Thinking and acting outside the blockchain box

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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 finan­so­wa­ny ze środ­ków pro­gra­mu „Dia­log” MNiSW

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