Sunday, March 11, 2018


Chantal Westby's Maelstrom
Recently there has been a controversy over a tweet from one of IOHK's employees named Darryl McAdams. The tweet commented on her desire for IOHK to recruit more female and transsexual employees. This opinion has raised broader questions about IOHK's hiring practices and overall philosophy on diversity, inclusion and other social topics. 

First, to state very directly, IOHK does not maintain or endorse quotas, bias or an archetypal vision of an ideal contractor or employee. We are- and forever will be- a merit based organization. I have a fiduciary obligation as the leader of my company to always hire the most qualified person for the job regardless of where they come from.  

Second, as the CEO of IOHK, I have never wanted to lead an organization that takes it upon itself to promote a particular political cause such as social justice. It isn't our place or even within our power in a global free market to somehow cure the evils of racism, inequity or other sins perceived or actual.

Third, IOHK- and frankly all adherents to a free society- need to reserve the right to be offensive to others. Rational thought, change and challenges to existing power structures requires the ability to irritate and invoke wrath. I feel that I must elaborate on this point in more detail. 

It wasn't too long ago when concepts such as evolution, a heliocentric view of the universe, free speech and democracy were considered preposterous, revolutionary ideas that were inherently dangerous. Those who held these beliefs were and some are still persecuted within certain circles.

The reality is that all of humanity has a common journey. We are chained by biological shells programmed by a process we have little control over. The genetics we inherited have tremendous influence over our intelligence, appearance, preferences and overall ability to succeed in life. 

Some win the genetic lottery being given profound gifts. Others are cursed to suffer the indignity of physical and mental disorders disorders so severe that they can never enjoy the world as most of us do. 

While fortune toils away, another byproduct of evolution is our cognitive powers. Properly harnessed, they have allowed us to transcend parts of our biological cages to collectively become more than we were meant to be. 

In under 10,000 years, mankind has enjoyed an ascendancy that now moves to the stars and mastery over life. Soon we will be making modifications to our genetic code, adding new senses and merging our minds with computers. Nature's paintbrush is slipping into our hands. 

Another byproduct of the powers of our cognition is that some have become unhappy with the hardware and cultural programming that nature and their respective societies have endowed them with. Some have developed exotic sexual tastes (see furries). Some have embraced lifestyles that are foreign at best to utterly alien and even repulsive at worst. As an extreme example, one could look to the flesh eating Aghori monks in Varanasi.   

As a matter of pragmatism, there is what we are comfortable with and what technological advancements and globalism will force us to accept as we travel this century. For example, millions of people are living digital fantasy lives in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, more comfortable with their avatars and their virtual connections than their own flesh and blood lives. Hollywood is even kind enough to give us Ready Player One as a visual case study.  

Characters such as Joi in Blade Runner 2049 or Her's Samantha appeal to legions of fans. To this end, capitalism has been summoned to attempt to build a crude simulacrum (see Azuma Hikari [1][2]). Should we be so naive to believe that this trend is just a fad on par with the pet rock? 

When is this Love?

The reality is that we are using our cognition to change ourselves and redefine relationships. And like prior centuries having to decide whether to embrace other cultures, ideas and religions, we are facing the equivalent of our time, but now armed with computers and profoundly advanced technology.

Thus it's reasonable to assume that mankind is going to explore depths that we haven't seen as a species before. Exploration of this nature cannot be familiar or painless. It's going to break conventional society and force a fundamentally re-evaluation of concepts like relationships, gender and even physical presence. 

Did Snowden attended the conference? What if the robot had a female face?
I am the builder of digital infrastructure. The protocols that could eventually yield control over our identity, financial lives, voting rights and property. These protocols cannot belong to a particular culture or group. They also cannot discriminate against the weak and misunderstood. Roads cannot be biased against the creatures who walk them.

Therefore, I've attempted to construct a company that welcomes a diverse group of opinions, beliefs and geographies. We never censor our employees nor ask them to remain silent on the issues that are most important to them. 

As a company, IOHK tries to embrace neutrality. It frankly isn't IOHK's place to choose sides in these debates. It's just our place to ensure they don't consume our business operations and fiduciary obligations.

Part of this creed is also accepting that people associated with my company could say things (myself especially included) that will, at times, deeply offend others. For example, I have repeatedly- at times harshly- expressed my dismay over police brutality within the United States. I have no doubt that this position is hurtful to police officers and their families. 

And this brings me to my final point, I've become gravely concerned over the attempts to de-platform opinions. Those with ideas, beliefs or even objective data contrary to particular agendas are often maligned, ostracized, banned from speaking and even physically threatened or attacked at times. 

These tactics are nothing new. They have been employed by radical movements as a means of silencing critics and rational thought in order to inflict a fanatical philosophy upon society as a whole. In my mind, there is no difference between the communist commissars and the student protesters shouting down the latest conservative speaking at a college campus. Both are trying to prevent us from hearing an opposing argument.

Part of the reason why I so admire blockchain technology is that it protects us against the revision of history, the censorship of inconvenient truths and the power of centralized actors to sculpt our view of reality. Citing fake news or social justice, I can imagine a time when Facebook or YouTube become weaponized tools of a regime to a deploy well crafted propaganda in order to preserve power and social order. 

I would be an utter hypocrite to say such things ought to be stopped, but then ask my employees to censor their opinions. I just ask for respect, dignity and reason. But I cannot ask them to avoid offending others. 

Politically I'm a libertarian; I loath taxes, regulation and socialism, but I will not mock those who collaborate with me for having a difference of opinion. Along the same token, while I at times cannot fully understand particular preferences or lifestyle choices, all I ask for is they are conducted with respect, dignity and empathy for others.

