During the 2014 Tedx Maastricht, Paul Rulkens told an anecdote about Albert Einstein. One day, the professor and his assistant are walking across the campus after taking written exams from a group of fourth-year students. The assistant asks somewhat worriedly, "Aren't these just the same questions we put to the same group of students last year?" Einstein nods affirmatively. "Exactly the same. The assistant turns red and says, "But why would you want that?" Einstein smiles and replies, "Because the answers have changed."
Distributed ledgers in general and blockchains in particular do not contain any physical objects to which you can attach material value. Even cryptocurrency, in which people put a lot of money and therefore assign a lot of value, does not contain anything at all. And yet blockchain has the potential to change the world. For the better.
This amusing story illustrates that a number of major, historical challenges in our society can be tackled differently with the advent of blockchain. A distributed network of independent nodes that record things digitally and irrevocably with each other - over time - can be an answer to many problems that we can hardly solve with a traditional, centralized network. That is why Blockchain holds great promise.
At the same time, we are faced with the challenge of realizing these possibilities in a legal and managerial sense. After all, central organizations are subject to laws and regulations for a reason. Cooperation with higher bodies and authorities creates peace and trust, the raison d'être of a central party. When functions are transferred to a decentralized network, a legal vacuum is created. After all, who will ensure that incorrect actions or transactions are corrected? Current centralized networks are said to be reliable because one party can be held accountable.
Different basis of trust
Blockchain technology offers opportunities to build trust in a network, without such a central party, but realizes it through transparency for everyone, even if they do not trust each other (all the better). Cryptography and immutable history provide security and factuality. Organizations - consortia - based on distributed ledgers (blockchain) thus choose a fundamentally different basis of trust.
Whereas a bank (typically a central party) is a kind of black box for many customers (because who knows exactly what activities banks undertake with customers' money?), controlled by other, even higher authorities (also central, also black boxes), with a decentralized solution it is the community itself that provides trust. This creates new opportunities to put decisions in the hands of those who are directly involved. Even more so than the centrally organized digital services of, for example, large tech companies that operate as monopolists, lack transparency and have little democracy.
New answers to problems
In this way Blockchain promises promises new answers to major problems, because it limits the power of central parties, reduces differences in access to opportunities and resources, records provable cases, makes process steps implicitly traceable, is neutral and widely supported (by nature), carries access to historical data and makes it easier to analyze causes of phenomena.
Decentralized concepts such as blockchain thus also form a basis for scalable cooperation on complex issues:
- Lack of freedom: often related to the presence of central political movements that determine what individuals can, may or must think through central legislation.
- Inequality: often related to differences in access to centrally regulated opportunities and resources that some people have and others do not.
- Dishonesty about legal correctness: often to do with the non-provable recording of events, which makes it difficult to establish the truth.
- Lack of clarity about origin, history: often related to the fact that processes are not recorded in a traceable manner, as a result of which there is no overview of the steps and handling.
- Injustice: often related to the presence of central, bureaucratic bodies that determine, according to central rules, what is right and what is wrong.
- Ignorance: often related to a knowledge gap between central parties who collect historical data and stakeholders who are denied access to these data.
- Unwillingness to change things for the better: often related to a lack of objective insight into the underlying causes of phenomena.
Decentralized solutions to these issues are heading towards the (legal) state 2.0 and the democracy of the future. That is why Governance is of great importance. (As a result) The starting point of blockchains for the government may therefore be the formulation of public values (what kind of society do we want to be?) and the governance to be used in a private version of blockchain.