ETHEREUM: The Search For the ‘Killer’ Dapp

uPort & Balanc3

Written by Zach LeBeau, contribution by Chaz Luciano

Many years from now, when we look back at how Facebook and other companies controlled our identities, we might say it amounted to digital slavery.

These days I don’t have much time for a social life outside of SingularDTV and the Ethereum space. On the rare occasion I‘m able to pry myself away, I slip down to an odd little dive bar called Fresh Salt. It’s situated in the historic district of the South Street Seaport — right across from the old NYC Fish Market. It was named for the faded sign that still hangs on the building’s facade, the only remnant of the smokehouse established there in 1885.

The Fresh Salt crowd is a mix of locals and regulars, tourists who take in the sights and Nine-to-Fivers who grind out livelihoods in the financial district. I’ve met the occasional sailor there as well — boats still dock at the pier across the street. Above all, it’s a place where true bar etiquette is still practiced — If you want to be left alone you sit at a table. If you want to engage complete strangers in a variety of subjects — Ethereum for example — you sit at the bar. They have decent coffee too.

It’s around their intimate 7 seat bar where the question is eventually asked, “What are you up to in New York?” I always reply, “Have you ever heard of Ethereum?” The answer is always, “No”. I’m obliged to offer up some sort of explanation — everyone’s listening. “What do you do here in New York?” I throw the question back to them, hoping their response gives me insight on how best to explain Ethereum in a manner they will understand.

Last week it was a couple of accountants. I told them Ethereum’s triple entry accounting Dapps (decentralized application) will ensure corporate fraud will be a thing of the past. They were genuinely interested and we talked about it for quite a while, coming to the conclusion that the blockchain would probably put them out of a job. A few weeks before it was a professional musician. We talked about Ethereum giving control back to the artist, making sure the murky strata of talentless middlemen would never again steal the fruits of their creativity.

As a communicator I’m constantly on the lookout for better ways to convey Ethereum’s transformative powers to the uninitiated. How can it be explained so that everyone will understand it? Where is that killer Dapp that everyone can relate to? — especially those who know nothing about the blockchain.

There are a huge number of progressive and vigilant minds out there who have no idea what Ethereum is, that this technology exists, that it’s being built right now… applications that could drastically increase our freedoms, liberties and quality of life. I’m confident if more people knew about it, many would support it and contribute to its growth.

I mentioned the need for that one killer Dapp just a moment ago. In reality, there are several in production now. Venture production studios like ConsenSys are building Dapps that will revolutionize how people interact with everything — with each other, with machines, with themselves. Some of these Dapps will turn entire industries upside down — that’s a good thing.

If you’re wondering when the killer Ethereum Dapps are coming, the answer is very soon. Let’s take a closer look at just two of them, uPort and Balanc3.

uPort

The impact uPort will have on the way human beings interact with one another via machines is so fundamentally revolutionary it may not be that obvious at first, especially when it comes to digital identity and reputation — two things the internet is only able to scratch the surface of.

Rouven Heck, uPort’s project lead at ConsenSys, explains, “We all have digital identities today. You might have an identity on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter, but it’s all under the control of companies. What we’re building now is a platform where you own and control your own identity.”

For anyone who depends on the internet for their livelihood — countless small businesses — ownership of your digital identity and reputation is of prime importance. But for the casual/social internet user digital identities or reputations may not have such an immediate or apparent significance — yet.

Pointing the finger at Facebook for controlling your digital identity may not seem as controversial as things like biotech companies owning your genome or DNA sequence — not yet anyway — but I guarantee you in a world that’s becoming increasingly dominated by the internet of things, having ownership and control over your digital identity and reputation in the future will be as important as controlling the autonomy of your real physical person.

Many years from now, when we look back at how Facebook and other companies controlled our identities, we might say it amounted to digital slavery.

