WASHINGTON, D.C. – Adjacent to the military, a seemingly “private” slew of foundations, corporations and other organizations work to bring these systems developed through the military to mainstream corporate and civilian lives.
In partnership with the Learning Economy Foundation, the World Bank conducted a series of presentations with various organizations to coalesce understanding of how blockchain is being used for creating digital education systems. This group was called The World Bank’s Blockchain for Education Community of Practice.
Learning Economy Foundation
The Learning Economy Foundation (LEF) is a central organization in the EdTech space and has a strong focus on an initiative called the Internet of Education which was announced in the 2019 Davos summit. Their name spells out their intentions succinctly. A main initiative behind the LEF is the “Internet of Education” which they describe as:
…a new vision of education and employment—one in which data is not a source of friction, but one that equips learners and employees by establishing and recognizing the value in their work and skills. We call this idea the Internet of Education, and it is from this foundational belief that we can protect individuals’ privacy and data sovereignty, while connecting the fragmented systems into a cohesive network of growth and impact.
The Internet of Education in a nutshell, aims to combine Web3 technologies such as blockchain, digital identity, and smart contracts with more developed paradigms including AI, outcomes based financing, digital badges, data analytics and other EdTech products.
Co-founder and CEO Chris Purifoy has been creating EdTech startup ups for over a decade and spent nine years working for the diplomatic courier. Ana Rold, Cofounder of the global consulting company Medauras Global LLC, which owns the Diplomatic Courier, Rold also sits on the board of Learning Economy Foundation and the Smithsonian Science Education.
In various bios in places such as the World Economic Forum and World Bank Blog, Diplomatic Courier is described as “a magazine for top diplomats in Washington, DC, New York, Geneva, and Brussels”. Rold has reigned as editor in chief of publications for the G7, G20, and APEC summits since 2009. Since 2013, each January before the WEF Davos summit, the Diplomatic Courier convenes the Global Talent Summit, which focuses on the “future of work and education”.
Dominic Regester, another key player in the global social impact investing movement, serves as an editor for Rolds’ Diplomatic Courier and has worked for the British Council for over 14 years. The British Council is directly funded by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. In addition, he sits on the executive committee of Karanaga Global, an organization focusing on social-emotional learning data, which formed out of the Salzburg Global Seminar’s Education for Tomorrow’s World series, an organization of which Register is also a program director. Later on we explore the purposes and significance of social-emotional learning data.
Before founding Medauras, Rold worked for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, UN Foundation and US Institute for peace. At Northeastern University, she teaches Comparative Politics and Political Science, directs the University’s Cyprus program and co-directs the Egypt program. She serves as a fellow for the Salzburg Global Seminar and speaks five languages.
The US Institute for Peace organization was founded in the 80s through a national defense authorization act. From the founding Act:
The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the Director of Central Intelligence each may assign officers and employees of his respective department or agency, on a rotating basis to be determined by the Board
So the state department, defense department, CIA and others staff the USIP. The board itself is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, except for three seats which derive from the State Department, Department of Defense and the president of the National Defense University.. An article written by Sara Diamond and Richard Hatch, explains some of the history behind USIP, the generally warmongering board and directors, its relationship to the intelligence community and what we would now call asymmetrical warfare. USIP also received a million-dollar donation from Lockheed Martin in 2009.
The CSIS is a neoconservative think tank founded in the cold war era and remains today one of the most influential think tanks in the United States. Ray Cline, former OSS officer, and at the time, head of the CIAs analytics branch, co-founded the organization and after leaving the CIA served as executive director.
Rold also founded The World in 2050, a futurist global think tank. In a podcast Rold describes the future of education:
…education is this ecosystem not just a teacher student relationship, but a community relationship, between teacher student parent and employer. I think we will see a lot more of that zig zagging sort of networking happening in the near future where everyone is invested in someone’s education including the employer. But in a much more connected way” (emphasis added)
Gamified Education – State of the Union
So far seven presentations have been released, and they provide acute insight into the thought processes, ongoing projects and scaling of blockchain-incentivized education systems.
