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The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything Hardcover – February 27, 2018
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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“An in-depth, fair, and engaging account of a massive technological shift that affects everyone.” ―Business Insider
"References to bitcoin (the currency) and blockchain (the accounting ledger) are increasing at warp speed, and many of us are struggling to keep up. This book serves as a guide to this new economic order, designed to create a safer and fairer system for global transactions in part by cutting out the middleman (banks and government, for starters)." ―The Toronto Star
“The authors ably explain highly technical information in layperson’s terms, and the text is neither too dense nor too basic. Readers may pick this one up for the Bitcoin connection and find themselves fascinated with the blockchain’s potential to change the world’s financial systems for the better.” ―Booklist
“Blockchain represents nothing less than the second era of the internet, with the potential to fundamentally change the modern digital economy. The Truth Machine offers important insight and a concrete vision into the transformative potential of the blockchain from two leading thinkers in this nascent technology. This is a must-read for anyone looking to understand how the blockchain can help solve some of the most pressing social and economic issues of our time.” ―Don Tapscott, Executive Chairman, Blockchain Research Institute and co-author of Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World
“With thoughtful and well researched analysis, The Truth Machine leads you through a history of cryptocurrencies and blockchains that reveals the path forward towards a decentralized economy, one in which opportunity and access are widely spread.” ―Andreas M Antonopoulos, author of Mastering Bitcoin and The Internet of Money series
“The Truth Machine is a brilliant, beautifully written guide to the blockchain revolution that is redefining “trust” for our increasingly globalized world.” ―Hernando de Soto, President of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, author of The Mystery of Capital
“Casey and Vigna are among the blockchain and digital-currency sector's most important visionaries. They are shaping a new understanding of how we can gain greater personal control over our data, assets, identities and creations to forge a more inclusive, collaborative and innovative society.” ―Imogen Heap, Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter and founder of Mycelia
“Casey and Vigna have done it again! It turns out that digital currencies may only be the spark for the next major revolution in business and society. The implications of trust being the blockchain’s real killer app cannot be ignored by any serious investor.” ―“Downtown” Josh Brown, CEO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, star of CNBC’s The Halftime Report
“This unparalleled examination of the blockchain landscape will open people's eyes to how a decentralized information system can level the playing field for humanity.” ―Mariana Dahan, founder and CEO, World Identity Network, first coordinator of The World Bank's Identification for Development (ID4D) Initiative
“In The Truth Machine, Casey and Vigna describe, in vivid detail, both the theory and practice of the coming block-chain revolution, giving us a powerful technological roadmap to a more participatory future in the digital age.” ―Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Zero Marginal Cost Society
“[The] world…is at a digital and legal turning point. The ‘truth,’ Casey and Vigna show us, is that to move forward we must rethink how information, markets, and value work. A wonderful read―heartily recommended.” ―Brett King, bestselling author of Augmented, host of the Breaking Banks Radio Show
About the Author
MICHAEL J. CASEY is a senior advisor at MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative and chairman of CoinDesk's advisory board. He is a former Wall Street Journal columnist and has authored four other books. PAUL VIGNA is a reporter at The Wall Street Journal. The Truth Machine is his third book.
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The authors provide a current snapshot of industry developments and a thoughtful review of the challenges, risks, and opportunities that now present themselves. One of those challenges is scalability. For reasons I won’t try to explain here, that one issue has fractured the industry into permissionless (e.g., Bitcoin, Ethereum) and permissioned segments, the former behaving more like the original ideal of the democratized digital economy and the latter being a variation of the gatekeepers model (think banks) we have today.
But why should you care if you are outside the universe of tech investors, banks, entrepreneurs, and engineers? Because tech exists to serve a larger purpose. And that larger purpose, in this case, as the authors point out, extends, at a minimum, to the Internet of Things, but may ultimately impact not just our economy, but our society and our democracy. It could, as one example the authors offer, eventually lead to the commercialization of your personal reputation. (Admittedly a long way off.)
This is not a book about Bitcoin, although it does come up a lot. The relevance is that Bitcoin uses blockchain technology. And whether you think Bitcoin is fool’s gold or not, the underlying technology has worked pretty well. In nine years, no one has hacked the system.
The Internet and its digital revolution have one over-riding problem: digital data can be replicated. In essence that means that any digital system can be compromised. And as we’ve discovered there is no shortage of people in the world who will make every attempt to do so. It’s easy money and some people, for some perverse reason, consider it “fun.” (Or payback, perhaps.)
