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Looking back 5 Years, and designing forward

Five years.  It passes quickly, time as the currency of life.

Five years ago (2007), Google surpassed Microsoft as the "most valuable global brand," World of Warcraft subscriptions surpass 9 million, Facebook had 50 million usersSteve Jobs helped us work better with a Tiger OS and we drove Apple's gross margins on software to 80%.

CIS as Community for Internet in Society

In 2000, Professor Larry Lessig, Lauren Gelman, Jennifer Granick, and many others breathed mission and focus into the Center for Internet and Society (CIS) at Stanford Law School.  With the support of Dean Larry Kramer and a slew of great faculty. CIS thrived, attracting and opening itself up to residential and non-residential fellows, guest bloggers and allies.

Five years ago, I became a CIS non-residential fellow, and entered this community earnestly asking vital questions about how the nature of society would change with the Internet Age, and what element of vitality would be needed and trampled on in the process.  

CIS' discussions, guest lectures and online dialogues were always an open forum, vital to how I have come to see and explain the role and options for digital life.  Wonder how eBay resolves online buyer-seller disputes?  Colin Rule did and explained all of that.  Wonder why certain software patent claims stick, and others don't?  My CIS friend Stu Soffer's Thesaurus helps navigate that minefield. Want first person accounts of the people and issue who diversely influence and make up CIS' dynamic conversations?  Listen as David Levine podcasts them.  Befuddled by the privacy quagmires the Web races towards?  Let Ryan Calo send a drone in to help win the privacy battle.  Need a copyright and help with navigating their nuance?  Colette Vogele to the rescue, and beyond!

Most of all, CIS' blog has been a place to park my own thinking on subjects touched by Internet and its anthropology expressing how we humans nest in tribes.  Occasionally, tribal drums beat so loudly as to block intelligent thought, or motivate "vanity" social causes to browbeat others for attention and first-order-problem solving.  Rarely but consistently, the Internet's tribal drummers broadcast hate or demonize other tribes' rights and welfare.  But most often, in subtle and profound ways, the Internet put a tribal drum and drumsticks in front of the entire planet, to express who we really are, and what we really expect of life.

Five years from now (2017), the Silicon Valley companies we track on TechCrunch, the exchanges their stocks IPO and trade on, the mobile lifestyle we lead, the corporate and government spying through it, the hours per day we spend online in lieu of face-to-face, will be entirely different than today.  Our digital divide concerns will shift to increased concerns for a world online to function as augmenting reality, not replacing it.  The beats of our songs, the digital ways we play them, replay them (and cover them), may change, with the seasons of performers giving voice to them.  But regardless of the form of digital expression, it's coming home to a renewed sense of what matters, that matters.

For me, what's become increasingly important is looking at digital money - 99% of the money supply - as a huge bandwidth to fix how values are mapped, stored and exchanged.  For the past five years, I have worked through my GoodBank™(IO) Project, TEDxNewWallStreet, a Google Tech Talk, a paper for the American Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), and other conversations in and beyond Silicon Valley to explore and give voice to this space.

On Stanford's campus, CIS led me to dozens more allies, at the Center for Legal Informatics as a CodeX Fellow, at the GSB through fantastic MBAs interested in exploring high-transparency, impacts aware-banking, to the Center for Compassion & Altruism Research (CCARE), the Center for Design Research (CDR), and now at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering as a Visiting Scholar brainstorming alongside amazing faculty and Ph.D's there.

Banking, Semantic Money, Bandwidth and the Internet Age

Banking is clearly design-flawed:  bank-fueled recessions are getting fiercer, deeper, longer, more complex to solve and anticipate.  Bank regulation is layered gypsum on foam-core, unable to steady-state the base of its assumptions.  No unified field theory model of money, banking and economics exists.  And the data models that bankers use for trading risk remain assumptions of proprietary design, and publicly-owned risk infrastructures in their fallout.

What we inherited from the Industrial Age and accelerated to date through the Information Age as banking remains ignorant of its impacts, and thereby leaves impacts unpriced as risks tolerated.  Subprime mortgage backed securities fueling a housing bubble, flash crashes impugning the market as level digital playing field, LIBOR tangential indications of actual rates, sovereign debt created for governments to spend unaccountably as the "risk-free" safe currency banks are forced to hold to meet Tier 1 capital requirements... all are synthetic abstractions from the real economy, where people and businesses live and work.

Banking can reflect in money what we value in our individual and shared lives.  Let's imagine beyond payments and remittances, algorithmic trades, peer-to-peer lending, microfinance and quantitative analysis of stock movements.  

Digital money has unlimited bandwidth to be a barometer of our environmental and social values.  I call this semantic money™:  money that knows where and who it came from, who used it, and reports back to the owner on its impacts.  Yet, as the Internet is currently designed, the impacts feedback loops of what we buy and invest in are cookies data resold outside of our knowledge in order to resell us, thus, adding a layer of opaque identity disempowerment, to the camouflage of where banks put our money and whose values their decisions reflect.

This is a special moment in the development of the Internet, when many traditional and new players (Square) are innovating banks and banking.  We need great financial technology (fintech) designers, developers and entrepreneurs to come forward as outliers ready to apply disruptive innovation to refocus banking as legacy industry.  We need the business and regulatory models to embrace outliers' rights and powers to innovate.  Fintech may be part social media, part improved user experience (UX), part banking served through app stores.  Most of all fintech will be how such get paid for.  Angel, seed and venture investors need to mentor fintech outliers, even some wanting to start new banks and bank incubators.  Government regulators need to diversity funds repaid from bailing out an old banking system, to pilot experiments in what a new system would look and feel like - fairer, safer, cheaper and more accountable for its impacts.  

And on campuses like Stanford's, Information Age banking and its fintech need learning labs in which to innovate banking safely.  Doctors learn to practice medicine in University hospitals....  Engineers learn materials and building science with goggles in campus laboratories...  Training bankers in a real redesign setting at Stanford would be "experiential learning" writ large:  inviting all on campus to contribute essential knowledge and models for designing sustainable banks built for the real economy and the people, infrastructure and impacts in it.

Within CIS' focus and mission, mobile and online banking raises privacy, security, identity protection, equal credit access and scoring data misuse, trading platform equity, informed consent, consumer protection, transparency, financial literacy, user experience optimization, global development, intellectual property rights, and dozens of other challenges in balancing convenience and profits for some, and natural law freedoms for all.  

As this is my final "guest blog" for CIS, I want to wish all CIS and its fans a wonderful next five years, of re-imagining and collaborating.

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