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Permissioned Blockchains: uncoupling themselves from real change

Well, sometimes a prediction doesn’t take all that long to come true.

Clement Wan on R3’s Corda said at the end of last month :

To make their point even more clear, they put all of Corda’s “pertinent features” together

Corda reimagined...

It’s interesting how much the narrative that I expected to unfold at the start of last year is actually being followed: Permissionless Blockchain (or Block chain, if you want to misspell it even after working on it for 18 months and spending $ 59 million on it!) as the beast that needs to be tamed or else discarded.

Now that Corda has joined Hyperledger, at least the two can pool resources, so that less money is spent on a project that seems aimed at not changing processes in any fundamental way, but basically just “optimising” existing structures.

Smokescreens

It may seem that I am nagging for the sake of it, but I truly believe it’s a pity that such an amount of money has been spent on a project that had an outcome that most, if not all people in the blockchain community predicted when they started: that Corda would just be a smokescreen to try and “do blockchain” while at no point committing to any fundamental change in business processes.

And frankly, that’s what it all is about. Blockchains were not created as an optimisation to existing structures, but it was a natural and normal evolution that stemmed from the search for a solution to a specific problem: the double spend problem in a peer to peer system (which by definition is permissionless).

From this, we progressed into an exploration of other possible uses, but at the core it has always been about trying to get away from situations where mediators were removed where they posed an unneeded risk.

Change

Change is hard, and it’s perfectly understandable that the banks are unwilling to even try it. It takes a lot more than $ 59 million to change core processes, and even more in terms of human behavioural change. That’s a point I realise and which doesn’t surprise me. What gets to me is what I see as a form of intellectual dishonesty that on the one hand pretends to do unbiased research into a technology they did not originate and on the other hand dismissing out of hand the thousands of talented people who are spending thousands of hours on a fundamental issue.

“Oh, we looked at it and it’s bollocks” is the worst kind of arrogance one can find.

Onwards

To illustrate how persistent and low-level the problem in changing thought can be is a discussion I had recently when consulting. While explaining that a blockchain cannot be reversed, I casually asked how a refund might be done on a blockchain. I thought it just an innocent question, until my conversation partner started coming up with a multitude of complex models to accomplish this.

Only after some careful questioning did he realise that the simplest solution to the problem would be for the vendor to actually refund when asked and that he didn’t need an middle man for this. The model where we rely on third parties to do this not only leads to convenience and efficiency, it also leads us into thought patterns where the basic form of trust (I trust you to render me a service for payment and you trust me to be honest in our dealings) is obscured by the distance created by using a third party.

Even exploring whether a blockchain is useful to your company can yield interesting and useful results. It highlights patterns that might not be visible when going about your daily business. In that light I consider blockchains to be ideal crowbars to break open locked vaults of thinking that could be interesting to open, regardless of whether you are going to actually decide to work with a blockchain in the end.

Blockchain is more than technology

There’s more to blockchain than just the tech. It’s a way of thinking and looking at processes and relationships, too. One cannot exist without the other. A project that focuses on just one exclusively is bound to fail because it’s going to be tripped up by the other at some point.

I co-founded Blockchain Workspace (yes, that’s a plug!) just for this reason: to explore what this new set of constraints can yield in results. That’s not easy, but well worth the effort. Optimising a system that the tech and movement is supposed to solve is just strange, in my view.

In that light, Corda’s decision to remove itself from our industry is a good thing, despite the waste of time and money. At least it’s clear where they stand again and we do not have to worry about static on the lines anymore. R3 and Hyperledger (and Ethereum Enterprise?) go one way, the permissionless projects go another way.

 

 

 

 

 

Bas Wisselink
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Bas Wisselink

Co-founder and trainer at Blockchain Workspace
Bas Wisselink is active as a community manager and thinker in the blockchain space, specifically the Nxt Blockchain. He is a writer, public speaker and trainer/founder at Blockchain Workspace.
Bas Wisselink
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