A Technological tour de force

by | Aug 1, 2022

I live in the Silicon Valley part of Hyderabad and keep getting nuggets of what is going on in the computer field, through neighbours in the condominium where I stay, and visitors. Last week, there was a discussion on blockchain technology and how it is the latest mythology circulating around. My use of metaphor was not liked, as the general perception is that I live more in the world of myths these days. The other day, I irked a visitor by telling him that Samba was the son of Shri Krishna, who brought an end to his lineage. My visitor thought the only Samba was the one sitting atop the boulder in the film, Sholay, who answered the question, “Kitne aadmi the (How many were they)?”   

Keeping aside the matter of how much is myth and how much brass tacks, there is no doubt that blockchain is the most transformative technology of our times. The first thing I learnt was that blockchain is not Bitcoin, but that Bitcoin is impossible without the blockchain. Secondly, blockchain is a software technology; it is easy, but most cumbersome when applied. You need enormous computer power to validate a transaction on blockchain and if turns mainstream, it would have significant economic consequences. It is unlikely to happen in the immediate future, except as a revolution against the established order of the world. A “who will allow it versus who will be able to stop it” question is staring at us!

I dug deep and came to know about Ethereum, a decentralized blockchain platform. But more than the platform, what attracted my attention was its co-creator, Vitalik Buterin, who was born in Russia in 1994, and came to Canada when his computer scientist father immigrated there in the hubbub of Y2K. As goes the legend on the Internet, Buterin learnt about Bitcoin from his father, at the age of 17. He dropped out of the University of Waterloo in 2014, travelled extensively, interacting with other computer scientists and created Ethereum and, in 2018, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Basel. 

The general perception of blockchain is Bitcoin. The general perception of Bitcoin is stealth money, which is beyond tax nets and flows across the world without attracting attention to the transactions made. Both perceptions are only partially true. Blockchain is a technology and when used to handle money, becomes Bitcoin. And blockchain is more about integrity than confidentiality. Once used for anything, be it in supply chains, healthcare, real estate, media or energy, it brings authenticity in every business transaction. When used in governance, for revenue records, citizen identity, taxes, and voting, it rules out any opportunity for corruption. Basically, blockchain hits the operating structure of power. So, the question blockchain faces is not who will stop it, but who will allow it. 

I read a quote attributed to Vitalik Buterin on the Internet. Buterin says, “Whereas most technologies tend to automate workers on the periphery doing menial tasks, blockchains automate away the centre. Instead of putting the taxi driver out of a job, blockchain puts Uber out of a job and lets the taxi drivers work with the customer directly.” It is, indeed, a very big statement and points toward the great war already going on between the technology forces who want to control the way this world runs, and the forces that are running it right now. As the history of mankind testifies, technology has always prevailed. The way millions of people live, becomes the way of life. The way big businesses operate, becomes a business practice. And this brings me to the need, the most urgent need, of finding a middle path between this and that.   

The middle path is mentioned in the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita; it has been celebrated by the Buddha and the philosophers of ancient Greece. Shri Krishna tells Arjuna:

नात्यश्नतस्तु योगोऽस्ति चैकान्तमनश्नत: |

चाति स्वप्नशीलस्य जाग्रतो नैव चार्जुन || (Verse 6.16) 

But there is no yoga for one who eats in excess, nor for one who does not eat at all, nor for one who habitually oversleeps, nor for one who always keeps awake, O Arjuna.

Thus, the mean or the middle way between the two extremes, one, of excess and the other, of deficiency, is considered right and called the golden mean. Gautama Buddha made his religion a path between the extremes of religious asceticism and worldly self-indulgence. In the Greek temple of Delphi, “nothing in excess” is engraved. Later, Aristotle explained that every virtue in its extreme is, indeed, a vice. 

