Data Consensus Reconstructing the Trust System to Return Digital Oil to Individuals
Rebuilding Trust System with Data Consensus to Give Digital Ownership to Individuals
Author: Hao Weng, Co-founder of Wai Bo Sang Guan
As a crucial part of human social development, our trust system has been controlled by soft authoritarianism represented by capital and big data. Humans are gradually losing data sovereignty and even the most precious free will. With the help of blockchain and zero-knowledge proof technology, we finally have the hope to replace consumer hedonism and algorithmic guidance with “data resonance” and regain the lost control over personal data.
Modern capitalism has turned into a new form of soft authoritarianism, shaping false consciousness through forced consumption and algorithmic guidance, dwarfing our thinking ability, and hindering the birth of a better society. People live monotonous and repetitive lives, forced to join various production organizations and endure capital exploitation.
Moreover, emerging entities such as the Metaverse are easily manipulated by various algorithms and narratives, shaping people’s thoughts and behaviors invisibly.
We are gradually losing our most precious free will.
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01. The Evolution of Trust: Key to Human Social Development
The concept of trust has always been present throughout human history. It is not only the bond that connects emotions between people but also the adhesive that promotes social progress. In the early stages of society, people needed to trust each other in order to share resources and engage in hunting, thus establishing the initial communities. Without trust, effective cooperation would be impossible, and human society might perish in its initial stage.
As the wheels of history roll forward, society becomes more complex, and the value of trust becomes more evident. People hold various forms of credit currency, trusting that central banks can guarantee the purchasing power of money. They exchange the money earned from labor for savings in banks, trusting that banks, laws, and regulatory authorities will safeguard their funds. People walk the streets of the city late at night, trusting that strangers will not pose a threat to them and that the city’s law enforcement agencies can ensure personal safety. This expansion of trust allows people to engage in social exchanges on a larger scale and with greater efficiency, driving economic development and social progress. Business transactions, treaty signings, and even international diplomacy all rely on trust as a foundation.
However, history has taught us that the abuse of trust can lead to serious consequences. The global financial crisis in 2008 was caused by investment banks in the United States abusing the trust of investors in their professional abilities, creating a pile of highly risky financial products that ultimately led to the collapse of the global financial system. There is also the Facebook data privacy scandal, where the trust of billions of users in Facebook was abused, and their personal data was indiscriminately used for commercial promotion and political propaganda, severely damaging data privacy rights on a global scale.
Therefore, how to establish and maintain high-quality trust relationships among strangers, while managing and reducing information asymmetry to avoid the abuse of trust, is an important problem we currently face.
02. Construction of Trust: The Power of Narratives
The formation of trust is a complex and subtle process, often based on our understanding of the world, which is largely influenced by the narrative environment we are in. However, this narrative environment is not naturally generated but controlled and shaped by specific individuals, groups, or institutions. They not only decide which stories will be told but also how these stories will be told. This is the power of narratives. This concept may sound abstract, but it is actually ubiquitous, such as in news reports, history textbooks, movies, novels, and even brand advertisements.
Narratives are essentially weaving complex realities into stories that are easy to understand and remember. In this process, authors emphasize certain details, shape specific values and themes, and form a particular interpretive framework. Over time, these stories form our fixed impressions, thereby influencing our understanding of the world and even our trust in others. For example, Coca-Cola ads always construct a picture of a happy and warm life, and we subconsciously associate “Coca-Cola” with good times.
In history, the power of narratives has often been held by monarchy and religion, who maintain trust chains by controlling narratives. Ancient monarchs would claim to be descendants of gods to ensure their ruling status and make people trust in the monarchy. Religious authorities would construct specific religious narratives through religious doctrines like the Bible and the Quran to maintain their belief systems and make believers trust in the church. The caste system in India provides divine legitimacy for its hierarchical order through profound cosmic creation myths, shaping a trust system that cannot be challenged and is still accepted by hundreds of millions of people today.
