Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Blockchain and the Global U

Avatars for blockchain and related technologies sometimes focus on anonymity as the core draw, using words like "dark money" and dredging up underworld imagery, on purpose really.  "We're not criminals, we're just dodging the power-hungry who would interfere with our freedoms" is their libertarian tone.

Without raining on that parade, I want to underline what Ethereum and other programmers are pointing out:  you might program the money to reach only a Specific Individual and have it be redeemable from a specific Catalog of Things.  The transaction is both earmarked and tied to a specific party who would need to initiate the chain of events.

The concept is far from new.  It's all about the affordability of the implementation.

Micro-payment systems coupled with "auth" (identity verification) were for the longest time an oxymoron, as the overhead of tracking bazillions of micro-payments outweighs the fees for service collected.

Tracking all those details was just not practical minus serious auditable automation.  The margins were negative, not just thin.  With computers and cryptographic algorithms on the leash, all that changes.

Once digital computers were in the picture, checking and charge card systems expanded financial services to a much larger percentage of humanity, extending credit while reducing the demand for paper money.  Yet in 2016, the majority of humanity is still unbanked.

Going the next step, taking transactions to the next level, using cell phones as devices to both send an receive payments, within specific "games" or "services", is what the new crypto-currencies are all about.  The games may be made more intelligent, and more identity-dependent.

As a work / study student in the Global U, your reward for applying yourself in biology is better access to more equipment, travel opportunities connected with your research, other goodies.  People stand to gain from your work, perhaps on a cure for cancer, and so are eager to reward you with job-relevant tools.

There's social pressure to assist people in getting their jobs done, assuming these jobs redound to our collective social benefit (true, it's not always obvious that's the case).  We compensate bus drivers to have a bus service.

The problem with cold cash is not its anonymity so much as its not having any earmarked function.  In tagging the money with what it's good for, budgeting becomes more self-enforcing through the blockchain and/or other consensus-building workflows.

Work / study students get credits, good towards better access and more privileges, without needing to get cash.  The bookkeeping system sees their choices:  which microscopes they pick, what conferences they attend.  That's not surveillance or a privacy breach, that's a student creating a profile (timeline, chronofile, log, journal).

Again, in stressing how currency may be coupled with identity, I'm not applying the wrecking ball to more anonymous schemes.  The "dark money" business stays a business.  But lets not confuse programming the blockchain in a general sense with just a few of its special case applications.