“We’re educators and informers. There’s a mass audience out there. They’ve heard about blockchain. They’ve heard about the decentralized ecosystem, but they are not really sure what it is, where they fit into that picture or what value they’re going to accrue from it. So we try to provide mental models, context and information.”
Based mostly in Singapore and Sydney, the research institute Speculative Rationality believes in elevating human collaboration. And it sees blockchain as an important piece of the puzzle. Founded over a year ago by self-described hobbyists who were fascinated by blockchain’s disruptive potential and wanted to do more than just read and invest, Speculative Rationality cuts through the noise of the blockchain space by providing theoretical models, curating information and highlighting real world projects that bring its mandates to life, including – as it so happened – ICON.
“We offer context and information to people who don’t necessarily have access to the best information.”
NOTE TO READERS: Though we talked with a trio of individuals from Speculative Rationality, they asked we refer to them collectively as, well, “Speculative Rationality.” And that is what we will do.
Imagine all the people, collaborating in the world
Speculative Rationality is about creating an ecosystem that elevates human collaboration in a trustless environment, or as they put it, a “reimagining of the Internet in a trustless setting.”
Looking at what the Internet has done for humanity over the last three decades or so, they believe the wealth and value generated speaks for itself. They also believe, however, that we’ve begun to see the limits of the Internet’s existing infrastructure, especially over the last two years. They point to issues such as privacy, data ownership and censorship. These problems impede people from working together, making all of us poorer for it. “If we concede for a second that human collaboration leads to value creation,” they say, “then these kinds of impediments to that collaboration will likely mean that collaboration itself is inhibited.”
The good news, they say, is that blockchain has enabled people – for the first time in history – to collaborate in a trustless environment without help from a centralized intermediary.
“If we could reimagine the Internet in the absence of the issues we’ve seen spring up over the last five, ten years as the Internet has matured, what would it look like and could we enhance and elevate human collaboration from this innovation? And what kind of value could we yield?,” they ask. “And the answers to those aren’t fully formed yet. We’re still trying to see what that world will look like. We want to be part of that discussion.”
A handbook to a better Internet
Speculative Rationality’s bread and butter, as it were, is writing. Much of their work is theoretical, conceptualizing models that allow people to pursue their own benefits and opportunities for value creation. In particular, they focus on a trio of maturity hurdles facing the blockchain space: interoperability, scalability and privacy.
One of their initiatives is a series of handbooks highlighting projects that address those hurdles in innovative ways.
Even if a founder of blockchain project has a clear idea of what they want to do, those ideas are often complex – too complex, in fact, for the general public to understand. What Speculative Rationality does is take a project’s story and weave a coherent narrative.
“We start from our theory, what is our view, what do we want this space to achieve, what is our vision for this ecosystem,” they say. “And then we pick out projects that are living, breathing examples of those initiatives. We try to highlight and contextualize why they are special, why they stand out to us, and how they are moving the dial.”
They have written handbooks on seven projects so far: Kadena, Constellation, Block Collider, Wanchain, Request Network… and ICON. They were drawn to ICON for its focus on interoperability, its desire to “hyperconnect the world.” They praise the platform for its recognition of the social aspect of interoperability. A piece of technology might be really good, but does it serve a purpose if people can’t understand or leverage it? “ICON has identified that the technology piece of the equation is an evolving conversation,” says Speculative Rationality. “when the technology side of the equation reaches a point of maturity, a project like ICON is really well placed to then flush their network with all of the value they’ve built up in the real world. It’s a really interesting approach that we don’t always see in the blockchain space.”
Speculative Rationality is a research institute, one that takes the “research” part of that name seriously. They meticulously survey the landscape of the blockchain space to ensure that when they say something, it doesn’t get contradicted by other aspects of the landscape. “We can’t possibly know everything that’s going on,” they say, “but we deal with it and try to distill a wide body of information, put it into frameworks and offer our readers clear, cohesive mental models.”
The guidebooks also serve to enfranchise all the stakeholders throughout the maturity of the projects, building timelines to draw public consciousness back to a project’s mandate, a mandate that is often obscured by the noise around it.
Tethered to the real world
Some people claim blockchain is nothing but hot air. Others predict it will be the most transformative technology since the start of the Internet.
Speculative Rationality embraces both sides of the conversation, as reflected in the very name of the institution itself.
“We value what both sides have to say in so far as we think speculation is important as imagination allows us to think about things that are not feasible yet, to have greater ambition and to strive towards it, to inspire people we work with and work towards a collective vision,” they say. “But rationality is also needed as a tether to do work on the ground that is actually shifting the dial so you don’t always have your head in the air, just imagining a far-off future. A combination of imagination and ability to bring that back to reality and make pragmatic moves forward in this space is valuable. And that’s where the idea of ‘speculative rationality’ comes from.”
Bringing stakeholders together
Though the current market climate may have dampened some of the enthusiasm for blockchain, Speculative Rationality’s mission remains the same. They say, “The price action, for us, does very little to interrupt our thesis about blockchain, that is, that the technology is transformative, that it’s going to elevate human collaboration in ways that we’ve not seen before.”
Speculative Rationality wants to be more proactive in the future.
“What we’ve done really well is take lay investors and hobbyists and bring them up the curve of information so that they are more connected to the crypto heartland or project founders and projects,” they say. What they’d like to do now is replicate that success to connect crypto stakeholders with regulators and enterprises, to get them “on the same page,” to see the mutual benefits to working closer together.
In the meantime, they’re going to continue “amplifying the signal.”
“We see ourselves as curators of correct information. We see ourselves as a body that aims to suppress some of that noise and amplify the signal in so far as trying to focus people on the right information.”
Make sure to follow Speculative Rationality on Twitter.