About The Artist
Paul Itoi is channelling major creative energy into two projects that exemplify the revolution of the Lightning Network and genuinely empower digital workers and content creators – Sphinx & Stakwork. At one time his creative energy went into his Art major, oil painting or the violin but now it’s this zeitgeisty software development and time with his family.
"I try to prioritise the things I’m best able to do in the moment – those priceless opportunities. I won’t have 13 & 14 year olds to have fun with forever – hang out in the woods, hunt, fish & camp with. "
Sphinx sits one layer on top of Lightning and lets you put digital content into Lightning payments. You can stream words, ideas, voice, images and value through a borderless, uncensorable network – in exchange for sats, anywhere in the world, instantly.
It’s kind of odd that despite whatever productivity gains technology gives us, however many time saving conveniences, we still don’t seem to be able to carve out enough of that ‘holy’ time with ourselves and our families. He wonders if we’ll ever reach that or whether we’re somehow enslaved by our desire to manifest the new future.
"It doesn’t feel like work right now. We want to fast forward & see this future exist. We’re just trying to make something exist that we feel should exist."
LAYERING COLOUR & CODE
Paul remains fascinated by oil painting and the layering of coloured paints, the masterful way Michelangelo handles skin for example. The way light goes through multiple layers of colour, interacting with each and mimicking the emotional interpretation of what our eyes see in vivo.
The similarities to Bitcoin’s layered approach to money and Sphinx is just too uncanny to ignore. He clearly sees software development and design in a similar layered fashion. “You have to think deeply about what you’re trying to achieve, what tools are available and how to build up the layers – even if one or two are missing.”
When he started building Sphinx, spontaneous payments called keysends weren’t yet merged into Lightning. Lightning Labs released keysends a little over a year ago now but Sphinx was integrating spontaneous payments in their front end well before LND even supported it.
"What our team is doing has been years in the making. We’re layering on those thin layers of paint one day at a time."
We all know we’re in the middle of something huge here and you really can’t predict which art medium will capture this moment best. Paul used to sit with his wife & friends in an historic San Francisco bar called Vesuvius’ & picture the Beatniks writing poetry in the 60s. Did they think they were capturing the moment at that time? Who’s nailing our moment right now?
Building the emotional bridges to a better future, perhaps that’s the most important role of Artists and Creatives, and the role 21ism is aspiring to play too. The world is looking very unbalanced right now and we’re hoping to open a window so people can see a fairer, better future.
Paul’s building software that empowers artists and creatives. He’s seeing a river of ideas appear and he’s as intoxicated as we all are by Bitcoin Twitter. Being able to ‘jack in’ or neurolink into the best thinking and arguments, filter feed off of those exchanges, absorb what’s survived Twitter’s melee of ideas. We all feel we’re on the cusp of something big here and building the open source tools, picks and shovels for that revolution … that’s become his mission.
WHAT IS SPHINX?
Sphinx is a messaging system on top of the Lightning Network. Information, thoughts, art and value transfer layered on top of the Lightning Network which is in turn on top of the Bitcoin blockchain. This layered approach is underpinned by onchain Bitcoin – peer to peer sound money. Lightning’s second layer enables real time exchange of value, improved privacy and flexibility. Sphinx sits one layer on top of Lightning and lets you put digital content into Lightning payments, meaning you can send words, ideas, voice, images and value through a borderless, uncensorable network, anywhere in the world, instantly.
In our view, once artists start realising that they can stream their content direct to their audience with no third parties. That they can do this for sound money, for sats that keep pumping the way sound money should . . . well there’s no going back from that. It’s gonna be a ‘gradually then suddenly’ event and could just be triggered by one major artist or musician distributing via Sphinx. The rewards for content creators of Sphinx vs fiat alternatives like Spotify – it’s just a no brainer!
"Once you see it on your screen, possess those satoshis, see them come in & experience that ‘a ha’ moment. There’s no going back from that real world experience of Lightning."
We have a huge problem with centralised systems like Facebook, Google, Twitter, & Instagram. How do you edit the world’s thoughts or even have the hubris to believe you can keep up with that? Much less be right?
"No matter how many followers you have on Instagram, you’re a slave to that system. You’re winning at the video game they set up for you & you’re done when they say you’re done."
If you’re going to build an audience, say for a podcast, why would you build it on a platform that can censor you in a second? In Paul’s view, history rhymes and if you look back at the walled gardens of AOL and Compuserve, they had their perks but ultimately decentralisation won out. It’s inevitable. You can’t change human nature and you can’t fight human creativity on mass.
SHIPPING THE FUTURE
Paul’s Development Team has replaced messaging and meeting tools like Slack and Zoom. 99% of their communications now go through the Lightning Network using Sphinx as a front end. We haven’t really scratched the surface of what the Lightning Network can do yet, it’s so much more than a messaging system too. It’s just a matter of what we can support on the front end. The technology’s there. Sphinx is a little raw right now. He doesn’t deny that, but the foundations are concordant with Bitcoin and sound money and that’s priceless.
"We’re early. Sphinx is beta software and we’re making it up as we go along but our intentions are transparent. We’re building on an open source framework. "
Paul started pitching the idea of Sphinx in 2018 after he’d gone to a New York Bitcoin Meetup sponsored by Fulmo. He thinks he may have sounded like a crazy person with an Ethereum style idea as the reactions he got were pretty incredulous. Thankfully him and his team kept working on it. They’ve been a little hesitant shilling it, calling it an ‘off label’ use of Lightning but the doubters are catching up and recent support has been phenomenal with people like Adam Curry and Matt Odell pushing it.
What primed him to work on this was a leap of faith from seeing the internet happen in the 90s, seeing the simple desktop browser become a universal client and window to internet’s massive computing power.
