Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales: “You Can’t Ban Blockchain. It’s Math!”


Cointelegraph: Hey guys, this is Catherine
Ross from Cointelegraph.
We’re here in Berlin with Jimmy Wales.
Hi Jimmy, it is a pleasure to meet you.
First of all, how is it going on BlockShow?
JW: Great!
I just came offstage.
I spoke about Wikipedia a little bit and about
decentralized systems, about how I see the
current landscape of crypto, but mainly I
talked about my new project WikiTribune which
is all about bringing high-quality neutral
journalism to the world.
Jimmy presented his project WikiTribune
Cointelegraph: You’ve mentioned (I have
to ask, I’m sorry), you’ve mentioned that
crypto is a bubble and you’ve actually expressed
this kind of point of view in different interviews.
Do you really think it’s a bubble industry
or is there something we can take out of it?
JW: I’m old now and I was in the internet
world during the dot-com bubble, so when I
say something is a bubble, it doesn’t mean
that I think there’s nothing of value there.
It means there’s a lot of noise and there’s
a lot of investment money flowing in, and
a lot of things are being invested into that
does not actually make sense.
A lot of projects are going to fail, but we
additionally have a lot of scams, a lot of
theft, a lot of crazy things are happening.
So, I just ask people to be careful.
Cointelegraph: Well, that’s fair.
Are you a crypto investor yourself?
JW: No, I’m not.
I have had some crypto here and there, but
I’m not an investor at all, so that’s
the other thing to know about me.
I have my own projects and beyond that I don’t
really invest.
Cointelegraph: You’ve mentioned on stage
WikiTribune, the project; you will or may
be accepting cryptocurrency as payment, right?
But if you ever decide to launch your project,
blockchain-based project, what kind of project
would that be?
Would that be charity?
Journalism?
What would this project be about?
JW: I’m not planning to do anything directly
in the blockchain space.
I am very intrigued by the idea.
A lot of people have pitched me on their ideas
in the journalism space, I just don’t see
it makes a lot of sense.
I’ll continue to reflect and think.
You know, some of the people I’ve talked
to pitched me some idea and then I start to
I poke some holes and say, “This is the
problem,” and they say “Yeah, but with
your name you could raise so much money,”
but I don’t need that.
At this stage of my career, I’m not just
trying to get money from people from something
I don’t personally believe in.
Until I figure it out, I’m not going to
be doing anything.
Cointelegraph: I get it.
There is an opportunity, but the project has
to be of value.
JW: It has to resonate.
It has to be something as meaningful to me.
Cointelegraph: I’m sure you’ve heard about
the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal.
JW: Of course.
Cointelegraph: The issue of privacy is really
topical here.
Where do you think any cryptocurrency or the
blockchain technology can somehow help with
this issue?
JW: I don’t know.
I suspect not.
I think that the issue is much broader and
a lot of the ideas in this area kind of failed
to understand the real risk points and solve
problems that people don’t actually have.
I think that the biggest thing that’s happening
is that consumers are beginning to wake up
to the idea that sharing all of your data
has consequences that you might not have thought
about.
There’re good consequences.
One of the good consequences is advertising
is more relevant, and I think consumers appreciate
that.
I like the fact that I get ads for things
that I’m interested in.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Cointelegraph: Like boats!
JW: Like boats, for example, yes, exactly.
I get ads for boats because I like boats,
I’m interested in boats and I might buy
a boat, and so on.
It’s a perfectly sensible thing.
On the other hand, if political actors are
using this to create disruption and hatred
and, basically, sowing divisions in society
for a political game –that’s super problematic
and that’s something I think people should
be concerned about.
I’m also concerned about the incredible
pressure that’s been put on the industry
of journalism for quite some time.
That’s been a big problem.
The number of excellent journalists, who are
out of the job simply because the world has
shifted in a way that’s not good for journalism,
is a problem.
I think we need to work ways through that
and find new ways of supporting journalism.
Cointelegraph: Speaking of journalism, have
you heard about social media ban on cryptocurrency
advertising and Google ban on cryptocurrency
advertising?
JW: Yes, a little bit.
Cointelegraph: Basically, it means that our
post online, in Cointelegraph we have Facebook
groups and Twitter groups, we cannot simply
post anything about it.
That violates the First Amendment Right, in
a way, and we are trying to do something about
it.
Do you think it’s fair?
Is it a fair situation when we find we cannot
speak what we would like to speak about?
We would like to inform, but we cannot do
this due to this ban.
JW: It’s really complicated.
The first thing I’ll say it certainly doesn’t
violate the First Amendment.
The First Amendment is the restriction on
Congress.
Private platforms are not bound by the First
Amendment.
In terms of the fairness, I think the issue
right now is that there have been quite clearly
scams put forward that are not just technical
violations of some securities rules, but actually
scams where people have had their money taken.
That’s a huge problem, so platforms like
Facebook and Google have to be sensitive to
that.
Now, have they overreacted?
Possibly.
It’s a very complicated thing.
It’s certainly something that I think needs
to be seriously looked at by all the relevant
parties, relevant players.
But if people are advertising securities for
sale that are in violation of the securities
laws – that’s a real problem.
I don’t blame these people who say, “We
don’t want any part of that.”
Cointelegraph: I guess the industry saw the
[?] of cryptocurrency in 2017.
Did something happen with Wikipedia search
in terms of the crypto results or any activities?
Did they increase?
JW: Yes, I’m sure.
