Nobody in the cryptocurrency space is thinking big enough.
That was the message from bitcoin developer and former Kurdish YPG militia member Amir Taaki at Devcon 5, the annual ethereum developer conference hosted this year in Osaka, Japan.
“I hear people talking about decentralized derivatives and mortgages,” Taaki said to an enraptured audience of hundreds on Friday. “Why are we not thinking about how to create dark finance tools we can leverage against government bonds?”
“We can crash national economies,” he said, adding:
For Taaki, who spent 2015 to 2018 in war-torn Syria fighting terrorist group ISIS, deploying cryptocurrencies on a national and even international scale has been top of mind.
“[In Syria,] I was in charge of technology projects for a region of about 5 million people. This was a great opportunity to deploy crypto on a massive scale … but most people weren’t interested,” Taaki said.
Taaki recounted approaching both ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin and Parity Technologies founder Gavin Wood for financial support.
Buterin’s response to Taaki’s ask of a $25,000 donation for training new cryptocurrency developers was ambiguous, according to Taaki. Taaki said Wood suggested he apply for funding through an official grants program.
Viewing the grants process as cumbersome and “bureaucratic,” Taaki seemed to take personal offense at the responses and called out the two on the Devcon stage for having “low social intelligence.”
Both Buterin and Wood were contacted to confirm this story though neither has responded as of press time. We will update the piece if we hear back.
“It’s hard to get donations from people to support something that’s strategically important to cryptocurrencies as a whole,” Taaki said, adding:
Moving beyond the tech
Taaki’s words resonated with many at the conference.
“I think he tries to keep the dream real,” said Santiago Siri, founder of Democracy Earth, a Y Combinator-backed nonprofit building digital governance technology. “I’m legitimately inspired by the values he stands for in this industry.”
Echoing that sentiment, Ann Brody, a Ph.D. student studying ethereum at McGill University tweeted:
To Siri, the biggest takeaway from Taaki’s talk was the need to refocus on “how to become a superpower.” That is, how to advance cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology into becoming a force worth reckoning with.
“It can really be a rival to the internet in our civilization,” Siri told CoinDesk in an interview following Taaki’s talk. “It’s clearly not just a cultural change. It can also be a profound institutional change to our political order.”
But to do this, the industry needs to embrace its political side, according to Siri, and think more globally.
Siri highlighted initiatives such as the recently announced 1 Million Devs project as a welcome step in the right direction.
Announced at Devcon by ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin (who also heads ethereum venture studio ConsenSys), the 1 Million Devs project seeks to educate traditional web developers about the promise of blockchain technology.
Education, Taaki agrees, is key.
“It can’t just be education about the technology. It also has to also be a philosophical education,” Taaki said, adding:
Amir Taaki speaks at Devcon 5, image by Christine Kim for CoinDesk
CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk offers all employees above a certain salary threshold, including journalists, stock options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.