Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Blockchain Has You - Science to Story

This article originally appeared in the 'Launch Pad - Science to Story' section of Beyond, my free newsletter for lovers of science and science fiction. Sign up here -

There's a potential science fiction story in every piece of news we read. Who would have thought the invention of the bitcoin might lead to a world where humans are ruled by self-organising machine overlords?

The 'blockchain' is a list of every bitcoin transaction ever undertaken. This list is continually updated on every computer that processes bitcoin transactions. There's no central record and each computer monitors the other to guard against fraud. From that beginning, blockchains have evolved to be a powerful and autonomous system that can be used to guarantee transactions and ownership.

Everyone talks about Uber being 'disruptive technology', but although it threatens the conventional taxi business model, Uber as an organisation is still a very familiar concept, pretty much run like a franchise. It hasn't 'freed the workers' as it claims.

Setting up a blockchain that guaranteed and enforced Uber-like transactions for Uber-like drivers would remove the need to have any kind of organising entity at all. That's truly disruptive. But what if we take the drivers out of the equation too and replace them with self-drive cars?

A blockchain algorithm could manage hire contracts between passengers and cars without the need for any human intervention. Extend that to other forms of transportation or commercial enterprise and you start to get the picture.

Forget robopocalypse or skynet. This has the potential to be a far more insidious dystopia.