Free Minds & Free Markets

Balaji Srinivasan: Technology Will Lead to a Borderless World

The Silicon Valley entrepreneur says cryptocurrencies, virtual reality, and mobile devices are helping individuals escape failed institutions.

"Soon you'll be able to join a VR world, and earn virtual currency in virtual reality," says Silicon Valley entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan. "Which means that, for a good chunk of people in the world, the majority of their waking hours are going to be spent in the Matrix."

Srinivasan believes that new technologies—mobile devices, cloud computing, cryptocurrencies—are rapidly taking us into an era when geography, nationality, and other limitations on our labor and freedom fade away. He says that this evolution will empower individuals and erode the authoritarian capabilities of the state.

Srinivasan is a modern-day polymath who venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has called the person with "the highest output per minute of new ideas of anybody I've ever met in my life." A Ph.D. in electrical engineering, a co-founder of the genetic testing firm Counsyl, and a Stanford computer science lecturer, Srinivasan was also on Donald Trump's short list to head up the Food and Drug Administration.

He believes in technology's power to provide a way for individuals to migrate away from ossified institutions and destructive policies. Borrowing a framework from a 1970 political science treatise by Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, Srinivasan described his vision in a much-discussed 2013 talk titled "Sillicon Valley's Ultimate Exit."

Today, he spends most of his time running the cryptocurrency-based startup, which allows users to get paid for small tasks, like responding to emails and completing surveys. It is ultimately, he says, a tool for creating a "frictionless digital workforce." He imagines providing users with a new type of decentralized employment based purely on their skills. Participants would log on, see a feed of tasks they needed to accomplish, and then be compensated accordingly.

While teaching at Stanford a decade ago, Srinivasan and his brother Ramji founded the genetic testing firm Counsyl, which offers a single assay that tests for every major Mendelian genetic disease. The company aims to lower costs, empower parents, and improve the way genetic diseases are identified and treated.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Reason's Nick Gillespie spoke with Srinivasan about his current ventures; how the FDA and other regulatory bodies should adapt to new technologies; the controversy over genetic testing and "designer babies;" how the 1997 book The Sovereign Individual has influenced his thought; his intellectual heroes; and how he's contributing to "Silicon Valley's ultimate exit."

Interview edited by Justin Monticello. Camera by Paul Detrick and Monticello. Music by Grégoire Lourme, Silent Partner, Blue Giraffe, and Hare.

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The interview has been edited for clarity. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Balaji Srinivasan: One of the things I think a lot about is, if you've got an existing system, and it's ossified, there's at least two responses to it. There's more than two, but at least two. One is, you know, voice, which in its extreme is revolution. Revolution is extreme voice, where it's saying, "Oh, I'm so dissatisfied, let's take the whole thing over." And then democracy is, you know, like a much more limited version of that, but still also effective in many cases. You know, you could actually vote to go and change things. Alternatively, if you believe that it's going to be too hard to change things that way, but you're also cognizant of the fact that certain people like it that way, there's an alternative you can pursue, which is exit. You say, "Okay, I'm not going to be able to change the system, I recognize why you guys have it the way it is, but it doesn't suit my preferences, so I'm going to leave and start something new."

All progress is really the process of: You exit, you build something up, and then it gets ossified, and the next generation exits again. For example, a startup starts, and what happens is the libertarian founder ends up rebuilding the state. That's to say, you start it like an individual, and often people do that because they want to have total autonomy and control, and then what they find is as they get to a certain scale, well, they sort of need to have some policies. They need to have something in place so that you don't have like 500 autonomous people just moving in their own direction, but you have 500 people working as a team.

Nick Gillespie: A startup gets big enough, and then you've got to bring in an HR person.

Srinivasan: Exactly.

Gillespie: And then you've got to start saying, "Oh, no, you got to wear shoes in the office, you got to do this, you got to do that."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    "the highest output per minute of new ideas of anybody I've ever met in my life."

    As my comments here consistently demonstrate, that's not necessarily a good thing.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Technology Will Lead to a Borderless World

    No it won't as long as there are people who want to be as free as possible like Americans and people who are not going to fight back and end up being slaves.

  • phillhamian||

    Is the word borderless just a euphemism for no private property? That's what it sounds like in this context, but I could be wrong.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Sounds like it is.

    New World Order. Open borders. Borderless world.

    Same agenda mixed in there. Destroy American property rights, constitutional protections, free market, and freedoms.

  • Curly4||

    That is why so many in the media are so opposed to Trump. He is trying to restore the US position in the world and domestic and world leaders don't like it! The world leaders and many domestic leaders wants the US to be an extension of the world (Europe) and are willing to destroy the US if it will destroy Trump so we the US can get back on the path to become another Europe.

