Blockchain, but for real

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  1. Blockchain, but for real
  2. 7. Knowledge, lucidity, and power

7. Knowledge, lucidity, and power

We can now gain a more in-depth understanding of how the knowledge that comes from staying up-to-date can be crucial in the future.

Why even bother?

“Scientia potestas est” / “Knowledge is power”.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1668 (17).

First, the benefit of understanding here is basically to have enough context to, later, think critically about these systems when they are presented to us — potentially with a strong bias. Obviously, it might be about getting involved and contributing as well, whatever; the point of this article is to try to at least generate interest. I believe this context is essential to consider the topic in good faith, without being affected solely by its most highlighted usages — which often seem to be the poorest.

Then, assuming these systems will gradually become part of our daily lives, it seems wise to know them, let alone to have a sense of their risks and the extent of their abilities. Besides, I believe we should give a similar treatment to artificial intelligence, often packaged and essentially exhibited either as a fantastic revolution or as the end of our civilization. Not that reality is in a perfectly neutral in-between, as in “there is good and bad everywhere”, etc.; that’s not my point. However, I think these topics are displayed in such a limited and coarse manner, that the truth simply isn’t there.

Thus, a lack of understanding also means being left behind later on. Well, not inevitably, since we will eventually be exposed to these systems — but neither on our own terms nor in a situation suitable for acquiring a decent context. Hence, the sake of doing so early.

Finally, there is a huge technological bias in this analysis. I believe, on the one hand, that these consequences are inevitable, on the other hand, that blockchain can allow us to deeply transform our democracies, among other things. I obviously understand that one wants to fight this technological model as such, even more so in the case of artificial intelligence, which in my view represents a fundamentally different situation. Therefore, someone could choose to learn more about it, but they could also choose to stay firmly away — either stance is legitimate. Also, this choice is by no means universal — a significant part of the population still has very limited digital and technological access, doomed to suffer the consequences, without even being able to reach alternatives.

In any case, these distributed systems provide a very fertile ground to carry impressively strong — literally unwavering — initiatives and claims, but are only one of the many ways to do [whatever you want to do with them].

Why now?

There are already many people using blockchain, innovating and researching to uphold its initial spirit. For now, it remains a relatively restricted ecosystem, as there are still quite few people involved in it daily, compared to the scale of potential adoption.

That is, if we only keep the best facets, the pace of innovation means that many aspects are still poorly or ill-defined — and therefore are being clarified right now. In my opinion, the circumstances are perfect to learn about it, especially considering the increasing availability of free and high-quality educational content on the subject.

It would be surprising if established media outlets provided the same quality and impartiality of information, so inevitably, the way we will be educated on this technology will depend on this choice and earliness. It is not in our interest to wait for this education to go through these conventional institutions. Indeed, it will certainly not — or hardly ever — allow us to take control of our data, and more loosely of our digital possessions, and to decentralize the decision-making process.

Essentially, it’s about taking advantage of an instant of free and elementary use of this technology to seek to understand it with minimal bias, unlike when its exploitation will bear much more financial and political interests. When it reflects the competitions between countries and economic powers, and becomes an argument in public opinion campaigns, it will be significantly trickier to form a nuanced opinion.

What to do?

Once again, I don’t think there’s much to do at this point apart from learning. It’s quite abstract, but already key; it will at least provide some critical perspective in the coming years, as well as an idea of alternatives and ways to get involved — or to stay away. Nonetheless, I do not necessarily advise immediately using blockchain and distributed solutions. As a matter of fact, it still requires good education in computer security and an empirical critical sense of the difference between opportunity and scam, or secure promising initiative and dubious project.

Common advice is to only invest what you’re willing to lose and to understand that learning is mostly done through practical cycles of losses and gains, not through advice that is theoretical. This mainly applies to the speculative and opportunistic aspect of blockchain. It is, however, entirely possible to experiment with tangible solutions, without any financial investment; still, it makes sense to consider this advice in any case.

Accessibility and security issues are being addressed and resolved right now, to make integration safer, accessible, and user-friendly. However, it is still surprisingly easy to lose everything after a slight mistake. Inevitably, reclaiming individual and collective ownership, the right to privacy, universal circulation of goods, access to verifiable information and transparency of formerly opaque systems, entails a fresh burden of responsibility that can no longer be delegated. It is terrifying: you are trusted with a digital wallet that stores your data and your money — all accessible with a simple sequence of letters and numbers, impossible to guess, yet so easy to lose or have stolen. In both cases — for now — there is no coming back. Soon (already), institutions will kindly offer to hold this private key to make it convenient for us; this is not the goal, and it’s already virtually how our systems work. Actually, there are already extremely encouraging open-source solutions that allow us to retain this autonomy, while significantly reducing the risks of loss or theft.

Design shamelessly forked and modified from 5/9