Bits and stuff: April 22nd, 2018

Noah Kulwin’s interview of Jaron Lanier in NYMag is a gut punch. I don’t subscribe to his apocalyptic view of social media, nor do I believe that the world is worse than when we were kids… but he does identify, with blistering clarity, the inherently centralizing forces underlying the technology that was meant to democratize everything.

“And despite all the warnings, and despite all of the cautions, we just walked right into it, and we created mass behavior-modification regimes out of our digital networks. We did it out of this desire to be both cool socialists and cool libertarians at the same time.”

And given that we hear the same democratizing claims about cryptocurrencies and blockchain, as we see centralization of services and the encroachment of the regulators (who are – reasonably, I might add – being welcomed with open arms), the alarm is (pardon the terrible pun) ringing a bell…

“The argument is that social media hates your soul… And it’s also fucking phony and false. It suggests that life is some kind of optimization, like you’re supposed to be struggling to get more followers and friends.”

— x —

Let’s talk about patents.

News of applications to do with blockchain technology are interesting, but do not indicate plans to use said technology.

They do indicate an interest in the concept, and they reveal that the company has developers (probably in-house?) working on fleshing out ideas.

But they do not point to an intention to actually use said ideas. Or that said ideas would even work.

So, why would a company spend time and money on the patent process if it’s not to use the darn thing? Why invest without an expected return?

Patents can be tactical and point to new product launches… but more often, they’re defensive. A company wants to stop someone else from staking that claim. Sometimes, they just want to stop a competitor from entering a certain segment of the business (the defensive patent doesn’t even need to actually work for this to achieve its objective).

What perhaps many don’t realise is that a patent doesn’t need to be very detailed. It’s generally enough to just explain how the idea would work, in theory.

As anyone in the blockchain world knows, theory is tough to implement, especially when stakeholders, costs, latency and generally, you know, reality start to show that things are always more complicated than they seem.

So, just because Walmart has been granted two patents that show how payments data could be protected on a blockchain, we can’t assume that they have plans to implement this technology.

Nor that they should. Patents don’t generally make judgements about economic viability, or strategic common sense.

— x —

Here’s an article about a group of reaaaally young aspiring crypto hedge fund managers… setting up a “Global Center for Investment Fund Studies, to help new fund managers raise capital” at Harvard this month. With a crypto hedge fund lawyer (who says he gets about 6-8 enquiries daily from other aspiring crypto hedge fund managers).

You can’t make this stuff up, really.

— x —

So, what with Microsoft and it’s Azure platform, hints last month that Google was looking to incorporate blockchains into its cloud offering, and now Amazon’s announcement that its cloud platform Amazon Web Services will offer out-of-the-box blockchain services, it seems that cloud-based blockchains are becoming a thing…

I’m confused as to how they’re decentralized.

Sure, you can host your blockchain on an Amazon server and invite other nodes to participate. And you can share control of the data input. But you can do that on a database, too, with permissions and write access.

But, where’s the decentralization? And where’s the robustness? The server goes down and the blockchain is offline? No matter how many redundancies Amazon has built in, it does not sound as secure as a non-cloud blockchain with, you know, distributed nodes.

— x —

From an article in Colossal:

“How is it OK to paint a wall one dull color of paint? But it’s illegal to paint the same space with multiple colors.”

A very good question…

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Murals by Subset, via Colossal

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