Crypto: Russia/Ukraine Conflict Poses New Ethical Questions

Brian Shuster has been waiting for the world to catch up to crypto. With almost two decades spent architecting the early internet (inventing the banner ad along the way), he finds himself at a peculiar point in history. After losing hope that the future of blockchain technology would ever come to light, and then, seemingly overnight, Facebook changed its name to Meta and the general population was making a mad, clumsy dash to understand everything, he sees the familiar twinkle of a brighter future through the seasoned lens of a realist’s suspicion. He says it’s a valid fear to wonder if our bodies will be floating in tanks of goo while our avatars interact in the metaverse. In a more immediate application of present-day fear about the future of humanity, the Russia/Ukraine conflict has added to the stew of debatable ethical principles surrounding crypto’s influence and usage. With trading platforms like Kraken refusing to enforce sanctions, is crypto the way for future dictators to stockpile resources free from sanctions? Conversely, can blockchain technology support vulnerable civilian populations such as the attempts to send crypto funds to Ukrainians defending their country

“Notwithstanding the circumstance, which is diabolical, we start to see some value in the use-case for crypto,” he says. “In conditions where it’s impossible to go about business as usual, or even get money out of an ATM, instead of reverting to barter, those who have access to crypto are still able to receive support from outside.”

As for oligarchs hiding billions of Bitcoin on a hardware wallet where it can’t be seized?
“In the long-term, what we really want is a truly stable financial system and due process for everybody. It’s one thing to have an oligarch hide away their assets in Bitcoin that can’t be seized right now. It’s another thing to ask, ‘when this is resolved, how will they take that Bitcoin out and do something with it?’ They won’t be spending it.”

Shuster goes on to tell The Dales Report that the challenge of these questions–and many others about cryptocurrency and the metaverse–is more complicated than just ethics.

“Our devices already addict us,” he says, “but they do it in a despicable way because it’s not apparent. We are socially isolated even when we’re out interacting with people. Social media causes harm, it algorithmically addicts us, and it separates us from having true interactions with people. It’s much easier to have short, nasty exchanges and come off as our worst selves.” 

As the founder of Utherverse (and UTHER Coin) Shuster wants to bring us back to our human nature–digitally. “We’re going to be looking at each other in the eyes. We’re building a community where you have real friends from all over the world. You’re learning what it means to be human in other cultures,” he says of the metaverse. “I get emails from people who are disabled; a paraplegic said they never thought they could experience life again, and then they are dancing as an avatar. You can’t give a hug on Twitter, but as an avatar, you can.” 

He knows it doesn’t sound like the ideal situation. The best he can offer to save the world we currently occupy? A mass agreement that 50% of the day, we don’t use any technology. It’s highly unlikely, but then again, going to a pop concert by throwing on some ski goggle-looking glasses would have felt absurd a few years ago too. Progress is inevitable but not always linear.

“I’m afraid that other (metaverse) companies will come along and won’t pay attention to community or the positive things this technology can do for us. As much as I would love to say that everyone can experience true love, companionship, and compassion with humans in the real world, in reality, this option (the metaverse) is not perfect, but better than what we currently have.” 

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