Matthew Sinclair, London Engineering Director, discusses the similarities between blockchain technology and the early development phases of motion picture technology. This post originally appeared on his Medium.
Regardless of what you might think about the future of blockchain technology and decentralization, it’s pretty clear that we are still in the early days of working out what it all means.
This reminds me of the early development phases of motion picture technology (well, not that I was there at the time of course, but going by what I have read about it). When early motion picture camera technology was first used, the metaphors and patterns of modern filmmaking didn’t exist. Some of the earliest motion pictures were created by simply putting a single camera in a fixed position on a theatre stage and then acting out a play in front of it. It took some time before filmmakers worked out new metaphors of filmmaking that were native to the platform. Things like panning and tilting, moving cameras, filming outdoors and even editing–these concepts took time to develop.
As an aside, we’re going through a similar process now as we develop VR technology today. For example, what does a “cut” mean in a VR experience? How do you do this without disorienting the “viewer?” Is “viewer” even the right mental model to use when thinking about the person who consumes the VR experience?
Back in the early 90s, we had a similar experience as the web emerged. I remember when the first Pizza Hut website came online. This caused quite a stir, and although it now seems completely bizarre, there was a genuine conversation about whether or not e-commerce should even exist. The Internet, some people said, was not for commerce. Roll forward ~25 years and global e-commerce is well over two trillion US dollars.
Back to blockchain and decentralization, and a lot of the proposed use cases we see are a bit like sticking a stationary camera on a theatre stage and filming a play. The play, in this case, is equivalent to all of the existing web things we are familiar with, but with a bit of added blockchain magic fairy dust thrown in. Unfortunately, many of these use cases don’t really benefit from the addition of blockchain. Some are even materially worse.
Working out the governance issues and solving some of the very real technical challenges is not enough. We also have to come up with platform-native use cases for blockchain and decentralization. Payments using the Bitcoin blockchain is an obvious example of one such use case. But more diverse platform-native examples of decentralization are difficult to conceive.
In the same way that Jeff Bezos saw the power of the Internet very early on, there is almost certainly someone (many!) sitting around working on their vision for how decentralization can change the world. Whilst the recent web era has seen the creation of large networks that aggregate demand through centralized platforms, the trick with decentralization is that they will — assuming we can solve the governance and technical issues — obviate the need for the centralized technology and organizational components.
Uber is the biggest taxi company in the world without owning any taxis. Airbnb is the biggest hotel company in the world without owning any real estate. But they are both centralized in the sense that the platform is managed by a centralized set of technologies and organizational components. So, what are the decentralized versions of these platforms? What does “Uber without Uber” or “Airbnb without Airbnb” look like? More importantly, what are the platform-native decentralized services we haven’t conceived yet?
Like Horace Dediu says, “Those who predict the future we call futurists, those who know when the future will happen, we call billionaires.” I honestly have no idea how this plays out, but I’m going to keep thinking about it.
Kevin Kelly isn’t worried about AI super-intelligence taking over from humanity any time soon. Whilst Bill Gates agrees, he is very much on the other side of this argument to people like Sam Harris, Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom.
Singularity or not, the level of commodity in AI/ML tech continues to rise. To wit: Google’s (horribly named) Cloud AutoML lets you upload images to a classifier, which can then classify subsequent images with little to no programming required. This is a neat trick, and it gets me wondering if we’ll be hitting the transition from programming to parenting sooner than we think.
Perhaps a merger between human and machine into a Centaur, a human brain and a silicon brain working together, will be how this all plays out? It appears that whilst computers can now beat the best humans at chess, a combo of human and machine working together does better than on their own.
If you want to teach yourself the software principles of machine learning, here’s Google’s ‘Introduction to Machine Learning‘ course. That’s going right to the source.
This is a really amazing bit of tech: synthetic sensors. The fact that the sensor needs to be trained in-situ will make generic installation a bit more difficult, but the way that it takes data from multiple sensor sources and creates synthetic events, and the way that these can be combined into higher-order signals is really interesting.
Amazing — if not entirely unsurprising — stat: 46% of last year’s ICOs have already failed.
The first part of the year is a good time to make predictions about what’s going to happen in the rest of the year. Here’s MIT’s 10 breakthrough technologies for 2018. Let’s hope they check back to see how their predictions fared.
This teacher in Ghana came up with an enterprising idea when presented with the challenge of teaching kids about computers without having the luxury of using a computer: he drew Microsoft Word on the chalkboard.
Back onto nature in
murder-mode, here are the 5 most spectacular landscapes on Earth (that also murder you).
Only in Australia
A chap by the name of Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow (which is his actual legal name), cut down his Opal chip (public transport smartcard, like an Oyster Card), had it encased in biocompatible plastic and then implanted just under the skin on his left hand by a piercing expert. But that’s not the amazing part of the story. After the Government cancelled his account, he decided to sue them for cancelling his card. He also got a $200 fine for riding the train without a valid ticket. He is contesting the fine.
To read more from Matthew Sinclair, visit his Medium here.