Developing the best blockchain technology does not guarantee a web3-enabled society.
I’ve been meaning to have this discussion for some time, but I can’t seem to find the time, audience, and place. What irony when I realize I couldn’t even find the time when attending the intensive Polkadot Blockchain Academy in Berkley. I decided to just write it down and follow the discussion wherever it leads to next.
Some of the material fueling this discussion is:
New users can only share 2 links max. See following posts
I hear things like “You can’t solve trust with tech”, and I am often left pondering. This tech space (blockchains, p2p networks, cryptography, research communities) fills me with hope for a world with Less Trust & More Truth. On the other hand, we are all witness to the mainstream negative perceptions of web3, both warranted and not:
fake/magic internet money
solution looking for a problem
That last point is especially salient, and the primary thought provoker of this discussion.
I think about these naysayers and what they have to lose by humoring the alleged “solution looking for a problem”, utilizing transparent and verifiable means of collaboration that web3 provides. Therein lies the crux of the subject line: Accountability.
Not to spread conspiracy theories here, but…
I can only speak for the US government, in my experience. The humor/irony of these memes mock a government’s lack of accountability. This lack of accountability is hardly a surprise to most readers; it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. There is no incentive to create accountability where systemic trust is at stake. In fact, we only have the opposite: negative repercussions for honest accountability. For example:
To protect those who serve justice from who they apprehend, we often obscure their identity (SWAT masks). A police chief claims accountability, but the true story is often a black box. Better to just offer indirect accountability through the chief of police, an expendable figure when violations occur. This way, the perception of law enforcement remains trusted.
A specific government department would avoid taking the fall for failing the public, as this impacts the thing keeping a government in power: trust. Such is one of the many complex reasons US military is largely an outsourced/contracted/privatized affair.
A company like Airbnb outsources their entire support department to locations like India, there is no way to speak to someone from Airbnb directly. This may be construed as a budget strategy from the outset. However, the opacity leads to plausible deniability when handling support cases. An outsourced call center has little incentive to provide accurate information and customer satisfaction so long as they can keep charging (although I commend those that strive for quality). Since there is no external issue reporting, and issues are only audited by authority requests (like a court order), these black boxes allow Airbnb and the like wiggle room to handle their own policy violations in a timely manner to skirt a lawsuit. Why get rid of that convenience?
Similar to above, a medical facility like Swedish Hospital in Washington State keeps an internal record of support that is not even exposed to the affected party. The only way to follow up on a billing issue is to wait on the phone for hours to reach the only (unrelated) available department who then promises to forward the concern to the relevant department. There are no uniquely identifiable agents in the process, because the issue plays hot-potato across support departments. You get a meaningless report code that is unverifiable. You can’t even go to the building where care was administered, because the billing department is a remote department, only accessible directly by internal workers. Ultimately, time-sensitive issues implode, the unpaid billing issue gets forwarded to a collection agency, and the problem becomes even more complex to resolve where it is just not worth it anymore. You just pay an erroneous bill to get it over with. All because there is no accountability… But the hospital got paid, so why bother changing that?
In challenging the current world order, I often think about the following altruistic idea for democratically electing a city mayor:
Make a city-building simulation (like SimCity or Democracy) using real-world data (census, police reports, medical statistics, etc.).
Give every candidate the same starting point in the simulation.
Broadcast each simulation for a specified period of time, in real-time (like a Twitch stream).
People vote on the simulated city they want to live in, without knowing which candidate produced it.
In this way, we empirically elect our leaders through results instead of:
- Popularity contests
- Rhetorical debates
- Partial or unfulfilled promises
We may be able to design tamper-proof simulators, reliable user verification, and anti-cheating mechanisms… but can we get the candidates to participate? I think not. Even if they did, I have every reason to suspect they would try to circumvent the simulation’s protocol like we’ve come to expect from general elections.
If the epitome of large-scale human collaboration (aka. governments) is shrouded in departmental entropy, how can we ever achieve societal accountability? If human beings are tribal creatures with hierarchal tendencies, as suggested in Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, then we might never abandon the paradigm of trusting a central authority. We are left with little incentive to deviate from our behavioral patterns regardless of the effectiveness for tools/vehicles like web3.
It is clear that those operating within centralized powers enjoy the obfuscated accountability bestowed upon them. Auspicious as web3 may seem for the greater population, there is little-to-no incentive for exposing accountability in governmental facets of society (where web3 has the most meaningful impact). We may develop the most reliable primitives to ensure/verify due diligence in human collaboration, but I don’t see how web3 achieves mainstream adoption without (sorely needed) jeopardy for this intended lack of accountability. I anticipate continued disregard to our “solution looking for a problem”, because acknowledging the accountability problem is an empire-shattering inconvenience. Ergo, all signs indicate (at least to me) that web3 will remain at the grassroots level, much like the Open Source software communities. Forever essential and seldom acknowledged.
Make no mistake:
I love the tech.
I am invested in its future.
I yearn for a web3-native society.
I am passionate about its promise.
So please, change my mind.