  • Curly4||

    That is what some people are trying to get here and now, Open borders, where anyone can come and go at their will. That is everybody but an US citizens. Let a US citizen go to any other nation and enter with the proper authorization see what happens to them. But they can come to the US and drive down our labor wages and send all that money to another country some that are not all that friendly to US to boot. So soon we all will know what one way open borders are like.

  • loveconstitution1789||


  • Mark22||

    "Euphemism" implies that Srinivasan has some deeper motives and agenda he is trying to hide. The sad reality is that it doesn't mean anything; it's all just hot air from your typical nouveau riche Silicon Valley man-child.

  • Lucius Fergeson||

    I agree with you in that a nation is defined it's borders and it has the right to protect them, but this video has to do more with technology like VR and the growing influence of technology on our lives, by allowing us to be live a new life in virtual reality.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Your body still has to exist in meat space, Uncle Sam still wants his cut, and he can and will extort your physical form at gunpoint.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    "Soon you'll be able to join a VR world, and earn virtual currency in virtual reality," says Silicon Valley entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan. "Which means that, for a good chunk of people in the world, the majority of their waking hours are going to be spent in the Matrix."

    It's funny when people make goofy claims like this and other people get all doe-eyed over them.

    I hate to break it to this guy, but the only thing missing from his statement today is the VR part. There are many MMOs out there where this is already happening.

  • ||

    It's funny when people make goofy claims like this and other people get all doe-eyed over them.

    I agree. I stopped reading at this point. Even a years worth of Sci-Fi viewing/reading would teach you two things:
    1. This guy's ideas are in no way new or revolutionary.
    2. Any world that supports a virtual world like the one he's describing is going to be just about as bitchin' as the virtual world itself.

    If my fully-immersive haptic body suit and sensory helmet can completely simulate any sensation I can imagine, why would I leave my home *or* network with Europe, Asia, or S. America?

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||


  • loveconstitution1789||


  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Balaji Srinivasan—Technology Will Lead to a Borderless World: New at Reason

    China, Germany and Israel would like to have a chat with Mr. Srinivasan.

  • Jr12||

    Silly magazine, it's already a "borderless world," where thieving collectivists can suck dry the working populations of their native welfare states and then escape the consequences of their plundering greed, by immigrating to another welfare state, where they are welcomed by politicized "open borders" thieves to continue their plunder.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Until you can upload, your meat sack is subject to legal jurisdiction, and that jurisdiction will matter.

  • JeremyR||

    The problem with the premise of this guy's site is that most people have skills. They don't. And it's a fantasy to think everyone can be an engineer or some STEM thing, and even if they could, there's not enough demand for US graduates thanks to the H1-B program allowing them to be imported from 3rd world countries.

    That goes double so virtually, since you no longer even have to import the person and pay him enough to live in the US. They can keep him in his hellhole and pay him 1/100th of what the US guy would need to live off of.

  • retiredfire||

    And how are people going to get laid - you know; the thing that keeps the human species surviving - if we all live in this "virtual" world?
    The celebrating of homosexuals co-opting of marriage - which will do nothing but harm that survival - the teaching of our children that such is "normal", plus the whole "fluid" gender thing, all of which will have the same effect, is already putting humanity onto the path of extinction.
    And the "virtual" world, where one can satisfy oneself alone, with porn and a pair of VR glasses, will put the cherry on top.
    The only ones who will reproduce will be in those places where they can't afford the "virtual" world, and we know why that is, and we will become a world of low-producing, low-information villages - back to the stone age.
    The "virtual" world is already producing what we least want - people physically isolated from each other.
    It is not progress, it is a regression.

  • Azathoth!!||

    "the highest output per minute of new ideas of anybody I've ever met in my life."

    So.....none then?

    Because these are all fairly old, often tired and numerous failed ideas that he's showcasing here.

  • windows 10 support||

    we all know that the technology is the key factor of the current generation and without technology, we cant do any work and this article in which Srinivasan borderless world information is given by the video is so impressive and knowledgeful.
    some time we faced an issue in our computer for that there is an Windows 10 Customer Support who provide all technical support to the user and solve user query.

  • ipad support||

    Technology is the best for new generation. because we don't use technology, We don't do any work and any technical problem solve by itself. and In this technology world srinivasan borderless giving to you best information about technology. so you faced any type of technical issue in apple ipad, you contact ipad customer service to solve our problems.

  • macbooksupport||

    "Balaji Srinivasan: Technology Will Lead to a Borderless World" yeah i agree with that speech because i give an example of "Apple iWatch or Apple phone" we do maximum all of the things with the help of these gadgets like if you want to check your blood pressure right you can do this thing with the help of one touch but in the past this thing is not possible and you are not capable for getting a rapid result.

  • ranjchandra||

    wonderful work Water purifiers Review

  • ranjchandra||


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