Crypto Needs its Captcha Moment

Ever been stopped by a website and asked to prove you're not a robot? You know, those little tests where you're asked to pick out all the buses or decipher squiggly letters.

There's something much deeper to these "Captcha moments" than meets the eye. It's a simple task, but a game-changer when you realize what's happening behind the veil.

A (pretty accepted) urban legend out there says that whenever you correctly identify a bus or a fire hydrant, you're helping train models like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion. You're giving them the data to recognize patterns and differentiate between a bus and "not-a-bus." And you're doing it without realizing it.

Regardless of whether this urban legend is actually true or not, what Google does with character and image recognition models through reCAPTCHA is nothing short of a masterclass in the power that lies behind a million simple actions. These data-collection moments make a real difference when it comes to getting any product market-ready.

I wonder if there’s some sort of public and tamper-proof database out there, somewhere, anyone could pull from and use to give it their own twist…

What’s a Captcha Moment?

What I call Captcha Moments aren’t limited to just this approach, though. You can find these kinds of interactions everywhere online. The positioning of banners on a website, the headline text on clickbait articles, even commercially available AI models make use of captcha moments to compound their optimization efforts. That’s why GPT4 blew us all away when compared to GPT3. We make these systems perfect by using them.

So, I’ve defined Captcha Moments as such:

1. It’s seamless to the core experience. It should take at most 30 seconds of someone's time.

2. *Isn't* the core experience. These kinds of moments are meant to run behind the scenes. Had OpenAI asked us to "help train the next generation of LLMs," they'd never have gotten GPT to master human-like conversation.

3. Captures the underlying behavior tied to it. Something as simple as basic math, reading, or looking at pictures of cats comes as second nature to us, but not so much to the bots.

The Obligatory LLM comparison.

Grounding all of this in the most recent example I’ve found, and one that was sorely needed: You are helping AI understand language better by using ChatGPT. Your generated threads, emails, and blog posts are helping these models not only understand what it takes to sound human but how to do so in any language as well. I could see a world where endangered languages live on through LLMs, even dead ones coming back from the grave through their closest descendants.

AI models have often been criticized for their skewed and Anglo-centric bias due to the datasets they were trained on. That being the case, we need to realize how AI is only as good as the data it's fed. If all the data you provide them is one flavor, you'll end up with a pretty bland AI. And there’s just no way we’re gathering enough of it to make AI more equitable through conventional methods.

Our big challenge for the coming decade will be distributing access to these valuable models while snowballing that mass adoption into their better, more empathetic versions. This is where ChatGPT is making a difference. By providing a clear source of value and using viral tactics (like your aforementioned Twitter threads), it's helping bridge the gap for LLMs in languages worldwide without posing any friction to the core user experience.

Now, how could we bring the aggregate data Ethereum (and chains in general) provides, and use it to help perfect us the same way our ML counterparts have so masterfully done?

What Does Onchain Behavior tell us?

The complexity of crypto makes it challenging to find a seamless way to integrate it into everyday transactions in a way that helps us make sense of the underlying behavior. It's not as simple as identifying a fire hydrant. It's about security, privacy, and identity—and finding a seamless way to blend these elements into your online experience is a tall order.

It’s no mystery that onchain data is the biggest untapped goldmine we’re currently sitting on. And we carry the heavy burden of being responsible with its usage while we search for ways to sensemake with it while respecting the individual’s privacy.

While looking for possible interactions that fit my definition of a Captcha Moment, some momentous launches have pushed this idea without realizing it. But I have honestly struggled to find one that both fits the bill and is the responsible approach while we build the required safeguards.

Decentralized Financial Operations

While crypto's original use case for decentralized financial transactions has all the potential in the world, I don't believe it's going to take us there just yet, for one simple reason:

Most people in this world don't have money; they want it, but their circumstances make it extremely challenging, even downright close to impossible, for them to get it. As such, most people harbor an unspoken resentment toward wealth and the people who enjoy it. You don't want to change the world on the shoulders of accidental millionaires because everyday people will never relate to or trust them.

We need a simple, unintrusive interaction that can solve many problems and usher in a new era, but we need it to be something everyone can understand and use without ever thinking of what's under the trunk.

