04 December 2018

The same year I was born, the president of USA, Ronald Reagan, was giving a speech in Germany. I learned about it 31 years later when I saw it on Reddit. As he keeps talking “presidentially,” we can all hear a bang. Unfazed, Reagan comments “Missed me” and tries to continue with the speech. Indeed, it missed him. It wasn’t a gun shot at all, it was a balloon popping. Reagan was shot with a gun six years earlier and still felt the consequences.

What impressed me was the reaction of the crowd. They roared loudly. I couldn’t help but wonder, why would they react to the response, and not to the speech. After all they were there for the speech. Presumably… it was important. But the actions speak louder than words, and the audience showed they value remaining calm in the sense of danger much more than giving a speech. They showed they value the show, the performance. The high stakes.

What is it about the performance that makes it so important as to eclipse the rest of the speech? Can we create that importance and reaction at will? What would a speech be if it has multiple such performances? Would it be as momentous as MLK’s “I have a dream”?

The performance is real. Even though Reagan was a Hollywood actor, in that situation the reaction time was instantaneous. He had a split second to decide if that sound was a source of danger and whether to react. It was all about the timing. If he had taken the time to look around, to get update from Secret Service, if he had paused in any way before remarking “missed me” he wouldn’t have gotten loud ovations. Be reacting instantaneously, he gave the audience a Proof of Authenticity. If the timing was longer, he would appear less confident, and less authentic. It has to be quick enough to be authentic, to be Kahneman-and-Tversky-System-1 reaction, to be a Malcolm-Gladwell-Blink reaction. The quickness of the reaction proves to us, that there is no other though other than the one expressed.

It’s the same as the proof of work principle for cryptocurrencies, looked from a different angle. Proof of work helps us trust that the bits of a bitcoin are real, because the algorithm to compute them is so hard, nobody else would be able to invent them in our lifetime, unless they had access to the massive amounts of compute that the Bitcoin network has. In an oversimplified way - proof of work means that the result takes too long to fake. Proof of authenticy works the same way except that it pushes the amount of time down low, to the atomic limit of human abilities, where we can’t apply filters to mask their authenticity.

We seek that proof of authenticity and regard it highly in the rare chance we notice it.