Joaquim Pedro Antunes: Writing and Coding for a Decentralized Future

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What do a writer and a programmer have in common? Joaquim Pedro Antunes, of course. He was once an aspiring writer who eventually veered off into technology. We will be following his story about how the transition took place, how he began his decentralization chapter, and what has been going on inside the pages.

FinTech software guru Joaquim Pedro Antunes (JPA), didn’t just join the blockchain bandwagon on a whim. The decentralization philosophy appealed to him. “I became interested in Bitcoin as I worked in FinTech and the payment technology aspect of the blockchain interested me. But I became engrossed in the philosophy that inspired the idea of decentralised peer-to-peer electronic money at a time when the Snowden leaks and the aftermath of the 2008 crash made it clear that privacy is not a right when the government does it and our trust in institutions is often misplaced.”

Blockchain is perhaps one of the most technical subjects among emerging technologies. It is thus refreshing to find someone who is not only at home with all the technical jargon but also does his best to simplify understanding for others. If you’ve given up on trying to understand how blockchain works, battling with terms like hash and nodes, private keys and proof of work, JPA gives a simplified analogy with this cheesecake sharing story:

“Imagine you and your sister both want the last piece of cheesecake left, so you agree to split it in half but can’t agree on who should do the cutting, because both of you are cheaters and would likely take the bigger slice for yourselves. One way of solving this is to have your sister take the knife but you get to pick your half first. You would both be motivated to find the perfect balance and would stand to lose if either tries to cheat.”

Most of his working life had been in the FinTech industry, until blockchain. By late 2016, he decided it was time he “took a break from consulting so I could be present in my children’s upbringing. I was pondering opening my own business or start working remotely when I decided to enroll in an Ethereum developer’s course. I enjoy learning and like to keep up to date with new technologies, but there was this incredible click with the technology, the vision and the ethos of a community that I’m incredibly proud to be a part of now. You could say it’s a descent into madness or a man following a dream.”

How exactly did this aspiring writer end up on a block with chains? Growing up in a troubled environment made JPA “well aware of how steep the ladder is when even your postcode is a red flag on some half-baked software.” Interestingly, this did not hinder his creative mind as “I wanted to be a writer so I read a lot.” As fate would have it, the universe had other plans for him. By age 12, he was lucky enough to get his own computer “and soon I became interested in technology and started coding early in my life.”

By the time he was an adult, he began showing interest in “the open source movement and old-school hackers, which is how I became aware of the cypherpunks and cyber-activism, and then joined an Anarchist Collective where I volunteered, teaching basic computer skills to poor inner-city kids.” Anarchist Collectives believe in freedom. They believe in people having the right to govern themselves rather than slaving under a bureaucratic hierarchy that gives room for manipulation and oppression, the current state of the world’s centralized systems. Blockchain’s underlying philosophy aligns with the Anarchist Collectives’ theories.

Joaquim’s love for technology fueled his interest in areas like privacy and FinTech. “I came across Bitcoin on Reddit, back in 2013, in one of the privacy-focused subreddits. At first, I thought it would be some sort of open-source PayPal that addressed an architectural failure of the internet which is that we have no way of representing value. Sure, we can have digital goods, but inherently they are just data structures that can be copied and manipulated in countless ways beyond its original intent, and then there’s this digitally native Bitcoin thing.” Having a personal interest is not enough; he admits having had a push from someone he considers a mentor. “In the blockchain space, I would highlight the influence of Vinay Gupta’s ideas and vision in my decision to start working with projects that can make an actual impact. I’ve never met him personally, but if it wasn’t for him I would still be a spectator.”

Running his consulting business providing technical blockchain solutions to clients, Joaquim has a few ideas about the kind of projects he likes to take on. All he requires are that “the project has an interesting use case for blockchain or cryptoeconomics, and that the team is honest about their goals and doesn’t waste my time.” In his time so far in the space, he has worked with a few ICOs and startups. “So far I’ve been lucky to find some amazing people like Sebnem, “Validator Tokens & Technologies” of THE SUN PROTOCOL, who have the vision and talent to make an impact on the world.” It’s not all work and no play for Joaquim. “We all have a limited amount of hours in our lives and I feel they are better spent with whom we identify at some level and have mutual respect.”

Now based in Netherlands, JPA and his partner strive to give their two children all the best the world has to offer. He says he is the only family member into blockchain, well, “except for the ones that depend on my income to eat.”

That wasn’t the end of writing for him, though. Later in life, after getting involved in blockchain, JPA now utilizes his writing skills in his advocacy efforts. “So far I would say that my most impactful work is in advocacy and some of my writing received the type of praise I hoped to get as a kid, if I’m honest.”

When all is said and done, JPA hopes to look back and smile at the fact that “I managed to contribute to a few projects that I believe are going to make a difference.” More specifically, “when THE SUN PROTOCOL gets the necessary funding, then my work might have a chance at impacting the world where it matters, but otherwise, what I do is write, code and run a business.”