Heck continues, “There’s a lock in effect at the moment, every company keeps your identity for themselves, under their control. If you have a reputation on Uber and you want to leave to go to Lyft, your reputation starts from scratch. If you’re on AirBnb and then you go over to Ebay, it doesn’t transfer your reputation. So with uPort you create your own reputation you can take with you and use any time and in different places.”

But uPort’s revolutionary attributes don’t stop there, as Vinay Gupta says, “Where there is data there is network and where there is network there is data.” To the uninitiated this may seem like a “so what?” statement, but when you start to explain what this means in a practical way, even those who have had too many drinks start to get it.

You see, with uPort, instead of having a birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license, professional license, personal email, work email, all individually stored, accessed, and managed, uPort keeps all of this info in a single, secure smart contract. Instead of pulling information from a variety of sources each time it is requested — instead of writing your name, address, and social on 5 different documents all going to the same place, a uPort user simply links access to the appropriate information. An online forum might be allowed to access your name, profile picture and email address. A car dealer would get credit ratings, license info, and insurance details, for example. All run by smart contracts.

Not only does this make updating information easy, it gives individuals control over what identifying information is shared with whom. This could be combined with biometric data to make a secure digital identity card that would be of great use in countries that lack the traditional infrastructure to reliably issue and verify identity documents.

The writer and sci-fi freak in me entertains scenarios where this integration of data and the complex algorithms surrounding it will one day lead to the formation of an Artificial Intelligence that guides us to the singularity — kind of like in the plot of Singular. ;-)

Balanc3

Balanc3 was one of the examples I brought up when explaining Ethereum to the accountants. If you don’t know what relevance a decentralized accounting Dapp can have in your life, contemplate this…. It will make fraud — as we know it — a thing of the past.

Balanc3’s team leader Griffin Anderson states, “Balance injects more trust in the system as well as making our accounting of financial information more reliable. The 2008 financial crises is something we may have been able to see coming and possibly avoided all together.”

I assure you my father-in-law who lost his pension in 2008 would take interest in Balanc3. Government workers in his bankrupt home state of Illinois whose pensions could evaporate before they retire might take interest. The Baby Boomer generation of the United States of America — and the generation before them — bought into the system, worked for future promises that couldn’t be kept and now face a type of forced-labor until they die. A growing number of Americans can’t afford the concept of retirement. “Retirement”, perhaps another one of those words newer generations won’t know the meaning of, like Snollyguster or hootenanny.

The need for trustless systems is apparent — too few people have too much control over too many. Numbers are not boring ladies and gentlemen, they make the entire circulatory system of our civilization go round and round.

Balanc3 is the trustless answer, a triple entry accounting Dapp. What’s triple entry? Well, double entry is basically marking a transaction down twice — once as a credit, once as a debit — in two sets of books. So when the credits and debits all add up, the books are balanced. Companies have always done their accounting in-house. Until now there’s never been a trustless way to audit a corporation’s books, hence the need for independent auditing firms and processes. This has led to numerous and highly destructive cases of debilitating fraud, especially when auditors and regulators are undermined or even corrupted themselves. Balanc3’s triple entry application places the blockchain into the accounting equation. Now all credits and debits — all transactions — are recorded on the blockchain. Transparent, immutable.

The average American has already crossed the threshold of communicating with more people via the internet in a day than they do physically, face to face. What Ethereum represents is a fundamental reimagining of our relationships with data and each other. Today we rely on insular, centralized systems that have grown entrenched to the point that they do almost as much harm as good. As foundational systems such as identity and accounting and banking are reinvented on the blockchain, the hold of the legacy systems will weaken and — in small measures at first — we can begin to use this trust machine to reclaim some of the power that these centralized behemoths have long held over us.

Investors look for a killer dapp through the lens of exponentials and unicorns. Billion dollar IPOs are the measuring stick, but it’s the small things that often lead to the big things — the things everyone needs or does on a daily basis that are suddenly done differently or better. These little things are what change the world. The type of things that are whispered about in the darkness of a little dive bar in downtown NYC.

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