I haven’t actually looked at that data,
but what we see at Wikipedia is that the search
query, the search volumes for everything does
tend to follow the news cycle.
Things that suddenly become very interesting
because they’re in the news all the time,
we’ll see a lot more searches at Wikipedia.
Because you know, if you simply read in the
mainstream media about bitcoin and cryptocurrencies,
it’s going to be very rare to get any kind
of in-depth explanation of how it works and
what it is, and Wikipedia is a pretty good
place to go for that kind of broad background
information, to say, “What is bitcoin?”
“Satoshi who?”
“What is it all about?”
Even the story of “who is Satoshi” is
a romantic story, it’s got a huge amount
of press, it’s very intriguing.
A lot of people read the article on Satoshi
Nakamoto which will be a good summary of that
whole story and what is known will be read
by, I’m sure, millions of people.
Cointelegraph: You yourself, will we be seeing
you a lot at the cryptocurrency conferences?
JW: I don’t know.
Maybe, if they invite me.
One of the things that is interesting, I feel
like what I bring to the table is, I’m neither
irrational critic, nor a compromised booster
who is just trying to talk my own portfolio.
Wikipedia reflects my personality which is
I’m very fact-based and interested in the
world.
I think I bring some observations from experience
and history of living through the dot-com
bubble, the dot-com crash, to say, look, I
see a lot of parallels here and there’re
some interesting things to think about and
I’m super interested in the technology.
We’ll see.
Cointelegraph: Speaking about regulations
a bit (I have to ask, I’m sorry) you have
a PhD in finance, if I’m not mistaken.
JW: I did a course on PhD, but I never finished
the dissertation.
Cointelegraph: Was it on purpose or did you
just get bored?
JW: I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Cointelegraph: I can understand.
There are a lot of talks about how to regulate
or not to regulate the cryptocurrency.
Do you see the cryptocurrency as a commodity
or utility?
This is what we’ve been talking a lot about.
How do you see it?
JW: There’re many, many different aspects.
There’s blockchain as a technology.
Blockchain as a technology is not something
that needs regulation.
You’ll occasionally hear a politician saying,
“We need to ban cryptography,” – but
that’s stupid and crazy and you’re never
going to do it with math.
You can’t ban math.
You can’t ban blockchain.
It’s math.
At the same time, we see a lot of things going
on that it’s very difficult to say they’re
anything other than just scams.
People are making millions of dollars of other
people’s money with no accountability and
that deserves law enforcement for investigation.
We see a lot of the hacks and bitcoin or other
coins being stolen because somebody hacked
the server and got the keys.
That’s what the police are for, right?
Ideally.
I feel like there’s been far too little
response.
You know, if you walked into Citibank and
walked out with 56 million dollars’ worth
of gold…
Cointelegraph: Not your money.
JW: Yeah, not yours.
You went, and you picked a lock and you stole
the actual gold [and put it in] the back in
a truck, then there’d be an army of FBI
agents investigating this.
I feel like a lot of the cryptocurrency thefts
have gone…
The police were like, “We don’t know what
to do,” so they do very little.
That’s not to criticize them, that’s just
the fact that we don’t see the right kind
of law enforcement response.
People don’t think that there’s regulation,
but of course it’s against the law to steal
things.
It is regulation.
I also think that for the consumers and for
the brand image of the whole cryptocurrency
space there is a feeling that JI (?) is very
speculative.
I might invest 100 dollars to make 1000, or
I might just get my money stolen.
That’s not a good start for a revolution
and the way that we transact.
I think that we should welcome the rule of
law.
I would even say, the rule of law is the first
step, never mind regulation.
And of course, we run a risk, as we always
do in technology, that legislators who have
almost no understanding of what’s going
on will pass regulations that don’t make
any sense.
We’ve had that in the internet space forever.
We have it, in my opinion, now with GDPR which
I think is just bonkers.
It’s an attempt to solve our problem, but
it’s not going to solve the problem.
It’s just burdensome.
Cointelegraph: It’s just action to do something.
JW: Exactly.
What I’ve said about GDPR, actually I’m
not the first who originally said this, but
I’ve seen people saying, “If you’re
going to design a regulation that is intended
to entrench Facebook and Google in their privileged
positions, you could hardly debate with GDPR
because it’s just really burdensome for
startups, and it’s not much a burden for
them.”
I mean, it is a burden for them, but it’s
a small price to pay to maintain a monopoly.
So anyway, I think those are the kinds of
things I think we should be worried about.
Cointelegraph: Okay.
And governments themselves, do you think they
should embrace cryptocurrencies and/or blockchain
technology?
Can they benefit from that?
JW: It depends.
I would say, there’re a lot of interesting
potential applications.
I think that right now one of the things that’s
going on is that there’re a lot of vendors
or hawking products that don’t work, that
evaporate, and governments can, like any other
buyer, be dooped.
They need to be very cautious and very careful.
I think particularly when they’re dealing
with taxpayer money, there’s a very good
reason to be extremely cautious about new
technologies – not to reject it entirely,
but, you know, the first person who comes
by and sells you, “We’re going to put
all of your health records on the blockchain,”
– really?
What does that mean exactly?
How exactly is that going to help?
What exactly does that entail?
Because you’re going to pay millions for
consultants to do something that doesn’t
actually work.
It doesn’t mean that we won’t necessarily
move in that direction, but I want to see
governments moving very cautiously in this
space.
Cointelegraph: This is it from me.
Thank you very much for coming.
It was great pleasure.
JW: Lovely.
Thank you.

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