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Fearless: How Technology Helps Conquer our Fear of the Unknown

RightMesh | John Lyotier | May 27, 2019

technology and fear - Fearless: How Technology Helps Conquer our Fear of the UnknownImagine this scene from many millennia ago: a lone hunter walks through the savannah just after the sun has gone down. His spear is at the ready. His hair stands on end, his pupils dilate, and his nostrils flare open. All his senses are heightened, ready to trigger a fight or flight response if threatened. Each step is taken with care. He proceeds carefully, one step at a time, back to his shelter, and to the security and recent invention of fire.  This was the every day reality of our prehistoric selves.

Skipping forward to more recent history, several years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, I was working in a startup that had developed cutting-edge facial recognition technology. One of our partners discovered that when a sub-audible sound mimicking the noise of a breaking branch was played from a speaker hooked up to a surveillance camera, our still-trapped-on-the-savannah-selves could not help but look in the direction of the sound and the camera. Unsuspecting subjects would hear the sound, automatically turn to look for the source, then go back to their activities, intuitively re-assured of their safety. The initial fear response is so deeply ingrained in our subconscious that when subjects were asked, after the experiment, they would argue vehemently that they had NOT looked in the direction of the camera. But they had, and this reaction boosted our ability to detect and identify faces.

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Given our collective prehistoric upbringing, which was rooted in life-or-death fear, it is no wonder that we, as a species, struggle at embracing things that are new, challenging the status quo, or welcoming change into our everyday lives. Fear of the unknown is programmed into our DNA.

I have been thinking about ‘Fear’ and being ‘Fearless’ a lot since speaking at FFCON2019 last month and being a part of the official Toronto screening of the blockchain-inspired documentary, ‘Trust Machine’. Of course, ‘Fearless’ was the theme of this event, but I have nary had a conversation since that did not involve the concept of fear. From every day people I meet on the street, to Uber drivers, politicians, executives, regulators – it seems that, today, everyone is afraid.

Why?  What is threatening us today? As in eras past, I believe the root is fear of the unknown.

It is unknown what happens to banks and financial institutions when they are no longer the arbiters of trust, and people can conduct transactions directly with each other.  And what happens to politicians when, rather than elected officials, we have autonomous AI bots that communicate and represent our needs on all issues? What happens to our legal systems, insurance industries, news sources, and so much more, once governance and trust are automated through blockchain? What happens when millions upon millions of truck drivers are displaced by self-driving, autonomous vehicles? What happens to society when we trust and identify more with RadGamer72 and other online avatars more so than our IRL [in real life] neighbours down the street?

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Every demographic, it seems, regardless of its specific insecurity, is facing a heightened generalized fear of the unknown.

Fear of the unknown is not new, of course. In fact, many modern and historical religions have their genesis in this fear, giving hope to those who seek clarity to that which is unknown. However, it does seem this specific fear is magnified in our current age due to technology. Technology is advancing at an exponential rate. In fact, in 2017 there was more data [more knowledge] created in a single year than in 5,000 years of humanity. As mere mortals, we can’t keep up. Where knowledge is exponential, people are linear. With every passing second, we fall further behind, creating more unknown, and, by extension, more fear of the unknown.

Much of this fear is based on trust.  In the past, we needed to trust that the sound of the breaking branch was merely the wind in the trees and not an animal crouching in preparation to attack us. In modern times, our trust is in institutions and people. Consumers need to trust business owners; regulators need to trust consumers; business owners need to trust regulators; and so on. Which brings us to the topic of blockchain technologies and the concept of decentralized trust.

It seems somewhat poetic to me that the very problem we are facing today (exponential growth of technology creating more unknowns and thus more fear of the unknown) can be solved with technology itself.  Details of the technology aside, what blockchain has done, and is doing, is enabling a system that allows people and machines to trust each other implicitly.

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Let’s look at the examples I mentioned before: business owners, regulators, and consumers. As a business owner, blockchain means you do not have to trust regulators or government authorities, but you can trust the blockchain that enforces the rules of the game. As a regulator, you do not have to trust a consumer to know that the rule of law is being followed, but you can trust that the encoded legislation ensures fair dealings from all those involved. And as a consumer, you do not have to trust the business owner to look after your data, to give you ethically-sourced products, or to give you the answers to the questions you seek. You can be in control while simultaneously relinquishing control. What blockchain provides is the layer of trust that removes uncertainty and fear.

At RightMesh, we have incorporated this trust layer of blockchain in our mobile mesh network which enables smartphones to connect directly, peer-to-peer. We use the Ethereum blockchain as a unique identity layer for the ‘nodes’, or smartphones, in the network, and we use our own token, RMESH, to incentivize sharing and the ‘right behaviour’ in the network. In our solution, blockchain was brought in not because it was trendy or the newest tech craze, but because we needed a way for two parties to trust each other without necessarily relying on centralized trust systems. Without trust, the whole system would fall over because of fear.

Think back to the beginning of this article and your pre-historic self surviving on the savannah. Your new ‘fire’ invention helped you let your guard down (just a little) as you began to trust in its ability to keep predators at bay. Of course, it took time for your fear to subside, but in time, after each passing night, you started to trust in the fire’s protective powers, and with that trust, all the unknown noises became a little less scary.

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John Lyotier RightMesh - Fearless: How Technology Helps Conquer our Fear of the Unknown

Photography by Alan Bailward Photography - http://bailwardphotography.com

This, in my opinion, parallels where blockchain is today. As a community, we have created something new. It is a bit scary at first as it has the power to transform all aspects of society, but we are learning to trust, and in doing so, we all get to be a little more fearless.

John Lyotier is the CEO of RightMesh AG, a global mesh networking company with operations in Canada, Bangladesh, Switzerland, and Singapore. John believes if we can improve connectivity, we can improve healthcare, education, transportation, tolerance, economic output, and lift hundreds of millions out of poverty. Under his leadership, RightMesh has been named as one of Canada's Top 100 Workplaces (tied for 7th), and has been named to Deloitte's Technology Fast 50 and 500.  An accomplished speaker, John has presented at global events including SXSW, Namescon, Global Inclusion Blockchain Conference, and the Founder's Network Global Conference.

 

 


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