email from neal Conlon 2015 - forward of his notes on a speaker and article
The discussion was led by Brian Forde, MIT Media Lab’s newly installed Director of Digital Currency. Brian made a number of very interesting, immediately digestible comments. If you get the opportunity to read his thoughts or hear him speak, I’d encourage taking it. Among the comments Brian made was what I’ll paraphrase as “the four steps of bitcoin/blockchain awareness”.
I’ve heard of it, but have no real idea what it is or how it works. If you find yourself in this camp, get moving. Blockchain is coming and it stands to disrupt all forms of transaction: financial, informational, contractual, etc. For a primer, I highly recommend reading/referencing Bitcoin for Beginners by GCT’s own coin.co.
I’m starting to get it, but am still a bit hazy. Welcome to the club. I’d argue that even the lion’s share of technologists fall in this camp. Seek out events. A problem I often see with tech that Brad Feld touched on in a previous post is a reluctance to admit even a whiff of ignorance. Despite massive and constant innovation, somehow we all have to be fully versed in everything. The truth, I fear, is we all have just gotten very good at appearing versed.
Wow, I really am starting to get it; you could apply this technology any number of ways… I’m beginning to find myself in this camp and it really is thrilling. For fun, I’ll try out one of my concepts below. I’d love feedback.
- Full awareness = Nirvana. This is more or less a direct quote from Brian’s talk and apropos. May we all find full awareness of blockchain/bitcoin. Feels like a fortune cookie scrawl one might actually see within 5 years.
Before proceeding, here’s a brief definition of blockchain that I find helpful (big thanks to Kevin Beardsley of Elliptic for always helping to pierce the blockchain fog). The blockchain allows for the free and instant creation of an unlimited number of publicly verifiable, immutable and time-stamped tokens. The tokens can represent anything from a financial unit (e.g. a bitcoin or stock certificate), to a timestamped proof of creation (IP or identification of a new fact), to something as silly as “Fan” badges that can prove the provenance of one’s “fanhood”. Importantly, these tokens are independently verifiable (you don’t rely on Facebook or any third party to prove ownership), immutable (no fakes, no copies), and time stamped.
For a hyper-practical example, think of resale markets for concert tickets. We’re all nervous to buy them on Craigslist because, how do we know if they’re real? And even if they are, maybe the seller sold them to five different people and whoever scans first, “wins”. Blockchain technology could force that uncertainty onto a system where the ticket is 100% verified before being listed and can only be sold once. In such a world, I wonder how StubHub and SeatGeek – who charge very high fees in large part to provide verification – will respond.
But there’s a broader notion I’ve had for blockchain that, were it to come to pass, could actually begin to reshape some of the machinery of modern society: blockchain could rewrite the rules for incentivization and acknowledgment (implicit in incentivization) of discovery. This ranges from citizen journalism, to academia, to pop culture, and beyond.
For instance, what if the Associated Press creates its own blockchain? In such a case it might be possible to incentivize intrepid citizen journalists to “own” a scoop by registering it on said blockchain. Were a compensation structure attached to such a blockchain, the citizen reporter could go along for the ride as a story picks up steam and benefit financially from their discovery. If the boom in startups has proven anything, it’s that the Millennial generation wants a stake in the upside of their work. If blockchains can provide this, then people need not necessarily begin their own companies (this may be happening a bit too much) in order to own and profit from their ingenuity.
Similar to an AP blockchain, maybe it makes sense to create a blockchain for academia. Think of it as a peer-reviewed network (as all blockchains are) that wasn’t reliant on publication in academic journals to establish credibility and priority of discovery. That’s a much more transparent, democratic process.
Changing course slightly, maybe we can use the blockchain to disincentivize the consumption of culture by social media, and reincentivize the search for new art? Today I can find out about a band’s secret concert by following the right Twitter handle. It doesn’t take any skill or devotion. It doesn’t take being a snooty hipster to see how that reality can erode the quality of experience of investing in a band / artist / movement. But what if I was only notified of this secret concert if I’d been following the band since 1997 or earlier — a fact which could be verified via blockchain (assuming it existed then). I know a whole swath of Pearl Jam fans who would love such an experience, and I bet Pearl Jam would love it, too (on occasion).
If ideas like the ones I mentioned here, or ones even vaguely similar are adopted, they would have the knock-on effect of reincentivizing the pursuit of the vanguard. Put differently, if the value of a thing is inherently wrapped up in its rarity and transferability, and blockchain enables us to prove the rarity and transferability of any range of things, then new mechanisms for demonstrating value – financial, societal or otherwise – are sure to follow.