Paul started work, somewhat ironically looking back, in the advertising industry. He started a software company in 1996 that ran Perl code on servers, drew up ad concepts and did account management etc. Through this he developed a sound understanding of what software the ad industry needed at the time and his team went on to build some of the first Digital Asset Management systems.
His path to Bitcoin was unusual in that he went straight to Lightning. He was exposed to Bitcoin ideas back in 2012, but had the typical story of not getting it or absorbing it at the time. In 2015 he read about blockchain again as part of a research project. Then some friends he knew closely were getting involved in the ICO space which led him to look into Ethereum and Solidity. He had doubts over its ability to scale and events like Cryptokitties merely underscored that. When he discovered the Lightning White Paper in 2018 though, something clearly clicked and the idea and development of Sphinx began soon after.
In 2018 Paul was working on a healthcare app paying people in South America to do data entry via PayPal. After reading the Lightning White Paper, he pivoted the system to allow people to do work in return for payments via Lightning instead. This has grown into Stakwork.com and is the ‘for profit’ part of what Paul’s team does. It pays the bills.
Stakwork divides up tasks provided by companies and gives them to people around the world, primarily in South America and the Philippines. It lets them, in their own time, with their own phone, do tasks and earn satoshis. For 99% of the people who sign up, this is the first Bitcoin they’ve ever had. Their most common question is what is a Satoshi? They know that they can earn something of value and that’s enough. They’ve had people on the system for over a year now, earning sats when Bitcoin was $5K. So they’ve seen 10x growth on their earnings. The experience of turning their time into sats and seeing its value go up like that – it’s so much more visceral than anyone describing NGU.
Companies pay Stakwork in USD. Stakwork buys bitcoin and puts it in Lightning channels. Their decentralised workers do the tasks and they transfer satoshis over Lightning to their workers wallets. People are literally able to turn their free time into bitcoin. It’s providing a new on ramp and dropping Bitcoin into new markets and countries.
Elizabeth Stark tweeted about Stakwork very early and it’s grown orgnically. They’ve not posted much publicly and only put up the stakwork.com site very recently, but there’s been plenty of people wanting to earn and they’ve now 20,000 workers registered. They’d rather see more people earning $10 a day than one person earning $100 a day. The next goal is to spread the word to companies that need work done and and get more work onto their system.
Paul’s equally fascinated by about health and making sure he’s around and feeling good in the future, extending a productive and happy life. He didn’t figure out this health prioritisation till he was 40 and feels it’s so easy to ignore but by carving out just 5-10% of your brain space and time means you get back so much more.
"Through better sleep, food and the impacts on your dopamine system, you can get back tenfold your investment. It’s the easiest no brainer, compounding return you’ll get. "
He feels that the intersection of Bitcoin, health and food has developed through the more critical thinking encouraged by those groups. The rabbit hole of questioning health advice sounded even crazier than Bitcoin initially, but when you realise you’ve been given wrong advice about cholesterol, fat and diet you start questioning everything. He’s very interested in keto, paleo and carnivore diets and feels exploring optimum health can have immediate returns on lifestyle, energy and motivation.
"You can’t force someone to appreciate what Bitcoin is. You can’t force someone to optimise their health. I didn’t know I could wake up and feel this way every day. If people could only have that ‘a ha’ moment & experience these effects."
A lot of the advice about keto and carnivore diets sounds outlandish to the establishment and it gets censored. Having an uncensored platform for health information based on Lightning could mean you pay for good advice. More people might be incentivized to work in health coaching and we’d relearn a lot. Advice from the FDA or NIH often is simply NOT unbiased.
We’re growing the wrong food. We’re growing it in the wrong way. We should try and fix that. That’s the future he wants to see, sooner rather than later. With projects like @untappedgrowth and these ideas on diet and health flying around Bitcoin Twitter, it feels like the information’s all there. It’s so valuable to understand diet and health. There’s no point in having Bitcoin if you’re dead.
"All the Bitcoiners who saw it, figured it out early … but didn’t fix their health – that’d be the ultimate tragedy. Just start with tiny actions & grow them incrementally to see returns. Habit stacking is the way to go. "
HACKING IT OUT
In the early days of Bitcoin and Lightning, UX difficulties filtered out the people who really needed it or recognised its value and the solution it provided. Sphinx isn’t making any claims about being the finished product yet. It’s beta software and Paul admits they’re making it up as they go along.
"Our intentions are to create a system that people can build on top of in super creative ways. We’re just building these little pieces. "
It’s great to see people figure out how to build on Sphinx using the front end tools. They’d love to see more people experiment with bots within Sphinx Tribes, things like polls, poker games etc. They recently copied the Discord bot syntax, meaning anything you’ve seen in Telegram or Discord should be programmatically possible to do inside a Sphinx Tribe.
Sphinx is Paul’s first open source project and he feels they’re probably doing 50 things wrong and that they’re still in the phase of making the primitives work. They’re integrating Tor and porting Android from React Native to a native language that runs faster and more smoothly.
"We trying not to skip the essential steps now because there’s really no shortcuts. We’ll pay now or later with millions of users. "
Sphinx currently has no revenue model for his team yet although he’s confident valuable businesses will be built on it. That seems inevitable. It’s primary mission is to give individual content creators, doing their own podcast or even onlyfans, an open source platform and tools to distribute, interact and monetise content with their audience. For audiences it also provides much more direct relationships with the creators they follow.
If you’ve not tried it already check out sphinx.chat and get an account on mobile. Even better connect your own Umbrel or Raspiblitz Lightning node to create your own Sphinx Tribe and start monetising your own content. We’re convinced Sphinx is going to be massive – gradually then suddenly. Get in early.
Article by @selfbankt