Friday , December 2 2022

Digital Anarchy?

Expansive article on The Telegraph (UK) website about the huge technology generated changes yet to come. It gets a little bit fear mongery at times but at least makes an effort to ‘connect the dots’ and understand that the times they are a-changing.

The Coming Digital Anarchy (The Telegraph)

The title evokes a sense of lawlessness–at least among those who view ‘anarchists’ as troublemakers and malcontents that don’t fit any other description. The political philosophy of anarchy is by definition non-coercive, rejecting hierarchical institutions and emphasizing voluntary association. Immanuel Kant defined anarchy as ‘law and freedom without force’. Technically, it’s not a bad choice of words but I’ve got the hunch that the intention was to evoke images of rampaging football hooligans and not nuanced definitions of political philosophy.

Here’s how The Telegraph’s Deputy Head of Technology Matthew Sparkes starts the article:

The rise and rise of Bitcoin has grabbed the world’s attention, yet its devastating potential still isn’t widely understood. Yes, we all know it’s a digital currency. But the developers who worked on Bitcoin believe that it represents a technological breakthrough that could sweep into obsolescence everything from social networks to stock markets… and even governments.

In short, Bitcoin could be the gateway to a coming digital anarchy – “a catalyst for change that creates a new and different world,” to quote Jeff Garzik, one of Bitcoin’s most prolific developers.

It’s already beginning. We used to need banks to keep track of who owned what. Not any more. Bitcoin and its rivals have proved that banks can be replaced with software and clever mathematics.
And now programmers of a libertarian bent are starting to ask what else we don’t need.

Other than the unnecessary use of scary words like ‘devastating’ the analysis isn’t bad. The part about Bitcoin representing a “technological breakthrough that could sweep into obsolescence everything from social networks to stock markets… and even governments” might be a little hyperbolic but his point is well taken. There’s plenty of examples of disruption brought about by technology and there’s plenty more to come.

He describes Bitcoin and blockchain technology and then goes off on a ‘change is scary’ diatribe:

Digital anarchy could fill your lives and your nightmares with machines that answer to you, your employers, crime syndicates… or no one at all. Nearly every aspect of our lives will be uprooted.

This ‘glass half empty’ view of technological change is common in the mainstream media and certainly not surprising from a right leaning print newspaper that dates back to 1855. ‘Nightmares’? ‘Uprooted lives’? Or else more freedom, more opportunity and more autonomy. In any case, change is inevitable both on a micro and macro basis so the better response is to understand and embrace this reality.

The benefits of decentralised systems will be huge: slashed overheads, improved security and (in many circumstances) the removal of the weakest link of all – greedy, corruptible, fallible humans.

But how far will disruptive effects reach? Are we rapidly approaching a singularity where, thanks to Bitcoin-like tools, centralised power of any kind will seem as archaic as the feudal system?
If the internet revolution has taught us anything, it’s that when change comes, it comes fast.

He gives some lip service to benefits of decentralization and at least understands that change happens fast in the digital age. He continues with more Bitcoin backstory and then moves into a discussion of ICANN and the government control of the Internet and the rise of the surveillance state.

Worth a read despite the hysterical tone and visions of a dystopia where robots are our rulers. He at least understands that big changes are afoot.

The coming digital anarchy (The Telegraph)

UPDATE: This WIRED article might have been written specifically for Mr. Sparkes:

You Should Learn to Trust Robots. It’s For Your Own Good (Wired)

About James Murphy

Writer and creator covering the transformative effect of technology on everything it touches. The revolution will be decentralized.

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