300 years ago, if I heard my brother’s voice around the corner of a building, then you’d better believe he was right around that corner speaking those words. Nowadays, he could be on another continent on speakerphone, or it could be his recorded voice from last year, or it could be a complete fake. The number and significance of the conclusions I’m able to draw from the same amount of input data has decreased to basically nothing of consequence.
The strongest form of deduction guarantees the truth of something based on the physical impossibility of anything else. When technology and progress chip away at the physically impossible, they also weaken our ability to deduce. Much of the world we create for ourselves is built on implicit assumptions that are actually ephemeral, so the same inputs will yield fewer and fewer strong outputs.
If I see Alice eating a delicious-looking ribeye steak in NYC on 2 Feb 2018, then I know that she’s definitely not a vegetarian. Therefore, she does not strongly value any of the rational reasons that people become vegetarians: non-trivial animal consciousness, the impact of the meat industry on climate change, …. These conclusions are all premised on the assumption that a steak must come from a slaughtered cow that was born and raised, but that will not always be the case. At first, lab-grown ribeye will look different, and then it won’t. And eventually, seeing Alice eat a steak won’t tell me anything at all that’s worth knowing about her.
Similarly, “deep fakes” face-swapping videos aren’t so realistic-looking right now, but eventually all video will be nothing but an uninformative novelty. And when this happens, it will be retroactive. Perfect digital video faking technology means all digital video is useless for deduction, unless something is able to provide an immutability guarantee on those bits from before faking technology was so effective. Or you’re stuck trusting someone who says it’s legit, but no one is as trustworthy as a physical impossibility.
As progress renders more of our practical lives rewritable, it will eliminate our ability to make strong deductions without trusting someone. It’s not all turds and rainstorms though. I’m optimistic that there will be new opportunities for and growing value in tools that enable exactly the immutability guarantees we need to fill the gaps. These are especially easy and especially important when it comes to raw data and conclusions deduced from digital information.
I can’t say what it will look like or how it will work, but a low-level guarantee for historical immutability on which layered tools can be built sounds a lot like Bitcoin. Here‘s an example of Keybase using it to make a higher-level security guarantee. It is the gold standard of digital permanence. If my life depended on having access to a small piece of data unchanged in 10 years, the blockchain (and many other places) is where I’d put it.
More and more, I’ve been thinking of Bitcoin as a dogfed experiment to price immutability.
And if there is a system capable of providing immutability guarantees in perpetuity, then I expect we’ll figure out how to build some incredibly useful – and widely used – tools on top of it.