Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Blockchain based economy and society

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services
Over the last 1.5+ years, I have been thinking about how blockchains will affect insurance and the wider economy. My latest independent thinking is in this article. I am sure the ideas there are influenced by reading material from others, but I am unable to recall any specific one (other than those linked to therein). I recently had two great discussions with Venky from Cognizant and Prakash Sunkara, a batchmate from IITB, CFO at Elavon. Venky and I spoke about how blockchain offers an alternate way of organising affairs among a group of competing/collaborating humans/firms. Prakash and I spoke about how once some core identity infrastructure is available, digital transfer of value and risks can be enabled.
Thinking of relationships between parents and children, there is an implicit social contract supported by social norms/sanctions which could potentially be implemented by smart contracts. Similarly social organisation is created and sustained by social contracts. Could these be captured through more expressive smart contracts, so as to enforce the social organisation through some means?
Similarly, I recalled discussions with my wife, Prerna Tambay about industrial relations wherein the attempt is to study the fundamental conflict/cooperation between the capitalist and the worker. The capitalist brings capital, the worker brings his labour and they together generate economic surplus and the challenge is to divide it equitably. Many relationships in human/firms are of this conflict/cooperation nature. Blockchains offer a way of organising firms so that capitalists and worker can work together without one exploiting other. One needs to work out the smart contracts for this.
Extending this thinking further, Adam Smith's invisible hand could very well be a smart contract based way of organising the economic affairs of humanity balancing the wastage of capitalism with the dissatisfaction of communism.
Constitutions and law need not be paper based. Factoring in IoT based data about the actions of humans/firms, it should be possible to monitor the compliance to laws and/or enforce the same.
I know this is exotic thinking, but I know that capturing these thoughts for posterity is my duty. I may not live to see this come true in part or full, but I feel in my bones that this is the direction for the future. The nature of evolution of the human technosphere till now has been that it is far too fragmented and the fragmented pieces do not coordinated well with each other on their own in a trustless (in a blockchain sense). This makes it difficult to build complicated structures on top of this brittle base, since human elements are needed for the end-to-end coordination and trust in humans is not as reliable a means for organising affairs as the trustless coordination offered by blockchains. If we find a way of building a layer on top of the brittle base, which is complete and reliable, we might be able to build complex coordination structures on top of it, like some of the one's alluded to above.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Blockchain based end-to-end digital economy

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services
I wrote this article long ago about how to avoid monopolies in the digital economy and at its end promised myself that I would write about my view about how an end-to-end blockchain based digital economy could function, solving some of the problems of our generation.
As per Wikipedia, digital economy means
  • e-business infrastructure (hardware, software, telecoms, networks, human capital, etc.)
  • e-business (how business is conducted, any process that an organization conducts over computer-mediated networks)
  • e-commerce (transfer of goods, for example when a book is sold online).
The common element of all the three is data. As well all know data is the new oil. There are so many cowboy individuals and firms exploiting data to derive differential advantages over competition in their respective pursuit of wealth. I contend that the current digital economy is not currently fairly organised and while the emerging data protection regulations are a step in the right direction, there is no clear definition of the destination yet.
Individuals/firms in digital economies have common and separate need for products and services. As described in my last article, I expect an interconnected network of public and private OLTP blockchains to emerge to provide these products and services. As described in the article just before that, the "bulk" data will be stored in off-grid servers and only their hashes will be on the blockchains. The off-grid servers will provide information and OLAP services compliant with data protection regulations.
Individuals/firms can view their own data and request OLAP services for the same. Community information/OLAP services can be provided compliant with data protection regulations. Regulatory information/OLAP services can be provided to regulators directly from the off-grid servers.
The free for all "data analysis" party needs to come to an end. Some monopolists like Google gather and control far too much data than is good for the rest of us. It is only be creating the OLTP blockchain infrastructure and parallel OLAP information management infrastructure, that we can regain control over our own data and liberate ourselves from the monopolists. The current situation where there is no way to verify if these guys follow the data protection regulations needs to stop. The right way to do it is to locate the data itself into OLAP information management infrastructure, which provides OLAP services. Technologically we are nearly there in terms of such kind of OLAP information management infrastructure. The means are there. The will and legal support are needed.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Solutions for a post-truth world

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services
A recent BBC program described how our world has become post-truth giving examples of US and UK politics. In both these elections, different partitions of citizens got drawn into webs of public and social media, which created and sustained totally different viewpoints influencing the outcome of the elections. This is itself not unique. What was unique was that the content which influenced on both sides was "post-truth" in the sense that it was not necessarily factually and totally true. Data when tortured long enough can confess anything. And after the moment of consuming a nugget viewpoint, attention span shifts to the next, without always validating the nugget and as time passes, the interest in validating past nugget is lost but the impact of the past nugget on the person remains. So with a stream of such nuggets, it is possible to shape viewpoints of partitions of citizens over time. It is due to this that public and social media strategy has become more important in electoral strategy.
Rajesh Shewale, a childhood friend, in a personal discussion today suggested a way of deploying technology to solve this problem. I really like the idea and think it should be mandated by regulation and enabled through the correct technology solution.
Essentially, real-time audio/video/text streams should be processed to validate the facts (to whatever extent is possible) and the results should be displayed in parallel with the display of the audio/video/text stream. Even if this is done for all public media and provided as an option for social media, this will suddenly change the way information is consumed by humans. The effort to validate facts is high and so people find it difficult to validate them and hence become vulnerable. The capability to support such a service should be a government provided service and its usage should be audited.
The technology to create this kind of solution exists. We merely need the will and legal support to enable this.