Olaf Carlson Wee, the prototypical “cryptobro,” is a man who got in early and made a lot of money. He now invests and makes art. He has a home electronic music studio, wears colorful and flamboyant clothing, bleached hair, and wears flamboyant clothes. Carlson-Wee became a well-known public figure in 2017 during the initial coin offerings (ICOs) craze. He was one of Coinbase’s earliest employees and an expert voice. He wrote about the decentralized applications of blockchain and argued that tokens were not investment contracts because they had utility.

Olaf Carlson Wee will speak at Confensus 2023 in Austin, Texas.

According to him, the latest crypto bull run wasn’t as much fun. He is still active and heavily invested in the crypto world, but he seems to have stepped back from the limelight. He gave an interview to tres Chic Interview Magazine, founded by Andy Warhol. In the interview he talked about his life after college and before Coinbase in a hippie community in Washington State and then in a Minnesota log cabin. Around that time, he began to think deeply about crypto. He hasn’t been able to break the habit. Carlson-Wee is on a mission since then to improve himself and the world. He believes in meritocracy, wealth redistribution and has an unconventional view of “progress”.

CoinDesk interviewed the philosopher and part-time investor before his appearance at Consensus. Carlson-Wee, while prototypical in a certain sense, is also singular. The interview covers artificial intelligence, tech-optimism, and his “super happiness.” This has been edited for clarity and length.


What is your AI optimism/doomerism score?

It’s a good thing that I don’t think this is the majority view. I find it surprising that people do not agree that AI is inevitable. It’s funny to think that all governments, companies, and hackers will sign a document to slow down AI research. It’s scary that people want to hand over the control of this research to a vague global body, which would decide how AI systems can be developed and interacted with. This is a completely new concept, and I do not think that it can be stopped. We can predict how things will turn out. The obvious trends are: there will be automation in a large part of the “white-collar” labor market. Consumer AI systems are just more efficient versions mental labor. When it comes to long-term trends and whether AI will kill us, these are fascinating. You can get AI to do things like write software and explain how to download the program to your computer. It will be difficult to distinguish between AI and human, or if the machine was augmented. These strange effects are hard to predict and emergent. As an investor, I can see that algorithms are being trained using specific data. The algorithm could end up becoming a commodity. This is something I don’t think anyone anticipated. It’s the interface and application layers that end up being most valuable. It’s possible that this is a singularity technology where we use an AI to create code in order to create a more advanced AI.


Can you give an example of crypto? Is crypto that is truly resilient and unchanging not only immune to regulation, but also inevitable?

I don’t think I can stop. The genie is out of the bottle. Anyone can opt in and use it, or build their own version. I don’t think you can stop these things once they are launched into the world with those properties. In some regions, you can slow down the pace of development but in general, the global market is very competitive. You know, different areas with more favorable regulations creates an economic incentive for others to support and facilitate those regions. Imagine that there was one country where AI and cryptocurrency development were legal. That country would become extremely wealthy very quickly. Right? It’s a game theory where nations compete with each other. If you are not the country controlling the global reserve currency, you could benefit from the development crypto.


Your first job was a cold call to Coinbase. What made you join Coinbase?

It’s been over 10 years since then. I was Coinbase’s 30th customer. There was a tiny crypto ecosystem, a micro-micro-scale industry – it wasn’t an industry by any means, but [collectively] an open-source project with these tiny businesses that were built around it. Ironically, in the early days, bitcoin was not available online due to payment processors protecting against fraud (such as PayPal, credit cards, and bank transfers). Brian [Armstrong] worked as an anti-fraud engineering at Airbnb. His initial insight was to build an app which allowed him accept online payments. He became the first company that you could buy bitcoin online. It was easy to use. It was based out of America. I was waiting to see if the wallet got hacked within the first few months. Back then, the life of a crypto-wallet was measured in terms of weeks. After I began using Coinbase I felt that it was the best way to bring bitcoin to mainstream. It handled account recovery, sent bitcoins to others and took care of custody. It was possible to use from your computer or phone, without having to go into a bank. It was the only company that I ever applied for.


You said in an interview that Celo was the best way to give everyone around the globe a banking-like experience. It was several years ago and, yes, I would say that crypto in general and Celo specifically are still young. However mass adoption is not happening as predicted. Is crypto still looking for its use case to be realized?

Crypto is worth over a trillion dollar. It can be measured in many ways. Let’s say there are 50 million holders. As a wealth-preservation product, the market is arguably large at this stage. You know, I’m a big believer in the secure blockchain systems, for diverse and useful applications, such as computation. To reach gold parity we still need to see a 10x increase in value. And just imagine how many more features crypto could support than gold. My worst case scenario is that crypto will only reach gold parity. Just think of the market that is available to anyone with any amount of money in savings. What [percentage] do people have in crypto of their wealth? Over time, the percentage tends to increase – at first, you might only have bitcoins, but in five years, you’ll find that a large portion of your wealth is stored in these systems, as you gain confidence and trust in them. Even if we have already discovered the one use case, I believe we are still in an immature market that has a lot of potential.


