Evaluating the Philosophy of Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology

Data & Research / 03.04.2020

Internet – The Ultimate Copying Machine

Back in the ’90s, the Internet as we know it today started to come to light finally. That was the time when the first browsers, social networks, communities, and games were popping up, and anyone who could get their hands on a computer was waiting to get a piece of it.

As we know it today, the Internet is nothing more than a copying machine—the biggest copying machine in history. When I call the Internet a copying machine, at its root, when someone shares something online, the Internet copies it from my database and pastes it in another database. At its root, that is what happens when one shares text, songs, videos, or anything. That simple and scalable innovation changed the world in ways we cannot even think of.

But wait, copying stuff is not always good.

I mean, what am I to do when I want to send something valuable over the Internet? Something that should not be copied? Something like money or intellectual rights?

Moving on to Cementing Trust

Soon it was realized among technically-savvy users of the Internet that no matter how good the internet was at connecting people, it wasn’t good to store and transfer their vested interests. The Internet wasn’t in any way good at transferring a scarce asset. If I had a dollar and send it to you, it should transfer from my database to yours. The Internet should not copy my assets and send them to you. At the end of the day, only one person should hold the dollar.

Almost immediately, people who realized this flaw inherent on the Internet rushed in to take advantage of it. It didn’t take long for centralized parties that mailed a single ledger to record the transfer of value to appear. They cemented their places on the Internet by acting as intermediaries between two end participants. They would perform the function asked of them in exchange for a fee, thereby temporarily solving the problem.

Amazon, MasterCard, Visa, and Google are some of the biggest players who took advantage of the Internet’s architecture flaw. They built their empire because the Internet users needed an intermediary, an authority that could help them connect, building trust on an anonymous network at its core.

Blockchain – The Ultimate Trust Machine

When the 2008 paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer E-cash System” came out, it envisioned a new network. Satoshi Nakamoto, the anonymous person(s) behind the paper, talked about a protocol that used the Internet’s infrastructure’s inherent problem and made it solve itself. They used the inherent coping mechanism to form an infrastructure that made trusting people redundant.

To understand why trust is such an important element in blockchain’s philosophy, let us take a step back. When it comes to friends, parents, and siblings, we usually use their word for any orders or suggestions because the relationship is ingrained in trust. But after the agricultural revolution, the appearance of the first cities and commercial civilizations, relationships surpassed the tribal sphere and thus began the issues with trust.

The only way one could trust another while doing a transaction or building relationships is by looking at the intermediaries. We trust the state by producing money and awaiting it to keep everything regulated. We trust our mutual beliefs to make assumptions on the character of the stranger, and so on. At some level or the other, everyone had to blindly depend on something or the other to move on with their daily life.

When the Internet came in, it certainly did bring the whole world closer together. People from one corner of the world were immediately connected to the other corner with nothing more than an internet connection. Yet, even with the new infrastructure of communication, the problem of trust remained.

But, in 2008, it all changed.

With the advent of Bitcoin’s blockchain came a new infrastructure where trust was inbuilt in the system. Anyone who wished to be a part of the system had to confine to the system’s rules, making them easily trustable by everyone else in the system as they too had to confine to the same rules.

Essentially, Satoshi Nakamoto created a new way of exchanging, storing, and transferring value digitally. But it wasn’t just limited to value. Bitcoin and blockchain technology ended up forming a whole new philosophy of social order. Satoshi designed a protocol where if each network participant acts selfishly, they act in the network’s best interest. With this, Satoshi made sure that no institution was too big to fail. The only institution that should be allowed to function dynamically is an institution maintained by the institution members – every person.

The Philosophy of Bitcoin and Blockchain

There have been thousands of debates over the years about the origin of Satoshi Nakamoto’s intention to build such a network. Yeah, we get that sooner, or later someone could’ve conceptualized such a network, designed such a protocol closely resembling a blockchain. But that doesn’t stop us from speculating what it was intended for.

Most people use “the narrative” in a more casual way to mean a story that takes a specific approach or tone. Irrespective of what they mean and understand, everyone loves a good narrative, an origin story that gives meaning and purpose to something they want to prescribe.

Some people prescribe to the theory that Blockchain follows the Austrian school of thought, that it was intended to distribute power and trust among the masses. Others think of Bitcoin as a libertarian’s wet dream, an ultimate self-expressing social order.

But to generalize it all down, the ultimate narrative of Bitcoin and blockchain technology lies in the freedom it brings to individuals.

Bitcoin and Blockchain brought freedom in the sense that it promises to give the power back to the people in a new ideology called “Decentralization.” Decentralization essentially talks about a system that does not depend on any centralized, single authoritarian institution. It talks about a self-regulating entity that runs on the decisions of its members.

With trust as an inherent feature, with decentralization as its core, and with transparency as the governor, a blockchain opened the world to a whole new stream of thought.

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Sudarshan M is a long time crypto-enthusiast. Pulled in by bitcoin early on, it did not take long for Sudarshan to divert all of his academic attention from business studies to blockchain by doing his Masters and eventually pursuing his PhD in the subject.