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Blockchain: The Most Useless and Overhyped Technology in History?

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A recent article by outspoken NYU Stern School of Business Economist, Nouriel Roubini (A.K.A. “Dr. Doom”), claimed as much.

Roubini’s article (though admittedly argued – with a sort of neat, circular irony – from a centralised perspective) makes a lot of very good points. He pretty much nails on the head many of the macro flaws endemic to existing blockchain approaches – ones our next-generation decentralised tech is working to overcome.

In essence, Roubini points out that current blockchains are not really (so-called) “trustless” decentralised systems at all. They are, to one degree or another, flawed centralised systems in which the supreme power resides – where it concerns public blockchains – with what Roubini describes as “an anonymous cartel operating from the shadows of the world’s authoritarian kleptocracies”. He goes on to decry that the much touted “code is law” is a fallacy, and therefore (Roubini argues) blockchains were pretty untrustworthy systems to begin with.

Well, actually, there is a lot of truth in Roubini’s observations (as odd as this may sound coming from decentralisation evangelists, such as us). You do not have to look very far to find use case examples that essentially validate Roubini’s overall position: everything from the phenomenon of shareholder-owned (yet somehow purportedly) “decentralised” media platforms to new blockchain tech developed from inside of consortia that look suspiciously corporate and siloed in nature. From companies purporting to have found useful applications for blockchain, which are actually private, not public, and centralised, not decentralised and therefore not really “blockchain” at all, rhetorical definitions abound.

And therein lies an important contextualiser– it is all about how you define it; let’s be clear: properly understood and deployed, decentralisation is the answer to human liberation and emancipation; of this there can be no doubt. From the invention of the printing press to automotive assembly lines, from Braque and Picasso’s Cubism to quantum mechanics, the history of every existential human dimension and discipline attests to the fact that decentralisation works to free whereas centralisation works to shackle. Period. Blockchain itself (and other DLTs to a lesser extent), on the other hand, risks a serious charge of being an over-hyped shared ledger that is about as useful as its weakest link – buggy, hackable code and the subsequent convenient “solutions” that are forked by effective fiat.

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Let’s face it, the two do not quite yet square (being where we step in).

So back to that contextualiser: it is critical when we talk about “decentralisation” to separate the technology from the intention – at least it is if we are to navigate a clear path forward in very deep waters, anyway. We need to find a way to preserve the ethos of decentralisation whilst we reshape the technology to match the noble and egalitarian intentions behind it.

That is the tech – a radically-new DApp, called DECENTR – we have built.

In essence, the problem DECENTR overcomes is the main weakness our R&D has identified with all current blockchains: essentially, blockchains, as they stand, are a triumph of intellectual and technological rigidity over public consensus. (And anyone really wonders why the public isn’t engaging?) This means that the weaknesses in current blockchain thinking and applications are routinely glossed over by twenty-something, white, male billionaire developers rushing headlong to improve transactional scalability, or transactions per second (TPS), at pretty much the expense of every other consideration (including, in many cases, security).

When seen in this light, the problem is self-evident. If viewed from the broadest perspective, this endemic rigidity actually characterises current blockchain development as a set of disparate technologies developing – not in isolation of each other, perhaps – but in isolation of this broader consensus. In other words, keep going like this, and all that will happen is development will circle back round to the current flawed and manipulative web we already have. The future will be the same as the present – only even more fragmented and with all of us even more heavily data-walled in, courtesy of the paranoid, profit-driven “security” protocols of the large, legacy tech companies. A digital 1984 where Thought Crime can be tracked (and eliminated), in the absence of true decentralised immutability, courtesy of the uncensored stream of digital consciousness expressed – in effect – in the dense data fog of a billion millennials’ social posts. Nasty.

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And unnecessary. The solution? Our tech decentralises data flow (i.e., the exchange and re-use of all data as part of a true data economy, and not only digital trades) on the principles of blockchain. DECENTR does this by using only the electricity consumed by existing devices (or “nodes”) to power what is effectively a next-generation internet (NGI). This new paradigm ensures that the limitations attributed to conventional blockchains – especially concerns of scalability, stability and securely storing personal and transactional details on an open public ledger – are our strengths. This is due to the security protocols that networked data flow and power usage requires to effectively decentralise the wider internet as part of our radically-new cooperative-game theory consensus mechanism. As a result, this consensus mechanism replaces current blockchains’ resource-intensive proof-of-work and proof-of-stack paradigms with DECENTR’s proof-of-engagement protocols.

That, in the final analysis, is what we mean by public consensus – and we have built the core tech to deliver on this consensus. In short, DECENTR is delivering a solution that will provide both the technological and socioeconomic paradigm to continue the development and deployment of publicly beneficial blockchain applications within the broader remit of public engagement, feedback, and collaboration. “Code” may yet prove to be “law”, but it will only work if the public participates as the constituents of the default trustless state that our new paradigm creates to govern. If not, blockchain will continue to do what current blockchain does best: enrich the top 1% at the expense of developing the technology to the benefit of everyone else.

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That is tech even Nouriel Roubini might get behind.

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Rich James
Co-founder at DECENTR. Rich is a dedicated start-up and business advisor, trainer, teacher and public speaker. A work process flow (traditional and digital) expert, he is frequently called upon by SMEs to ensure every facet of large-scale ITC/blockchain projects are being delivered in a seamless and complementary set of processes. Rich is an academic researcher and business and H2020 proposal writer who researches blockchain, DLTs, ICOs, cryptocurrency, AI (DL NNs, etc) Big Data and the data economy for multiple IoT/IoV/IoE/NGI applications for UK/EU businesses and universities. His skills and experience are invaluable in the formulation of workable specs, wireframes and UI/UX features for SMEs wishing to streamline the effectiveness of their digitisation strategy. Rich’s combined SSH/business background means he is also skilled at turning complex heterodox economic, SSH and communications principles and systems into executable specs for development teams. He is as also skilled at coordinating interdisciplinary and communications and dissemination activities across select H2020 consortia and for commercial and other stakeholders, including many household name brands.

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