When they first came out, Bitcoins sounded revolutionary. The idea of a crowdsourced currency that would be independent of central banks and possibly even become the legal tender of the Internet era is considered by many a disruption of the traditional economy, a new paradigm to guide society into the 21st century and beyond.
But if you really want revolutionary, says Matan Field of La’Zooz, don’t stop at replacing money. “We want to change the way people think about transportation, and from there how people think about the economy altogether. We’ve come up with what could be called ‘unified theory’ that will, we believe, significantly change society from the ground up.”
It may be a utopian vision, but this one has a real shot, Field believes. If Bitcoin was Revolution 1.0, La’Zooz (the word is Hebrew for “move”) is Revolution 3.0 and beyond, Field told The Times of Israel in an exclusive interview. It is, indeed, a “unified theory” of how society should function, based on establishing a ride-sharing system in which drivers will get paid in virtual currency – called “Zooz” tokens, after the Talmudic-era coins – along with a more accessible decentralized economy, as well as enabling network members around the world to work together.
While Field isn’t the first person to have a vision of how crowdsharing and Bitcoins can change society, his program, he believes, has the greatest chance of making those changes. Users download the La’Zooz app and enroll in the ride-sharing network. When enough people in an area join (based on studies, Field believes that critical mass will be achieved when roughly 3% of drivers in an area enroll), users will be able to “hail” a ride with a member of the network who is driving in their direction.
Instead of paying with cash, passengers will pay with Zooz tokens, which will be credited to drivers’ accounts. “Passengers will pay only for the portion of the ride they use,” said Field. “That’s why we are different from other new online ride services, which are more like taxi services” with the driver earning a profit. “This is true ride sharing.”
Both passengers and drivers will have the opportunity to earn tokens by participating in the network, in either role.
There have been many attempts at ride-sharing until now, but all have flopped, said Field – which is where the Zooz tokens come in. The problem with ride-sharing networks has traditionally been a “chicken and egg” one, said Field. “Programs exchange credits or other benefits with members of the network giving rides, but without an incentive there is no way to get to the critical mass needed to make the network viable. Our method of mining Zooz tokens provides the incentive to get involved in the network.”
Even non-drivers can earn Zooz tokens; passengers can accumulate virtual coins in the same way as drivers, by installing the app and broadcasting their location. “They can mine Zooz tokens just by virtue of being members of the network, just like drivers, and use them to pay for rides,” said Field.
The app is currently available for Android devices, with an iPhone version on the way.
Like Bitcoins, Zooz tokens will be exchangeable for “real” money, with the value to be determined by an open exchange. However, unlike with Bitcoins, Field intends to keep a tighter rein on Zooz tokens. “There will be an upper and lower limit on the value of Zooz tokens, so you won’t get the value fluctuations that we have seen with Bitcoins,” which have ranged in value from a few dollars per unit when they were first introduced in 2008 to over $1,100 last year (it’s back down to about $380 now). “We also intend to keep a full ‘hard currency’ reserve of cash equivalent to the value of the Zooz tokens in circulation, as a check against speculation,” said Field, adding that La’Zooz has lawyers working in numerous countries to ensure that the system does not run up against financial regulations on operating an unlicensed bank.
However, the actual coining of Zooz tokens will be done in a completely decentralized manner – and, according to Field, in a much more democratic manner than Bitcoins, where, because of the technical skills needed, mining is limited to a very small group of developers, favoring the “early adopters” who have an opportunity to create the Bitcoins. Because of demand, those developers can get rich quick, selling the Bitcoins they mined for free for the market price.
La’Zooz, on the other hand, will allow anyone to get into the mining business. “Anyone will be able to create Zooz tokens just by driving, and earn them by taking people for rides or riding with someone on the network,” said Field. Anyone who downloads the app now, before the ride-sharing component comes into play, will begin earning Zooz token credits just for running the app, which will be turned into “real” Zooz and credited to their virtual wallet when they actually begin using the system, said Field.
And La’Zooz will embrace other communities who wish to be part of its decentralized decision-making paradigm as well, said Field. “As an open-source project, La’Zooz creates standard communication protocols, with open APIs, to enable the integration of any 3rd-party applications for collaborative transportation services such as real-time ride sharing, peer-to-peer taxi service, decentralized delivery services, moving services and more.”
Each network will act on its own, mining their own Zooz tokens for members, and making decisions on how much rides will be worth and how much participants can mine on their own.
Eventually, Field even sees the Zooz system having an impact on other forms of travel and transportation – air, train, and cargo. “The partners will create this new transportation marketplace, turning the abundance of empty seats and space into a usable, tradable asset. Just imagine a web of transportation on which anyone or anything can move from place to place, instantly, easily and cheaply, and by that un-jamming and maintaining a healthy transportation ecosystem,” said Field.
Field has an advanced degree in theoretical physics and did his post-doctoral work at the Technion, where he began thinking about the idea of connecting people. He came up with the concept for La’zooz about a year ago. “I realized that smartphones could do a lot to bring people together, and that ride-sharing could be a viable project if done right.”
To fulfill this vision, Field established La’Zooz along with partners Oren Sokolowsky and Shay Zluf, both from Yodfat, a moshav in northern Israel where Field himself lives. The staff has grown since then, with Eitan Katchka recently joining the core team.
La’Zooz may sound far-fetched and pie in the sky – but a surprising number of businesses and even multinationals have been impressed enough with the project to give Field and his partners time to present their ideas to top executives, and, in some cases, money.
“We have been working with a large, well-known international firm on some of the legal issues, and they told us they preferred to get paid in Zooz tokens,” he said. “When ride-sharing becomes the norm – not just for commuters in private cars, but for everyone and everything, including freight, cargo, airline passengers, and more, the world will be less polluted and more equitable. That’s the La’Zooz vision, and I believe it is inevitable.”