Proposal to hasten the end of attacks on Ukraine using smart contracts and $250m in bitcoin and ether
Important note: this proposal being made in a personal capacity, rather than as an employee of the Dfinity Foundation.
Analysis of the Ukraine situation
The attack on Ukraine is essentially a physical one that is conducted by an army. Huge numbers of Russian tanks, armoured personnel carriers and rocket launchers, supported by infantry, have invaded and are attacking and shelling cities, while aircraft rain down bombs and missiles. The Ukrainian forces, led by a charismatic leader, are valiantly defending their country and holding back a much more powerful foe, helped by Western weapons, and a determination that derives from protecting a homeland against a morally bankrupt aggressor. We must hope that Ukraine prevails, but the cold reality is that their eventual victory will come at a terrible human cost, which is already being paid today. Russia is unlikely to surrender its objectives before Ukraine is turned into a wasteland, which will require years of rebuilding, create millions of refugees, and destroy many thousands of lives, bodies and minds, on both sides. That is, unless the leadership of Russia decides to abandon the attack.
The West is exerting pressure on Russia’s leadership through tough economic sanctions. These impact the leadership and its cronies directly, for example by seizing and freezing wealth they keep abroad, while indirectly imposing economic hardship on the wider population. On home turf, the Russian leadership will find ways to insulate themselves against the sanctions, but the hope is that an increasingly disillusioned population will begin to exert powerful pressure on them. However, we should not hold out too much hope that sanctions alone will turn the Russian population against their leaders, for the simple reason that they control their media, which dutifully pumps out carefully-crafted propaganda and false information, while its internal security services imprison those who protest or promote contradictory views. In an environment where the majority of available information is carefully controlled by the state, the hardships created by sanctions may instead elicit a patriotic wartime spirit — exactly the opposite of what is hoped for.
Support for Vladimir Putin across Russia remains very high, possibly in the range of 60–70%. This will remain so if he continues to control the flow of information to his population, allowing him to make the perversely false claim that the war is a humanitarian mission to protect people in Ukraine from genocide, while misrepresenting the real price his own country is paying in souls and equipment. This is a dangerous situation, because if Ukrainian resistance continues, and his losses continue to mount, like a cornered rat he might launch desperate attacks that are even more depraved and heinous, in the hope of obtaining a quick surrender. We must dearly hope that he does not resort to flattening a city with vacuum bombs, or using chemical or tactical nuclear weapons.
To hasten the end of this terrible war, which may become increasingly catastrophic unless Russia backs down, or Ukraine surrenders, we must find ways of directly communicating with, and persuading by informing, the Russian population, who are largely completely ignorant of the real goings on in Ukraine. Anonymous, and a brave Russian broadcaster, have already made real contributions among many others.
I now propose a way that blockchain and smart contracts can potentially help further, by getting millions of Russians to watch an entire informational video(s) about the war. I describe herein a basic sketch of how it might be done using the Internet Computer and bitcoin and ether. The scheme I describe might easily be prevented from working if Russia cuts off its population’s access to the Internet, but that outcome would also be a success, since it would successfully alert more Russians to the true nature of their government.
Technical proposal to hasten the end of the war
1. Adapt the virtual people parties invention
Virtual people parties are an important invention that allow large numbers of people to anonymously “prove personhood”, using only their mobile phone, in a scheme that cannot be cheated using technology available today. Each attendee who proves personhood using the people party system is then identified to smart contracts as an individual human being. The system prevents cheating, such that on each run, a person is only able to attend exactly once (or not at all). Virtual people parties are also able to filter based on geography, requiring, for example, that only those in Russia can attend. In this proposal, smart contracts would open a new crypto account for each successful attendee, which they can access and control using an Internet Identity (to which they can authenticate using any device that supports WebAuthn, including a laptop’s fingerprint sensor, the face ID or PIN system on a phone, or HSMs such as a YubiKey or Ledger wallet, or in the absence of those, a traditional seed phrase).
The key idea: we can use people parties to provide an crypto incentive for Russians to watch an informational video in return for a reward. Without people parties, the potential for cheating using bots and other means would otherwise make this impossible.
