Alice & Automated Poverty Management

At the end of my previous post I introduced Alice.si, an Ethereum Blockchain software platform investors developed to automate payments to “charitable” projects that prove “measurable impact.”

Alice.si homepage

The platform employs a “pay for results” structure, an approach adopted by numerous governments including ones in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and Australia. After years of data-driven austerity, it is becoming more and more acceptable for public services to be outsourced to non-profit and faith-based partners. Reimbursement for services can then be tied to outcomes-based government contracts, an arrangement that has garnered support from both progressive and conservative quarters.

To get the data required to run their human capital, life-outcomes gambling enterprise, financiers intend to digitally engineer the lives of the poor and compel vulnerable communities to conform to racialized systems of domination that extract profit from misery and dispossession. Black and Brown communities will bear the brunt of ever-more technologized systems of bondage imposed by hedge fund traders. Though rising income inequality and expanded militarized policing ensure a majority of the population will eventually come under scrutiny. Below is a screenshot of an impact dashboard similar to Alice.si. SocialSuite is backed by Salesforce and operates in Australia in partnership with IXO Foundation.

SocialSuite How It Works

Source here.

Impact investors claim charitable donations are dwindling because the wealthy don’t trust service providers; they are not transparent enough with their data. Alice.si, apparently, solves this problem for them. It collects lots of data and makes it readily available for impact analysis. But really, the rich don’t actually want to GIVE away assets, preferring to leverage them to accrue even MORE wealth. That is how the machine of capitalism works. Every “social impact” effort, however progressive it may appear, is ultimately about redirecting resources away from the multitudes at the bottom to a few powerful interests at the top.

Service delivery must, by design, get leaner and leaner as the poor are squeezed for more and more data, their lives increasingly circumscribed by imposed interventions. As each round of of supposed “success” concludes, profit is taken, thus guaranteeing the next investment round has even fewer material resources to offer the poor. Those at the top do not intend to redistribute their holdings, only increase them. To do otherwise would fly in the face of the “investment” premise. To do so would, in fact, be “charity,” and the age of unconditional charity has evidently come to a close as has the age of living-wage, dignified work.

For these reasons Alice.si’s functionality will very likely extend into the “what works” public sector. One of the first proofs of concept for Alice.si involved services for fifteen “rough sleepers” or unhoused folks in London. If you want to take a deep dive into the broken-on-purpose nature of pay for success finance, I encourage you to read social justice accountant Cameron Graham’s seven-part series. It lays bare the sinister mechanics of the St. Mungo’s social impact bond featured in the image below. It can be read on his blog, Fearful Asymmetry, here. This SIB was advanced by Sir Ronald Cohen and Social Finance in 2015.

While housing is an area of keen interest to social impact investors (supportive housing providing a useful node through which data-extracting services can be deployed), success metrics are also readily applied to chronic illness, addiction/mental health, youth services/foster care, end of life care and education/training. Much of the technological infrastructure needed for automated “pay for results” is being refined through “humanitarian” global aid channels, also featured in the screenshot below.

Alice.si projects

Funding for Alice.si’s development came from Social Tech Trust, originally the corporate foundation for Nominet and later spun off as its own venture. Nominet manages the Internet domain registry for the UK. The company is also deeply involved with emerging technologies that can manage, track, and predict people’s behaviors in ubiquitous computing environments: Internet of Things sensors, Smart City initiatives, autonomous vehicles and drones. Alice.si has the support of the UK government’s innovation program, firms involved in venture capital, as well as digital payment systems. For a time it maintained a US presence in Philadelphia.

Alice.si

Interactive version of the above map here.

Below is a 17-minute presentation on Alice.si made in 2017 at DevCon3.

With Alice.si, organizations set up to process the poor via “evidence-based” “solutions” agree to share impact metrics and progress towards goals by uploading regular reports to a Blockchain platform with a public-facing dashboard.  With the Alice.si platform, investors may opt to provide seed funding up front with remaining payments held in escrow until “success” is proven digitally. Only after conditions of blockchain “smart contracts” are met, will subsequent payments be released.

Alice.si validation

Source page 33.

