Longread: Blockchain revolution & Proof of Jenny
The first time I ever heard about bitcoin was, just like for many others, in 2010 or 2011. I read about it from a post, whose author’s rejoice could fit an alchemist that had finally extracted the philosopher’s stone.
This kind of elation may seed some doubt in a mind of any reasonable person, as it reminds either of crazy paroxysm of TV shops, or makes one suspect the speaker to be psychologically inadequate.
If we add the fact, that this style envelopes something related to money, the mistrust-o-meter just explodes, making one recall good old Ponzi schemes, street scams, or “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”. It is hardly surprising that only a few dared find their way through the thicket of mediocre advertisement to find the fundamental essence therein.
An example of a counter-effect occurred to me just last week. One woman I usually chat on the web, asked me about the way I see a perfect system of education. For a while, I tried answering in details, but eventually bailed and gave her a link to my own op-ed I wrote this spring. It covered the fact that blockchain technology could replace a diploma, a CV, and a portfolio. And when she asked me, what the hell that blockchain thing was, I just cut loose.
This, I replied, is an immutable ledger for data, and Moses’ table of covenant could only dream about such immutability. She objected that she could invent several methods of playing with any data right away, but I said that in the blockchain’s case it is impossible in terms of math. Then I proceeded with describing blockchain’s advantages until I realized that I was as exalted as the author of the post I read at the beginning of the decade. Then I calmed down and realized that I was speaking in vain: my colloquist was quite satisfied with my guarantee of mathematical immutability.
She was asking not out through idle curiosity, but because she was going to speak at a conference on education. She really liked blockchain. However, she did not request complex formulas to accept the information â€“ my guarantee was sufficient for starters. It probably happened because for a few people my authority is denominated in millions of dollars. The reasons for that are not important, however.
A person who knows nothing on cryptotechnology or knows some dirty stuff related to various silk roads, might find another person’s opinion defining, if that another person is stored in a box labeled “my influences” I dubbed the effect “Proof of Jenny” for the case of blockchain. It could have remained a mere joke, hadn’t it brought me to some musings.
The technical side of cryptotechnologies is more or less clear to the “tech-savvy” people. However, it’s hardly a secret that those devoured by fascination of scientific research and complex technical nuances totally ignore liberal arts applied to the issue. It might happen due to notorious disregard digitheads give to humanitarians, as they probably believe that liberal arts, as opposed to technical sciences, are available for any idiot.
Coincidentally, I have two Ph.D.s, one of which is in physics, while the other is related to language studies; so, if digitheads hate humanities-minded, and humanities-minded hate digitheads, I have every right to hate all of them. To my reckoning, it is absolutely clear that evident progress in the technical part of cryptotechnologies does not echo in the humanitarian part of the same technology â€“ mostly because the latter, in mathematical terms, tends to zero, or, in liberal arts terms, is reduced. How can one speak about “wide acceptance” if writers, even those having the best of all marketable good faiths, always write that only “tech-savvy” people may realize the technology, and therefore omit all more or less comprehensible clarifications?
The general theory of relativity is explainable in layman’s terms without using none of its complex equations. Operation principles of a usual computer are describable without any mention of technical nuances. However, when it comes to the blockchain, most descriptions thereof tend to what it can do, and ignore everything related to how it does it.
Math and liberal arts should not oppose each other. Prevailing of the former over the latter launches the situation well known to contemporary cryptospace: novelties an average person hardly can understand, and non-stopping moans about absence of acceptance. When I suddenly became a preacher who can indirectly tell about the blockchain to young education specialists, I realized that the spread-the-word mission has two major practical obstacles.
The first is almost null number of materials describing the blockchain’s philosophy without requiring perfect C++ skills from the reader.
The second is conceptual narrow-mindedness of developers. Reduced, aka tending-to-zero, liberal-art component prevents them from noticing blockchain applicability in areas not related to the finance; most start-ups use only the financial side of the issue.
Recently we heard about launches of some projects employing blockchain to distribute digital data like music, images, or texts. However, conceptually, they are a mix of a social network and a torrent tracker, and there is nothing disruptive about them.
Blockchain revolution will finally occur when math (as represented by technology) finally offers its hand to philosophy (as represented by the concept). Until it has not happened, we will keep hearing desperate wails of unacceptance from all around the world, and watch yet another startup once again trying to interbreed facebook and the pirate bay.
By Jenny Aysgarth
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