So what do you want? Come on, let me know… come on, I really want to know – WHAT DO YOU WANT?
It’s not easy easy to answer an open question like the one above. How can I tell you what I want when I don’t know the context of the question, let alone the consequences of that answer. And, once I have what I think I want, will I still want it?
Is EOS a blockchain?
The reason I am talking in circles is because this is exactly how I feel about the current discussion over one of the most contentious accusations that is being leveled at EOS right now. Namely – is EOS a blockchain? Your immediate reaction to this question may simply to dismiss it as old news – dealt with. Indeed, the report that kicked this off has been roundly dismissed in the EOS community as a biased publication based on the fact that is was commissioned and authored (in part) by ConsenSys – an organisation focused on building and promoting the Ethereum ecosystem.
While there are few things that bring people together better than the idea of a common enemy or criticism against your community or ideals, there is a danger that we ignore some vital questions that are being raised and that a wider debate is being ignored. The full question I pose above (to both the EOS and wider blockchain community) is:
– What do you want to achieve with this transformative technology called blockchain?
The end goal is the key question that seems to be forgotten in the debate. Instead of focusing on outcome, there is too much focus on the processes and on ideals that are frankly starting gain an almost religious fervor among advocates. I am not saying that it is not important to clarify or debate the foundation and governance of the blockchain architecture you are advocating for – it is vitally important – what I am saying is that these arguments will gain more clarity when held up against the goal you are looking to achieve.
This is where the debate gets interesting. In my first Trybe post I spoke about the dangers of blockchain technology if they are ultimately used to control and subvert us. There is an underlying dogma with the blockchain community that a blockchain must abide by certain principles in order to avoid this type of dystopian future. Bitcoin was itself a reaction to the inherent unfairness of the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis and what many people see as a dystopian present, where the masses are controlled by the subversive powers of central banks, government and the banking sector.
Probably the greatest accusation against EOS is that of centralization of power, which for many is the antithesis of Satoshi’s vision. This is where the majority of criticism lies, in the definition of what a blockchain should be in order to be ‘true’ to the vision of personal responsibility and freedom from centralized control. Accordingly the following maxims are thrown out over and over – a blockchain is… decentralized, auditable and immutable, unalterable, permission-less, censorship resistant, and on and on.
A perfect mess
What has been lost is the weighing up of each of these elements against the desired outcome, the admission that different groups will want different outcomes and most surprisingly, the glaringly simple fact that nothing ever created is perfect, let alone perfect in its initial conception. To believe that we can create the perfect solution to all of the world’s problems in one go, from the first iteration, is grandiose in the extreme. This has never and will never happen – get over it!
The consequence of ignoring this simple fact has resulted in enormous pain and financial loss – look at Bitcoin Cash ABC and SV wars and the estimated $300m Ethereum Parity wallet loss as stunning examples of this hubris. The fact that is staring everyone in the face is that a system that is completely permission-less and immutable is doomed to failure in the real world – regardless of what we want it to achieve.
This brings me right back to the criticisms leveled against EOS and the arguments in it’s defense. My worry is that they mostly addressed the arguments surrounding the fundamental weaknesses of one blockchain technology in relation to another but not whether these solutions are fit for purpose for the future we envisage. Want to to know why? It’s because at this point, we know we want success, but that’s all we know.
Lead to, not with
The EOS community has some serious questions to ask itself around many issues: the role and power of block producers, voting power manipulation, ECAF and arbitration, worker proposal systems, inflation and even around the process to achieve this – referendums! As we work through them, we need to think of the bigger picture so that we can lead to, not with the solution.
We need to ask at each stage, will this system/change encourage or inhibit x or y goal? Be that financial inclusion, social inclusion, personal freedom, freedom of the press, personal wealth, whatever (just be honest). We also need to be honest with ourselves around whether one chain can achieve all outcomes or whether we will be better served by an ecosystem of chains for different purposes.
Can Trust be Trustless?
At a recent conference I attended, I saw a debate between a well known figure in the blockchain community with extreme anti banker views and senior person in product strategy for Barclays Bank. The debate was set up to be confrontational but it drew out a vital insight from the Barclay’s speaker in that the one product that the Bank has traded on it’s entire 120+ year history is simple – it’s trust.
It struck me that no matter what we want to achieve in blockchain sphere over the next 120 years, in order to gain mainstream adoption we will need one fundamental thing – to gain the trust of the users of these systems. So, over to you – can you make a trust-less system that the world trusts?
Photo credit: Bernard Hermant on Unsplash