With the progress of history and the development of technology, the distribution of this narrative power has begun to change. Technology brings us more information, more stories, and more narrative power. Not only governments and educational institutions, but even ordinary people can share their stories and shape their narratives through the Internet. This diversifies narratives and makes the formation of trust more complex.
However, this does not mean the concentration of narrative power has disappeared. On the contrary, new forces are seizing narrative power, and they are capital and big data. By controlling technology and utilizing big data, they are redefining our narrative environment and thereby changing our trust system. Their influence is not only reflected in the business field but also in changing our social structure and values.
03. Trust in the Digital Age: Narrative Control of Capital and Big Data
Since the Industrial Revolution, the narrative of scientific rationality has gradually dominated our world. The widespread use of electricity, the invention of airplanes, the rise of computers and the Internet—every step of technological innovation is changing our understanding of the world and making us have an unprecedented trust in technology. We believe that science and technology are the key to solving problems and improving life. However, over time, the narrative power of science is being redefined by capital and big data.
Entering the late 20th century, the rise of consumerism and big data in capitalist society has brought new changes to power struggles. Large corporations and governments formulate more accurate marketing strategies and policy decisions based on the preferences and behaviors of consumers by collecting and analyzing big data. This enables them to regain control over the narrative of society and shape and guide public perceptions and behaviors. In this process, capital does not simply accept scientific narratives, but dominates and shapes scientific narratives, combining science with commercial interests and leading the direction of technological innovation.
Take social media as an example. Although initially seen as a tool for free expression and global connection, it is now more regarded as a platform for promoting consumerism and personalized advertising. Big data technology allows social media companies to accurately understand users’ preferences, habits, and behaviors, and then transform this information into tools to drive user consumption. We are no longer just users of social media, but have become products ourselves. Our behaviors, emotions, and even trust are analyzed by algorithms and transformed into capital profits.
We no longer just trust science and technology, but also begin to trust the capital and brands that control technology. We trust the products and services they provide, and trust their algorithm recommendations. Faced with an increasingly complex technology, we also choose to trust their expertise and explanations.
However, this trust relationship is not equal. Capital and big data control the power of narrative, they have the power to filter and sort information, and determine which information can receive people’s priority attention. They are shaping the values of this world, defining the needs and desires of ordinary people.
This power of narrative is no longer just about understanding technology, but about how we perceive ourselves, how we understand and respond to the world, and ultimately will determine the future social form and values.
04. Crisis of Diversity: The Harm of a Single Trust System
In the modern society under the wave of big data, people are more willing to accept the mainstream narrative of their environment, and the trust chain is increasingly homogenized, but they are unaware of its dangers. In this data-dominated world, our behaviors, thoughts, beliefs, and even dreams are quantified and used to guide our decision-making. This quantitative approach often overlooks the complexity and diversity of us as individuals, reducing us to a pile of data, and depriving our inner world of its essential diversity and richness.
In the past, the monopoly of narratives often meant the solidification of power and became an obstacle to social progress. For example, in medieval Europe, people were under the control of the church’s narrative for a long time. People trusted any interpretation of the church, and new ideas were difficult to grow, leading to stagnation in social development. With the advent of the Renaissance, Europe began to re-examine the cultural heritage of ancient Greece and Rome. Scientists, artists, and scholars began to challenge traditional ideas, and European society gradually moved towards modernization.
This clearly indicates that diverse narratives can promote the collision of different perspectives, stimulate innovative thinking, form new trust systems, and promote social progress. In modern society, however, the narrative power of big data and capital is guiding us towards homogeneity, with new technological and capital religions forming, selectively ignoring or blocking innovative and non-mainstream ideas.
The relationship between narrative diversity and trust is delicate. On one hand, diversity can enhance social vitality and innovation capacity, promoting social development; on the other hand, diversity may lead to the erosion of trust and the formation of social chaos. This requires us to find a balance between narrative diversity and trust.
We need to recognize that the power of narrative is not just about information filtering and interpretation, but also about how we perceive the world and define our own problems. We need to challenge the solidification of power, reshape human free will, and promote the birth of a new order.
