Printed: 2020-07-09

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Blockchains as an Equality Technology

Melanie Swan

Broader Perspective

January 13, 2015

The advent of blockchain technology has prompted the questioning of many concepts that have been taken for granted for years such as money, currency, markets, economics, politics, citizenship, governance, authority, and self-determination.

We have become accustomed to the hierarchical structures of the contemporary world. These structures and models were nice advances at the time of their derivation, hundreds of years ago, to facilitate the large-scale orchestration of different operations of society so that life could be conducted in a safe and productive manner.

While serving as a significant node in the overall progress of humanity, the imperfect value proposition of hierarchical models has been waning, and especially rapidly so in the current era of science and technology.

Now contemporary information technology is facilitating not just a more efficient life through technology (off-loading both physical and mental drudgery), but also allowing the models for large-scale societal coordination to be rethought.

Large-scale decentralized (e.g.; non-hierarchical) orchestration models like blockchain technology are starting to be available, and this could configure a completely new era in human progress. This is because decentralized models are equality technologies: technologies that allow more possibility for individual liberties, freedoms, rights, actualization, expression, and self-determination than has been possible in hierarchical models.

Further, equality technologies imply not just more liberties for individuals and an eradication of illiberty, but a better equalization or calibration of liberties amongst individuals and societies.

It is not that a complete revolution to decentralized models would be underfoot, it is that decentralized models are a striking new entrant in the possibility space of the models for large-scale coordination. The longer-term future could likely be a space where there are many different centralized, decentralized, and hybrid models, and other new forms of models, where the important dynamic becomes tuning the orchestration system to the requirements of the underlying situation.

Melanie Swan, MBA, is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET. Ms. Swan, principal of the MS Futures Group, is a philosopher, science and technology futurist, and options trader.


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