Blockchain Ethics

Project Topics: -less-less and Human Powered Blockchain Experiment


Oops. I have two working topic ideas for my project this semester:

  • -less-less : characterizing blockchain systems between 0 and 1
    • The big idea here is to operationalize and make useful distinction of and between blockchain systems outside of absolutes (trustless, unhackable, etc). By digging into these different characteristics and understanding potential strengths of vulnerabilities of different protocols or applications (unsure of where exactly look at here) we may be able to establish common language to discuss across disciplines the ideas behind blockchain. This is somewhat inspired by Prof Mickens criticism of how the elements in blockchain get distorted when computer scientists are talking in the language of law or economics, and inversely when lawyers and economists are explaining computer science. Additionally, the consensus on explaining blockchain to a lay audience tends towards acknowledging its extreme complexity – that is an hour video is needed just to establish basic concepts. Again here, this project could serve as connective tissue that establishes a landscape, categorizes, and argues for the benefits and challenges of different systems in a series of short form articles. The “between 0 and 1” in the title is meant to challenge specifically the absolutes, and while it would not project catastrophic changes (e.g. breaking SHA-2), it may dig in to what claims are reasonable and what claims are sales over substance.
  • Human Powered Blockchain Experiment
    • See John Maeda’s Human Powered Computer Experiment . In short, this project would utilize people to make concrete (if not necessarily clearer) the elements of a blockchain. Ideally there would be multiple concurrent performances across campus (or country) linked by walkie talkies.
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Ooooo, human executed computation is fun. The first massively parallel algorithms paper I’m aware of gave an impressive system for doing climate simulation (see numerically solving pdes) in the early 1900’s using a big room full of people executing calculations. (I’m having difficulty finding the citation, so if anyone knows this paper I’d appreciate a pointer, also don’t fully trust me until I find one).

Also, there are a lot of fun interactive proof systems that can be done in person, often leveraging useful primitives that can happen in the physical world like shuffling a deck of cards. Some examples are zero-knowledge proofs for graph coloring and Sudoku, and multi-party AND. I gave a presentation that included some of these and am happy to discuss more.

The communication issue is really important. Here is my take. Pidgin languages come into being wherever communities speaking different languages communicate. They develop organically and over time, they are not created de novo by a single person or a small number of people. But one of the potential benefits of this course is to start developing a pidgin language, because our group is fairly diverse. But we need to talk! Can you come on Monday night?

This idea reminded me of this physically interactive PoW installation done for ETHDenver 2018: (more on that here, although I think I may have shared something similar in the Signal group chat)

If you roll with this idea (which I would totally attend!!) I would challenge you to ask yourself:

  1. What do you want the audience to get out of the performance? (e.g. is it interactive or observatory?)
  2. What top 3 concepts do you really want to get across? (And why are those important concepts?)
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