The World Bank’s Blockchain for Education Community of Practice List of participants:
|Asian Development Bank|
Arizona State University
Colombia Ministry of National Education
Colorado Department of Higher Ed
DCC – MIT Media Lab
Education University of Hong Kong
Inter-American Development Bank
|IEEELearning Economy Foundation|
Organization of Eastern Caribbean States
Stanford University – Graduate School of Education
TelefónicaTurkey Ministry of National Education
Université de Lille
University of Malta
University of Nicosia
University of Timisoara – Center for Open Education & Blockchain
U.S. Department of Education
This list provided by the World Bank does not include all of the participants, as at least the Brookings Institute, ETS, A16Z, Circle (the consortium behind second largest crypto stablecoin). ETS (Educational Testing Service), is one of largest student testing services, and created the GREs. The LEGO foundation also participated.
Robert Hawkings and Chris Purifoy moderated the discussions. Each session centered around different aspects of blockchain based education systems and usually featured pilot programs. These pilot programs ranged from national systems to tech start up implementations.
Purifoy asks “Why do this at all”
Chris Purifoy gives us a good place to start understanding why all of this energy is being directed towards creating an integrated digital education standard.
Looking at these challenges, most of them boil down to a lack of control or robustness from the employer’s perspective in the current education paradigm. Purfoiy states that “Education is not creating the skills the world needs”. Finding employees with the right fourth industrial revolution type of skills proves difficult, and then knowing what employees are worth extra attention even more so. The answer, in line with the last twenty years of institutional development, is collecting as much digital data as possible to streamline decision making. In order for that approach to be effective it needs to span as far as possible within all education and corporate environments. It also depends on wider digital acceptance by society.
A true internet of education brings together all of the different systems, the identity systems, education systems and employment systems into an integrated system. Where all that information and data can be shared in anonymous aggregate ways, where we can start to use it to [pause] well to optimize outcomes for everyone in the supply chain. This is the teachers, this is the employers [pause] its everyone… it’s the content creators, its EdTech and so on and so forth
One obvious question that comes to mind: Who decides what “optimization” means? So far those engineering decisions come from the institutionalized establishment; whether that’s the military, non profits, standards organizations, corporations, banks and silicon valley. What laws or democratic debates have determined we need to integrate education, employment, and identity systems? Those three aspects by extension encompass financial and healthcare systems, especially as digital identity continues to develop. These next two quotes explain a lot more than may meet the eye:
Education is an inherent value and this is a really interesting moment in time because what if we could start to tap the inherent value by actually backing it up with the data and actually creating a gold standard, underneath that economy that is linked to the skills.
Speculators can come along and actually invest into this education system because they believe in education and in doing so, every dollar becomes worth a lot more. We can start to create a sustainable model where the data value is proportional to the data complexity.
The “inherent value” of education in their view, can be transformed into commodifiable digital representations. Purifoy implies that this market could support a new foundation to the economy, essentially a data backed monetary standard. Putting this together, integrated employment, education, identity, and financial systems generate massive amounts of data, which are believed to increase in value as they are aggregated and refined over time.
Who values this data? Different groups value certain data for different reasons, but advertisers, intelligence/security agencies, AI developers/Silicon Valley, financial institutions, and many others can profit or pursue strategic goals with such data.
Notice language in the bottom right employer/society square. “Purchasing” skills. People are only quantified skills. This dynamic reminded me of the book Debt, by the late David Graeber. He explores the process of human commodification, and in his synthesis finds that the distinguishing feature is ripping someone from their context:
Pg 159 “How does it become possible to treat people as if they are identical? The Lele example gave us a hint: to make a human being an object of exchange, one woman equivalent to another, for example, requires first of all ripping her from her context; that is, tearing her away from the web of relations that makes her the unique conflux of relations that she is, and thus, into a generic value capable of being added and subtracted and used as a means to measure debt. This requires a certain violence.”
Mass digitization utilizes the same pattern of transforming the unique to a standard schematic. People’s digitally represented ‘skills’, social-emotional and technical, provide a basis to commodify. The violent threat behind digitalization is less overt than the explosive brutality of chattle slavery. It consists of a potential lack of resources, as funding for social good increasingly involves engagement with digital platforms.
Blockchain Provides a Key for Social Engineering
The game theory of blockchain and the smart contract games built on top of it provides a control system to direct complex situations to a desired outcome.
In one section Bob Hawkins focuses on different blockchain mechanisms that may be used in the budding impact finance EdTech scheme. He highlights that they are just scratching the surface of what blockchain can do and highlights more advanced potential uses to digital education systems.
