Published On: December 20, 2023Categories: articleTags:

At Warren Brandeis we like to work on complex challenges and last year we were blessed with the opportunity to help our clients with some really tough questions. “Can a vehicle hold its own passport and have sovereignty over its data?”, for instance. Or “how do we prove our sustainability claims?”. Or “can we create a data space across multiple entities that do not know each other?”. And “how can we create new financing forms for real estate through tokenisation?”. But also more down-to-earth questions like “should we invest in this blockchain company?”.

Working with our clients is truly inspiring and today we want to give back by sharing what inspired us most in 2023. This is a selection of books or articles we read, podcasts we listened to and videos or movies we watched. We hope there will be something interesting for you in this curated list as well.

Guus Visman – Consultant

You will never get where you want to be by focusing on what you don’t want. In a time of doom and gloom we need more positive visions. Solarpunk offers such a promising future. It’s a young movement combining tech, art and futurism. The future vision combines pragmatism with idealism, beauty with technology and futurism with the values of old. A great introduction can be found here.

Walter Isaacson is arguably one of the best biographers of our time. I especially love his biography of Leonardo da Vinci – a true polymath with expertise ranging from sculpting to art, painting to engineering, philosophy and science. It’s a book that I have revisited multiple times and always inspires me to broaden my horizons and live life to the fullest. This mind- and skillset, a curious open mind and multidisciplinary approach, is relevant to our work as well. Making a systemic change requires looking at the same thing in new ways and from different angles.

Jacob Boersma – Co-founder

Let’s start with a book that is not out yet, but highly anticipated. At least in the Bitcoin community. It’s called the Genesis Book and it is written by Aaron van Wirdum and it covers what led to the creation of Bitcoin, an inevitability from a societal, economic and technical point of view.

My good friend Simon Lelieveldt is the expert on crypto regulation and payment systems. He writes very interesting blogs such as this one about how the Dutch Central Bank overstepped its mandate in requesting registration verification in crypto trading.

Last but not least  I would like to shamelessly self-promote the course I created on Decentralized Identity for Blockchain 101. It will take you through all aspects of decentralised identity and how blockchain plays a role in this.

Victor Straatman – Advisor

I personally have been reading fewer books over the last years and moved to  podcasts mostly for inspiration. I typically listen to podcasts while running, driving or travelling (added bonus not to be on your phone too much). A few of my favourite podcasts are Lex Fridman, Joe Rogan, The Diary of a CEO, Drive (by Mark Tuitert) and the Tim Ferriss Show. A few recent episodes that I’d recommend to check out: Lex Fridman with Jeff BezosMark Tuitert with Tom Dumolin (in Dutch), and Joe Rogan with Elon Musk.

Arno Laeven – Co-founder

Most if not all of the projects we do, are about intervening in complex systems. To understand complex systems there is a wonderful podcast called “Simplifying Complexity” with wonderful episodes on jazz music, or ant colonies, sandpiles, about the De Medici family and their influence. But two episodes cover the 10 essential features of complex systems. It is with Karolina Wiesner who also wrote a book about this titled “What Is A Complex System?” I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.

I admit I am a Lex Fridman fanboy. But there was one episode of his podcast that stood out for me and that was when he had cognitive scientist, AI researcher and philosopher Joscha Bach in the show. They discuss AI and the doom scenarios some see in front of them. Bach puts this in context of longer time scales and reminds us that maybe we should not look at it from an anthropocentric point  of view but look at the meaning of life in a broader sense, which is about fighting entropy and increasing complexity.

Last but not least I would like to recommend a docufilm recommended to me by Zerosix’ CEO Martijn Dekker. It’s called “The Biggest Little Farm” and it  is about a couple starting a sustainable farm in California. The scenery is beautiful and the message is very strong: not interfering with nature is very hard but it ultimately works and pays off. It shows how farming should work: regenerative.

Ioannis Vlachos – Co-founder

Having been involved for many years before and after many PhD with mathematical theories around the foundations of logic, such as fuzzy logic, possibility theory, belief theory, etc., “The Philosophical Computer” by Patrick Grim et al. from MIT Press was most probably one of my most enjoyable reads of 2023. Philosophical modelling has been a part of philosophy since its inception, with notable examples like Plato’s Cave and Rawls’s original position. What’s different today is the remarkable computational power available for such modelling. While computers can’t replace the essence of philosophical inquiry, they provide a novel and significant setting for conducting it. The authors showcase a variety of computer modelling examples, employing diverse computational methods to shed light on different philosophical and logic-related topics. These include exploring self-referential paradoxes in fuzzy logics, understanding various forms of epistemic chaos, creating fractal representations of formal systems, and using cellular automata for game theory analysis. Notable among these are models exploring the development of altruistic behaviour, identifying potential reasons and solutions for discrimination, and demonstrating the inherent unpredictability in patterns of social and biological interactions.

Vagueness: a Reader” by Rosanna Kenney and Peter Smith from MIT Press is another super interesting read at the crossroads of mathematical logic and philosophy. The subject of vagueness is a hot topic in the philosophy of logic and language. It deals with terms like “tall”, “red”, or “fast” that have unclear boundaries and lack precise definitions, challenging the classical logic view that propositions are strictly true or false. This vagueness leads to issues like the sorites paradox, where removing grains from a heap of sand eventually leaves a single grain still labelled as a heap. This anthology collects papers in the field. After an introduction that surveys the field, the essays form four groups, starting with some historically notable pieces. The 1970s saw an explosion of interest in vagueness, and the second group of essays reprints classic papers from this period. The following group of papers represent current work on the logic and semantics of vagueness.

Oliver Beige – Economist & Industrial Engineer

Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling once polled his students where they would go if they were to meet someone in New York City on a given day, but didn’t know the exact time or place. The most frequent answer was they would try to meet at Grand Central Station, at 12 noon. This answer might’ve been shaped by Schelling asking the question at Yale, in New Haven, Connecticut, and Grand Central happens to be the point of entry for trains from New England. If the other person arrives via Penn Station, the meetup might never occur. Meeting at Grand Central, the book by Lee Cronk and Beth Leech, picks up the baton from Schelling’s anecdote and covers the research on the social and evolutionary roots of cooperation and coordination – the many situations in life where coming to a consensus is more important than what exactly this consensus should look like. For any builder of decentralized systems, understanding these social mechanics is crucial, and Cronk & Leech summarize them in a rigorous yet accessible and entertaining way – much in the tradition of Tom Schelling himself.

Beyond organization and consensus, much of my reading has focused on the topic of integrity. As supply chains are becoming increasingly complex, disintegrated, and global, the problem of integrity — goods and services are delivered as promised, and if they’re not, the disconnect can be resolved quickly and correctly – has come to the forefront. Proofs of provenance, CO2 footprints, and uninterrupted cold chains have all made the news over the last years. Economics has traditionally focused on efficiency, but until recently has had very little to say about integrity. The need for an integrated (sic) approach to ensuring value chain integrity has been covered in a very good blog post by Jules Hedges from the AI perspective, and we have also written about it from the blockchain perspective.

The dominating paradigm for connecting disconnected value chains is still online platforms. But not all is well in the platform economy, after a hype cycle around 2015. Ed Nik-Khah, covering the history of platforms in Silicon Valley in an excellent special issue of Oeconomia focusing on the computerization of economics, drives the point home. Rather than enabling truthfulness, efficient allocation of resources, and learning, platforms have far too often been used by their owners as vehicles to extract rents and data from the community. To remedy this has been a focus topic of our work at Warren Brandeis.