Blockchain is becoming more and more popular recently and its presence among the topics of interest raises questions, hesitations, and curiosities as to how it will impact our lives.
At first, I wanted to write about the implications of blockchain in our social lives and how we can interact with one another in that ecosystem. I decided that it is better to start a dialogue on the topic, to elucidate some still unclear points for the people new to this field. A while ago, I ran into this blog post: The Financialization of Life and I found it to be a good starting point for this purpose. Therefore, here I’m addressing the questions and hesitations raised by its author about the blockchain, aiming to help in clarifying them.
I hope you get a chance to read that blog post first because my arguments are written to answer directly some of the points made in it. Nevertheless, I have copied the parts that I am addressing.
My critique is not technical, but psychological.
It moves across the domain of perception and of comprehension of reality.
In this domain — the one of the psychic processes which are engaged and shared by people and their relations as they interpret the world to understand how to orient themselves and how to act in it — technologies like the Blockchain are a disaster.
On the one hand, they are a very powerful agent towards the “transactionalization of life”, that is of the fact that all the elements of our lives are progressively turning into transactions.
Life consists of a multitude of transactions even in the absence of blockchain. On a social level, we exchange thoughts, ideas, and emotions. On a personal level, we interact with our environment, with objects, people and the world around us.
Blockchain doesn’t add much to that process of transactionalization (and what a mouthful!) It doesn’t make this process any more aggressive than it already is. Actually, it has nothing to do with that. Everything has already been transactionalized, it only comes in different packaging.
On the other hand, they move attention onto the algorithm, on the system, on the framework. Instead of supporting and maintaining the necessity and culture of establishing co-responsibility between human beings, these systems include “trust” in procedural ways. In ways which are technical. Thus, the necessity for trust (and, thus, on the responsibility to attribute trust, based on human relations) progressively disappears.
Therefore, together with it, society disappears. Society as actively and consciously built by people who freely decide if and when to trust each other, and who collectively agree to the modalities of this attribution.
We can use the same arguments for the time when people created third-party legal entities that established and maintained trust between humans and as human-level trust (and society, as a result) didn’t disappear back then, it won’t disappear now either. It will only transform and this time, not even very radically, since it is not the first time in human history that trust is being delegated to third-party entities, be it to a centralized organization or a decentralized network of people.
Technology is not neutral.
I can use a hammer to plant a nail or to smash it on your head, that’s true. But what is also true is that as soon as I have a hammer in my hand, everything starts looking like a nail.
This is the same for Blockchains. As soon as I start using them, as soon as I start imagining the world through them, everything starts looking as a transaction, as something which is “tokenizable”. And this is a disaster, in the ancient sense of the word (dis-aster, without stars for orientation).
True, technology is not neutral, and in this line, what is? Its partiality depends on who is applying it and with what kind of mindset and intention. It is as if we say, as soon as we start using knives, every person’s neck and stomach becomes “cuttable”. But is it true? More importantly, should it stop us from creating and using knives?
And how does the author arrive at this point that this tokenization is a disaster? Why would simplifying our interactions and taking out the third-parties from the equation be a disaster? The author doesn’t answer that and instead decides to define the meaning of the word “disaster”.
We are starting to design systems which are, on the one hand, completely open and transparent. Which is a good thing from one point of view, and a problematic thing to do on the other. (unless the complete transparency of “The Circle” scenarios is something we feel comfortable with).
If by “The Circle”, the author refers to the movie by the same title, the transparency in blockchain is nothing like that. This “transparency” is applied to the rules, regulations, and codes, and not to the people’s personal and private lives. People’s privacy could be and most probably will be more respected in a blockchain environment.
It is true, however, that, erasing the records of previous activities is limited in blockchain environments, and that is a deliberate feature of this platform, to make it difficult, if not impossible for whoever benefits from manipulating the data, be it a hacker or a corrupted politician.
Institutions and other people disappear, replaced by an algorithm. Who knows where trust is at/in! It is everywhere, diffused, in the peer-to-peer network. Which means that it’s nowhere, and in nobody.
This disappearance of people, or to say it more precisely, the disappearances of jobs didn’t start with the rise of the blockchain. It started way before that, with the first automated system. And it isn’t inherently a bad thing. Those jobs that were automated, created some new jobs. A century ago, the jobs such as Data Scientist and Application Developer were non-existent. Now they are prevalent. So, it is a matter of transformation rather than elimination for jobs.
And as for the trust, in a blockchain system, trust is weaved within the fabric of the system, it is ubiquitous exactly because of its not being only in one specific, central location. In a blockchain platform, trust is inside the code and that’s the beauty of this technology.
The Blockchain is all about distribution of power.
And yet, this same distribution is its weak spot, if our objective is to collectively create a society with more freedoms, solidarity and opportunities for relation, emotion, communication and knowledge.
Because this distribution of power does not require conscience and desire, and the responsibility of these conscience and desire. Because these are in the algorithm, not in ourselves and in our relations.
How is the distribution of power in the Blockchain its weak spot?! As the author explains, it is because “…this distribution of power does not require conscience and desire, and the responsibility of this conscience and desire.” So if the conscience and desires are redefined in an algorithmic procedure, they lose their value?
This argument is inconsistent to me, just as the arguments in the philosophy of mind, for “mind-body dualism” and “identity theory” are, in contrast to “functionalism”. In simple terms, the first two argue that mental states are dependent on physical or brain states, that if we change the material substance of the brain, if we gradually replace neural circuits with chipsets that perform the same computation one by one, we won’t get the same function. Whereas in functionalism, no matter what the substance is, the mental state can be realized if a certain function is performed (the implementations of this theory are available in the fields of neuroprosthetics and Brain-computer interface).
The same way, if conscience and desire can be realized in a machine, would they lose their value? If anything, these two could be realized more strictly in a machine, the conscience being a set of ethical rules that are defined within the algorithm, and the desire, well I don’t know why the author bring that up! Desires, when they are in our minds, could create conflicts of interest and be problematic. So why would we want to apply this feature to our transactions?
It is not the algorithm serving us, and what we want. It is the algorithm turning us into itself, making us become like it.
It is really untrue. How did we become more like the laws when social laws were implemented upon us? Algorithms are no different in that manner.
If the author said that we will be restricted by algorithms, I could accept that. But even that is not a bad thing if we do that willingly. After all, there is always a trade-off between what we give and what we receive in return. If we receive more convenience and better outcomes doing the same thing with a platform, in contrast to without it, wouldn’t we choose that platform? The choice is ours and we are free to choose according to our values.
Considering all this, we can decide not to adopt blockchain as a platform to work on or to move on to. The same way that we could have refused to adopt the Internet as part of our lives years ago. It would have been an absolutely different present than what we are experiencing now if the Internet was not part of our lives today. We would have had much less convenience, a lot of technologies that we take for granted are realized BECAUSE of having and using the Internet.
The same way, yes, Blockchain, too, has the power to change our future. The choice is ours.
Digital Marketing Executive at Weriz.app
Writer at Weriz Publication medium.com/werizapp
The Perennial Resistance to Innovation: Misconceptions About Blockchain was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.