There’s No "Let’s Be Evil" Button on the Blockchain Says Edward Snowden
NSA’s whistleblower, who previously stated he used bitcoin to pay for VPN and other activities prior to leaking surveillance documents to journalists, said in a recent interview that there is “no takedown mechanism or other ‘let’s be evil’ button on the blockchain.” Edward Snowden said:
“It’s this decentralization that some hope can provide a new lever to unseat today’s status quo of censorship and entrenched monopolies.
Imagine that instead of today’s world, where publicly important data is often held exclusively at GenericCorp LLC, which can and does play God with it at the public’s expense, it’s in a thousand places with a hundred jurisdictions.
There is no takedown mechanism or other ‘let’s be evil’ button, and creating one requires a global consensus of, generally, at least 51 percent of the network in support of changing the rules.”
In a wide ranging interview, Snowden argued that the technology could help the poor or ordinary people while potentially harming misbehaving rich individuals. He said:
“When a Venezuelan teen wants to trade a month’s wages in cryptocurrency for her local currency, she doesn’t need an ID check and a bank for that. That’s a level of cash people barter with every day, particularly in developing economies.
But when a corrupt oligarch wants to commission a four hundred million-dollar pleasure yacht, well, yacht builders don’t have that kind of liquidity, and the existence of invisible internet money doesn’t mean cops won’t ask how you paid for it…
It could actually hurt them, insofar as relying on blockchains will require them to commit evidence of their bad deeds onto computers, which, as we’ve learned in the last decade, government investigators are remarkably skilled at penetrating.”
Snowden says the tech is simple, it’s just a fancy database. Yet at the same time it is very powerful. In articulating the nature of blockchain technology, Snowden says:
“The tech is the tech, and it’s basic. It’s the applications that matter. The real question is not ‘what is a blockchain,’ but ‘how can it be used?’
And that gets back to what we started on: trust. We live in a world where everyone is lying about everything, with even ordinary teens on Instagram agonizing over how best to project a lifestyle they don’t actually have.
People get different search results for the same query. Everything requires trust; at the same time nothing deserves it.
This is the one interesting thing about blockchains: they might be that one tiny gear that lets us create systems you don’t have to trust.
You’ve learned the only thing about blockchains that matters: they’re boring, inefficient, and wasteful, but, if well designed, they’re practically impossible to tamper with. And in a world full of shifty bullshit, being able to prove something is true is a radical development.
Maybe it’s the value of your bank account, maybe it’s the provenance of your pair of Nikes, or maybe it’s your for-real-this-time permanent record in the principal’s office, but records are going to transform into chains we can’t easily break, even if they’re open for anyone in the world to look at.”
In other words, blockchain tech is a method to create truth by effectively metaphorically mirroring the laws of physics to create a hard reality in the digital world which is not open to subjective interpretation for no one can modify the trust nodes.
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