What is behind Buterin’s appeal to “signs bound to the soul”? Securing Ethereum’s dominance? Response to NFTs? Create a better world?
There is no shortage of visionary Web3 scenarios, but one of the most recent, “The Decentralized Society: In Search of the Soul of Web3” — a mid-May article by E. Glen Weil, Pooja Olhaver, and Vitalik Buterin — comes close to reality . become one of the top 50 most downloaded articles on the SSRN research platform.
It is safe to assume that much of the attention has been due to the involvement of Buterin, the blockchain prodigy and legendary co-founder of the Ethereum network. But it can also be a function of the aspiration and scope of the article, which encompasses questions such as: what kind of society do we really want to live in? Finance-based or trust-based?
The authors illustrate how “non-negotiable soulbound tokens (SBTs) representing commitments, credentials, and soul possessions can encode the webs of trust of the real economy to determine provenance and reputation.” These SBTs appear to be something like bios or blockchain-based resumes, while “souls” are mostly people — or, strictly speaking, individual people’s crypto wallets. However, souls can also be institutions such as Columbia University or the Ethereum Foundation. The authors wrote:
“Imagine a world where most members have souls storing SBTs corresponding to a range of affiliations, memberships and credentials. For example, a person may have a soul that stores SBTs representing educational documents, work history, or hashes of their writings or artwork.
“In their simplest form, these SBTs can be ‘self-certified,'” the authors continue, “much like we share information about ourselves on our resumes.” But that only scratches the surface of the possibilities:
“The true power of this mechanism is shown when SBTs belonging to one soul can be issued—or witnessed—by other souls who are the counterparties to that relationship. These counterparts can be individuals, companies or institutions. For example, the Ethereum Foundation could be a soul issuing SBTs to souls who attended a developer conference. University can be the soul that gives SBT to graduates. The stadium can be the soul giving away the SBT to longtime Dodgers fans.
There’s a lot to digest in the 36-page document, which at times seems like a hodgepodge of disparate ideas and solutions, ranging from private key recovery to anarcho-capitalism. But even by critics, he is lauded for describing a decentralized society that focuses largely not on hyperfinance but on “coding social trust relationships.”
Fraser Edwards, co-founder and CEO of Cheqd, a network that supports Sovereign Identity Projects (SSI), criticized the article on Twitter. However, he told Cointelegraph:
“Vitalik stood up and said that NFTs [non-fungible tokens] are a bad idea for an identity – that’s great. Also, promoting use cases like college degrees and certificates is fantastic because SSI does poor marketing itself.”
Similarly, the paper’s attention to issues such as loan overcollateralization is “excellent” due to a lack of viable credit ratings, he added.
Overall, the reaction from the crypto community in particular has been quite positive, co-author Weil told Cointelegraph. Weil, an economist at RadicalxChange, provided the main ideas for the article, Olhaver wrote most of the text, and Buterin edited the text and also wrote the section on cryptography, he explained.
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According to Weil, the only truly sustained protest against the document has come from the Decentralized Identifiers and Verifiable Credentials (DID/VC) community, a subgroup of the sovereign identity movement that has been working on blockchain-based decentralized credentials for several years. now including ideas like peer credentials.
However, the visionary work drew some criticism from media outlets such as the Financial Times, who called it a “quirky newspaper”. Some also feared that SBTs, given their potentially public, non-negotiable qualities, could lead to the emergence of a Chinese government-style “social credit system”. Others have personally attacked co-author Buterin, criticizing his “lack of understanding of the real world.”