Joho the Blog[berkman][liveblog] Robin Chase - Joho the Blog

[berkman][liveblog] Robin Chase

Robin Chase is giving a lunchtime talk at the Berkman Center.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

There is a totally new organization paradigm that exists next to the Internet, she says. She calls it “Peers, Inc.” It changes how we shape the economy. It’s happening now. Her explanation will be in three parts:


First, platforms for participation that leverage excess capacity. E.g., Facebook, Skype, Meetup, YouTube, MOOCs, open source, Blockchain, etc. For example, Skype is a telecoms company built on the excess capacity of its users systems. Working with excess capacity means sharing.

Bed-sharing (couchsurfing, AirBnB) uses excess beds. “It took four years for AirBnB to have more available beds than the largest hotel chain”It took four years for AirBnB to have more available beds than the largest hotel chain (InterContinental): 650,000. Couchsurfing has more than a couple of million.

We invented big institutions to do things that we can’t do as individuals. E.g., large investments, projects that require intelligence in lots of different areas, standardized contracts. And there are things that individuals do better: customization, specialization, creativity, trust.

These two coexist, and the Net enables them to collaborate. She calls this Peers, Inc. (“Institutions and governments are also Inc’s in this world view.”) The Inc’s provide a platform for participation, and the individual provides creativity and specialization.

Robin “adores excess capacity” because it’s green and efficient. Excess capacity is something that’s already been paid for but contains unused value. How do you harness it? 1. You can slice it so only pay for what they use (e.g., ZipCar); this lets you avoid buying more car than you need. 2. You can aggregate (e.g., AirBnB, Waze). 3. Open up these assets, e.g., and GPS.

The Inc side builds platforms for participation. They organize lots of small parts. “They “Platforms give the power of the large to the small”give the power of the large to the small.” They can scale. She points to a French car-sharing company: BlaBlaCar. Four million people use it every month.

Peers bring diversity. E.g., smartphones and apps. Smartphones are far harder to build than the apps they enable. Over 2M apps have been developed since smartphones were invented in the past seven years. “We’ve seen more innovation than throughout all of human history” because people can build apps that are relevant to their own situations. App creators are free-riders on top of the $600 people spend on their smartphones.

2. Peers Inc give us new powers, which she thinks of as miracles.

“The most depressing thing I know is climate change.” By 2100, we’ll see a 4-6°C increase unless we take dramatic action. What does that feel like? “The last time we were minus 7°F was the last ice age.” Warming the planet that amount transformed the planet. We should expect the same level of change if we boost it another 7°F. By 2060, it will be really awful. So we have to address this.

“Banny Bannerjee says: “You can’t solve exponential problems with linear solutions.””Banny Bannerjee says: “You can’t solve exponential problems with linear solutions.”

The “miracles” give her some optimism:

a. “We can defy the laws of physics” by leveraging excess capacity. If she had proposed building 640,000 rooms in four years she would have been told that that’s not possible. But AirBnb did it by leveraging existing excess capacity.

b. “We can tap exponential learning.” Platforms can get millions of iterations in and can do a lot of learning. E.g., learning a language. A semester is 130 hours. Rosetta Stone teaches the same in 54 hours. But it’s expensive. “My new favorite company is DuoLingo.” They do a lot of A/B testing. They now can teach you a semester in 34 hours. They have 90M people using it. A year and a half ago DuoLingo opened up its processes: Russians learning Balinese, etc. Now 45M of the 90M are learning language pairs DuoLingo did not create. (DuoLingo makes money because they have humans translating sentences from organizations that pay them incrementally.)

c. “The right person will appear.” E.g., Obama raised the prospect of normalizing relationships with Cuba. Six months later, AirBnB had 2,000 listings there, thanks to the Net.

Her only hope for climate change is creating platforms that will address climate “at scale, speed, and locally adapated.” E.g., a platform for a house will remember to turn off the light when there’s been no movement. We’ll get smart cities through the Internet of Things. Distributed energy. Autonomous vehicles, which will arrive in force in the next 5-12 years. We’ll only need 10% of the cars because we’ll be sharing them. “Public transportation will be at the cost of a bus but the speed of cars”Public transportation will be at the cost of a bus but the speed of cars, transforming job opportunities. (But the Internet of Things means that everything is tracked.)

All of these miracles only happen because of both sides of Peers Inc.

