Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy (2015)
Chapter 7. Conclusion
This book has tried to demonstrate that blockchain technology’s many concepts and features might be broadly extensible to a wide variety of situations. These features apply not just to the immediate context of currency and payments (Blockchain 1.0), or to contracts, property, and all financial markets transactions (Blockchain 2.0), but beyond to segments as diverse as government, health, science, literacy, publishing, economic development, art, and culture (Blockchain 3.0), and possibly even more broadly to enable orders-of-magnitude larger-scale human progress.
Blockchain technology could be quite complementary in a possibility space for the future world that includes both centralized and decentralized models. Like any new technology, the blockchain is an idea that initially disrupts, and over time it could promote the development of a larger ecosystem that includes both the old way and the new innovation. Some historical examples are that the advent of the radio in fact led to increased record sales, and ereaders such as the Kindle have increased book sales. Now, we obtain news from the New York Times, blogs, Twitter, and personalized drone feeds alike. We consume media from both large entertainment companies and YouTube. Thus, over time, blockchain technology could exist in a larger ecosystem with both centralized and decentralized models.
There could be a large collection of both fiat currencies and cryptocurrencies existing side by side. In his book Denationalization of Money, economist Friedrich Hayek envisions complementary currencies competing for consumer attention. He saw multiple currencies at the level of financial institutions, but as everyone now has their own news outlets through their own blog, Twitter account, YouTube channel, and Instagram handle, so too could there be arbitrarily many cryptocurrencies, at the level of individuals or special interest groups and communities. Each of these cryptocurrencies could exist in its local economy, fully relevant and valid for value exchange and economic operation in that local context, like the Let’s Talk Bitcoin community coin, musical artistÕs Tatianacoin, or community coin in your local farmers market, DIY maker lab, or school district. The local token would likely always be readily convertible out to more liquid cryptocurrencies and fiat currencies. This is the multiplicity and abundance property of blockchain technology. Blockchain technology could enable currency multiplicity in the form of many currencies potentially existing side by side, conceived with more granularity than fiat currencies, each for use in specific situations. The overall effect could be promoting a mindset of abundance as opposed to scarcity in regard to the concept of money, particularly if simultaneously accompanied by Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI) initiatives that covered basic survival needs for all individuals and thus enabled a higher-level cognitive focus. Currency could be reconceptualized in the context of what kinds of actions it enables in a community as opposed to exclusively being a means of obtaining and storing value.
The Blockchain Is an Information Technology
Perhaps most centrally, the blockchain is an information technology. But blockchain technology is also many other things. The blockchain as decentralization is a revolutionary new computing paradigm. The blockchain is the embedded economic layer the Web never had. The blockchain is the coordination mechanism, the line-item attribution, credit, proof, and compensation rewards tracking schema to encourage trustless participation by any intelligent agent in any collaboration. The blockchain “is a decentralized trust network.”194 The blockchain is Hayek’s multiplicity of private complementary currencies for which there could be as many currencies as Twitter handles and blogs, all fully useful and accepted in their own hyperlocal contexts, and where Communitycoin issuance can improve the cohesion and actualization of any group. The blockchain is a cloud venue for transnational organizations. The blockchain is a means of offering personalized decentralized governance services, sponsoring literacy, and facilitating economic development. The blockchain is a tool that could prove the existence and exact contents of any document or other digital asset at a particular time. The blockchain is the integration and automation of human/machine interaction and the machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) payment network for the machine economy. The blockchain and cryptocurrency is a payment mechanism and accounting system enabler for M2M communication. The blockchain is a worldwide decentralized public ledger for the registration, acknowledgment, and transfer of all assets and societal interactions, a society’s public records bank, an organizing mechanism to facilitate large-scale human progress in previously unimagined ways. The blockchain is the technology and the system that could enable the global-scale coordination of seven billion intelligent agents. The blockchain is a consensus model at scale, and possibly the mechanism we have been waiting for that could help to usher in an era of friendly machine intelligence.
Blockchain AI: Consensus as the Mechanism to Foster “Friendly” AI
One forward-looking but important concern in the general future of technology is different ways in which artificial intelligence (AI) might arise and how to sponsor it such that it engenders a “friendly” or benevolent relationship with humans. There is the notion of a technological singularity, a moment when machine intelligence might supersede human intelligence. However, those in the field have not set forth any sort of robust plan for how to effect friendly AI, and many remain skeptical of this possibility.195 It is possible that blockchain technology could be a useful connector of humans and machines in a world of increasingly autonomous machine activity through Dapps, DAOs, and DACs that might eventually give way to AI. In particular, consensus as a mechanism could be instrumental in bringing about and enforcing friendly AI.
Large Possibility Space for Intelligence
Speculatively looking toward the longer term, there might be a large possibility space of intelligence that includes humans, enhanced humans, different forms of human/machine hybrids, digital mindfile uploads, and different forms of artificial intelligence like simulated brains and advanced machine learning algorithms. The blockchain as an information technology might be able to ease the future transition into a world with multiple kinds of machine, human, and hybrid intelligence. These intelligences would likely not be operating in isolation, but would be connected to communications networks. To achieve their goals, digital intelligences will want to conduct certain transactions over the network, many of which could be managed by blockchain and other consensus mechanisms.
