… coming soon near you, and in you

When I first heard of Bitcoin in late 2008 I had that feeling – it would change things.

Fast-forward to early 2017. I make part of my living writing about all things blockchain, for which I’m paid in bitcoin. I use bitcoin to send money to family, pay for all sorts of things online, and fund a debit card that I use for other payments.

I can live where I want because I work in Cyberspace, the Home of Mind. We’ve come a long way in a short few years indeed.

But the most interesting part of the road is still ahead.

Ted Nelson’s Xanadu vision – a conceptual precursor of today’s internet – included a native payment infrastructure. The idea was considered by Tim Berners-Lee and other pioneers of the web, but discarded for being too difficult to implement at the time. But hackers are smarter and faster than committees, and developed operational digital payment solutions – Bitcoin & co – that can be seamlessly grafted onto the internet.

There are proposals to build a fully decentralized and distributed internet powered by BitTorrent-like tech, crypto-currency a magic glue to hold things together. They use your picture in a commercial magazine? Fine, a smart contract will collect your royalty payments and send them to you. They use your code in the next Facebook? Same.

But distributed technologies are escaping the world of bits and invading the world of things. Here again, crypto-secured distributed ledgers carrying digital currencies will co-ordinate the operations of the upcoming IoT-everywhere, with billions of smart devices in a pervasive dust of sensors and actuators, and enforce internal payments with smart contracts. Yes, your self-driving car will send a micropayment to the quadcopter drone that spots a good parking place, but you won’t even notice that.

Brave new world

Next-generation smart devices will swarm. Robots will need just enough on-board intelligence to interact with peers and control nodes in a blockchain-mediated cloud, which is where distributed ambient intelligence will live. What is mind, if not a co-ordinated process network? One day, the distributed IoT could wake up and know itself.

Futurist Melanie Swan has written about swarms of nanobots – molecule-sized smart devices – that will roam our body and keep us healthy, using blockchain technology to co-ordinate their work. Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT Media Lab, is persuaded that in a few decades mesh networks of nanobots could take permanent residence in human brain, enabling artificial telepathy and making people part of the ambient intelligence.

Now, don’t get me started on utility fogs…