Protecting the integrity of the digital world, as a result, has proven to be a monumental task. It’s expensive, requires a lot of people, and ultimately fails. In part, this has contributed to the reality that the Internet, once perceived to be the ultimate egalitarian state, is now the ultimate monopoly. A handful of giant companies, whose names you can easily identify, now control it. And while no one really knows what that will mean longer term, the yellow flags are starting to be hoisted, particularly following the 2016 presidential election.
The easiest way to think of blockchain, perhaps, is that it goes back to the original digital ideal of the pure democracy, but incorporates security protocols that reduce the forces favoring consolidation of the gatekeepers. In short, it is the architecture that makes good on the original vision. Maybe.
There are a few hurdles, however. The first is that you have to accept that the system is better, but not perfect. Before you can evaluate that decision, however, you must accept that the current system of accounting that governs our banks and corporations is far from perfect, too. Accounting is not truth. And that is the truth. Accounting is an approximation of truth and sometimes the gap, as we saw during the 2008 financial crisis, can be huge – as in big enough to cause a “healthy” bank like Lehman Brothers to disappear overnight.
That, I fear, is going to be a very hard sell to the average citizen. Or, more accurately, once you let the cat out of the bag people are going to be aghast and it is unlikely they will see doubling down on technology as the best way forward. It is human nature to not want to think about what we don’t want to think about. And most people don’t want to think about the fact that Wall Street really has no idea what the companies whose stocks it trades are worth. Or that our biggest employers really don’t know if they are making or losing money. That sounds a lot like chaos and we don’t like to go there, particularly since that same Wall Street is playing its game of chance with our retirement and our savings.
It’s important to accept that, however, because blockchains do not promise perfection. They might be better, but better is relative. Digital, by definition, means replicable, for good or bad. The risk can be reduced, but it can’t be eliminated.
And that brings us to the second big challenge. Like any system of security and trust, blockchain systems will require that we all agree on some fundamental rules. And this, I fear, will be an even bigger hurdle than the first. And the reason is the asymmetry of power that exists today.
Our economy and our society, and particularly our politics, are today ruled by minorities. It might be a numeric minority, or it might not be, but its opinion falls short of a complete consensus. There is no democracy if by democracy we mean everyone has an equal say in things. That’s not even close to being today’s reality.
And as we witness day in and day out, the people who benefit from that asymmetry today want to make the balance of power even more asymmetrical – to their benefit, of course. That’s why we have lobbyists and why corporations and wealthy individuals invest so much money in the political process. If power were allocated symmetrically, it would be a lousy investment.
It is that asymmetry, even more than the unanticipated security challenge, that has allowed corporate America to hijack the digital economy to the degree it has. It’s not just that the corporations did it; it is the fact that Washington let them, and in fact facilitated them. (And we, the users, of course, let the politicians let them.)
I don’t yet see, frankly, how blockchain technology gets around that. The banks and the tech giants will seize the agenda and rework it to their advantage, as it appears, from the information provided in this book, they are already doing. In the end, if that continues, we will have the next big thing that looks and smells a little different but is the same old thing when it comes to asymmetric power. Maybe a few new products, like crypotcurrencies or blockchain-enabled supply chains, but the same old players pulling the same old strings to their advantage.
My ultimate takeaway from the book: It’s ultimately a battle between an ideology of individualism and an ideology built on the common good. Liberal democracy, as we know it today, and have known it since the founding of the country, is built on a foundation of individualism (e.g, individual rights, freedoms, and opportunities). And it has worked remarkably well.
The Achilles Heel of individualism, however, is the asymmetric allocation of power. It is a weakness, moreover, that has been great exaggerated and accelerated by technology. Technology, to date, has done nothing quite so dramatically as it has enhanced the asymmetric allocation of power in our economy, our society, and our politics.
The ultimate promise of blockchain technology, therefore, as I think the authors see it, is the opportunity to double down on individualism. The blockchain, might, if the predictions hold, provide the means to overcome the inherent inequities of modern capitalism fueled by the creation of digital monopolies.
They might be right. But, as Yogi Berra noted, “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.” And I’m with Yogi on this one. I don’t see the 1%, however you define it, just walking away and letting the other 99% of us back into the fight.
Perhaps more importantly, Washington shows no resolve to do anything to impede the asymmetric accumulation of power by corporations and wealthy individuals. According to the authors, while the central banks of England, Japan, and Canada are all actively exploring blockchain technologies, our own government seems content to leave it in the hands of private initiatives like the corporate consortium, Hyperledger, dominated by companies like IBM and Intel.
I may be wrong. I dearly hope I am. At any rate, it’s a very good book and you will do yourself an injustice if you don’t read it.
The book gives a broad view about blockchain technology (beyond bitcoin and other crypto currencies), its potential applications and current challenges. It can be utopian at times but does a great job of tying the vision back to reality.