2. Pay Russians crypto for watching informative media
Once a participant has proven personhood by attending a people party, they will become immediately eligible to collect a reward paid in BTC or ETH. To collect the reward, they must obtain an “unlock” PIN number that is unique to their crypto account. Essentially, once they have proven personhood, they would be required to immediately watch a streaming video, onto which their unique PIN will be overlaid, dynamically, number by number, requiring them to keep watching until the end to obtain their crypto reward.
The streaming video will tell the truth about the war in Ukraine, and ask Russians to pressure their government into ceasing hostilities. How such a video is best constructed should be left to talented filmmakers. A non-watermarked version should be made available for download, allowing the recipient to show others the video.
The process can be repeated as often as useful, allowing Russians to earn more crypto the more informational films that they watch about Ukraine.
3. Finance participation incentives using a DAO
In practice, it would mostly be an educated and technology savvy demographic young enough to care about obtaining free BTC and ETH that would engage. Luckily this is also the demographic most likely to effect political change in Russia, ensuring that disbursed rewards have an effect. The question is, how big would rewards have to be to encourage widespread participation, and where would the rewards come from.
I would recommend paying participants $50 in crypto for each video that they watch, making up for the risk that they are later targeted by Russian security services. If the scheme succeeds in attracting 5,000,000 people, from major metropolitan areas (there are technical reasons why participation will be easier in such places), who would then further share the video and ideas and information contained, then crypto worth $250,000,000 must be disbursed.
1. Releasing the virtual people parties framework
The virtual people parties framework, which runs from the Internet Computer blockchain, is still in alpha, and is somewhat delayed. It is currently being worked on by the Dfinity Foundation itself, and outside community members. The main stumbling block is difficulties streaming video into Safari on iOS using the WebRTC standard. It turns out that Apple doesn’t want powerful web applications running inside its mobile browser (iOS licensing means other web browsers running on their phone are all built using Webkit, and are therefore basically just rebranded versions of Safari, with the same problems) because it prefers people using the App Store, from which it can extract a slice of revenues (in this, they are behaving similarly to Microsoft when it hobbled web standards using Internet Explorer to keep people using its desktop applications). Solutions are possible, including potentially just creating a native iOS app a backstop. We could use the help of the community to speed up its release.
2. Preventing Russia blocking the Internet Computer
Almost certainly, once Russia saw this system coming online, they would block the domain names and IP addresses associated with the Internet Computer’s boundary nodes. This could be overcome by using a large number of IP addresses in the scheme, essentially by having supportive individuals in the West acting as relays. “Seed participants” in Russia would then invite other participants by sharing URLs provided to them by the system, for example via Telegram, which would fan out exponentially, and quickly allow millions to join. This cloaking system would require a substantial effort to develop rapidly.
3. Collecting the BTC and ETH to give out as prizes
A DAO would be required to collect the BTC and ETH that would be given out as rewards for watching the informational videos about Ukraine (this would refund that part of donations that remain unused, or alternatively donate them to the reconstruction of Ukraine). The Internet Computer will soon incorporate updates that allow its smart contracts, and thus a DAO built using them, to directly send, receive and hold bitcoin on the Bitcoin blockchain. Work could be accelerated to make it possible to do the same with ETH (Internet Computer smart contracts will soon be able to create transactions on ANY other blockchain, thanks to the chain key cryptography that powers it, but this will follow Bitcoin support). This needs to be completed before donations can be collected and crypto disbursed using smart contracts connected to the virtual people parties system.
The technical challenges I have described will all be solved anyway, it’s just a question of how long things take. The Ukraine situation is developing rapidly, however, and that impacts the practicality of this proposal. Nonetheless, using smart contracts to pay millions of Russians crypto to take the risk of watching a well-crafted informational video that explains the real situation in Ukraine would make a powerful contribution to ending this calamity and achieving change. If millions watched the video, it would be certain to spur massive debate and discussion of its claims within Russia.
While I have not made this proposal as a representative of the Dfinity Foundation, I am sure it would actively support the efforts of any parties trying to get a system like this live.