He first refers to a concept called staking which is the most common consensus algorithm among non bitcoin blockchains. Called proof of stake, the blockchain is essentially secured by people locking their coins and earning extra income by doing so. He posits that students could “stake” tokens on their own paper to attest to their belief that the paper shows achievement of the desired skill. The student would be rewarded or penalized if the assessors agreed or disagreed.
The next two examples were token curated registries and reputation systems, which are basically the same thing. Token curated registries basically refers to lists managed by holders of a token, and reputation systems are codified mechanisms where people (or AI) can accrue quantified merit. Token holders in an EdTech community could rank students, work quality, teacher quality ect, with each earning a type of reputation.
The significance of this realization, blockchains control systems’ potential, may prove extremely consequential. Melanie Swan, prominent academic and transhumanist, provides astonishing details in a 2020 paper about how blockchain is currently the best option for controlling fleets of neuronal nanobots comprising a brain – cloud interface (B/CI).
The last section elaborates a holographic control theory for the B/CI as a control lever between the macroscale of everyday physical reality and the quantum mechanical scale of the quantum computing platform. The holographic control theory coordinates between the B/CI neuronanorobot network (with data collected and computed in the quantum mechanical form) and its abstraction for practical use by human administrators at the macroscale. What is still required is to articulate an operating software for the B/CI neuronanorobot network itself, to describe how the fleets of particle-many neuronanorobots are to be orchestrated to perform their in-brain activities, and for this, a blockchain is proposed. (emphasis added)
Currently blockchain represents the most capable technology for managing large scale digital systems that require strong security, programmability and accessibility. The advanced cryptography imbues the database with identity. Every account, every smart contract has a unique cryptographic identity. This ability makes it attractive for controlling IoT devices such as the neuronanorobots described above. At the 2018 Transvision conference in Marid Spain Melanie won the final prize for her essay on crypto cloud minds and stated in her acceptance speech:
blockchains also allow the mind expansion we’d like to do as part of the transhuman program, eclipsing the confines of the current meat spaced mind.
When viewed in this context, these early stages of using blockchain to engineer social functions, such as education, takes on a different tone. All of the knowledge gained from implementing these programs helps develop the future Swan and others dream of, where our minds merge with computers.
Tokenizing National Economies
Former Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks, floated the notion of a “Country coin” and outright explained his vision for tokenizing the economy:
The idea that we ought to be able to tokenize national economies in such a way that everybody who achieves educational advancement benefits from the GDP growth of higher education, separately from the extra advantage for the people who took the highly skilled professional route. So there are two components to compensating everyone: One is that the mere fact of advancing your education gets a certain level of universal compensation. Then your success in the employment markets is what differentiates the value of your specific skills relative to someone else. Some people would call this Universal Basic Income, but it has also been called Universal Basic Instruction. Where the idea is that as a year of education increases in a society. That society’s GDP growth grows on a fairly predictable value.
Here, Brooks is laying out the rationale for paying people to participate in mass digital education. While it’s difficult to argue that paying people to go to school is worse than our current system of debt entrapment, this proposition entices people to accept digital identity in order to receive this Universal Basic Income. This is an example of the more refined type of violence used to rip people from their unique context.
Brooks served as vice chairman of Onewest Bank from 2011-2014. Onewest was founded by Steven Mnuchin, former Treasury Secretary, and committed several criminal acts leading up to and during the 2008 financial crisis. Kamala Harris declined to prosecute Onewest when she was attorney general of California. Brooks went on to become a senior advisor to the CEO and board of Fannie Mae until 2018. From 2018 to 2020 Brooks was chief legal officer to coinbase and is the current CEO of the Bitfury Group, both of which are major players in the blockchain space. Highly involved with fintech Brooks advises a few companies working on consumer loans, credit and blockchain.
DAOs – digital stakeholder capitalism
Recently the LEF was awarded a million dollar grant by DEVxDAO to research and create an initial framework for an Internet of Education DAO. LEF sees DAOs as “a perfect solution to renovate the current education and employment systems and innervate them with transparency and accountability.”
Casper Labs, the organization behind the Casper blockchain, created and initially funded DEVxDAO to support Web3 development. As with almost every single so-called DAO, the organization also relies on state approved legal structures. In this case DEVxDAO depends on The Emerging Technology Association to operate in a compliant manner.
