For a while I tried to program and thought I could do it. I remember trying to do it a year ago or so and learning C++, a programming language, through an online course. I just couldn’t keep with the program and I have a weak background in math. The latter of which led me to being constantly stumped by whatever I was trying to learn.
Recently though, I gave up again.
Although I had learned some basic HTML and CSS I couldn’t get into it or feel very attached to the process. I even used it as a way to have some positive affirmations about myself in figuring out my gender identity (I’m trans by the way). And while that was useful even that eventually lost its luster for me and I started getting bored with constantly repeating things, looking for bugs, getting frustrated only to maybe get some joy from figuring out the issues. Programmers know what I mean I’m sure, and while they may be able to enjoy this process it proved too frustrating for me.
It was not only that though, it was also how I treated programming when I had a busy day: I’d often put it off.
I’d constantly drop it to focus more on my writings or to take on new jobs or projects or to go see friends, etc. I’d lament and dislike the fact that I was doing it but I couldn’t seem to stop it from happening either. So eventually I caved and decided programming just isn’t for me right now for a variety of reasons.
Basically what I’m getting at is:
If the title of this blog post isn’t a good programming joke I’m sorry, okay?
Now, let’s talk about Etherum:
Ethereum, on the other hand, is “Turing complete,” a system in which a program can be written to find an answer—or to execute a smart contract that can buy something, sell something, or do something.
In aggregate, a group of smart contracts could run what is known in Ethereum-speak as a “decentralized autonomous organization” (DAO) or a “distributed autonomous corporation” (DAC)—in other words, a corporation distilled to its most basic tasks, and operated by little more than code and the logic of if this, then that.
I see great promise in this company and their ideas about building a network of automated processes that would require far fewer workers and administration. This would effectively create decentralized nodes where programmers would be able to draw from different applications and put them together into one program that has no single point of failure.
So, for example:
“Long-term, there’s no reason all of these tasks need to be carried out by one company,” says Ben Doernberg, a bitcoin expert and research assistant at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “A designer in Brazil can build a lovely mobile app that sends your ride request to a matching engine based in San Francisco that pulls trust ratings from a blockchain-based decentralized identity system. When someone in Chicago makes a better matching engine, decentralized Uber switches over and doesn’t miss a beat.”
The spirit of all of this isn’t an attempt to corral people into centralizing their resources into one company like many Silicon Valley companies may want. Nor is it interested in giving government the creative control either. As such Etherum is already gaining some preemptive points in who they consider the enemy of projects like this.
At its core, Etherum comes from a decentralized ethos via Vitalik Buterin, one of the three co-founders of the project. He sees the blockchain, a ledger model used by the popular alternative currency Bitcoin, as a way to automate many different services so they can be more responsive and less bureaucratic.
The long term goal of Etherum is,
…a global computer that could not only handle those transactions but also eventually emulate many of the functions of companies like Uber, Airbnb, Dropbox, Amazon, and Kickstarter—but without the “inefficient” bureaucracies and the other intermediaries who take a slice of the pie.
That is to say, companies that, once started, can run themselves.
This is all a nice way of saying that Etherum is going to abolish work.
Or, at least something close given that these programs are still going to need programmers and the machines operating (the computers, etc.) are going to need mechanics of their own, etc. All of this, plus the slowness at which these types of technologies advance lead Buterin to not have much pause at the chances of some sort of Terminator scenario.
Now, individually the supercomputer might not be able to do much but this is where the decentralized and distributed model comes into play:
Instead of the cashier and ticket-ripper of the movie theater, the block chain consists of thousands of computers that can process digital tickets, money, and many other fiduciary objects in digital form.
Think of thousands of robots wearing green eye shades, all checking each other’s accounting. Individually the robots (or their owners) are not very trustworthy, but collectively, coordinated by mathematics, they produce results of high reliability and security.
How high and how stable is that reliability are excellent questions that I don’t have answers for.
Suffice it to say I’m trying to be optimistic about these things but also cautious. The intentions, goals and motivations going on here incline to me to be very sympathetic towards this project at the very least though.
And the critics of this project endear me towards it more:
Emin Gün Sirer, a Cornell professor and systems builder highly active in the cryptocurrency community, has more practical concerns. … “To a naive observer it looks like Uber and Airbnb are just about matching people; [but] they’re all about doing that security check, that incredible vetting [of drivers and sublessors or landlords], and it’s all about having that presence and identity.”
