Douglas Rushkoff talks about how the shutdown of WikiLeaks could prompt a new decentralized computer network, and the rise of a new virtual currency called Bitcoins.
In response to the speed and efficiency with which the WikiLeaks site and its funding were taken offline, and the failure of the anonymous hacker movement to do any significant damage to Wikileaks’ corporate foes, media commentator Douglas Rushkoff notes how the situation illustrates how centrally-controlled the internet really is. Rushkoff sees the Wikileaks debacle becoming a rallying point towards developing an new, alternate internet:
The internet’s failings as a truly decentralized network, however, merely point the way toward what a decentralized network might actually look like. Instead of being administrated by central servers, it would operate through computers that pinged one another, instead of corporate-owned server farms, and deliver web pages from anywhere, even our own computers. The FCC and other governing bodies may attempt to defang the threat of the original internet by ending net neutrality. But if they did, such a new network — a second, “people’s internet” — would almost certainly rise in its place.
What Rushkoff envisions is already underway with Bitcoin, a new, decentralized, virtual currency based on peer-to-peer technology created by Japanese programmer Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoin currency is “mined” using an elaborate cloud-computing system of authentication and self-maintenance to insure the currency retains its value. Programming puts a cap on the total number of Bitcoins in existence.
Bitcoins gain their value simply by the fact people are prepared to accept them as payment for services and goods. This sounds weak but this is not entirely dissimilar in nature to the major Fiat currencies such as the Dollar, Euro and Sterling. The only reason we’re prepared to accept our wage in dollars is the fact that we know that shops and service providers across the United States (and other countries) are prepared to let us spend it.