Events Fall 2021

Theoretically Speaking — Foundations for a Democratic Metaverse

Friday, Dec 10, 2021 11:00 am – 12:30 pm 

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Ehud Shapiro (Weizmann Institute and Columbia University)


Calvin Lab auditorium and Zoom webinar

While our physical lives are mostly in democracies (one person, one vote — e.g., the United States), our digital lives are mostly in autocracies (one person, all votes — e.g., Facebook). Cryptocurrencies promise liberation but stop short at plutocracy (one coin, one vote). What would it take for us to live in a digital democracy?

The key obstacle to digital equality, and hence to digital democracy, is fake and duplicate digital identities, aka Sybils. Facebook eliminates billions of Sybils every quarter, and even if it would have a revelation and decide to go democratic, it is technically unable to. Cryptocurrencies employ plutocratic proof of work (or stake) for lack of a better way to defend against Sybils.

Our aim is to develop from the ground up the theory for a network of autonomous, people-owned, personal-device-operated, democratically governed digital communities, namely a democratic metaverse. This talk will review our progress toward this goal, including:  

  • Sybil-resilient social choice theory, which depends on a …
  • Sybil-resilient, trust-based community formation, to be built on a …
  • Peer-to-peer, egalitarian, Sybil-resilient blocklace (partially ordered blockchain) architecture and protocols that can support a …
  • Network of personal currencies that together enable a …
  • Network of democratic DAOs (distributed autonomous organizations) that provides financial disincentives for harboring Sybils in the first place.

We expect this theoretical foundation to be realized as a common good, open and available to all people. With it, autonomous democratic alternatives to existing digital autocracies may flourish — e.g., digital credit unions, digital cooperatives including true "sharing economy" applications, global democratic movements and political parties, and a members-owned and -operated social network/metaverse in which policies are decided upon and implemented democratically and revenues are shared by members in return for their personal information and digital labor.

Ehud Shapiro is an interdisciplinary scientist, entrepreneur, artist, and political activist. He earned his BA/BSc in mathematics and philosophy from Tel Aviv University in 1979 and his PhD in computer science from Yale in 1982; he has been with the Weizmann Institute of Science since then, where he holds the Harry Weinrebe Professorial Chair of Computer Science and Biology. His PhD research on inductive logic programming and algorithmic debugging has served as a foundation for these two disciplines. At Weizmann, he developed the discipline of concurrent logic programming and the distributed logic programming language Concurrent Prolog, in collaboration with the Japanese Fifth Generation Computer Systems project. In 1993, he founded Ubique Ltd., the first internet social networking software start-up. In 1995, Ubique launched Virtual Places 1.0, a social networking/2D metaverse application with 2D avatars on web pages, providing instant messaging, chat rooms, joint and guided web surfing, online events and games, and integrated voice-over IP. This was well before Facebook was founded and two and a half decades before it announced its interest in the metaverse. He sold Ubique to America Online, performed a management buyout, and then sold it again in 1998 to IBM, where its technology was the basis of Sametime, IBM's successful corporate network communication and collaboration product. 

Upon return to Weizmann in 1998, Ehud switched to biology, and led research projects on biomolecular computers, synthetic biology, and human cell lineage reconstruction, for which he received two ERC Advanced Grants. In 2017, he began working on digital democracy, initially with Nimrod Talmon and later also with collaborators and a research team he formed at Weizmann. In 2020, Ehud founded a new Israeli political party, democratit. Ehud is a bass singer and the founder and artistic director of the Ba Rock Band. He is presently on sabbatical at Columbia University in its computer science department.

Theoretically Speaking is a lecture series highlighting exciting advances in theoretical computer science for a broad general audience. Events are free and open to the public. No special background is assumed. The speaker will be presenting in person. The lecture will be viewable in the Calvin Lab auditorium and via Zoom webinar. Registration is required. Please use the Zoom Q&A feature to ask questions. This lecture will be viewable thereafter on this page and on our YouTube channel.

Given current public health directives from state, local, and university authorities, all participants in Simons Institute events must be prepared to demonstrate proof of full vaccination: a vaccination card or photo of the card along with a valid photo ID, or a green Campus Access Badge via the UC Berkeley Mobile app (additional details regarding proof of vaccination can be found here). Masks are required indoors for all participants regardless of vaccination status.

Light refreshments will be provided before the lecture. Due to current health directives, the refreshments will be set up outside the building. There will be signs to direct you. Food and drinks are not permitted in the auditorium. Thank you for helping us keep the auditorium clean.

If you require accommodation for communication, please contact our access coordinator at simonsevents [at] with as much advance notice as possible.

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