On Thursday, David Gelernter– the futurist and visionary that the New York Times described as a computer science rock star— published a fiery manifesto against Facebook. In it, he expressed harsh criticism of the world’s largest social network and unveiled an upcoming blockchain-based Facebook alternative called Revolution Populi.
Among academics, Gelernter is considered to be one of the most influential computer scientists of the 80s and 90s. That’s why anti-technology terrorist Ted Kaczynski sent Gelernter a bomb in 1993. Gelernter survived the explosion, but was left scarred, partially blinded and deaf in one ear.
Revolution Populi will be Gelernter’s first major project since his injury. His last one of note, Lifestream, is often described as a progenitor of today’s social networks. Its core feature was a “time-ordered stream of documents that functions as a diary of your electronic life.” Facebook, Apple and many other companies have included similar features in their software today.
In 2008, Gelernter’s company Mirror Worlds sued Apple and several other technology companies for patent infringement. A jury awarded Mirror Worlds $625.5 million in damages, but that victory was short lived when the defendants filed an appeal. A district judge ruled that no patent infringement had taken place. Further appeals helped the case make its way to the Supreme Court, but it refused to hear the case.
Taking back the internet
The date of Gelternter’s announcement– July 4th– coincided with Independence Day in the United States. Drawing inspiration from one of Benjamin Franklin’s most famous political cartoons, Gelernter urged the internet community to “take the whole cyberworld back.” He went on to write that failure to act would result in “impotence and a dead snake.”
In the Revolution Populi white paper, Gelernter makes the case that if we continue to let “the Kings of the Internet” harvest our data, they will use it to “code God”– or in other words, create a powerful and oppressive artificial intelligence. The answer to this, he writes, is for people to come together, leave platforms like Facebook and join more open and democratic social platforms.
How Revolution Populi plans to carry out “death to Facebook”
If Revolution Populi manages to implement even a few of the features described in its white paper, it may in fact tempt some to ditch Facebook.
One of the most interesting things about the upcoming social network is its “Personal Genius” blockchain, which will let its users profit from the content they contribute in the form of crypto rewards.
Other features will include democratic voting, facial recognition-powered identity verification, a built-in music and movie streaming service, a decentralized search engine, and an anti-piracy system that leverages smart contracts to identify and take down unauthorized content.
No stranger to controversy
Though experts agree that Gelernter’s contributions to computer science– particularly in the field of parallel computing– are significant, some have questioned his unorthodox opinions on subjects like climate change. His outspoken conservative views may have led the Trump administration to consider Gelernter for the position of Science Advisor in 2016.
Will the revolution succeed?
What do you think of Gelernter’s plan to offer a better alternative to Facebook? Would you make the switch– and what do you make of Gelernter’s fears regarding artificial intelligence? Drop a comment and let us know.
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