Molly White on Web3 and crypto industry

— by
Molly White at SXSW 2023, interviewed by Gerrit De Vynck

Molly White is a software engineer, crypto-industry critique, and long-time Wikipedia editor. She runs the website Web3 is Going Just Great which tracks and provides critique on events in cryptocurrency and blockchain-based technologies (also called Web3) since the beginning of 2021.

Some takeaways from the talk

  • Web3 is above all a marketing term. In the discourse Molly is investigating, it is used to designate mostly all blockchain-related technologies.
  • Tech journalists tend to fall in the trap of following the charismatic personalities in tech industry who sell themselves as attractive, nerdy geniuses who will change the world; and due to their charismatic presentation, journalists are willing to overlook issues that deserve much more scrutiny.

Where are we now with crypto an web3?

  • Molly thinks that the death of crypto has been overstated. The highs of 2021-2022 crypto hype are past, but there is still a lot of VC money going into it, politicians pushing crypto as a liberating force, or people depicting crypto as the solution to any imaginable societal problem, which essentially continues to maintain the hype and momentum.
  • VC investors are interested in ROI, not writing their investments off. The same frauds and scams we’ve been seeing are going to to continue.
  • On crypto and banks: similarly to 2017-2018 when many crypto companies had trouble accessing banking and thus connected with shadow banks.

6 months intense attentions on generative AI and parallels with crypto

  • Crypto hype cycle 2021-22 and LLMs hype cycle have similarities, but this doesn’t mean that AI and LLMs are worthless.
  • People are future casting about what AI can do and where they should invest.
  • AI and LLMs are things that we use every day without realising it.
  • There are strong issues an ethical problems with AI; the problems with crypto are also ethical, but above all they’re technological problems.

About the politics of developments in the technological sphere

  • There is a touch incentive problem. There is a strong financial incentive to “move fast, break things” or invent and launch quickly, but not a strong financial incentive to do the critical work, for example for studying what the impact of releasing ChatGPT on the world would be, an similar issues.
  • Similarly to the crypto hype, tech journalists often don’t have enough knowledge to dig into the background of certain technologies. It is easy for them to chase the product releases of the companies but this is one-sided information, but there is no opposite party doing the critical work to understand the motivations of the companies.
  • Also it is really important to understand that the technology is not doing what companies say it is doing.

How to do this work sustainably and at scale?

  • Currently, there is a lot of public impact on tech development, but there needs to be public funding for analysing tech research and also the social impact of the developed technologies. The Internet came from a similar situation, there was public funding that built it up.

What can we learn from the Wikipedia project?

  • Wikipedia is the utopian Web project; crypto industry could learn a lot from it.
  • We need to look at projects like the Wikipedia and ask whether we could make new projects that would work like that. Funding is a really difficult issue.

on crypto losses

In some cases, the communication from crypto companies mislead investors by suggesting that crypto is as safe or even safer than banks to keep one’s money, and treats the investor better than the banks do; that people would be able to make better interest. People have put their retirement money or otherwise very necessary funds in such projects in sincere hopes that they could improve their financial situation.

Web3 and decentralized web (de-web)

Web3 is also used to more broadly describe decentralized web products, but Molly prefers to have crypto as an essential part of the web3 definition. At the same time she thinks that there are multiple de-web products in development that are really interesting and have great promise.

crypto and the future of the web

  • There are good individual use cases such as using bitcoin to fund whistleblowers, or funding people in tough situations such as war or uprisings.
  • At the same time, it is not a strong argument for crypto as the future of the web.
  • We need a strong scalable solution and crypto is not it.

government institutions and bitcoin: El Salvador example

  • El Salvador has very poorly implemented products and people have lost a lot of money.
  • People (and government agents) become very ideological about crypto and keep sinking money into it, while the citizens are suffering from these choices.

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