Rethinking Authority With The Blockchain Crypto Enlightenment

Annual Question: 


If a central problem in the contemporary world could be defined, it might be called adapting ourselves to algorithmic reality. The world is marked by an increasing presence of technology and the key question is whether we will have an empowering or enslavening relation with it. To have an enabling relation, we may need to mature and grow in new ways. The fear is that just as human-based institutions can oppress, so too might technology-orchestrated realities, and in fact this case might be worse. Blockchain technology is the newest and most emphatic example of algorithmic reality, news that makes us consider our relation with technology more seriously.

Blockchain technology (the secure distributed ledger software that underlies cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin) connotes the Internet II: the transfer of value, as a clear successor position to the Internet I: the transfer of information. This means that all human interaction regarding the transfer of value, including money, property, assets, obligations, and contracts could be instantiated in blockchains for quicker, easier, less costly, less risky, and more auditable execution. Blockchains could be a tracking register and inventory of all the world’s cash and assets. Orchestrating and moving assets with blockchains concerns both immediate and future transfer, whereby entire classes of industries, like the mortgage industry, might be outsourced to blockchain-based smart contracts, in an even more profound move to the automation economy. Smart contracts are radical as an implementation of self-operating artificial intelligence, and also through their parameter of blocktime, rendering time too to be assignable rather than fixed.

Blockchains thus qualify as the most important kind of news, the news of the new—something that changes our thinking; causes us to pause; where in a moment we instantly sense that now things might be forever different as a result.

Singularity-class science and technology breakthroughs are news of the new. It is revolutionary what advances like deep learning, self-assembling nanotechnology, 3D printed synthetic biological life, the genome and the connectome, immersive virtual reality, and self-driving cars might do for us. However impressive though, these are context-specific technologies. So when a revolution comes along that is as general and pervasive as to possibly reorchestrate all of the patterns of life, that is noticeable news of the new, and that is blockchains.

In existing as a new general class of thing, blockchains reconfigure the definition of what is it is be new. Perhaps we did not even know what the new, or news, was before, or how new something could be. We see the elegance of Occam’s razor in redefining what it is to be new. The medium and the message are simultaneously the message; the message is stronger because it has reconfigured its own form. The blockchain redefines what it is to be new because the medium and message create an entirely new reality and possibility space for how to do things. Where previously there were only hierarchical models for organizing large-scale human activity, blockchains open up the possibility of decentralized models, and hybrid models; and not just improved current methods, but an expansive invitation to new projects. The blockchain news of the new is that we are in a whole new possibility space of diversity and decentralization, no longer confined to hierarchy as a solitary mode of coordination.

Blockchains as a class of the new startle us with the discomfort and fear of the unknown because it is not clear if blockchain technology is good or bad news. Even more fearful is perhaps the implication that in fact it is us who will determine whether the news is good or bad. The underlying technology is as any other technology, itself neutral or at least pliable in dual-use for both helpful and limiting purposes. Blockchains invite the possibility of action, and more deeply, the responsibility of action. We are developing the sensibility of the algorithmically-aware cryptocitizen, where the expansion of the apparatus of our thought and maturity is proportional to the force of the new experience to be mastered.

Cryptocitizen sensibility and the blockchain news of the new invite the possibility of our greater exercise of freedom and autonomy, and rethinking authority. In a Crypto Copernican turn, we can shift the assumed locus of authority from being outside ourselves in external parties to instead residing within our own self. This is the Enlightenment that Kant was after, an advance not just in knowledge but also in authority-taking. A Cambrian explosion of experimentation in new models of economics and governance could ensue. Blockchains, being simultaneously global and local, could coordinate the effort, equitably joining the diversity of every permutation of micropolis with the cohesion of the macropolis, in connected human activity on digital smartnetworks.

When we have an encounter with the new, that is indeed news. This is the news that we crave and seek above all else, an encounter with the sublime that reconfigures our reality. The galvanizing essence of the blockchain news of the new is the possibility of our further expansion into our own potentiality. The Crypto Enlightenment is the kind of authority-taking change we can make within ourselves as a maturation towards the realization of an empowering relationship with technology. 

Date: 

[ Tue. Dec. 29. 2015 ]