“Vitalik and others will say, ‘Oh, there will be these services that vet drivers for you and they will compete for legitimacy, and we will pay these third-party services, and if there is a third-party service that isn’t doing its job, well, the invisible hand will correct them,” Sirer says.
“But, if you think about it, no, that is not how things work in the real world, because what we’re talking about here is life and death and rape. This is not something I want to trust to market forces.”
There’s a few problems here:
- The security check, vetting and identity of Uber, Airbnb are certainly important parts but they’re also parts that could be drastically improved. Especially when you consider that Uber has entire sites dedicated to incidents and assaults that involved their drivers for instance. So let’s give Etherum a shot and see if there is demand as its able to give itself that presence and identity more and more.
- If they’re saying “the invisible hand” then they’re correct but it’s important to frame things differently. Because when we participate in market interactions that’s actually us who have the power to be the invisible hand. As my fellow left-libertarian writer Charles Johnson says, we are market forces.
- Well of course that’s not how things work in “the real world” (one of the worst phrases of all time) because we don’t live in a freed marketplace. We have a heavily regulated state-capitalist economy that organizes according to the whims of the rich, powerful and well-connected. If you think the “invisible hand” (i.e. the people who take part in the marketplaces of your local communities, trade with you daily, your local programmer, etc.) are going to fix Uber or Airbnb and its mistakes then you’re conflating the world they want with the one we have.
- Lastly, market forces are far more likely to handle “life and death and rape” more efficiently than police organizations that routinely kill, criminal justice systems that routinely lead to plea bargaining and prison systems that often rely more on vengeance and retribution than any notion of justice.
With critics like this, I am more than happy to lend a little more support to Ehterum.
One of my pet peeves is that a lot of people (even social anarchists) conflate “regulation” with “safety”. You know that institution that is so well known for protecting the poor, workers, marginalized groups in general? Yeah, that’s not the government. Government has only been a friend to the poor and working class when it best suits them. When they passed things like the Wagner act it was mainly so they could stifle the growth of radical unions.
And stifle they have.
Ever since the passing of various laws that include provisions that hurt radical unions such as “cooling down” periods so bosses can prepare for sympathy strikes, unions have increasingly sought the aid of governments. The Industrial Workers of the World, as much as I like their style, is a shell of its former self and no amount of hankering back to the 1920s is going to change that. I’m not saying unions are worthless or never useful, but that we need to take a critical eye at them.
There are other issues going on here too with regulations being seen as some sort of answer to “unregulated capitalism” (which is a misnomer). The fact of the matter is that regulations aren’t mysterious or caused by perfect individuals, they’re done by the same politicians we all say we distrust. More concretely speaking: Regulations are policies done by particular sets of people for particular sets of reasons within a particular type of institution and incentive structure.
No amount of feelings towards your local congressional office, enthusiasm for the poor or old antiquated adages about the good ol’ days of labor struggle is going to change that. It’d be nice if it could, but that’s not the way the state works.
Incentive structures matter and that’s why Etherum is so important.
Is it the answer? Probably not.
I don’t believe in panaceas and I’m always open to free competition among many different choices so that people can optimize their abilities to flourish. But what Etherum is doing seems not only important but necessary and they aren’t doing it like the start-ups in Silicon and they aren’t trying to get the government involved. Compared to many other firms who seem to have goals of technological domination in the economy, they’re looking pretty damn good.
In addition, adding automation plus distributed governance under a decentralized model sounds like a recipe for not only the abolition of work but for anarchism as well. So there’s other great reasons for fans of anti-work to support this.
What I’m saying here is that there’s a lot of promise. I don’t know if it’ll take off the way its co-founders want it to and who even knows if the blockchain will still be a suitable model in the years to come. There’s a lot of indeterminate things going on here that require skepticism and a lot of rigorous analysis so we make sure we get this right.
But if it is done right then I thnik there’s a lot of good can be done.
There’s much more to say but for now I want to conclude as the article concludes:
“Ethereum and decentralized applications are a perfect example of Amara’s Law,” Doernberg says.
“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. I don’t know how happy Ethereum investors will be in 18 months, but I think Vitalik will feel very at home in 2025.”
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Thanks for reading and happy slacking!