blockchain is punk

Wide distribution of power lies at the heart of anarchistic thinking. While “punk” and “anarchy” do not necessarily imply one another, they often overlap. Punks tend to balk at centralized authority, as do anarchists. A short leap of logic concludes that we therefore dislike centralized technology.

Concentration in technology long parallels concentration in political power. For example, our abandonment of hunting and gathering in favor of agriculture let to the formation of the state. The Industrial Revolution created modern class divisions. Algorithmic credit score models, opaque and controlled by few, moderate our economic options.

Early in my mechanical engineering career, I realized that if we as a society end material scarcity—through local, distributed control of capital—we will free the world from the chains of classism. Envisioned village- or homestead-sized power power stations, local production of hydrogen to power transportation, homestead-based food production (via hydroponics and synthetic biology), and local manufacture through technologies like 3D printing. And of course, I envisioned a fully distributed data infrastructure. A place for the state exists in this vision, for example they will pave roads, but the state would hold less power in my scenario than it does in the world today.

Large businesses would also lose centralized power, though they will continue to exist and thrive. We’ll need them to produce technology to drive the transition to a (liberated) post-scarcity society—manufacturing an iPhone for instance requires significant investment and raw material sourcing infrastructure. Therefore we’ll have to reward the these businesses appropriately. But we can pilot the business models of large enterprises toward wide distribution of stake, such that the line between producers and consumers blurs.

So far I’ve only briefly mentioned the subject of data centralization, as I felt it better to explain my overall ethic in terms of wider technical matters, in terms of anthropology. Now we zero in on computing, and data in particular:

In the 1990’s I labeled myself “cyberpunk”. Our epic heroes (e.g. Case in Neuromancer) broke information free from the highly centralized control, often distributing it to the people (a la Chevette Washington in Virtual Light). I practiced these values with urgency while resisting US West as a BBS sysop and through over a decade of Linux hacking (the time period in the early 2000’s when Microsoft fought tooth-and-nail to kill open-source software). I practiced these values when I data-mined Ventura County’s online tax delinquency records to find abandoned land to park my RV on.

Most data today resides under centralized control. My bank likely runs a single database to store my account information (we are ignoring practical matters such dev/test servers and sharding). The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) likely stores my truck’s title information in a single location. The United States Treasury controls the American money supply (financial transactions may be thought of as information flow—an abstraction—a numerical measurement of value—i.e., “data”).

If I sell my truck, I have to tell the DMV so they can update their records. I’d rather register the transaction on the decentralized Ethereum blockchain. And if money is data, let’s manage it as decentralized currency!

Blockchain technology dilutes concentrated power. Distributes data (and therefore power) more evenly amongst stakeholders.

This punk, this anarchist, never grew up. She simply grew practical in the short term without losing her long-term concept for the world. She regards blockchain as a bridge between this short-term practicality and the long term vision.

See also:

why we still need cyberpunk

fans control the music: using AI to measure fan enthusiasm at EDC
declaring myself an arbiter of proper ladylike behavior

Post Author: Emily

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