Since making a name for himself with the release of the international best seller Wealth and Poverty in 1981, George Gilder has remained a literary mainstay in the world of politics, economics, and—more recently—technology. Gilder is an avid writer and commentator covering not only where we are as a society today, but where we’re currently heading as well. In the past, Gilder has narrowed in on the innovations of the future and predicted the decline of technology that simply isn’t keeping up with the way society is evolving.
As an avid author and perhaps an occasional polemicist Gilder is likely already known to many readers from his other works, including titles like Microcosm, Life After Television, Telecosm, and the Silicon Eye. Regardless of one’s own opinions on his other work as it relates to social commentary, there’s no denying Gilder’s impactful presence in the world of economics, particularly from the conservative libertarian side of things, and his tech-focused visions for the future. When it comes to economics, Gilder has even gone so far as to earn the moniker of being the most cited living writer by former President Ronald Reagan.
In his most recent book, Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy, Gilder is once again looking at the way society interacts with technology and how it affects the lives of consumers. We’re living at a point in history where so much of what we do, what we see, and what we consume is controlled by an increasingly smaller group of people. Gilder doesn’t like that and, more importantly, doesn’t think it’s good for a society. In an era where Google seems to control nearly every facet of so many people’s lives, Gilder sees an important shift in the future. A shift away from centralized authority and control of so much of the internet today. A shift instead to a decentralized way of interacting with the world around us; a “great unbundling,” if you will.
For Gilder, there are a variety of reasons for this great unbundling. He doesn’t merely believe that this is where we’re likely to head in the future, but that it’s inevitable. According to Gilder, the current model is simply unsustainable (and he makes a rather compelling case for why that’s true), and the introduction of blockchain technology is exactly the innovation required to help get us on a more sustainable path. There are so many different factors at play in the world today that all lead one to this conclusion—so many that we certainly won’t be able to cover them all here without covering the entirety of the book—but there are some big points that are worth noting for their thought-provoking nature.
The first point that likely isn’t thought about often is the actual nature of Google itself. Aside from the centralization of Google (or rather: “Alphabet”), Gilder raises an interesting point about the tech giant’s model. Gilder believes that if we take a step back for a moment and actually look at the model of Google and its different ventures, it’s actually quite obvious that the business is not sustainable. Google has continued to develop products that, while useful to many, are offered free to consumers. While this model may work in the short term, it’s not likely to end well.
The ‘Free’ Model
Google makes its money by offering a ‘free’ product to consumers and then, as anyone who’s online is already acutely aware of, provides information and advertising services to other companies. To Gilder, this is not a sustainable model of business and, just as concerning, it’s antithetical to an open market. Indeed, how is a young innovative company that doesn’t have the type of funding Google has ever going to compete against a competitor so large offering a free product? How can you beat free? Not an easy task.
Because of the ‘free’ products a company like Google offers consumers, they’re able to (rather quickly) acquire an impressive amount of the market. From there, Google pushes its other services for you to considering using and incorporating into your daily routine (Apple does this as well). After everything is said and done and if things went according to plan, the tech giant now has a significant portion of consumers closer to being in a “walled garden” or “ecosystem.” We often hear about the “Apple ecosystem” or the “Google ecosystem,” and that’s where so many consumers are headed to nowadays. This notion of a centralized authority controlling so much of what users see and interact with is not sustainable, according to Gilder. In a recent podcast interview with Reason, Gilder explains this concept with the host, stating that: “This model of creating economic success on the internet by homogenizing a walled garden doesn’t replicate.”
Gilder then continues on to argue that if companies like Google and Apple can have closed off proprietary spaces that keep people locked in to their own ecosystem, then so too will countries like Iran and China. Gilder closes the point with “In the end, the internet breaks into fragile fiefdoms and falls apart.” And wasn’t the internet intended to connect the globe, not aid in furthering the segmentation of it? Surely, there must be a better way.
Security, Blockchain, and the Coming Disruption
Ultimately, Gilder sees a future beyond Google where things are decentralized and blockchain technology plays an integral role in the way we interact as a society. For Gilder, one of the other troubling aspects of the centralization in the case of Google is the lack of a focus on security. Gilder explicitly states that security in a system isn’t merely an afterthought. It shouldn’t be a patch or an addition made to a platform, but rather a foundation of the platform to begin with. At the end of the day, the question of security is really one of architecture to Gilder.
In the case of Google, the company has been able to get away without that foundational basis because of how they’ve inverted the traditional relationship between company and consumer. Sitting down with Breitbart, Gilder elaborated on this point while explaining what he sees as a crucial mistake on Google’s part. In effect, Google has changed the relationship between customers and companies to put the would-be consumers in a position much more akin to a commodity.
“Their great mistake is addressing the issue of security successfully. One of the reasons for free is because nobody wants to steal free stuff. So the burdens on security for the network are greatly diminished. A free model doesn’t really teach you. Capitalism is based on markets and prices and relationships with customers who you have to serve and who have rights. This is how capitalist progress works.”
Contrary to capitalist progress though, Google has successfully created a relationship where the consumers are actually the product. Gilder sees this as an undeniable flaw in the system, one that means the company model isn’t sustainable.
There is hope, however, according to Gilder, with the advent and introduction of blockchain technology (a stark contrast to Google’s system which isn’t security-founded in its architecture). Really, blockchain isn’t so much a “hope” as it is a natural progression. The current model carried out by companies like Google isn’t going to be able to survive on its own. Indeed, we’re in for a great “unbundling.”
Blockchain technology, unlike Google’s model, is foundationally based in security. Rather than being an afterthought for a network, it’s a crucial component of how the network is formed in the first place, something far more sustainable in Gilder’s eyes. Ultimately, blockchain technology is exactly the type of catalyst that can lead society to a more decentralized, provable, and trustless future. Unlike large companies with walled gardens, blockchain allows for large distributed systems that aren’t controlled by a third party and can remain stable without one crucial failure point.
Like many other blockchain and cryptocurrency enthusiasts, Gilder even brings the nature of blockchain to a broader context. Noting the skepticism some establishment economists and politicians have of the movement, Gilder pushes back by adding that perhaps it’s they who should be concerned.
“The empire might think that Satoshi and his followers are on shaky ground, but the emperors and their courtiers should look to their $280 trillion tower of debt, which is beginning to teeter.”
A distributed system that is unalterable and can’t be tampered by an overarching authority has large-scale implications. Whether talking about legal records, property deeds, financial transactions, or any other type of data imaginable, blockchain technology can offer a system more secure and immutable than those before it. Simply put, blockchain is the future:
“It’s the Great Unbundling. We’ll dissolve all the GAFA fab-five conglomerates. We’ll disperse the clouds of concentrated computing and commerce. We’re moving beyond digital and silicon to analog and carbon nanotubes and hybrid chips with sensors and 5G antennas everywhere. Even money is being disaggregated and reinvented. The clouse are dispersing into the skies–sky computing rendered on your laptop and smartphone, spread across blockchains, transparent and transformative.”