Gregory Barber covers cryptocurrency, blockchain, and artificial intelligence for WIRED.
On Thursday, Gelernter published a post on Medium declaring his grievances against our favorite social media overlord, Facebook. He’s directing his ire into a new company called Revolution Populi, a social network that emphasizes individual data ownership and democratic rule by its users. Hence the patriotic timing. “For me, this is an opportunity to take some action on a public issue that I think is really important,” he tells me. “Who owns the cyber landscape? Do we all own it, or do five incredibly rich people in California?” Gelernter’s message to those of us living under Facebook’s imperial rule is “Join or die.”
For now, though, Revolution Populi exists as four men each with the title cofounder—a former Goldman Sachs vice president, a doctor-entrepreneur, and a PR executive, plus Gelernter—and a rather tempestuous whitepaper. Technical details are … scant. So scant that, after much pondering, it’s difficult to piece together exactly what Gelernter, who holds the title “chief visionary officer,” is proposing. Other than to say that yes, it will be “on the blockchain.”
Gelernter has built a reputation for being ahead of the technological curve, starting with his work in parallel computing and data mining, and later as a pioneer of the social web. In a 1997 profile in WIRED, he described a vision for 21st-century computer science that would center on human interaction. It would be as dependent on design and social science, Gelernter said, as any technical improvements.
His project at the time (along with PhD student Eric Freeman) was a social network called Lifestream. It took the form of a digital timeline of life’s totality—a perpetual stream of documents and messages that could be arranged, sorted, and shared with others. Lifestream was popular among colleagues in his Yale department, Gelernter says, but attempts to commercialize the technology sputtered. A godfather of modern social networks watched from afar as Silicon Valley upstarts grew into giants. “I’ve been on the sid
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