Permissionless Identity and Proof of Personhood

Immutable identity sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. Carrying a universal identifier bears the promise of expediting so much of our everyday interactions. Stuff like lines in the airport and visits to the DMV will become a thing of the past if this tech reaches the mainstream.

But, when you look a bit deeper into it, you realize that a few crucial issues need to be addressed before that happens.

The recent Worldcoin launch showed us that a globalized identity protocol could get Orwellian very quickly. Plus, there are still a couple of bits and bobs to tweak before these solutions are ready to hit the streets. With multiple blockchains operating independently and lacking communication, basing your identity solution on the wrong ecosystem introduces significant security vulnerabilities, for example. No wonder most identity solutions are still struggling with the sybil problem.

Zero-knowledge networks have been pushing for a way to prove identity without giving away sensitive information for a couple of years now—an identity that could open doors at airports, banks, and online platforms without revealing your identifying data.

But what happens when your government or bank decides your credentials are "undesirable"? If it's all meant to run under the same system, it's a thin line to walk down when we conflate identity with credentialing, especially when the tech is meant to be hands-off and tamper-proof.

We’d end up exactly back where we started: a biased and bureaucratic mess that’s built to limit your access and keep you in line. Only this time, it’d be programmatic.

Finding Crypto's CAPTCHA Moment

All of the previous use cases will change the world in due time, but they’re not the ones that will get us there. There's still one big hope for finding our mass adoption holy grail.

To no one's surprise, I believe web3 social and content creation might be the closest type of interaction to unlocking crypto's potential to the masses.

We have explored what DAOs and collectives can achieve, and NFTs have spent their time in the spotlight, but let's not stop there. I sniff the potential for earth-shattering experiences built on web3 social rails.

Just like how identifying buses and fire hydrants in a Captcha test helped train AI models, everyday interactions on decentralized social platforms could be the key to unlocking not only the essentials like collects, comments, and shares; but endless other types of participation that can be measured, understood, and improved upon beyond the confines of content.

Friendtech serves as an unexpected example of how this will happen. Sure, it was built by crypto natives for crypto natives, with shady financial undertones and an extractive premise from the get-go. But the second people started getting creative with it, we saw the magic.

Not only did we get the Onlyfans crowd rushing in at the mention of extra cash through gated experiences, but we also got people finding exciting ways to build on top of FT’s “primitives.” It’s only been two weeks or so, but there are already governance experiments, curated feeds, BTS access, and even RPGs running on top of the engagement Friendtech provided.

This example may make a bunch of you roll your eyes at me. But it is true. There’s no hype wave without its silver lining. And FT’s has been that a small cohort of people didn’t like the initial concept of monetizing their friendships and decided to make something useful out of it.

Social and application layers built on top of crypto have some definite advantages against the more established use cases (like financial and identity) in being crypto's CAPTCHA moment:

  1. Seamless Adoption: Decentralized social platform interactions are a universal way for people to experience content, just as intuitive and unobtrusive as the original CAPTCHA test. Turning the feeds, we’re all used to into onchain transactions adds value without adding friction.

  2. Clear Function and Value: Your likes, follows, shares, and comments generate data to be openly tokenized and distributed. Protocolized and composable distribution means there’s an easy way for people to join their favorite creators without making it all about crypto if they prefer not to (and plenty of ways to ride the speculative wave if they’re so inclined). People are free to pick their favorite way to experience you.

  3. Underlying Behavior: Decentralized social platforms help creators share work, engage with audiences, and make a living. You don't need to remember your wallet address; your account is abstracted by default.

We've dug ourselves into a deep hole regarding crypto's potential to change the world by looking at these incredible new primitives without thinking about everyday people. And while social media (and other types of media, for that matter) are the most apparent path to help our ecosystem reach its full impact, there are possibly hundreds of other CAPTCHA moments out there, ripe for the taking to anyone creative and passionate enough.

People care about other people, who care about their established routines. Only by finding our way into these routines will we finally find that crypto consumer moment everyone’s been screeching about and beyond.

The tech itself holds so much potential, but it’s about time we start using it to build experiences that actually matter.

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