Bitcoin Wednesday on 2 September, 2015 sets out to answer one of the key questions raised by last month’s conference: Namely, what will be the social significance of the blockchain?
One of the most fascinating developments to arise from the digital currency revolution is the emergence of decentralized applications, organizations and communities. To most of the world who know about Bitcoin only as some kind of “Internet money,” these latest developments sound like science fiction. In reality, it is happening today.
This edition of Bitcoin Wednesday presents a keynote given by Professor Jeremy Pitt from Imperial College, London, an expert on autonomous digital communities. Mr. Pitt is a highly regarded thinker in this area with a strong interest in the social impact of technology. He is a Professor of Intelligent & Self-Organizing Systems in the Department of Electrical & Electronic Engineering at Imperial College as well as Deputy Head of the Intelligent Systems & Networks Group. He has edited two recent books, This Pervasive Day (IC Press, 2012) and The Computer After Me (IC Press, 2014), and has published more than 150 articles in journals and conferences.
In this talk Professor Pitt will consider the use of blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies to address self-organization and self-governance of digital communities. In particular, his talk is concerned with how such communities can be used to address collective action situations, based on formal computational specifications of the theories of political scientist and economist (and Nobel Prize winner) Elinor Ostrom. For example, her institutional design principles can be specified in computational logic and directly executed as a form of community self-governance, with all contracts and conflicts recorded in a blockchain.
One of Ostrom’s principles for successful self-governing institutions was the minimal recognition of rights, which, Professor Pitt argues, in the digital sphere includes not just formalization of the legal concepts in algorithmic form, but also — given the ‘value’ of social capital to help resolve collective action problems — a kind of sovereignty represented by ‘ownership’ of that value. In a digital community we could represent that social capital with a cryptocurrency,
although there is a potential downside, which is that formal representation of social capital in this way leads to commodification, which actually diminishes its value and quality to be leveraged as a community-oriented collective action problem-solving mechanism.
Professor Pitt’s research focuses on formal models of social processes using computational logic, and their application to self-organizing and multi-agent systems, for example in agent societies, agent communication languages, and electronic institutions. He is a Senior Member of the ACM, a Fellow of the BCS, and a Fellow of the IET, Associate Editor of ACM Transactions on Autonomous and Adaptive Systems and of IEEE Technology and Society Magazine. He has been an investigator on more than 30 national and European research projects.