OSAKA, Japan—Outspoken libertarian and strong supporter of Bitcoin Cash, Roger Ver is a polarizing figure in the crypto community. But today, he used his notoriety to plead for a decentralized revolution, arguing at Devcon 5 that developers need to break the rules to truly liberate themselves.
“This is a protest event,” he said onstage, adding, “We are building tools to empower individuals. That’s the goal that still has me excited today.”
His speech was, he said, both a call for action and a “lightning rod” for any controversy that might be caused. While many companies building on blockchain are actively trying to work within the rules—for example, running token sales in compliance with the SEC—he said that this was a form of obedience, something to be broken and discarded. And with these newfangled technologies, we should create a decentralized internet where anyone can do what they like, when they like.
“Five or seven years ago, it was a lot more of a Wild West,” Ver said. “You hear people talk about compliance, regulation. In your mind, change the word compliance to obedience.” Who are they being obedient to? A bunch of strangers living in a foreign city they’ve never met who probably don’t understand what they’re working on.” He added: “What if Rosa Parks had been obedient?”
The China Syndrome
Ver laid into the foundations of Web2, the centralized Internet we use today—arguing that it has been compromised and needs an upgrade. The Internet isn’t censorship-resistant, he said, highlighting the current situation in Hong Kong and the possibility of China shutting off the internet in the territory. “Let’s build the tools to stop that in the future,” he said.
He described how some people in China don’t understand that their knowledge is being controlled by the state. He recounted an anecdote about going on a date with a Chinese woman who said that the government would never harm anyone, before taking her on a “YouTube date” and showing her the atrocities of Tiananmen Square. She was heartbroken, she said.
“It broke her bubble. Her entire view of the world changed that day. She had access to information that had previously been withheld from her,” he said, adding, "If certain groups of people are keeping secrets from you, how can you understand the world?”
But it’s not just China where Web2 is broken, Ver said. He took aim at the “overreaching censorship” of Western web giants like YouTube. Instead, he said, we need a more decentralized internet—commonly known as Web3—where both information and money can be transferred freely around the world. “Now we have decentralized money that kind of works,” Ver said. “But we need to have access for decentralized information. This needs to be for everyone all over the place”. He referred to a project called Orchid Labs, which is building a decentralized VPN. He said that it will help to make the internet more open.
I Fought the Law...
Then, Ver took a more radical turn: developers who are worried about laws—such as regulators fining companies that ran ICOs—should not be afraid to break the rules. They should do what they believe is right irrespective of the law. “Go out there and make the world a better place without permission,” he told the audience.
He acknowledged that developers might be scared, they might have a family and children, but that they should find a way to push the revolution forward, regardless. The threat of punishment was what made Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin, stay anonymous, he argued.
“You don’t need to get up on stage. Do that with your code. Do that with the software you produce. I’ll be the lightning rod for you guys,” Ver said.
Ver has been at the center of storms before. In 2002, he was sentenced for selling explosives on eBay and was jailed for 10 months. He later renounced his American citizenship and moved to Japan. And in this sense, he sees himself as a visionary.
“It’s the law breakers that move society forward,” Ver said. “If it wasn’t for people who break the law, we’d still have slavery. We’d still have people sitting at the back of the bus. The people who have the courage to break the law, have the ability to make the world a better place.”
Throughout his talk, the crowd sat in silence barring several outbreaks of clapping. It was unclear whether he had won the audience over, but he definitely had its attention.