3. “Everything that can become a platform will become one.” Old-style industrial capitalism put thick boundaries around companies. Today, what’s inside and outside is blurred.

Four reasons Robin is convinced we’re moving into the collaborative economy:

1. Shared networked assets always provide more value than closed assets

2. More networked minds are smarter than fewer proprietary minds.

3. “The benefits of shared open assets are always larger than the problems associated with open assets.” E.g., yes, some people put scratches in ZipCars, but the company nevertheless is doing very well.

4. What I get is great than what I give.

We are in a time of instability. “Peers Inc is the only structure that can experiment, iterate, evolve and adapt at the pace required.”Peers Inc is the only structure that can experiment, iterate, evolve and adapt at the pace required.

So, how can we structure things so we give up the least privacy necessary? “What is the least privacy loss that delivers a habitable climate”


Q: For me it’s not privacy loss but who we’re losing our privacy to. What about platform accountability? Aren’t we pushing out power into more abstract systems that we cannot see or address?

A: I was on a panel at the Platform Cooperativism conference. I pointed out that these platforms are incredibly expensive. ““He who finances the platforms creates the rules of engagement.”He who finances the platforms creates the rules of engagement.” “I want these platforms created by a distributed, autonomous us.” We don’t have time to just hope this happens. “I have real anxiety.”

Q: [me] Suppose we build protocol instead platforms…

A: I’ve put all of that into the same bucket.

Q: Shareable cars disrupt ZipCar. There will be user agreements. How do we disrupt that?

A: “He who creates the data owns the data.” Autonomous vehicles have a middle space, e.g., around safety and learning issues. It’s in the deep public interest to have this data. But we need to make the privacy issues understandable and parseable by ordinary users so they can choose.

Q: Isn’t privacy gone already?

A: We can still do some structuring.

Q: Why does trust work over the Web, which is mostly anonymous?

A: Ebay was the first to figure out you need ratings and commentaries. We use other people as our proxies for trust.

Q: iRobot’s Roombas currently don’t upload what they’ve learned about the layout of your house. But Nest knows everything. What should the rules be?

A: That’s what I’m asking you. We have to figure this out.

Q: It’d be great if we had more choice about which pieces of info we give to platforms. Is there any work on standard ways of parceling out pieces of our identity?

A: I know people are working on this. “It comes back to the amount of money, time, and marketing it takes to push great ideas into market.”

Q: What are we doing to educate the younger generation about privacy?

A: Maybe you can push Harvard to do appropriate role modeling. Maybe students here could push for an icon system that tells us what data you’re taking from us, etc.

Q: [me] What would you tell a student about the dangers? And would you consider addressing this by putting restrictions on how the data is used, rather than on its collection?

A: How about doing some pilots to see what works? You have to inform people about the dangers as well regulating the industry.

Q: How will we embed public safety concerns into software for self-driving cars?

A: Self-driving cars will always follow the rules. No speeding. No parking in no-parking zones. All the existing rules will be embedded. So we’ll embed the appropriate behavior for ambulances, etc. No siren required. Also: The auto industry always brings up autonomous cars having to decide which person to kill in an accident. But why would you bring up this stupid case? One in a million trips this might happen? There are more deaths than that now. “Right now, 80% of cars are single occupancy. We need to put a high price on that.”Right now, 80% of cars are single occupancy. We need to put a high price on that.

Q: It sounds like you’re describing a train: get somewhere, not park…Why not public transportation?

A: We’ll see how it plays out. It’ll be a complex ecosystem. It’ll be decided city by city. More important than who owns it are: Will they be electric? Will it be 10x more expensive for single occupancy? Will we have pharmacy cars or liquor cars that deliver their wares without having a storefront? Who will design the software?

Q: Practically, how do you combat zoning for selfishness, e.g., my own one-person gas guzzler?

A: I don’t spend a lot of time on local issues. When I have, logic and data haven’t had much effect.

2 Responses to “[berkman][liveblog] Robin Chase”

  1. We equate faith with fullness, when in truth faith most readily grows and is active in our barrenness. This especially hit me. Such profound truth here, and throughout the rest of this wonderful piece. Keeping you in my prayers, as aloaJs.Lwve,yoanne

  2. Oh ya, I remember these moulds. You won it from Blue Wale's blog. Aren't they cute! I wish I can find them here too. So jealous. And the cakes look so tasty as well. Enjoy your weekend! It's school holiday but still have to wake up early. lol!regards, Kristy

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