Kai Stinchcombe writes about how crappy bitcoin is. While I am still enthusiastic about the technology with projects like the one Democracy Earth is proposing, blockchain seems to be over applied to projects that could do just as well with some human organizing and a spreadsheet.
Silk Road, a cryptocurrency-driven online drug bazaar. The key to Silk Road wasn’t the bitcoins (that was just to evade government detection), it was the reputation scores that allowed people to trust criminals. And the reputation scores weren’t tracked on a tamper-proof blockchain, they were tracked by a trusted middleman!
A decentralized, tamper-proof repository sounds like a great way to audit where your mango comes from, how fresh it is, and whether it has been sprayed with pesticides or not. But actually, laws on food labeling, nonprofit or government inspectors, an independent, trusted free press, empowered workers who trust whistleblower protections, credible grocery stores, your local nonprofit farmer’s market, and so on, do a way better job. People who actually care about food safety do not adopt blockchain because trusted is better than trustless. Blockchain’s technology mess exposes its metaphor mess — a software engineer pointing out that storing the data a sequence of small hashed files won’t get the mango-pickers to accurately report whether they sprayed pesticides is also pointing out why peer-to-peer interaction with no regulations, norms, middlemen, or trusted parties is actually a bad way to empower people.
Projects based on the elimination of trust have failed to capture customers’ interest because trust is actually so damn valuable. A lawless and mistrustful world where self-interest is the only principle and paranoia is the only source of safety is a not a paradise but a crypto-medieval hellhole.
Often it’s a cultural problem rather than a technical one.