Blockchain and the Next Cold War

How the Blockchain Is Decentralizing Data and the New Global Ideological Battle Growing

Background

The InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) is an open-source internet protocol riding the blockchain technology hype that aims to create a better web through peer-to-peer communication. Media and data-files are currently transferred through the method of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). Its design philosophy is structured around users requesting data from a central hosting server and that server then spitting out information to each pertaining user. For a long time, HTTP was the best system available to transfer data across the internet.

HTTP vs. IPFS

Reasons for the lingering usage of the incumbent protocol can be attributed to status-quo bias and the fact that no alternative was mature enough for adoption. The challenger protocol sets out with the ambition to completely replace traditional means. IPFS stands to be the backbone of the new internet, commonly referred to as “Web 3.0”.

Technological Benefits

Upon initial usage in the late ‘80s/early ’90s, the internet did not need to distribute the large files of today at the frequency we do today. Web page file sizes are increasingly getting bigger and the consumption of video and audio content follow this shift. The modernization of web pages leans toward responsive and intuitive design trends. This requires large files to craft something aesthetically pleasing (CSS files) and even larger files to improve interactivity (JavaScript files). Speed is impacted greatly. The result is a bloated web that the centralized HTTP protocol is not optimized to handle. According to Google, 50% of users click off of a mobile site if it does not load in 3 seconds. Loading US-based data outside of North America can take up to 3x as long depending on infrastructure and location.

Web pages are getting fatter every year

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) have been created to try to ameliorate this problem. Basically, all those large files that amalgamate into a site get placed on a server that is relatively close to the user requesting the site. This saves some crucial seconds in the load time of a web page but not enough. It is still just a Frankenstein method of stitching together various parts to give life to a dying communication model.

IPFS aims to solve this issue by distributing the data much as a ledger gets distributed in blockchain technology. The underlining principles are very similar to how BitTorrent worked. Files get distributed in a peer-to-peer model, allowing for faster transfer. If a person beside you is loading the same file from the internet, it’s more efficient to download it off of him/her than to download it from a server farm thousands of kilometres away. When examining IPFS, the application for rural or developing areas becomes self-evident.

The Next Cold War

There are obvious benefits that blockchain technology offers to a country’s citizens like transparent voting. IPFS has similar benefits to liberty. Because there are no single points of failure, the technology is tamper-resistant. This means a government could not intercept or shutdown a population’s access to the internet. In a Hoover Institution interview between Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman, Thiel articulated the idea that, “Crypto is libertarian, AI is communist”. He stated that the country of China is bullish on the R&D of artificial intelligence but hesitant with blockchain technology. This should come as no surprise. The infatuation with central authority has been embedded in the Chinese collective unconsciousness since the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE). The Mandate of Heaven created a distinct ruler based on religious rationale. From a Jungian perspective, the content has changed but the context has not. Using a central artificial intelligence to guide decisions in a modern world that prioritizes intelligence is parallel to a central anointed ruler guiding decisions in an ancient world that prioritized religious ritual and symbolism.

“A cohort of countries is moving toward digital authoritarianism by embracing the Chinese model of extensive censorship and automated surveillance systems.” — Freedom House
The Chinese model

Non-western countries have increasingly experienced government-induced internet censorship, usually around the time of a controversial election that was shrouded with reports of voter manipulation. The first major account of this was in Hong Kong during a pro-democracy rally in 2014. More recently, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced this phenomenon following an election this month. It should come as no surprise that China is heavily involved in building Africa’s internet infrastructure with their state-backed firms.

There is a bifurcation in terms of the philosophy of how data should be managed. The economic battle of Capitalism vs. Communism has taken new form in the data battle of Decentralization vs Centralization. IPFS exists in the same vein of thought that the crypto-libertarians had when inventing blockchain. It is a technology that aims to enable freedom and autonomy to all users of the internet.

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