To know nothing of what happened before you were born, is to forever remain a child — Cicero
History is written by the victors, the strongest, the most determined.Truth is found most often in silence, in the quiet places — Kate Mosse
History of History
Pre-history is the era before recorded history. History truly begins when writing and tools to record history emerged. Prior to that, it was mostly passed on from generation to generation in the form of stories and narratives. In between prehistory (period of human activity between the use of the first stone tools c. 3.3 million years ago and the invention of writing systems, the earliest of which appeared c. 5,300 years ago) and history is an era called proto-history in which involved early Jiahu (Chinese) symbols on turtle shells
Then came the ancient Sumerian civilization which introduced the Cuneiform script. The Bronze Age also saw many civilizations such as Egyptian and Indian civilization develop hieroglyphs and Indus scripts to document and record history.
Most scripts involved painting, etching or engraving messages on stone or metal to the ensure durability. The first modern writing surface is the papyrus which was used in Egypt.
The Incomplete Argument
I hate to take sides in most arguments about world affairs. Not because I am afraid but because I am afraid that others will be victims of my half-truths. Truths that are based on the winners history of the world. I truly believe that the more I know, the more I understand that I know very little. Therefore, to argue from a point of ignorance is to spread misinformation just like some of the winners in history did to the detriment of many others. Let me give you an example.
It was a cold, winter night in Mumbai, India and I was sitting with my friends and enjoying food at a local restaurant. It was November 9, 2016 — the day India began one of most grandest and most controversial economic experiment known as “demonetization”.
Suddenly, my friend receives a text from his father and he gets up in the middle of dinner and informs me that he has to rush home. I thought it was a family emergency. However, turns out that he wanted to deposit all his Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 bank notes as they will cease to be legal tender tomorrow. I did not make much of it. Personally, very few of my transactions are in cash. The point is I still use cash in India. As I finished dinner and was on my way home, I could see people queuing up at gas stations not to fill gas but to exchange their 500 and 1,000 Rupee notes. What an incredible sight. A nation shocked into surrendering its cash and galvanized to action much like the struggle for independence. Only this time, the reasons were to halt corruption, the onslaught of Black money (money outside the banking system) and to spur digitization of money.
When I rushed home that night, I realized I had some money that were in the denominations to be demonetized. Early next morning, I woke up to even longer queues at banks to deposit my cash. It was a sight to behold. When I read of bank runs (a situation where all depositors rush to withdraw cash because they think banks will collapse) in Greece, it did not register in my mind as such a powerful event for the local people. That day, I understood perfectly the power of money to smoothen and uproot everyday life.
It took me three days and experiences filled with expletives delivered by the very common men that I was used to exchange pleasantries with to get my measly cash balance back into the banking system. Demonetization had created demons out of ordinary people. Quite possibly, turned people’s livelihood into a continuous nightmare.
Having said that, I have also heard many arguments in support of demonetization. To my mind, every major reform is death by a thousand cuts. It’s never swift, the results can span two to three political regimes and gives an opportunity to the media to make hay while the sun shines. Again, everybody is just doing their job but it does create a perfect storm.
Fast forward to today and I still feel that demonetization was a good move but every time I hear arguments against demonetization or the way it was executed, the strength of my conviction dwindles until I become completely confused. You don’t have to go to India to experience what I experience— the stasis created by news (call it true, fake, biased, half truths or anything else) amplified by incentivized propaganda on social media. You just don’t know what to believe in until you actually experience it first hand. Even then, it takes multiple perspectives to create a complete picture of the truth.
Ironically, social media and the internet is an axe that swings both ways. These tools democratize truth in that the truth is no longer the domain of the powerful. Grassroots democracy can grow. However, if used for the wrong ends, these tools become vehicles of mass information asymmetry skewed towards the strongest in society.
It’s just not demonetization but countless other topics where I feel my incomplete knowledge of the topic makes me a lifelong learner instead of an expert on that topic. So, I try to provide my inputs but also caution that I have my blind sides. Many may say that is taking the easy way out. However, when it is decision making time, I do make my decision to the best of my knowledge. Although, I still feel it’s my duty to be honest and acknowledge my unknowns.
The Relatively Immutable Truth
A Blockchain is a single version of the truth or the immutable truth. What if cryptography could enable verifiable news through a consensus mechanism? The truth will not be a domain of vested interests and the recording of history can be decentralized. The best use of data, to my mind, is unraveling true facts and news. A truth that is relatively unbiased and crowdsourced.
One of the most profound human endeavors that can be undertaken, in an age where Artificial Intelligence has taken over most of the mundane human jobs, is to capture the truth one person at a time. While history books get rewritten all the time, we have the power to democratize history and document it in real time.
Of course, the best way is through creative pursuits i.e. music, art or even writing down your version of the truth.
When Egyptians used hieroglyphics to document their version of history, modern humans don’t have all the keys to unlock their mysteries yet. However, if we document our individual version of history in a way that it becomes timeless and easy to interpret by the future generations, our creative pursuits will have a greater meaning: to capture and document universal truths that are not the domain of a few but the power of the many. An endeavor that Artificial Intelligence can aid and abet but not lead.