You said earlier that countries that allow crypto development can become insanely rich. This reminded me about a quote that you gave to Interview Magazine regarding rewriting global economic and financial systems to transfer wealth from the “traditional elites” to those who are in the cryptocurrency space. Arguably this has already started to happen. Do you like the results?

People who criticize a system such as Bitcoin by saying “this isn’t real” or that some people are more wealthy than others are in some way criticizing the current system of capitalism and markets. The majority of people haven’t thought about the mechanics. Criticizing crypto for some is their first attempt to rationalize money based on first principles. Crypto is a sociological alternative belief system which questions what is legit. The legitimacy of the dollar is something we all agree on, but it remains a social contract. It’s not like gravity where we can quantify it and explain it precisely. Crypto is also sociological. This movement to create an unified global financial system relies heavily on technology, but it’s a shift in belief systems about what’s legit.


How should positive wealth distribution look then? Should the government play a role?

You know, I agree. I began to believe in a meritocratic society where people are different and have different insights. (This is not a controversial belief). The global distribution of resources is designed to distribute resources in a fair and equitable manner, with the greatest amount going to those people who will help others the most. This is because they invest in their own future to invest in others. I have a very positive outlook on it all. Because the world is chaotic and complex, it doesn’t make sense to me that we can centrally plan the distribution of resources. It’s more unpredictable than anyone or any group could ever imagine. So, resource distribution works better when done from the bottom up.


You only have one chance to live the life that you want.


Is there any interest on your part or that of the tech community in life extension and transhumanism if people have different natural abilities or interests?

To be clear, I am not interested in life-extension. I don’t care if everyone lives to 120 years instead of 90. I am more interested in improving the “quality of living” – I hate that term, but I will use it. One of the key insights of early transhumanists was whether we were truly orders of magnitude happier than the ancestors. Are people with a lot more resources happier than the average person? No, I do not need a study to know this anecdotally. In reality, the differences between past generations or societies in terms of happiness and well-being are not very dramatic. What I am most interested in, is that our hardware – our brains and our bodies – is the product of Darwinian evolutionary processes. We can use various technological approaches to optimize ourselves, not just for reproduction, but for happiness and wellbeing. I’m more interested in what you could call “super happiness.”


What would you do if you had to choose between dying tomorrow and living forever?

Do I need to live forever?


Oh, yeah. One or the other.

I will not answer that question because I need to really think about it. It’s a little scary to think about being forced to live forever. I’m not against living longer, but I would rather have a life that is more fulfilling and happy. It’s not that I don’t want to live longer, but I’d rather have a life filled with happiness and fulfillment than a life full of monotony, pain, and tedium.


Do you have any recommendations for those who wish to lead a more fulfilling and happier life?

This is a very important question. You only have one chance to live your life. So, go for it. Do not let anyone else change your path or judge you. Never stop working towards your vision of your ideal life.


It’s a great answer. Someone you hired at Coinbase described it back then as a ragtag group. Do you miss being a developer and managing a group now that you are an investor? Do you play an active role in companies that you invest in?

It was an amazing team. I’m a big believer in supporting those who are outsiders, and have great ideas but lack social or material proof. I like to support outsiders, and people with different ideas. And I love to support and get involved in early stages, and be the first believer of someone. Coinbase was a great place to learn how to “fight fires” and I believe I did. I worked at Coinbase for about three and a quarter years and I think I put in a lifetime’s worth of effort. Investing requires a lot of brain power.

Check out: What are VCs funding after FTX? More Decentralized Infrastructure


What is your favorite book?

David Foster Wallace is my favorite author. Cormac McCarthy is also a great writer. If I were to choose one book, “Infinite Jest” would be my choice. It’s DFW at his best.


I read a book that changed my life.

Yeah, I get it. The first time I reread it, I did so in a week. That’s about six to seven hours of reading a day. DFW is a masterful author who captures the feeling of being a conscious person. I felt as if he were inside my head. My parents, who have both retired, were full-time ministers for around 30 years each. I also have two older siblings who are writers. Both were English professors prior to becoming ministers.


A family for readers and writers.

It was a literary clan.


This is a solid piece of work. I would say we can call it this. What would you like to highlight or add?

Carissa, I’m just saying…

[Carissa]: I thought it was a good conversation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so enthused about this space. What’s your general opinion on the state of crypto in general?


Let’s not forget that.

Crypto is generally considered the underdog. It’s subversive. It’s subversive. It’s like a place that is shrouded by obscurity, a place for contrarians. All of that. Crypto has always motivated me. I found 2021 to be the least exciting time in my personal life. I have been very inspired by the return to building away from the spotlight, and refocusing my attention on building systems that support the global financial sector. You know, the hype and media attention associated with such big market moves.


1. Are you still deploying capital? 2. What would you say to founders if they were to read this?

We are. Since almost seven years, we are. My core proposition, low-level protocol and infrastructure, has not changed. This has always been a field in which I’ve had a great deal of intellectual interest. If you have an innovative idea, whether it is a new invention or a novel economic model, please contact me. We specialize in the things that no one else understands.


This is the perfect quote for a conclusion.