Who needs permission?

It’s still tentatively the start of the new year, which means predictions are being made and many people are being asked about coming trends.

It’s a harmless enough passtime, even though we all know that predicting the future is a mug’s game and there are many stories of experts hilariously getting it wrong:

Perspectives

These days, I am of course following the predictions and opinions about cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology closely. And my, oh my, I think we are on the way to a few big ones again.

We heard Willem Buiter of Citi say

“We know that bitcoin itself is a complete failure and shows the number one law of programming and software: that anything that can be programmed can be hacked. So nothing is completely secure.”

A rather hilarious assertion, as it doesn’t actually make sense. Does Buiter means that because software can be hacked that all software needs to be considered a failure? Or is he trying to assert that bitcoin has been hacked and therefore has failed? Or that anything that isn’t completely secure is a failure? Let’s hope he manages to express himself more clearly next time.

John Cryan of Deutsche Bank went on record with

“Blockchain technology is interesting. Bitcoin, I don’t think is.”

Which is like saying you are interested in paper, but don’t like what is being done with it.

As far as technology goes, it seems the gentlemen suffer from the fact that they haven’t actually grasped the true innovation (not unique to blockchain technology, by the way) that is being made here: decentralisation and safety without external controls.

The Blockchain Scare

I do think this year marks the start of the true discussion about Permissioned vs. Permissionless blockchain systems. I see a distinct narrative being created in which “the blockchain” or even worse “blockchain” without the definite article, is being portrayed as a Beast that needs to be “tamed”.

This is an old narrative, where technology is being portrayed as inherently unrestrained and possessed of a will of its own. Then enters a shining knight that can subdue the evil monster and turn its power to productive use.

We’ve seen it with the steam engine, we’ve seen it with the telephone, we’ve seen it with nearly anything new.

It is interesting to see that the examples in the Techradar article have one thing in common: they all affected the way we communicate, even trains. In this light, the fears are even understandable. Communication is so essential to what we are as beings that any other way of doing it is challenging to the core of our existence.

This is also how I view what we see unfolding at the current time. Excuse me for sounding too grandiose, but uncoupling from a central view of interacting is really at the heart of what we are talking about here, and I think this is being felt at a gut level.

Permission? Why?

The heart of the matter is “Why are permissioned blockchains needed?”

That is the key question that needs to be answered by the people proposing them. No, we do not need to answer why we think permissionless is good first, because frankly, we thought of it first and it works fine, thank you.

If you want to propose an alternative, you need to come up with a good reason why the original doesn’t do its job right, and this does not mean just bitcoin, but also NXT, which is proudly permissionless.

In that context, as an analogy to all the “hacks” and failures that people attribute to blockchain tech, I have found some interesting data about the first few years of locomotion to show what I think about the validity of introducing technological failures as an argument to the technology in itself.