Thinking and acting outside the blockchain box

In the early days of blockchain technology it was believed that the entirety of governance process could be encoded as an internal logic of blockchains themselves. Even the most radical changes to the protocol could be managed by on-chain operation – by forking away the contending version of the system.

Łukasz Jonak, Analityk DELab UW

The human component of blockchain ‚social machine’ was modeled and encoded into the system’s logic using game-theoretic approach, which assumed that individuals act in their best interest. The rules of blockchain were designed so that the sum of individual egoisms secured system’s integrity.

It seems, however, that inherent in every blockchain system is the possibility for its human component to think and act out of the box, to influence the technical component from broader perspective.

Couple of examples come to mind:

  • ‚TheDao hack’ and subsequent recovery fork: a programmer using a bug (or ‚undocumented feature’) in Ethereum smart contract to steal (or ‚send to an arbitrary address’) funds stored in the contract.

  • Controversy about the nature of the original vision and the future of Bitcoin, resulting in blockchain and community split.

One explanation of this might be that while blockchain computations takes place on ‚syntactic level, humans use semantics: they operate on meanings which, in turn, depend on contextual information. Manipulating the context gives the power to interpret and re-interpret whatever takes place on the blockchain – to think and act out of the box. This is why TheDAO hack could be treated either as exploitation of the features of a smart contract or a malicious attack. In case of Bitcoin controversy, the whole nature of the blockchain’s design principles were being contested. In both cases the controversies needed to be resolved off-chain, (ideally) using old fashioned social mechanisms of argumentation and deliberation. In neither case consensus has been reached, resulting in the splits of both communities and blockchain systems.

This is why the mechanisms of off-chain conflict resolution and decision making need to be (and in fact more and more the are becoming) inherent in blockchain projects. The human ability to think and act outside the box should better be attended to.

Autor projektu: Łukasz Jonak

Projekt finansowane ze środków programu „Dialog” MNiSW