Do we need to research in Blockchain?
Conference at BECON — Barcelona Cibernàrium — 9 March 2017
I prefer not having you waiting for my opinion during my 10 minutes speech. The answer is: YES, of course that we need to research in Blockchain.
I am going to justify my answer giving you only some of the possible reasons, limited by the time we have here today.
The first reason has to do with the fact that we are here today. We are almost 200 hundred people ready to pay 25€ for being told about the current state-of-art of Blockchain. Blockchain arises everyone’s interest. Gartner identifies Blockchain as one of the emergent technologies on their Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2016. But you must take into account that Blockchain is almost on the top of the Peak of Inflated Expectations. So, what we have today is a lot of noise around Blockchain, and this is something that the researcher has to constantly consider and filter in order to avoid becoming biased.
But we can also take a look to this picture and use it as a metaphor. All these empty chairs symbolize the content that we need to add to Blockchain in order to make it valuable. This is about providing VALUE. Some of the first applications about Blockchain have to do with IoT, provenance, micropayments, identity, sharing economy, decision making, crypto currencies, and so on. But others that we barely imagine will come in the next few years.
Blockchain is a multidisciplinary field.
Because of all those different applications, and because Blockchain is related to a sort of issues such as technology, governance, or new business models; Blockchain horizontally and equally attracts techies, lawyers, sociologists, economists, activists, anarchists, politicians and researchers. I really love how this list is sorted. It’s difficult to find any other such as multidisciplinary field, at least since the time Internet was emerging.
Blockchain is a potential source for transformation. In order to understand its potential, we need to take a look to some of the main properties that Blockchain has: transparency, immutability, and decentralization. This properties, not choices, but outline conditions, create, at the same time, inefficacies on incumbent systems, as much as they are trying to apply the same old rules playing to a new game; and an opportunity for disruption. Disruptive innovations create new markets and reshape existing ones. This is what is happening with Blockchain. We have recently seen as important players were fleeing from a big Blockchain consortium, arguing that Blockchain was impossible to apply into their business models. I agree with this statement. In order to apply Blockchain, they would need to change their business model, but they don’t want or are not prepared to do it.
Decentralization also creates some challenges, mainly related to governance. We have to consider this as a challenge, as decentralized networks are more difficult to manage than centralized ones.
But save this idea: this transformation is taking place from down to up, as the bubbles you see in this picture. It’s a digital social transformation boosted by a technological entitlement.
Blockchain empowers users to self-organize in order to share own resources and collectively manage public ones.
This decentralization and its associated trust empowers peers to create transaction networks without the need of middlemen. They cut out the need of platforms.
Users, organized in online communities, are able to share own resources, develop own systems of governance, and create social impact.
My opinion is that one of the main areas where we are going to see this empowerment is on the Sharing Economy, as much as we are able to establish areas of interest and development for the intersection of DAOs, commons-based communities, and platform cooperatives.
Let me show you an example. I have the privilege to work as researcher into a H2020 European Comission’s project called DECODE.
The main goal of DECODE is building the next generation cooperative data platforms for digital sovereignty.
**What’s digital sovereignty?
Let me define it as our right to control how our personal information is collected, used and accessed. This seems trivial, but it is far to be a reality in a world in which a few big corporations making profit with our data, and without our knowledge or permission.
The project aims to build a data commons model in order to house real peer-to-peer collaborative economy models based on Blockchain.
There are 14 different partners from 6 European countries. Two special partners are Amsterdam and Barcelona’s city councils. In fact, two pilots, now being defined, are going to be developed in each one of these cities.
What is at the same time challenging and ambitious from this project is that these pilots aim to be mainstream adopted, and they are at the same time focused on alleviating a detected city’s need.
One final reflection
I love this concept about creating social impact through the development of systems based on Blockchain.
Any research not oriented to fight against the critical global problems that we are facing as society is probably useless.
The empowerment of peers allows us to try to reach solutions where current governments are unable to find them.
Research in Blockchain allows us to establish the basis for a set of systems able to fight against global problems such as inequality, job insecurity, gentrification, pollution, and climate change, for example.
Let’s play this game together!
One final thing before leaving. Yesterday, we celebrated the International Women’s Day. Blockchain is so far, and sadly, a male-dominated community. In order to help changing this situation, we all can do something very simple. Why not, from now, when we refer to Satoshi Nakamoto, as we don’t know who this person or group of persons are, we do it as ”she”? With this simple action, we would send a message to all men and women about our need to go towards a more gender equal community.
Thank you very much for your attention!