For over a decade, before blockchain became all the rage, Joaquim was a consultant as an enterprise technology architect. He “worked mostly in the FinTech space and always on the bleeding edge of e-banking, then m-banking and later m-payment technology.” JPA now brings all this wealth of knowledge and experience on the block. One of his current ongoing projects is “a prototype Token Curated Registry that uses a quadratic-voting mechanism similar to what Glen Weyl and Vitalik Buterin describe in the Liberal Radical paper.”

Yeah, I’m sure that last sentence has you confused, too. Token Curated Registry? Quadratic-voting mechanism? “QV is a decision-making process which allows voters to express nuances to their preferences with a quantifiable weight. So whereas, with majority vote you can only pick one option, with QV you can assign ten points to one candidate and four points to another, somewhat similar to the mechanism used in the Eurovision music contest, at least at a superficial level.”

Applying this in blockchain and crypto means that the more the number of votes, the higher the cost. “In coin-based voting systems, QV usually involves an exponential cost increase for each successive vote, such that casting one vote could cost 1 euro but casting two votes costs 3 euro, and three votes costs 9 euros and so on. The general idea is to allow voters to express their preferences with as much money as they think is right while simultaneously curbing the influence of wealth disparity in the voting outcome. In a recent paper, Glen Weyl introduced a new mechanism he called “Liberal Radical” which extents QV’s ‘fairness’ in the context of subsidising public commons. Here, it’s important to accommodate majority view, so both the number of voters and total votes cast are used to calculate the results.”

New kids on the block looking to hash a career in the space must first “understand the cryptoeconomic properties of Bitcoin and Ethereum and the role decentralization plays.” He further advises that newcomers “please stay away from Twitter, there are far more effective ways of contributing and participating and other platforms with higher quality content.” Medium, LinkedIn, ethresear.ch and Bitcoin Talk are alternative platforms that come to mind. “Cryptocurrencies are here to stay but I’d argue that the most interesting uses of tokenized assets are still in the pipeline, so I think there’s no better time to get involved than now. Check out Karl Floersch’s cryptoeconomics course at https://cryptoeconomics.study/.”

Projects using the blockchain to solve the problems of the underbanked and the underrepresented, hold a special appeal for Joaquim. “I think the blockchain can be used to cross the thin line between capital and social good, and perhaps that’s why projects that aim to service the underbanked and underrepresented or somehow build alternatives to today’s centralised platforms have a special appeal for me.”

As the Age of Automation gradually dawns, the speed of adoption directly correlates to the level of human acceptance. This is even more evident in the blockchain and crypto space. “It might be a cliche, but it’s the people I’ve met in this space that I want to talk about. In corporate environments, we grow used to maintaining systems well beyond their useful lifetimes and every once in a while we might even get stuck in projects we know won’t be successful, but for the incentives in place. We reward deadlines over readiness and compliance over excellence. In the open-source software world, each project reflects the people behind them, their histories, opinions, frustrations and aspirations. And that matters because projects must attract talented contributors who identify with its ethos to survive. The decentralization space does seem to attract all sorts of people and this melting pot of ideas, skills and world-views will ensure that every idea worth exploring shall be explored, even if the initial adoption is very low.”

Lately, Western Union’s response to Graham Bell’s offer of his telephone patent for $100,000 in 1876, has been going around on social media. Western Union’s representative called the idea of installing telephones “idiotic”, and the device being “inherently of no value.” In today’s Digital Age of smartphones and AI, Graham’s telephone is found mostly in museums. “Innovation is a constant game of questioning our assumptions even when they are based on our own experiences. After all, even von Neuman, one of the fathers of Computer Science, was unimpressed with high-level programming languages back in 1950s and, had he gotten his way, we would’ve never had personal computers and the internet.”

Some have argued that technically, blockchain is not a new technology per se, but a novel combination of already existing technologies. “As far as technology goes, a blockchain can be challenging to classify because it’s both novel and, even in computer science terms, a niche area that combines distributed systems, cryptography, finance, game theory, mechanism design, political philosophy and a few other knowledge domains. Many will still describe a blockchain in relation to other technologies they are more comfortable with, ie ‘It’s a database’. When seen like this, then definitely blockchain is not as good as other options but, then again, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb trees it won’t look very impressive, right?”

Among the near unlimited use cases of blockchain, JPA has his focus on “cryptoeconomics, and I see the smart contracts as the perfect drawing board for experimenting with new governance and economic models using economic incentives and mechanism design in token engineering. This is creating the building blocks of the decentralised and trustless web3 vision we’ve all signed up for, and I strongly believe some of it will be as important as privacy in our near future.”

You can follow Joaquim on LinkedIn, and Medium.


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About Author

Faith Obafemi is a digital content consultant whose work revolves around FinTech, cryptocurrency, blockchain and smart contracts. For the past two years, Faith has been providing educative and engaging content for projects in the space. She helps to filter the hype and highlight the potentials of the novel technology. When she's not hashing content for her clients, you can find her learning Solidity and HyperLedger Fabric, or watching Korean series!

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