Understanding possible implications and the disruptive potential of Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT)
Much of our daily live has become closely interlinked with all kinds of systems and technologies. The way we exchange value, trade, communicate, make decisions, make art, find love, find our way around, and gather information and knowledge is defined by the possibilities and options provided by the technologies and tools we use.
This in turn means that a growing responsibility lies on the shoulders of software developers as they make hundreds of small decisions every day which have a profound influence on the lives of people using the technology.
Blockchain technology changes the ways that people and organisations come to agreement about a chain of events. This is not a trivial thing, it is fundamental.
In many circumstances, when a shared understanding of a sequence of events has to be established and agreements enforced, groups look to some form of authority – the manager, the professor, the legal system, or the government even. Blockchain offers a new way for arriving at and enforcing a version of events that aims to be decentralised and neutral. This means a potential shift in regard to financial means, laws, power structures, and government.
Our understanding of consensus and the means we employ to reach it, as well as the manner in which we organise ourselves can be turned upside down or at least be scrutinised. Thus, blockchain technology is often ascribed a disruptive potential.
The way in which blockchain technology might change our way of life and interaction will depend to a not-trivial extent on the early adopters and software developers as they shape the technology and its use. This means that when you are considering your own blockchain-based application you are not just making another app, you are taking part in creating a new form of society.
In this process it is essential to understand that existing institutions and other types of social infrastructures have been built up during some hundred or even thousand of years, and been refined through the struggles between elites and marginalised people. These structures come with vast amounts of embedded experience and knowledge, as well as legacy. Being aware of such structures and realities not only makes your application fit more fluently in the overall development of blockchain technology but also more fitting to technological and socio-economic developments.
Blockchain has its roots in Bitcoin, a response to corrupt centralised, black-box power structures and the disastrous effects they can have highlighted in the financial crisis of 2008. The core values that inspired its design are decentralisation, transparency, and neutrality – but these values and intentions cannot be guaranteed by the technical architecture alone and must be considered for each project that is undertaken.
A decentralised computer network does not guarantee decentralised power, transparency does not guarantee legibility, and finally, code and cryptography do not guarantee neutrality.