Instead of relying on a third-party organization to evaluate the “success” of a project, Alice.si is meant to automate the evaluation part of the “pay for success” process. This will supposedly reduce costs and speed up the process. Impact investors are always seeking “solutions” that can be inexpensively brought to scale. Blockchain becomes the “trusted third party;” instead of an entity like Palantir reviewing the data, it is done automatically. Of course, that means that “success” must be defined as a number on a dashboard, and personal data on individuals accessing charitable services must be harvested and uploaded to “prove” that success.

That data-mining might happen when an individual’s caseworker enters information into a social welfare system, but increasingly compliance-monitoring will be managed through Internet of Things sensors and xAPI / apps. Indeed, wearable tech is becoming normalized to the point that in 2018, the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, a pioneer in impact investing policy, hosted a webinar to discuss the ethical and security implications of linking innovative tech to global human capital investment programs. You can watch it here.

This “transparent” data will drive a free market approach to global impact investments. You may recall from my post on the possibility of a Pre-K TARP (Toxic Asset Relief Program), that NPX has devised an impact security structure where social service entities may issue debt for their operations in the form of bonds.

Investors purchase the bonds, and when “success” metrics are attained, donors repay the investment plus interest. Such bonds can be traded on secondary markets. A similar approach has been built into Alice.si. Debt is tokenized on blockchain and can be bought and sold with payment flows changing in real time.

The screenshot below was taken from the NPX website.

NPX Impact Security

This screenshot is taken from the Alice.si white paper.

Alice.si secondary markets

In this new world of human capital speculation, social welfare services will be underwritten by far-flung amalgamations of pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, venture capital funds, and insurers. Such was the case I wrote about in Connecticut where a French bank and an Australian insurance company put up money to fund “family stability” interventions for Connecticut families where a parent was experiencing addiction and had involvement with Child Protective Services.

It is possible that in the not too distant future “philanthropic” entities could be set up as DAOs, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations or DAFs, Decentralized Autonomous Funds. These are legally incorporated entities written in computer code that once activated proceed according to their set purpose, distributing funds with no human input whatsoever. Let me repeat-once a DAO is set loose, there is no human involvement. None.

The concept for automated charity was put forth in a 2015 white paper prepared by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), an Alice.si partner based in the UK, called “Giving Unchained: Philanthropy and the Blockchain.” CAF heralds this advance, positing a future in which “internet of things, underpinned by blockchain technology, lead to a world in which smart machines emerge as a new hyper-rational donor class.”

If the actions of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Marc Benioff, and Pierre Omidyar concern you now, imagine a future where they set up DAOs or DAFs to carry out their social impact agendas. Few people realize this is even a possibility. It is terrifying. I’m really not sure why progressive and Left movements are so in the dark about all of this. We need to be discussing in very serious terms how to stop it.

Charity Aid Foundation Giving Unchained Blockchain Text

According to their white paper: “Alice uses the blockchain to record almost every parameter of projects run on the network, tokenizing impact data into “impact facts” that live on into perpetuity thanks to the blockchain’s intrinsic qualities of data-immutability and tamper-resistance.” Imagine how many “impact facts” might be collected on a low-income family trying to survive multi-generational trauma in a city of deep poverty. For impact investors, broken people and broken families are valuable commodities. Valuable that is, IF predictive analytics indicate they can be “fixed” inexpensively. Poor people whose metrics indicate a good “growth” profile will be sought out and cultivated, while the non-compliant poor will be pushed into carceral systems or abandoned and and left to their own devices.

This processing of lives through privatized, prescriptive, “evidence-based” interventions is central to the continued expansion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s “knowledge economy,” one defined by concentrated capital, financialization, rising levels of poverty, and surplus labor. I fear if we do not strongly contest the current framing of the social impact investing as a public “good,” the future of “work” for many will be navigating predatory social service systems, subject to predictive profiling and intrusive surveillance.

Alice.si transforms the world into a treacherous of augmented-reality game, a maze the poor and those servicing them must navigate. Players must not only attempt to live in the game, but hit agreed-upon targets, unlock rewards, and level up. In order for these systems to function, organizations must be able to keep track of people. In this game of impoverished “Life,” each person is their own token, avatar, piece in play. Those in power expect to be able monitor the resources being invested into them and quantify the “success” metrics that person produces. Self sovereign digital identity is another piece of the puzzle. I’ll discuss this concept further in my next post on the world’s first “Blockchain baby” born in Tanzania last year.

 

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