People do not generally associate Amazon with blockchain, but Casper Labs recently partnered with Amazon Web Services and approximately 25 percent of Ethereum’s processing occurs through AWS. Cloud providers in general dominate the blockchain space as they often provide the cheapest way to host nodes, the computers which record the blockchains history and secure the network.
Starting with our own genesis IoE DAO, we will begin making future Internet of Education infrastructure decisions built on the critical principle of democratic accessibility. With more than 1k organizations, advisors and reviewers, ranging from ministries and NGOs to private and public partners like World Bank, Lego, and UNESCO, the Internet of Education case study can begin evaluating and perpetuating a global revision of education and employment.
The Internet of Education DAO aims to legitimize global technocratic management of education by creating “democratic organizations”, which inevitably follow the desires of the major stakeholders, the organizations LEF mentions among many others.
Tomicah Tillemann Global head of policy at Andreessen Horowitz (one of largest investors in web3 space) worked at New America and “We see these technologies as the next big iteration of the internet”
DAOs we believe can provide a very intriguing vehicle for establishing standards and curated content on a collective basis.
He contrasts the status quo of the present internet, where monopolistic entities own most of the infrastructure with a proposed future where digital infrastructure (software in the cloud more or less) is owned by “digital cooperatives”. They hope to invigorate more intense engagement by more people with this approach, and hope to dispel the current sentiment that mega corporations harvest all data on the internet for profit. As with the current paradigm, attention is the real currency, the organizational structure controlling the software does not change that reality.
Social emotional data, perhaps surprisingly to many people, is one of the main focuses in these types of results based finance systems. While present in the traditional EdTech data collection approach the World Bank has done extensive research in gamifying education to collect this type of data.
Besides the data generated by this enterprise, speculators are directed to engage in these systems as part of the ongoing morphing of capitalism into an paradoxical socially conscious version of itself; which co-opts real concerns held by the majority of people about predatory power structures and health of the planet.
The Evoke project started in 2010 and was directed by Jane McGonigal, Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future. It is designed in the style of a graphic novel and simulates different types of disasters or future challenges such as pandemics, water scarcity, war, and having the player navigate those types of social situations. It also predicted the pandemic and even ran scenarios about “mass disinformation campaigns about vaccines”. Overall Evoke aimed to monitor, evaluate, cultivate so called 21st century and social-emotional skills, as well as a hopeful mentality about the future.
Jane McGonigal offered an unusual presentation relating to Evoke. In a game prepared for the presentation, where facts are flipped, McGonigal offers a future where people no longer buy shoes, and goes on to describe all the ways that shoes with sensors can monitor people (gait, location, fatigue, weight, social proximity, ect), explaining that governments or healthcare companies will give away smart shoes in exchange for the data.
The project was funded by The Disruptive Technology for Development trust fund, a partnership between Credit Suisse and the World Bank, and supported by an investment arm of the Spanish Government called Spanish Fund for Latin America and the Caribbean. Evoke falls within the World Bank’s SABER (Systems Approach for Better Education Results) program, which focuses heavily on learning data and outcomes. Originally it was funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), with the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation joining in 2018.
In a report by the World Bank:
At the core of Evoke is the Social Innovators’ Framework (SIF), a project-based learning model that is organized into eight missions, with each mission designed to advance students’ understanding of an aspect of the social innovation cycle (community, problem, solution, communication) and promote skills development. SIF specifies four key qualities (broad clusters of skills): Creative Visionary, Deep Collaborator, Systems Thinker, and Empathetic Activist.These four qualities constitute the major 21st century and socio-emotional skills that are critical for becoming a social innovator
Early days of the project focused primarily on the social emotional skills deemed relevant, but eventually turned to blockchain. The 2020 final report focused almost exclusively on a pilot program in Colombia using smart contract based conditional cash transfers. Students who played through Evoke, and reached certain milestones, received phone minutes:
The use case sought to improve the process by which students are incentivized and rewarded for developing innovative solutions to local challenges through the implementation of blockchain technology and crypto-tokens as a means of value exchange between funders, students, and teachers in an education system.