Leading an organization, I can fully appreciate why some CEOs have chosen the easy road of attempting to hide behind empty platitudes and vacuous diversity theater. It's simply better for business and one's partnerships to try to be as least offensive as possible. But that's not reality; it's a Dilbert cartoon. 

The reality of life is that as a condition of our culture, upbringing, religions (or lack thereof) and geography we are going to act in ways that create strife. While the curse of cognition is that we must endure the pain this strife brings, it's gift is that in embracing the maelstrom, we often find a creative destruction of old ideas refreshed with far superior ones.

By avoiding this process, we are losing part of what has made humanity so collectively strong and also draining authenticity from the workplace. IOHK collaborates with some of the brightest minds- Darryl McAdam's included. They simply don't have to be here if they don't want to be. If given a choice, would you rather work somewhere that accepts you or forces you to live in a gilded cage like an amusement park character? 

I didn't sign up to build Disneyland; I signed up to change the world. So that's what we are going to do as we march towards an esoteric, ever more authentic and I hope better future. Forgive us for breaking a few vases along the way.  







Sunday, March 4, 2018

An Ode to Critics (IOTA and DCI)

Recently I heard there is the possibility that one or more actors associated with the IOTA project suggested the possibility of some form of legal action against members of the DCI responsible for an unfavorable analysis of IOTA's core technology. Rather than rehash the entire affair here, I'd recommend these sources as a reference points (DCI Audit Report)(Blog Post)(IOTA Response) to bring everyone up to speed.

What is provoking me to draft a blog post on this topic is that I offered to pay legal fees DCI actors would encumber as a result of their audit of IOTA in the event an agent of the IOTA Foundation or its associates decide to sue a member of the DCI. This offer was immediate and without preconditions. It also isn't connected to an opinion of the soundness- or potential lack thereof- of IOTA's technology.

To be frank, I could care less whether IOTA works, accomplishes its commercial goals or how it manages its ecosystem and community. What concerns me far more as a developer of cryptocurrencies is the relationship between security and cryptographic researchers and protocols we develop for our space.

The reality is that we have a symbiotic relationship. Researchers enjoy spending countless hours attempting to find flaws (theoretical and practical) in the philosophy, design and implementation of our work. These hours are seldom glorified or even compensated. They are generally ignored by the mainstream public outside of an occasional sensational headline by a low information journalist. But they are absolutely necessary to evolve our work.

For the researchers, they gain academic credit, the occasional job and the intellectual joy of resolving a problem. These perks aren't exclusive to a particular protocol or even the cryptocurrency space. Inflicting havoc on Ed25519 yields just as many brownie points as finding an issue in Ethereum's network protocol.

Having paid private firms literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees to audit code IOHK writes, I fully appreciate the value of this foundational work. In fact, often one simply cannot hire the top minds as they are only interested in university affairs. Thus their time and effort is not only valuable, it can even be simply irreplaceable.

If a member of our space begins to attack researchers he feels have been unfair in their assessment or criticism, then this event cascades far beyond the immediate actors involved. It fundamentally damages the vital symbiotic environment between researchers and protocol developers. In other words, it directly hurts Cardano, Ethereum, Zcash and every other project.

Most graduate students, postdocs and professors do not have extensive resources to defend themselves against well capitalized cryptocurrency projects that don't actually have to win a case in order to massively disrupt the lives of these researchers. Going to court is expensive, emotionally exhausting and takes a huge amount of time. If a security researcher feels his work could provoke this event - even if it's objectively true, then they will simply choose a different topic.

I also can fully appreciate the discomfort of criticism that members of the IOTA community and the developers themselves are enduring. I have first hand experience with the blatant unfairness of constant attacks over social media, blog posts, at events and through other channels where lies, half truths and baseless innuendo replace an effective dialogue. It's always painful and often crosses the threshold to malicious slander.

But it's extremely important to understand that not all criticism is unfair and even within the set that is unfair, the actors levying it ought to be considered. The academic world is tightly regulated via credentials, unspoken rules and a strong emphasis on reputation. Attacking someone unfairly isn't a pattern that can be repeated without severe career consequences.

Thus the most common response to attacks coming from the academia is to prepare a fact based rebuttal. It doesn't necessarily mean the attack will be deflected or withdrawn, but it forces the critic to acknowledge your rebuttal and provide additional context and clarity.

This process is on display for the entire academic community to form opinions. If a researcher is dishonest, has conflicts of interest or is omitting/missing key points, then it will eventually be discovered. If it's a common pattern, the researcher will be socially exiled from academia.

A prominent example in the cryptographic world comes from Dr. Neal Koblitz. He levied an aggressive series of attacks on the concept of provable security. Neal's credentials are impeccable having created elliptic curve cryptography and being a Harvard educated Putnam fellow. Despite his enormous contributions to the field of cryptography, he wasn't given a pass on what many feel is unfair criticism. And it has had career consequences.

Escalation to courts is generally only done in cases of known fraud and institutional cover-up. For example, the falsification of collected data to skew results to some desired outcome. The consequences are always brutal once discovered. As particular examples, one can review the Schön scandal and also Paolo Macchiarini affair.

Nothing in this audit seems to deserve an escalation of this nature. A researcher made a claim and provided an argument with a set of evidence. The developer says this claim is false. It's an argument and it has an objective answer for the world to see.

Thus, I have no choice but to apply some of my personal resources as a counterbalance to protect the integrity of the system I have so benefited from throughout my academic and professional career. I would recommend that the IOTA community exercise the stoicism of the person who created the heart of their protocol as he continued to teach while students rudely interrupted his class.

I'd also like to remind them that MIT and the broader academic community isn't going away. Direct attacks- even if victorious- will have Pyrrhic consequences.

I hope the matter is closed and everyone can move on to better things.