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Digital Karma Coming after You, Buterin’s Vision

The other day Vitalik Buterin and two other researchers, E. Glen Weyl and Puja Ohlhaver, published a huge article about the concept of…

social recovery

The other day Vitalik Buterin and two other researchers, E. Glen Weyl and Puja Ohlhaver, published a huge article about the concept of Decentralized Society — DeSoc — introducing some analogue of “digital karma” or “social rating”, which they call Souls and Soulbound Tokens.

Here is a short description of the study given by the Authors:

“Web3 today centers around expressing transferable, nancialized assets, rather than encoding social relationships of trust. Yet many core economic activities — such as uncollateralized lending and building personal brands — are built on persistent, non-transferable relationships. In this paper, we illustrate how non-transferable “soulbound” tokens (SBTs) representing the commitments, credentials, and aliations of “Souls” can encode the trust networks of the real economy to establish provenance and reputation. More importantly, SBTs enable other applications of increasing ambition, such as community wallet recovery, sybil-resistant governance, mechanisms for decentralization, and novel markets with decomposable, shared rights. We call this richer, pluralistic ecosystem “Decentralized Society”…”

According to the authors, DeSoc is centred around accounts — wallets — holding “publicly visible, non-transferable (but possibly revocable-by-the-issuer)” ****Soulbound Tokens (SBTs) representing commitments, credentials, and aliations. Such tokens would be like an extended resume, issued by other wallets that attest to these social relations. Each Soul has its own digital reputation and a history of its behaviour recorded in the blockchain. Step by step primitive tokens can evolve and become instruments for:

  • establishing provenance
  • unlocking undercollateralized lending markets through reputation enabling decentralized key management
  • thwarting and compensating for coordinated strategic behaviour measuring decentralization
  • creating novel markets with decomposable, shared rights and permissions

Unlike the Chinese social ranking, which is controlled by the state, and inevitably leads to abuse and digital dictatorship, the DeSoc concept implies decentralization of the entire process. Such decentralization is perhaps the only way not to slide into a digital dystopia in the future world of the metaverses. Otherwise, it will be controlled by either states like China or corporations like FB and Google, and both options will not lead to anything good.

There are a lot of inspiring and unusual ideas in the article, here are some of them:

  • your “soul” does not necessarily deanonymize you — you can maintain privacy, and you can also confirm some of your experience (education, jobs, other regalia) with the help of other “souls”
  • SBTs also enable communities to be convened at unique intersections of Souls.
  • a person may not necessarily have one “soul” (for example, you may have different “souls” for different pseudonyms or your different areas of activity). And, surprisingly, the authors suggest that in the future, “souls” can be transferred to other people.
  • all this will help, among other things, to fight fakes on the Internet, because all the actions of “souls” are recorded in the blockchain, it is extremely difficult to create a bot or a fake.
  • the rating of your “soul” can be used, for example, to obtain loans without collateral. This will give a powerful impetus to the DeFi industry — decentralized finance, which is now hyped, but still limited in many ways.
  • an important role in all this will be played by DAOs. Using SBTs could empower DAOs and take them to another level. DAOs could mitigate sybil attacks with SBTs in several ways, for example, by computing over a Soul’s constellation of SBTs to differentiate between unique Souls and probable bots, and denying any voting power to a Soul that appears to be a Sybil. DAOs could also use SBTs to make leadership and governance programmatically responsive to their communities. Leadership roles could dynamically shift as the composition of the community shifts — as reflected in the changing distribution of SBTs across member Souls. In the future, this whole system can lead to political transformations — people will be able to vote for the adoption of certain decisions through the DAO, “throw off” their implementation, and eventually move on to “democracy on the blockchain”, which is protected from the appearance of dictators by smart contracts.
  • you won’t lose your “soul” just like that — the community will help you restore it, even if you forgot your passwords. In a community recovery model, recovering a Soul’s private keys would require a member from a qualified majority of a Soul’s communities to consent. Authors assume that the Soul also has access to secure, chain communication channels where “authentication” — through conversation, meeting in person or confirming a shared secret — can occur.

Here you can see many allusions from the sphere of art — for example, recall the Black Mirror series about social rating. Although I haven’t heard yet about one person having several of these “digital fingerprints” or passing them on.

In general, the concept is still raw and not fully developed, but Vitalik Buterin is a visionary worth listening to. Most likely, in one form or another, all this will be actively implemented in the coming years — at first in narrow crypto circles, but sooner or later it will become mainstream. God save our digital souls!