I want you to take a quick test – don’t worry, you’re guaranteed to pass: Name anything you do, anything, that doesn’t require you to trust someone or something. Go ahead…I’ll wait.
Maybe you garden, or read books; play sports, or maybe you just live. Did you think of anything?
No, you didn’t.
Even if you think you did, you didn’t – go through it carefully…somewhere, somehow in that social endeavor, you had to trust someone. The seed distributor, the library’s book selection, your fellow competitors…your neighbor.
Everything you do socially, you had to trust someone. Now…another question: What Is Blockchain? Go ahead, look it up…I’ll wait. Somewhere in whatever you read, it was a throw-away line or bit of the description: distributed trust. Or ‘trustless’.
Here’s a quick summary: Blockchain overrides the need for a central authority by distributing information previously held in a centralized ledger across a network of computers. In this way, no one person or organization owns the blockchain, yet anyone with an internet connection can make use of it and help maintain and verify it.
Awesome! But…it doesn’t exist. Remember the first test question? There isn’t anything in humanity’s social world without trust. Yet…all these folks thought ‘trustless’ blockchain was a good idea. Oops. They thought they’d move humanity to trusting ‘math’. [This short article is about blockchain’s application trust issues – here, is my take on trusting public key math, integral to ‘how blockchain works’.]
Luckily, blockchain is receding from the front pages; but it’s found a foothold in something else that no one understands: Energy. The ‘coming revolution in distributed energy’ seems to have been vulnerable to the Chainites, as we’ll call the blockchain technology enthusiasts. They’ve hooked their wagon to the emerging clean tech revolution (DES – Distributed Energy Systems) that includes all these distributed participants: utilities, governments, new energy generation and distribution companies – and regular folks withsolar panels on their roofs. Somehow, we’re going to get to a future of instant-valued energy generation, distribution and consumption. This, say the Chainites, is perfect for the ‘distributed trust’ of blockchain.
But…here’s the thing: Get a Chainite to stand next to a whiteboard, describe your distributed energy ‘problem’ with all its participants, and have them draw a trust model diagram of ‘How It Works’. Watch carefully when they do. Two things will appear:
- A massive number of data elements (because…it’s a blockchain! Everybody in the system has the same gazillions of blocks!)
- Waldo will be in the picture…somewhere – when you stare at it long enough, you’ll find him! (Waldo is the module that is actually trusted by someone or everyone…but he’s not supposed to exist in a ‘trustless’ model!)
So why does this matter? Two incredibly important reasons integral to those two trust model issues:
- All data originate from a source – and if there isn’t a direct, social mechanism for verification of its creation, having copies of it everywhere is meaningless: There Must Be Recourse For Error. In reality, we call these laws, and policies and independent verification, etc. Trust, but verify, remember? Without it, we have serious problems.
- When you ignore the built-in social trust mechanisms, you have…catastrophe. De-valued, ignored, hidden, and/or overwhelmed trust entities will revolt, morph, coalesce – and things get a lot worse before they get better. If trust already exists, the question isn’t how to remove it, it’s how to improve it.
Lastly, I guarantee you that I – or just about anyone who’s been immersed in social issues – can draw a better trust model on that whiteboard. It’ll have less data, faster communication, error recourse…it’ll be simpler, less costly to build and operate, easier to manage; it’ll leverage what we all already know: Social interaction is fundamentally trusted.
If you’re looking for a ‘better energy distribution system’, just hang on for a bit until the new ‘MCI’ appears. You remember them, right? There was The Way We Did Communication. Then…along came MCI…a Supreme Court ruling, and Voilà: The Future Of The Phone! That new company will be one that can leverage the existing, and growing, trust model for energy generation, translate that into a realtime value distribution system, and deliver it conveniently through current and future-considered consumption networks and their device profiles. They’ll appear somewhere in a favorable social environment and political frame of mind. And they’ll do it by leveraging the existing trust of all the participants. Only one group will be annoyed (like the behemoth phone monopoly was!), but the coalesced unified trust, based on the entire group’s benefit, will win out.
And they won’t be chaining a bunch of math data in every location; because even if they start that way – they sure as heck won’t grow that way. Social traction is social awareness; then social improvement is wider, fundamental trust. Always has been, always will be.
Blockchain is hanging on in finance (The Madness of Cryptocurrency) and energy (The Mayhem of DES). Cryptocurrencies will be absorbed into the social financial network soon enough – controlled and ‘trusted’ like all value instruments. In the energy domain, let’s be sure to wake up and take notice of the coming DES revolution since it will be such an integral part of our lives. Let’s not make the same mistake we made a 100 years ago with ‘The Utility Company’, locking ourselves into an iron clad trust model of disadvantage. But for heaven’s sake – since there are no trustless human social systems, let’s remove the overblown, over-hyped, actually detrimental blockchain technology while we still can.
Paul McGough, Founder and CTO of Qwyit, LLC, a leading cryptosecurity technology firm, is a telecommunications expert with over 35 years of progressively responsible experience managing IT technology teams for the development, integration, implementation and support of financial, project management, database applications and security systems.
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