My friends, Philip Silva, Stuart Tempkin, and I have formed The Kuwa Foundation, a nonprofit corporation. The foundation has partnered with the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Information and Computer Sciences to make our vision of an open, decentralized, minimally intrusive and self-sovereign identity platform a reality (or at least a real working prototype). So we’ve hired five UMass Computer Science graduate students for the summer. We’re going to get something working.
Ever since Phil told me about his idea of ending poverty by using a cryptocurrency to distribute a universal basic income (UBI), I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, are “decentralized,” which means that no one entity controls it. That makes it just about impossible for bad people, or anyone, to corrupt or seize control of Bitcoin. If you confiscate one node and try to change it, the other nodes will simply ignore you. You can’t arrest or shoot the “CEO of Bitcoin” because there isn’t one. Since many of the world’s most economically disadvantaged people live in countries where the government is not trustworthy, combining a basic income with a corruption-resistant cryptocurrency is clearly a great idea.
UBI won’t work without a solid identification system.
We soon learned that the biggest problem with implementing a UBI is identity. UBI, after all, distributes free money. That gives people a powerful incentive to launch “Sybil attacks,” which happen when one person creates more than one ID (and gets another their basic income for each ID). Consequently, a crypto UBI won’t work without an effective identification system that resists Sybil attacks.
According to the World Bank, as many as 700 million people live on less than $1.90 per day. Those folks probably don’t have bank accounts, drivers licenses, or passports. Most of them live in countries where the government and the banking system (if there is one) is corrupt. You don’t want to give corrupt governments the power to include and exclude people by controlling who gets an identity. When there is no “authority” that you can rely on to verify identity, and you’re not working face-to-face with humans, identity is tough. But without identity, so many of the things we want to use the blockchain for (UBI, financial services for the unbanked, or even voting) are not possible. That’s why we created The Kuwa Foundation. Our mission is to create an identity platform that works for everyone, not just people who live in rich countries.
If you want to learn more about the foundation, check out this post and the Kuwa Web site. At the end of August 2018, we’re going to release our software as free open source and publish our findings in a white paper. If the Kuwa concepts show any promise, perhaps the foundation will turn into something big. If not, then we will just contribute our learning experiences to the public knowledge base and hope that someone else uses what we learned to come up with better ideas or better execution. And that will be OK, because at least we would have helped someone else do something to improve the lives of countless people.