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Blockchain for Policy: a Pragmatic Assessment

Presentation delivered at ARNIC USC, January 24th, 2019.

Among the digital agoras of the Internet, one in particular defies that pervasive dreamless state of politics. Blockchain enthusiasts not only are eagerly engaged in a lively debate over the future of society, they are also actively pursuing their collective dreams. They seek as much to remake the institutions central to modern society, as to embody a new kind of public digital freedom. However, in the pursuit of their dream, blockchain enthusiasts are constrained by the harsh reality of everyday choices. In those choices, they are forced to interact with current organizations and institutions. A dialogue is already developing between blockchain more radical proposals and traditional government institutions, as less radical visions are more and more also populating the blockchain space. So, despite the naive discourse of disregard of the State that blockchain utopia seems to cling to, their solutions to their everyday legitimacy and due process problems may lead to interesting new ways of organizing representation and dialogue in collective decision-making. We should therefore look carefully into those initiatives and try to evaluate them for what they are: a laboratory for new ways in which political collective action can take place.

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Blockchain for Policy: a Pragmatic Assessment

  1. 1. Blockchain for Policy A Pragmatic Assessment Gabriel Laender at ARNIC USC January 24th, 2019
  2. 2. introduction the promise the reality impact overview
  3. 3. introduction A Pragmatic Perspective
  4. 4. political views are still framed in the Procrustean Bed of left and right ideology choices that relate to dilemmas of the beginning of the industrial age
  5. 5. those choices create a fictional world disconnected from real life dramas
  6. 6. that disconnection disengages people from politics
  7. 7. By adopting new utopias that replace the outdated left and right ideologies, blockchain tinkering is refreshingly detached of traditional institutional fetichism
  8. 8. But blockchain utopias may have replaced the old vices for new kinds of fetichism
  9. 9. We should therefore focus on the tinkering, not on the utopias, to grasp true contributions to modern political dilemmas
  10. 10. blockchain projects are a laboratory of institutions compatible with XXI century’s dilemmas assumption
  11. 11. introduction the promise the reality impact overview
  12. 12. the promise Decentralization Utopia
  13. 13. In 2008, a broad scheme to manipulate credit brought a crisis of trust that lead to one of the worst economic crisis in history
  14. 14. At that same time, a group of digital activists (nicknamed cypherpunks) deluded with Internet's turn into a means of command and control by governments and corporations, received a proposal of a peer-to-peer electronic cash system, with "no central authority"
  15. 15. Even authorship as an authority argument was removed from Bitcoin. The proposal was written under the now famous pseudonym of Satoshi Nakamoto. The pseudonym account was last used in 2011.
  16. 16. that same idea of decentralization (absence of central authority) was expanded in the so-called blockchain 2.0 projects, the most prominent of which is Ethereum
  17. 17. decentralization in blockchain 2.0 projects is intended to be not only of value, but of programmable transactions known as smart contracts
  18. 18. led to blockchain projects for decentralized: • organizations (DAOs) • property (cryptoassets) • identity • commercial applications (dApps) • among others smart contracts
  19. 19. introduction the promise the reality impact overview
  20. 20. the reality Institutional Recombination
  21. 21. steam powered factory factory design is dependent on the machine
  22. 22. electricity powered factory factory design is dependent on the line of production
  23. 23. …the true work of innovation is not coming up with something big and new, but instead recombining things that already exist. Brynjolfsson, Erik. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (p. 78). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle.
  24. 24. technology -> recombination innovation ->
  25. 25. hold that thought and let’s talk about this guys ideas…
  26. 26. Anthony Giddens
  27. 27. 1990
  28. 28. symbolic tokens expert systems disembedding mechanisms}
  29. 29. “disembedding” means the “lifting out” of social relations from local contexts of interaction and their restructuring across indefinite spans of time-space.
  30. 30. disembedding mechanisms as time-machines they remove social relations from space (location) and time
  31. 31. there is room for innovation by recombination of space and time in social relations
  32. 32. let’s see if blockchain can give us one example…
  33. 33. • no owner • no legal entity • kept by some of the world’s top talent (who are financially compensated) • pays things (not people) for infrastructure
  34. 34. introduction the promise the reality impact overview
  35. 35. impact Policy as Recombination of Space and Time
  36. 36. ICT to tinker with space-time disembedment
  37. 37. digital citizenship fluid property algorithmic regulation …