What Does "Distributed" Really Mean?

Recently 'distributed' ledger processing/storage systems of blockchain technology are beginning to enter more mainstream adoption, with a bow-wave from technologically savvy, financially savvy and otherwise 'aware' people acting as adopters and evangilists.

But what does the word 'distributed' actually mean? For a while now I have been concerned with the rhetoric of social empowerment often in ICOs not matching up to realities of distribution of wealth - or at least concerned that we did not have clear ways of studying this.

Recently I have found some research beginning to give us a handle on just how 'distributed' these new financial systems are.

https://news.earn.com/quantifying-decentralization-e39db233c28e

http://hackingdistributed.com/2018/01/15/decentralization-bitcoin-ethereum/

These are worth a read because they begin to strip away the claims and leave us with a real picture of how to ensure that the ethos of 'distributed' actually comes to pass. We will not achieve equity through willful ignorance or wishful thinking, but only through action and design informed by genuine curiosity and meaningful comparisons of intentions to actual outcomes.

I have written about Moving Beyond Network Feudalism as we have it today, and mentioned blockchains. Yet 'blockchain' alone is not enough to actually guarantee equitable distribution of assets. Governance and morality is not leaving us alone in our techno-future, but instead is becoming even more important, even as it atomizes and re-factors itself.

I have always been and will continue to be a watchdog of where power actually exists and how it is truly expressed; not just power as we want it to be, but power as it really is. 

With blockchains I'm becoming more interested in how to enforce any of these claims than even the systems themselves: {Watch Talk (5 Min)} Defense Against the Bullshit Arts: ICO Whitepaper Edition

As I wrote about with the emergence of Participation as Commodity, old power-law dynamics can resurface without deliberate counter design in the system. 

Jaron Lanier's "Who Owns the Future" is required reading for all who are involved with blockchain systems.

Hope for a better future is based somewhat in fear and can sometimes obscure truths, I prefer a designer's perspective: know the system as it is and work with that reality to nudge it toward the affordances you desire. More than Hope, we need exploration and genuine inquiry.

From "The Origin Of Wealth"

Technology as embodied in markets has been and is ever more becoming beyond the realm of schematic - economics is the study of complexity and interface, of fitness landscapes and energy gradients.

This means that whatever claims one might want to make upon the nature of any system deployed amongst the others, the interaction of all will ultimately make such claims only temporary equilibria.

From "The Origin Of Wealth"

As Paul Saffo quickly explains:

"Uncertainty is the signature of this moment, and it hints at the shape of the new economic order. We have entered the 'Great Turbulence,' a period of high amplitudes, rapid oscillations, and scarce equilibrium. Short-cycle events will punctuate the landscape, events like May 2010’s “flash crash,” when the Dow Jones industrial average plunged — and rebounded — nearly 1,000 points within a few minutes. Once upon a time, it took months or years to recover from a crash; now, both plunge and rebound can unfold in nanoseconds."

We're living in an economic jungle, and quantifying the jungle into the economy. Managing an economy is likely the wrong way to go about working with natural complexity. Rather, what about plant, grow and farm? 

Closing thought:

All the algorithms won't feed us without food. The land and plants are the true reality that supports our fanciful abstractions, and also the land and plants serve as a better metaphor for our abstractions than our own convoluted mechanical attempts to order. Biology, that's us included, is a direct reflection of the land, an impression made by layers of fractal food built up upon itself. So even our most abstract desires must still contend with the ground. 

Blockchains are still in buildings. And even in the future when nanoRFID motes form a fractal voxel dust across our selves as earth, they will still cling to topographies.