Around 2018, in partnership with Consensys, a blockchain firm founded by Ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin, they began experimenting with the conditional cash transfer mechanisms powered by Ethereum smart contracts. One of Evoke’s objectives is to reduce costs associated with outcomes based financing. According to Robert Hawkings, verification remains the chief expense and the answer is to embed the assessment into the learning process itself, in other words to automate it.
We at the bank do a lot of results based financing… but for every dollar we spend on projects we spend another 50 cents on verification
Hawkings later in a different presentation not about Evoke gives away the major purpose of these sorts of games:
And the game aspect, of these devices, aren’t necessarily for engagement they are for engagement but for engagement to collect data, all of the gaming is really about focusing on getting as much data as possible to feed the algorithms
Apparently engagement matters only help collect as much data as possible. Jamie Saavedra, the Global Director of Education Practice at the World Bank highlighted how:
It is extremely interesting how through these technologies we can use better tools, we can use game mechanics, storytelling, and social networks to develop 21st century skills to develop the social emotional skills that kids need. At the same time Evoke, through the use of blockchain, allow us real time tests, how we can use better information in the designs of our projects. To make sure, for example, that results based finance and mechanisms are applied in real time and create value. Something that is really in pilot stages. But that’s really something in the next few years could really be mainstream
Analysis and Speculation
Connected via the internet and blockchain, the Internet of Education paradigm aims to optimize training education to the interests of corporations and global establishment, while creating a whole new financial market and social control opportunities. The imperative of data as the foundation of the economy has several levels of significance. Each level overlaps and holds relevance for different sorts of groups.
1. Profiting from Commodification – Data has monetary value, certain people pay for data for a variety of reasons. Increasing total data means more money essentially created from nothing (besides costs of maintaining cloud/internet, manufacturing computers). As Purfoiy mentioned earlier, the value of data increases proportionally to its complexity, so more data, linked to other data, has increasing value. This dynamic allows a UBI type of instrument described by Brain Brooks, and creates an incentive for investment into digital social impact schemes, both of which entangle people into the digital system financially. Entrepreneurs, institutional incumbents, the poor, the youth and other groups likely would become dependent on such a system. Financial carrots and sticks, a digitized public sector, and narrative manipulation herds people into the digital system which generates valuable data.
2. Social/Bio Engineering – With growing dependence on these digital systems, and compounding sophistication of the algorithms, the ability to engineer society increases. Feeding algorithms with data increases their ability to carry out their designated task. Targeting social-emotional data both trains the algorithms to act more human and enables advanced surveillance targeting the deeper aspects of ourselves. This leads us closer to the already unfolding future where thought crime exists. Non humans have even less ability to resist digital harvesting. The institutions, corporations, and governments whose imperative it is to manage and dominate need algorithms to maintain their status. This digital economy also soaks up printed money/debt to help keep the collapsing economy afloat.
3. Cosmic ambitions – this aspect falls under many names including the singularity/transhumanism and generally encompasess the religious/esoteric aspect of technology. The implications of this are unknowable, but intensive interfacing of our minds and bodies with computers is clearly a primary agenda of transhumanists. The inspirations can be difficult to ascertain, but a major goal laid out by Melanie Swan is imperialism. She cites a soviet astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev, who related the progress of civilization to its ability to control energy. A type one civilization would marshall all of the planets energy, type two the suns, type three the galaxy:
A Kardashev-plus society is one that is able to marshal all resources, tangible and intangible, not only energy as a central resource, for society’s long-term flourishing. To reach a Kardashev-plus society, new models, techniques, and strategies such as B/CIs are necessary. Tools adequate to carrying out a new tier of very large-scale projects beyond today’s megaprojects3 are needed. The B/CI is indicated as a workhorse tool for coordinating both mental and physical resources on a beyond-planetary scale. (Emphasis added)
In this sense, the argument for transhumanism is about developing the mental infrastructure to support continuous physical expansion.
These three levels encompass a wide spectrum of people. Obviously not everyone engaged with the digital paradigm talks like Melanie Swan, but the other two levels of engagement inevitably support such a program. The growing EdTech and myriad of fourth industrial revolution technologies cannot be understood in isolation. Education represents a major area of development for the digital paradigm, but certainly is not the only one. Recognizing the wider consequences and intentions of these initiatives helps shape honest discussions and avoids manipulative narratives.