2016/08/20 5:22 PM
Longtime blockchain developer, enthusiast and Ripple executive has warned in a new essay that blockchains could bring about a dystopia.
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Stefan Thomas, Chief Technology Officer at Ripple Labs, a leading private and public ledger company, wrote an essay titled “The Subtle Tyranny of Blockchain.”
The blockchain industry, he writes, foresees a blockchain revolution across a swathe of industries like finance, international trade and health care. However, Thomas pens, “blockchains are a pain to work with.”
“Harmony and consensus are valuable. But harmony taken to the extreme becomes a detriment,” he continues. “In the Lego Movie utopia, ‘everything is awesome’ only on the surface. Behind the scenes, there is tremendous diversity and a rapidly changing world, which doesn’t match the established consensus.” A picture of the authoritarian President Business from The Lego Movie graces the essay, implying that — like the movie — everything about blockchain technology is not as rosy as it seems.
Thomas also evokes the Bitcoin block size debate when writing about the difficulties of blockchain technology. With issues like network scalability, Thomas says the blockchain’s social consensus model represents an obstacle.
Despite his less-than-positive words, Thomas is still a Bitcoin proponent, running the website weusecoins.com — “a single resource” where the currency is “explained for the average non-technical user.”
The budding blockchain technology industry has received nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in funding so far this year. The largest technology companies (think IBM, Microsoft), and the largest financial institutions in the world (your bank) are investing in research and development for Bitcoin technology.
The foundation for their experimentation is Ethereum, but their technology will likely pair together new distributed ledger technologies for a secure and more efficient end-result. Distributed ledger and blockchain technology is designed to do one thing: track payments, back office processes, securities and derivatives, health records – everything.
But, as Thomas’ essay poses, what if there is a darker side to blockchain technology? Thomas suggests issues in growing the technology.
In particular, experimentation and improvements to the software are hampered in a blockchain system because a majority of miners who run the software must agree to deploy the update before it can be rolled out.
“The fact that one corner of the system can be updated and good ideas can eventually spread to the system as a whole has been essential for the Web’s ability to keep pace with technological innovation,” he said.
“In a blockchain like Ethereum’s, everyone has to think the same,” he said, suggesting that differing opinions can lead to developmental gridlock — something that has been an issue in the Bitcoin community for a few years.
Thomas concludes his essay with a plug for Ripple’s Interledger Protocol, describing it as a more flexible and individualized way to send or receive payments. Because of this added choice, “crucially,” he said, “our thoughts can be — once again — our own.”
Ripple has fallen out of the crypto-spotlight in recent years, after internal strife gave rise to a community-wide scandal in 2014 that tarnished the project’s reputation.
Thomas is perhaps best known for his “What is Bitcoin?” video on YouTube, which has been viewed more than 6.8 million times.
What do you think about Thomas’ essay? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of Galen Valle via RedBubble, Ripple.