Three types of blockchain projects: Ukraine, on a Blockchain

Ukraine is investigating running its election on a blockchain, which is an entirely rational thing for them to do.

They have a credible fears of a stolen election, facing a hostile nation state actor with the significant resources and desire to undermine the legitimacy of their institutions. Mathematics is somewhat harder to undermine, when used correctly.

Blockchains don’t remove the “Know Your Customer” (Know Your Voter?) type concerns (anywhere), they simply transform them, and the transparency that comes as part of that, when properly implemented.

Ukraine’s election is one case where a blockchain (with uneditable transparent history), rather than a merkle tree (with the ability to be secretly undermined), is clearly better. If you want Official Truth to diverge from Actual Truth, that’s the only time the difference matters

A free and fair election in Ukraine with mathematical assistance is likely to be an easier problem than doing it without. This is not a trivial problem, but neither is running an election with a hostile nation state looking to conduct operations against it.

There needs to no personal data written to the blockchain, and once written, it’s unchangeable. But that should be the point. Once a secret ballot has been cast, it should be unchangeable.

A blockchain is not ideal for information that is only temporary, but neither is being invaded. Democracy is about ideals in the face of reality, and some tradeoffs are difficult (and some are just broken).

This use of blockchain is as a mathematical construct which was previously implemented purely by laws, but which is being undermined by external actors. Normally blockchains are used as a replacement for state power for reasons a State doesn’t like, not because one State’s power is weaker than a competitors – this makes Ukrainian elections an interesting type of blockchain project.

Technology projects, and especially new blockchain projects, come into three rough types:

  1. Doing things we already do, faster/cheaper/easier/newer.
  2. Doing things which are currently infeasible.
  3. Doing things which are currently inconceivable.

Almost all blockchain projects are in (1), but this Ukraine project looks like (1) but is actually (2). There are very few type (3) projects; but there is value in all 3 stages. Technology projects only move up the list, but reality moves up and down the list, depending on events.

There is a lot of good work to be done in type 1, but it is a fundamental error to miscategorise a project. Many arguments about blockchains seem to come from people who think they are (or should be) doing a type 2 project, but are actually doing a type 1 project. And that’s fine, as long as you understand whether you’re producing new cars, or faster horses. All fields, including most recently with open data projects, claims type 3 when it might be a type 1 (or sometimes a type 2).

It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the next #ODIFridays talk.

Mar 2016
POSTED IN Uncategorized

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