The Truth Machine: Exploring the Social, Records and Technical Potential and Pitfalls of Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies

Blockchain technology, which Michael Casey and Paul Vigna have called “The Truth Machine”, has emerged as a solution to the problem of trust in data and records and trust in social, political and economic institutions, due to its potential as a digital trust infrastructure. Blockchain is a distributed ledger technology (DLT) where confirmed and validated sets of transactions are held in blocks that are chained together to make tampering difficult and render records immutable. Blockchain’s design and its networked, distributed, autonomous and global operation address the problem of trust by promising transparency; security; disintermediation; ‘trustless’ collaboration; privacy; and immutable proof of facts. The unique potential of blockchain technology vis a vis the problem of trust establishes it as an emerging technology with social, political, economic and technical implications that far exceed most other emerging technologies.

New technological capabilities, such as those of blockchain technology, affect trust in data and records and in the institutions that shape and govern our lives. Much of the blockchain/DLT research to date naturally focuses on the technical aspects of this emerging technology. In addition, there is research focusing on the social, economic and political transformative potential of the technology. Very little work has been done at the interstices of these aspects of blockchain/DLT.  The interactions among them, therefore, have yet to be understood and explored, though current research points to the importance of these interrelationships. By bringing researchers and industry and community partners from diverse backgrounds together, this roundtable will help unpack relationships and interdependencies among the social, data/records and technological “layers” of blockchain technology which are, at present, not fully appreciated and understood, and help to assess the potential net benefit for humanity of this important emerging technology. 

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