Only Friendly AIs Are Able to Get Their Transactions Executed
One of the unforeseen benefits of consensus models might be that they could possibly enforce friendly AI, which is to say cooperative, moral players within a society.196 In decentralized trust networks, an agentÕs reputation (where agents themselves remain pseudonymous) could be an important factor in whether his transactions will be executed, such that malicious players would not be able to get their transactions executed or recognized on the network. Any important transaction regarding resource access and use might require assent by consensus models. Thus, the way that friendly AI could be enforced is that even bad agents want to participate in the system to access resources and to do so, they need to look like good agents. Bad agents have to resemble good agents enough in reputation and behavior that they become indistinguishable from good agents because both behave well. A related example is that of sociopaths in real-life society who exist but are often transparent because they are forced into good player behavior through the structure and incentives of society. Of course, there are many possible objections to the idea that the blockchain structure could enforce friendly AI: bad agents might build their own smart networks for resource access, they might behave duplicitously while earning trust, and so on. This does not change the key point of seeing blockchain technology as a system of checks and balances for incentivizing and producing certain kinds of behavior while attempting to limit others. The idea is to create Occam’s razor systems that are so useful in delivering benefits that it pays to play well, where the easiest best solution is to participate. Good player incentives are baked into the system.
Some of the key network operations that any digital intelligence might want to execute are secure access, authentication and validation, and economic exchange. Effectively, any network transaction that any intelligent agent cares about to conduct her goals will require some form of access or authentication that is consensus-signed, which cannot be obtained unless the agent has a good—which is to say benevolent—reputational standing on the network. This is how friendly AI might be effectuated in a blockchain consensus-based model.
Smart Contract Advocates on Behalf of Digital Intelligence
Not only could blockchain technology and consensus models be used potentially to obtain friendly AI behavior, the functionality might also be employed the other way around. For example, if you are an AI or a digitally uploaded human mindfile, smart contracts could possibly serve as your advocate in the future to confirm details about your existence and runtime environment. Another long-standing problem in AI has been that if you are a digital intelligence, how can you confirm your reality environment—that you still exist, that you are sufficiently backed up, that you are really running, and under what conditions? For example, you want to be sure that your data center has not shoved you onto an old DOS-based computer, or deleted you, or gone out of business. Smart contracts on the blockchain are exactly the kind of universal third-party advocate in future timeframes that could be used to verify and exercise control over the physical parameters of reality, of your existence as a digital intelligence. How it could work is that you would enact smart contracts on the blockchain to periodically confirm your runtime parameters and decentralized back-up copies. Smart contracts allow you to set up “future advocacy,” a new kind of service that could have many relevant uses, even in the current practical sense of enforcing elder rights.
Speculatively, in the farther future, in advanced societies of billions of digital intelligences living and thriving in smart network systems, there would need to be sophisticated oracles, information arbiters accessed by blockchain smart contracts or some other mechanism. The business model could be “oracles as a service, a platform, or even as a public good.” The Wikipedia of the future could be a blockchain-based oracle service to look up the current standard for digital mindfile processing, storage, and security, given that these standards would likely be advancing over time. “You are running on the current standard, Windows 36,” your smart contract advocate might inform you. These kinds of mechanisms—dynamic oracle services accessible by smart contracts on universal public blockchains—could help to create a system of checks and balances within which digital intelligences or other nonembodied entities could feel comfortable not only in their survival, but also in their future growth.
Blockchain Consensus Increases the Information Resolution of the Universe
In closing, there is ample opportunity to explore more expansively the idea of the blockchain as an information technology, including what consensus models as a core feature might mean and enable. A key question is what is consensus-derived information; that is, what are its properties and benefits vis-à-vis other kinds of information? Is consensus-derived information a different kind or form of information? One way of conceiving of reality and the universe is as information flows. Blockchain technology helps call out that there are at least three different levels of information. Level one is dumb, unenhanced, unmodulated data. Level two could be posed as socially recommended data, data elements enriched by social network peer recommendation, which has been made possible by networked Internet models. The quality of the information is denser because it has been recommended by social peers. Now there is level three: blockchain consensus-validated data, data’s highest yet recommendation level based on group consensus-supported accuracy and quality. Not just peer recommendations, but a formal structure of intelligent agent experts has formed a consensus about the quality and accuracy of this data. Blockchain technology thus produces a consensus-derived third tier of information that is higher resolution in that it is more densely modulated with quality attributes and simultaneously more global, more egalitarian, and freer flowing. The blockchain as an information technology provides high-resolution modulation regarding the quality, authenticity, and derivation of information.
Consensus data is thus data that comes with a crowd-voted confirmation of quality, a seal of approval, the vote of a populace standing behind the quality, accuracy, and truth value of the data, in its current incarnation effectuated by a seamless automated mining mechanism. The bigger questions are “What can a society do with this kind of quality of data?” or more realistically, “What can a society do with this kind of widespread mechanism for confirming data quality?” Thinking of the benefits of consensus-derived information only helps to underline that blockchain technology might be precisely the kind of core infrastructural element as well as scalable information authentication and validation mechanism necessary to scale human progress and to expand into a global and eventually beyond-planetary society. The speculative endgame vision is that the universe is information, where the vector of progress means transitioning toward higher-resolution information flows. Information may be conserved, but its density is not. Even beyond conceiving of blockchain technology as a core infrastructural element to scale the future of human progress, ultimately it might be a tool for increasing the information resolution of the universe.