Godwin, meet Uber…
As a science fiction author I spend quite a bit of time speculating about the logical (and sometimes fantastical) ramifications of technology. I firmly believe we’re in the midst of a new technological revolution — energy, economics, robotics, space travel — and much of this revolution has been fueled by the mounting failures of our aging establishment structures. They can no longer provide the leadership necessary to take us into the future and they myopically focus on the past for their solutions.
It should please our leaders then to know that certain parts of this revolution have been preordained since 1943 as wholly, unquestionably patriotic.
Empowered by the ubiquity of smartphones and the resilience of coast to coast information networks, people have started to share resources in ways never before possible. Each and every one of us has less and less room for Hitler in our cars.
Yet those who drive for certain VC startups have apparently attracted an unwanted passenger anyway…
At the heart of it, a gig economy or sharing economy is one which benefits two parties — the service provider and the customer. I have something someone else needs, they can borrow it. It could be a piece of property, it could be my time or even a skill. Whatever the product, since I’m not using it at the moment, the most efficient use is to share.
There’s an inherent socialism in the idea which might make some cringe. Rationally though, why would somebody pay for a car they only need a few hours a day to sit in their driveway? Or pay for an empty residence while away on business or vacation? Why shouldn’t somebody with both the time and resources be able to offer those up for private use if they choose? And if the two parties both benefit without the interference of an intermediary, is it really socialism or some form of new wave micro-capitalism free from restriction, regulation, and overbearing monopolies?
True, there are plenty of problems with the model. Personal liability perhaps being the stickiest. However, there are ways to solve these issues but first those unnecessary passengers need to be kicked to the curb.
As reported over at Techcrunch, a recent MIT study looked at the costs of driving for Uber and Lyft. Their study bluntly breaks down the median profit of a driver for these platforms to $3.37 per hour. The problem though isn’t with the gig economy itself but an issue with how it is being deployed.
Gig and sharing economies work best when they are peer to peer transactions. Uber and Lyft inject an unnecessary middle man for the sole purpose of siphoning profit. It’s a clash of ideologies. Corporate capitalism trying to ride the wave of a new revolution in providing services. And in the process, they’ve derailed the entire concept.
Without an app though, without the branding, and without a middle man, how could somebody ever find a person willing to give them a ride? Who would oversee these transactions and ensure they were executed fairly for both parties?
The answer? The blockchain.
I know, people are likely sick of hearing about this mystical ledger which solves all of humanity’s woes. And to be clear, I’m heavily invested in the technology. Not so much the wild speculation, but for the promise the underlying technology holds.
The blockchain is all about peer to peer transactions. A ride? Not a problem. You could even develop a cryptocurrency specifically for the transaction. The transaction could then take place seamlessly between the rider and driver with a tiny micro-transaction for the cryptocurrency’s founders replacing any outrageous commissions and fees.
In a more robust environment, you could even transfer personal data with the transaction and maybe legally binding documents such as title or insurance in the case of a car sharing service. All such transfers could be made temporary and conditional based on any number of factors. Integrate the internet of things and maybe the car deducts a fuel surcharge depending on the level of fuel left in the tank or identifies the current driver for running toll booths, leaving the registered owner free and clear of blame.
With the best possible implementation we’d have a society where all personal documentation was reduced to and encrypted into a private and anonymized wallet. Social security numbers, login ids, passwords, health insurance, auto insurance, credit history, shopping habits, browser history, all of this could be stored and verified by a distributed process not beholden to one single company or one single point of failure. Never would it leave your control and the contents could only be rented by companies or individuals with your permission and under limitations and terms you grant.
The alternative is to leave the future of sharing economies in corporate hands. Sure, those giant companies can exercise some form of quality control and at the very least provide an easy way to redress problems which arise in the course of business.
However, this ignores the single point of failure. Once these corporations achieve mega status, the potential damage becomes epic in scale. Corporate banks became “too big to fail” and nearly wrecked the entire global economy (prompting the creation of Cryptocurrency to begin with…) Equifax had a security breach and lost tens of millions of individuals private financial data, exposing them to identity theft and worse. Credit card companies regularly lose user data to hacks. The examples are far to numerous to recount.
Then there’s also the hidden impact on human labor.
Giants like Amazon and Google have been experimenting with “sharing” economies for years. They’ve been quietly finding ways for people to provide services important to the core function of their business for little to no cost and fewer and fewer benefits. Facebook is the same in that they too leverage your personal information for their gain.
The trouble with this unrecognized sharing is that it takes an enormous chunk of potential earnings away from the population at large. When every GPS-logged step you make, every picture you take, every email you send or link you click has a value and you see nothing from it, you’re essentially working every waking hour for free.
And those free hours? Those seemingly insignificant fractions of your life spent enriching mega corporations instead of the sole proprietor of you? Those fractions will soon mean more than we can even comprehend. Because soon, that car a driver uses to pay commissions to Uber or uses to deliver packages for Amazon will be driving itself. Then what will we do for that $3.37 per hour? When robots, automation and global economies have driven the cost of human efforts into oblivion, no minimum wage or trade union will be able to stop the inevitable shift toward ever efficient technology. With giant corporations at the helm, every bit of profit will be siphoned to the top.
It’s past time we empower people, not governments or corporations. At one time, we were told the idea of ride sharing could help spare us from Fascism. Now the fully fledged and implemented ideas behind a distributed, sharing economy might just pave the way for the post-labor world we are blindly hurtling towards as we stare in the rear view. We could usher in a future where automation does the dirty work for society and which is truly run by and for the people. A demagogue like Hitler? He’d be just another guy paying for his ride.
If you enjoyed this article, please clap and share! For more about my fiction, visit my webpage at www.russlinton.com and for a free eBook or two, go to: http://smarturl.it/tft2ou