Silicon Valley's Pied Piper Does An ICO!

Vlad Costea
  • In the seventh episode of Silicon Valley's ongoing season, the Pied Piper crew ditches their traditional financing method and risks it all with an ICO.
  • Even though it's unclear whether or not they're running their own blockchain or issuing ERC20 tokens, this is the greatest televised representation of anything related to cryptocurrencies.
  • At this point, Silicon Valley seems to be pretty bullish on crypto.

Last week, it was revealed in the teaser trailer that the eccentric Pied Piper quartet would look into getting financing from an ICO. The 20-second clip wasn't very revealing about the final decision of the crew, but explained that cryptocurrency-related funding is being taken into consideration in order to get rid of the ruthless Raviga CEO.

The first few minutes of the episode clearly explain that the help which Richard Hendricks (the founder and lead programmer of Pied Piper and the decentralized internet initiative) has given to her superior ended up being sold to the highest bidder, and an important portion of the company's processing power is basically rented to an unwanted third party.

Under these circumstances, the grindcore-loving satanist Gilfoyle brings up the possibility of obtaining the necessary funds through an ICO. He's been a Bitcoin supporter since the first season when he asks to be paid in the king of cryptos, he builds a super computer named Anton out of GPUs stored in racks that clearly resemble improvised mining rigs, and it's later revealed that he does in fact mine Bitcoin. Given these considerations, he plays the most important role in changing the plot of the episode and appears to be the only one who possesses the technical knowledge to understand cryptocurrencies. 

In a way it's funny that a brilliant coder like Richard Hendricks, who basically works towards building a new internet, is so ignorant of a technology that can complement his efforts. He even appears to know only the stuff that appears in the press, and somehow this seems a little unrealistic in the context. 

Nevertheless, this article will focus on the most important crypto moments from the episode in order to deliver a brief analysis and a criticism of the unexpectedly-positive presentation.

The elevating crypto speech of Bertram Gilfoyle

But Gilfoyle makes it all worthwhile, as he even reveals a long-in-the-making PowerPoint presentation about Bitcoin and why it's the future of money. "In 350 BCE, Aristotle defined sound money as being durable, transferable, divisible, scarce, recognizable, and fungible", says the likeable bearded Canadian in the beginning of his Bitcoin tutorial.

But he gets cut off by "it's a bubble" nonsense and has to take it to the very essence rather quickly:

"And who is writing these articles? I don't wanna say 'The Establishment', but is it possible that Warren Buffet called Bitcoin a pyramid scheme because he has 92 billion conventional dollars to protect? Let's say he's right, let's say Bitcoin dies. So what? MySpace, Friendster, they both died. But they paved the way for other social media tripe like Facebook and Twitter to completely overrun the planet. Crypto is out there and it's not going away."

Bertram Gilfoyle

Then Gilfoyle goes on with his elevating speech by inquiring the nature of cryptocurrencies itself: "What is crypto if not decentralized, anonymous, secure, and an existential threat to the powers that be? I would think that you would be all in on something like that."

And in regards to the advantages of doing an ICO to kickstart your company, he simply says "But even if it's less [than the 30 million dollars required to fund the project], we would still gain control, autonomy, board seats and shares, and you wouldn't have to rely on a VC who once fired you from your own company."

This whole segment is the most bullish crypto speech to ever appear on television, and then we also have a metaphor about the corporate world clashing the new ICO culture.

It's so great not because it mindlessly shills and it doesn't bother to mention that ICOs are the greatest invention since bread came sliced.

Instead, the arguments are presented in an objective way in relation to the technology itself. It's all sane and sound, presented as an evolutionary phase and not like a bubble that's ready to pop whenever big financial interests withdraw. Before being a financial asset which gets treated very much like a Wall Street stock, bond, or commodity, Bitcoin is a digital currency which works and offers unprecedented features - and somehow that's what we should focus our attention on. 

Nevertheless, the episode doesn't end on such a positive note and we see the crew watching the price stagnate at a low value and Russ Hanneman lose his wealth in bad ICOs, while Raviga (the company which they ditched just because they didn't want to allow ads on their new internet) begins to negotiate a partnership with the Chinese company which replicates the new internet. It's a brilliant depiction of the Silicon Valley dynamics and how every deal which gets turned down gets quickly replaced by something else.

At the same time, it's a depiction of the ongoing battle between the old corporate world and the rising ICO industry. While the former is safe but relies on plenty of corporate compromises for the sake of making all parties happy, the latter is risky but comes with a pure set of values and principles. Had the money been transferred to the other side, maybe our world would benefit from greater projects and services. But is there any threshold or stop sign to make sure that emerging ICOs wouldn't resort to the same old tactics and practices which deem the corporate world despicable? Only time will tell.

The criticism in regard to the representation.

It's pretty clear that the show is not very technical just to appeal to wider audiences. But instead of dumbing it down to geek stereotypes like Chuck Lorre constantly does with "The Big Bang Theory", we get an interesting balance of data and comedy. In this regard, Mike Judge and Alec Berg clearly create the better representation of the world they're satirizing. However, the risk of undergoing this approach is that sometimes crucial data is left out.

We still don't know what "Pied Piper Coin" actually is. A big chunk of the episode talks about Bitcoin, and then the attention gets shifted to ICOs, and the final couple of minutes show the Pied Piper team watching the price of their coin. There's no way anyone could ever do an ICO that quickly and have it listed on some kind of exchange in order for the price to rise above 5 cents/coin. We're also not certain if Pied Piper runs on the Ethereum blockchain as a token or has its own infrastructure via forking the genesis block of some other big crypto. Is the supply limited? Can Piper coin get mined? These are essential questions for the cryptocurrency enthusiasts, and none of them get answered.

While this appears to be disappointing, maybe it's better to leave out some technical details and make the presentation as brief and comprehensive as possible. But at the same time, people who have no understanding of cryptos can easily be misled by the presentation. It's a double-edged sword, and hopefully the next episode will clarify some of these details. Anyway, Gilfoyle is doing more for the Bitcoin community than many vlogging shillers, and it's impressive that the show creators have so much faith in the technology. 

Will Pied Piper successfully raise the money through an ICO and deliver the new uncompromising internet? We still have one more episode left from season 5 to find out!