05. Reshaping Free Will: Regaining Control of Personal Data
Free will is a human characteristic that allows individuals to make autonomous decisions and take responsibility for their actions without being controlled by external forces. However, in the current environment dominated by capital and big data, our free will is being challenged.
Driven by big data, our behaviors, choices, and even thoughts are being accurately captured and predicted. We are increasingly relying on predictive models rather than our own judgment. The narrative of capitalism emphasizes material pleasure and consumerism. In order to maximize profits, artificial needs are created through narrative, and people are encouraged to obtain satisfaction and happiness through consumption. Our free will is quietly eroded.
The key to reshaping free will lies in regaining control of our data from the control of big data and capitalism. Controlling our own data does not mean resisting big data, but rather understanding and choosing the sources and applications of our data. This way, we can avoid being manipulated by big data and capitalism.
Controlling personal data is important because these data directly reflect our lives, including our preferences, habits, relationships, and even emotions and thoughts. They provide the basis for a deep understanding of ourselves and making autonomous choices. We have the right and the responsibility to prevent their abuse.
Of course, regaining and controlling data is not easy. It requires us to master the skills of data analysis, identify the quality and reliability of data, and have appropriate technical, resource, and legal protection. However, the existence of challenges is not a reason to give up action. This is about our freedom and dignity. Survival itself is meaningless; meaning lies in how we discover and create.
06. Blockchain and Zero Knowledge Proof: Decentralized Trust and Data Autonomy
Blockchain technology, born out of Bitcoin’s radical and independent declaration, aims to challenge the existing financial system and protect individuals’ economic freedom in a decentralized manner. This radical idea embodies the core spirit of the Bitcoin network and has led to a series of decentralized currency projects. Bitcoin’s founder, Satoshi Nakamoto, spent 18 months writing the code and then released the Bitcoin whitepaper in 2009. In the genesis block of Bitcoin, he embedded a message: “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks,” as a challenge to the unfairness and crisis of the traditional financial system. Nakamoto’s goal was to establish a fair, transparent, and unmanipulable new financial system through Bitcoin and blockchain technology.
Blockchain technology adopts a decentralized approach, providing us with a new perspective and tool to establish trust between individuals. It also has the potential to give us greater control over our own data. Essentially, blockchain is a publicly accessible distributed database that stores data in an immutable and transparent manner. Through encryption algorithms and consensus mechanisms, it ensures the security and consistency of the data. This decentralized approach means that data is no longer controlled by a centralized entity such as a government, bank, or large corporation, but is distributed among all participants in the network. This allows for greater control of data, and anyone can participate and verify the authenticity of the data.
This distributed trust mechanism solves many problems in traditional centralized systems to a certain extent, but also brings new challenges. One important challenge is how to protect personal privacy while ensuring data transparency and sharing. This is an important consideration for achieving self-data control on the blockchain.
In this case, zero-knowledge proof becomes particularly important. Zero-knowledge proof is a cryptographic method that allows one party (the prover) to prove a statement is true to another party (the verifier) without revealing any other information to the verifier. This means that you can prove that you have certain data or meet certain conditions without disclosing any specific data. This not only protects your privacy but also allows others to trust your assertions. On the blockchain, you can choose which data is made public and which data is verified through zero-knowledge proof. It strengthens our control over our own data, allowing everyone to have complete control over their own data.
For example, with blockchain and zero-knowledge proof technology, a shopper’s data can be stored on a distributed blockchain and only accessible by the shopper. Using zero-knowledge proof, the shopper can prove eligibility for a promotion without revealing specific shopping records.
In the future digital world, blockchain and zero-knowledge proof will together build a decentralized, transparent, and privacy-protecting data sharing model. This model liberates us from the constraints of traditional centralized authorities and single information systems, providing us with the possibility to redefine and establish trust. We can trust such decentralized protocols and trust every publicly verifiable interaction based on these protocols. More importantly, we can begin to trust ourselves – trust our data rights, trust our privacy, and trust every decision we make in this digital world.
