The Silicon Valley entrepreneur says cryptocurrencies, virtual reality, and mobile devices are helping individuals escape failed institutions.
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"Soon you'll be able to join a VR world, and earn virtual currency in virtual reality," says Silicon Valley entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan. "Which means that, for a good chunk of people in the world, the majority of their waking hours are going to be spent in the Matrix."
Srinivasan believes that new technologies—mobile devices, cloud computing, cryptocurrencies—are rapidly taking us into an era when geography, nationality, and other limitations on our labor and freedom fade away. He says that this evolution will empower individuals and erode the authoritarian capabilities of the state.
Srinivasan is a modern-day polymath who venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has called the person with "the highest output per minute of new ideas of anybody I've ever met in my life." A Ph.D. in electrical engineering, a co-founder of the genetic testing firm Counsyl, and a Stanford computer science lecturer, Srinivasan was also on Donald Trump's short list to head up the Food and Drug Administration.
He believes in technology's power to provide a way for individuals to migrate away from ossified institutions and destructive policies. Borrowing a framework from a 1970 political science treatise by Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, Srinivasan described his vision in a much-discussed 2013 talk titled "Sillicon Valley's Ultimate Exit."
Today, he spends most of his time running the cryptocurrency-based startup Earn.com, which allows users to get paid for small tasks, like responding to emails and completing surveys. It is ultimately, he says, a tool for creating a "frictionless digital workforce." He imagines Earn.com providing users with a new type of decentralized employment based purely on their skills. Participants would log on, see a feed of tasks they needed to accomplish, and then be compensated accordingly.
While teaching at Stanford a decade ago, Srinivasan and his brother Ramji founded the genetic testing firm Counsyl, which offers a single assay that tests for every major Mendelian genetic disease. The company aims to lower costs, empower parents, and improve the way genetic diseases are identified and treated.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Reason's Nick Gillespie spoke with Srinivasan about his current ventures; how the FDA and other regulatory bodies should adapt to new technologies; the controversy over genetic testing and "designer babies;" how the 1997 book The Sovereign Individual has influenced his thought; his intellectual heroes; and how he's contributing to "Silicon Valley's ultimate exit."
Interview edited by Justin Monticello. Camera by Paul Detrick and Monticello. Music by Grégoire Lourme (https://www.jamendo.com/track/1292388/technology), Silent Partner (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiCCPvpOLb0), Blue Giraffe (https://www.jamendo.com/track/1388629/dubstep-opener), and Hare (https://www.jamendo.com/track/1317046/positive-chaos).