Data decentralized: Blockchain for public information (Route Fifty)

Blockchain can make a lot of people feel vaguely panicked, like a bad day in Trigonometry class, but I promise this has nothing to do with cosines.

One of the things that blockchain technology can be used for is document and information management, which is a lot more powerful than it sounds. Because of the way blockchain data is structured and stored in bits and pieces across a broad network, it’s almost impossible for one actor to manupulate it. Like, there’s almost no practiceable way to do it. This is an incredibly powerful characteristic, because it means that no one person has control over the information. Imagine, for example, a blockchain transaction ledger, like a business checkbook. Because the data can’t be manipulated, you don’t need to do double-entry bookkeeping, or audits, or even send invoices, because you can let your clients see exactly what they owe. That’s why cryptocurrencies and NFTs work – no one can manipulate them, and you don’t have to risk trusting anyone. The trust is embedded in the very system itself.

Way back when most of us didn’t know what a bitcoin was, people who understood the technology already realized this security and transparency potential. Now, a company is testing that potential on a large scale by replicating New York City’s open data on a blockchain. The plan is to examine the data sets in five years, and note how the blockchain version compared to conventionally served data sets in terms of accuracy, transparency, access, etc.

This could be big, not just for data access and open information. Just like social media did, blockchain public data raises the bar on transparency. Instead of relying on a report generated by the country treasurer, anyone has full access to all of the transactional data. No secrets, and no way for the treasurer (or anyone else) to manipulate it, or even just make a mistake that can’t be found.

Can you trust that that elected official is telling the truth? Doesn’t matter. Sunlight shines even into the most obscure corners. Nothing can be locked away in the clerk’s office. Information becomes fully public.

The great risk here, of course, is that sufficient numbers of people don’t know how to interpret this data, or just rely on someone else’s interpretation (which is what we have now). But as we’ve been seeing with the huge volumes of data available to prosecutors of January 6 insurrectionists who texted and posted their actions, increased information tends to lead to increased transparency. It’s hard to hide what you did when it’s encoded in electronic data.

Transparency, especially in government and economic development, is one of the most crucial – and inexorable – demands that we’re going to face moving into the Fusion Era. For more on this, check out The Local Economy Revolution Has Arrived and The Fusion Era will impact your community. Here’s how to survive.


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