However, we must recognize that blockchain is also a new narrative. When a subset of nodes has significantly higher computational power or lower energy costs compared to other nodes, they will have greater narrative power. Similarly, if zero-knowledge proof is compromised, it may trigger a systemic crisis of trust. We need to judge for ourselves whether we can trust this mechanism. But regardless, it provides a possibility.
07. Data Consensus: Building a New Trust System
When we look back at the early days of the internet, people often had to search for their own interests, as if they were in a vast library where, with enough patience, they could always find the answers they were looking for. Today, we have the opportunity to regain the data sovereignty we have lost by using blockchain and zero-knowledge proof technology to prevent central nodes from manipulating our understanding through data. Here, I propose the concept of “data consensus”.
The idea of data consensus originates from the resonance phenomenon in physics. When two systems with similar frequencies come into contact, they will start to resonate, presenting a harmonious match in terms of frequency and amplitude. Although this phenomenon originates from physics, it has profound social and philosophical implications. Resonance does not mean single replication or obedience, but rather interaction and dialogue, a possibility of finding consensus and creating a trust relationship while respecting individual differences.
Compared to the traditional centralized institution’s data matching, data consensus is a data exchange method based on free will. We have the right to choose how to use our data, with whom to resonate, and when and where to resonate. Therefore, we can create a decentralized data network where everyone can take control of their own data. Through zero-knowledge proof, we can protect privacy while sharing and utilizing this data, resonating with others.
For example, in the current medical system, patients with rare diseases are often marginalized due to their scarcity and complex symptoms. Their voices are hardly heard in the ocean of capital-driven and big data statistics. Moreover, the limitations of legal jurisdictions make it difficult for multinational companies to effectively integrate rare disease cases on a global scale, exacerbating the plight of these rare disease patients and their families, which is filled with loneliness and despair.
However, through data consensus, we can finally address this problem positively. Imagine that we develop a decentralized blockchain protocol that can connect all rare disease patients worldwide, allowing them to voluntarily and anonymously share their medical data, including symptoms, treatment processes, and outcomes. This protocol is not governed by any specific institution or country but is a free network belonging to all participants.
In this network, each patient is no longer a lonely number; their data can “resonate” with other data. This “resonance” enables researchers to conduct in-depth analysis of this data and find possible treatments, bringing new hope to rare disease patients. Each individual contributes to the common goal through data sharing and connectivity.
Another example is that although each student has different learning paces and methods, the current education system often struggles to cater to their individual needs. In the mechanized educational process, students’ personalized demands are marginalized, and their unique voices seem insignificant under the pressure of exam-oriented education.
However, through data resonance, students can find partners who match their learning interests and abilities on decentralized learning platforms, sharing their learning progress, problems, solutions, and experiences while protecting their privacy. Such an environment can better satisfy their thirst for knowledge. Such a platform is not bound by any specific school or institution and will become a free network for all seekers of knowledge. Students will no longer passively receive information but gain autonomous critical thinking abilities.
Therefore, digital resonance is a dialogue between individuals and the future digital world, a way for individuals to maintain their own voice in the data world, while also listening to others’ voices and establishing deep connections. It is a way to resist the single and indifferent digital society, a way to establish a trust network based on contribution, fairness, and transparency while maintaining independence.
08. In conclusion
Data resonance is not an ideal and barrier-free process. It requires us to have technical literacy and critical thinking abilities, to master our own data, to know how to express ourselves through data, and to communicate with others through data. This is a task that requires time and effort, as well as technical and social support.
Therefore, when I talk about data resonance, I am not only talking about the possibility of a technological implementation, but also about expectations and challenges for the future society. I hope to find a new way in this data-driven world to maintain people’s free will and uphold their human dignity. People can challenge the narratives of capital religion and the mechanical universe, as well as criticize and break the existing rigid trust systems. Data resonance is such a powerful tool and concept that can drive people to form new consensus communities and eventually shape a future world of peace, fairness, connectivity, and mutual understanding.