reilly has always been very open to things like that, they’re one of the first publishers who chose to open source their books, or work with authors who wanted to open source their books. They use a very progressive collaborative process for developing books. All of the development happens on a software code repository or versioning repository called Git, like Git process, with an automated build system. The entire book is written in very simple text base mark-up language. So there’s no Microsoft word or any of that junk in there. You can just use a simple text editor to write an O’Reilly Book, which is enormously liberating because you can focus on the content rather than all of the glitches. So from the very beginning Mastering Bitcoin was publically available as each chapter was drafted. It was released to the community for review. Anyone could go download it, you can still go and download the entire book, and read it for free, and share it under and open source license. The content of the book was immediately available, and the community responded with hundreds of edits. Some of them were simple things, like a missing comma there, or spelling mistake here or there, or a grammar error. Some of them were much more in depth, correcting pieces of code, or examples, or misconceptions that I had.
I learned more about Bitcoin by writing the book than I knew in the beginning for sure, it was a journey of discovery myself and the community helped me through that process. Some of the edits are extremely substantial and some of the people who edited the book and reviewed it are very, very important contributors to the developer community in Bitcoin. Some of the core developers were very helpful and supportive in contributing to this book.
In the first draft of the preface of the book I used the quote by Ward Cunningham, who is the inventor of Wikis, he once said, “If you want to get the right answer on the internet, don’t post a question, post the wrong answer and the internet will correct it,” and I love that quote as that’s the spirit of the internet. You’re going to get more people motivated to tell me that I am wrong and smugly correct me, than try to build something from scratch or answering a question. I drafted things, I got a lot of corrections. By the time the drafts got to the publisher they’d seen hundreds and hundreds of edits and reviews and that made the final publication process and the final production process so much easier. This book has been heavily tech reviewed and peer reviewed by just so many people. So, I found it a very rewarding process for developing a book. You can’t necessarily do that with fiction, but for a technical book, developing a book about software in the same way you develop software was, I think, an important choice.
The final draft went to the publishers and the final proof was about maybe two weeks ago. It’s going to press now, the expected print date and ship date is December 27th, that’s when amazon.com and other book publishers will receive their copies and ship them out to customers. It’s available in print on all major book stores, it’s available online from O’Reilly as an ebook. I hope to have it in as many formats as possible. It was also available for a short period of sale for Bitcoin from my own personal site, where you could buy a signed copy. I am probably going to reopen that in January, at bitcoinbook.info
Monetizing Open Source Publications
So far the book has been very successful in the terms of presales and even though people are reluctant to push the button when they know they are not going to get the book for a couple of months. People have been pushing that button since April and I have just been a amazed by the response of the community. I think at this point more than 1200 copies have sold on the presale and it continues to grow. The open sourcing of the book, not only did it not effect sales, I think in many cases it boosted sales.
In today’s publishing world the cost of production is relatively low, especially for ebooks and the real challenge in being noticed is cutting through the noise and being accessible to readers. Readers who find something useful and interesting are willing to pay the extra money to get it in a format that’s convenient, such as an ebook, kindle or as a paper reference that they can put on their bookshelf and refer to anytime they want and flick through the pages. There’s a lot of professionals who will consider this an investment who will buy the book anyway. I don’t think, especially in this domain open sourcing the book hasn’t hurt sales at all, I think it’s boosted them and I think it will continue to do that. In fact, I hope to make the book a foundational component of University courses, we’re already using it as the recommended reading for the curriculum for the Master’s Degree in Digital Currencies at the University of Nicosia. It’s the basis of a massive online course, a book on Bitcoin and digital currencies and I am working with a number of Universities now to introduce Undergraduate and Graduate Level courses about Bitcoin and digital currencies. My goal is to get information into as many hands as possible over the next years, so I am going to be dedicating a lot of that work to education.
Videos and Articles from the Bitcoin South conference can be found here, or through the Resources & Info tab on BraveNewCoin