So, courage is a virtue, but if taken to excess, it would become recklessness. In deficiency, courage turns into cowardice. A virtuous, reasonable, and measured person can become indulgent and an addict by a deficiency of restrain and a fanatic by its excess. If the truth is stretched to its extreme, it can become either self-deprecating, or boastful, arrogant, and proud.  

Coming back to blockchain technology, it is inevitable that at some point of time, it will take over the way the world works, and will be unstoppable. Raymond “Ray” Kurzweil (b. 1948) believes that the singularity will occur by approximately 2045. What is seen is the proverbial writing on the wall that the blockchain revolution is coming, and that it will wash away many structures — legal, regulatory, governance, business practices, and even societal. Imagine the elections if you can cast your vote using your mobile phone! Your health records are meticulously and correctly archived. And business transactions are, perforce, authentic. Though it would be a mistake to rush headlong into the blockchain innovation without understanding how it is likely to take hold, a bigger, or rather, fatal, mistake would be to keep ignoring it.

The message is to start living authentically. Don’t waste your energy in having multiple versions of yourself, as nothing would be hidden anymore. Why stand embarrassed in the future? Decide on the purpose of your life and organize all your activities around that. Any activity, even thoughts, that deviate you from your life purpose, must be nipped in the bud. And while you do that in your personal life, professional life, and civil life, as the blockchain technology matures, you will see it as a convenience and efficiency enhancer. 

Today, it has become a norm to get medicines delivered at home, sourced from the manufacturer, all taxes paid. If the diagnostic tests done are all blockchained, how much savings and accuracy in the treatment, would it bring to the patients receiving it? It would make the doctors who prescribe them, accountable. When all seeds are blockchained, agriculture will be transformed. All academic records, extra-curricular activities, conduct in society, once blockchained, will directly bring employment, as money always needs people to multiply itself. 

What would Dr. Kalam say about blockchain? When he departed in 2015, it was still considered as fiction. Maybe he would say, “Buddy, this is not a ‘disruptive’ technology that would attack the traditional business model. Blockchain is a ‘foundational’ technology; it will remove the rug from beneath the people who are standing tall and glorified today, collapsing structures like buildings during an earthquake.” So, what do we do? Live simple, lean, and with integrity. A hut in the garden never fears an earthquake, nor is a person harmed in a financial crisis, who has always been giving more than he is taking.”

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29 Comments

  1. I’m enjoyed the read. You mention the quote that blockchain automates the center. In theory this devolves power to the individual, but it only does this through a huge concentration of power in the blockchain.

    I understand the blockchain is distributed, but were it possible for one entity to take possession, or gain a controlling interest, the centralization of power would be immense. From what I know of people, every oligarch in the world is looking at how to maintain a position at the top no matter what, including using a technology like blockchain.

  2. A beautiful narrative. This blog explains the foundational and game-changing technological concept with simple storytelling.
    Your powerful depiction shows how simple connected ideas can explain abstract concepts. The fight against climate change requires a transformative shift in the ‘Business as Usual’ and general human understanding.
    You lead and show us how.

  3. Blockchain technology is too powerful to be ignored. The young generation of software engineers can indeed create a fortune for themselves with this as was done by their predecessors in the late 1990s for Y2K. I loved knowing about Samba.

    I never knew that Samba was the son of Lord Krishna and his wife Jambavati. Now I found out that he was cursed multiple times due to his impetuosity. One of these curses eventually led to the complete destruction of the Yadava dynasty.

  4. Thank you Sir for demystifying blockchains. It looks so convincing that adding a new block to the chain means updating the ledger that is held by all users. Users only accept a new block when it has been verified that all its transactions are valid. If a discrepancy is found, the block is rejected. Otherwise, the block is added and will remain there as a permanent public record.

    Real estate, old vehicle business, jewellery, healthcare, meat, and seeds ….. on the blockchain, these businesses considered risky can become straightforward. No user can remove the trail. There can be no ‘fake ledger’ because all users have their own genuine version to check against. As you rightly point out, as blockchain takes away the power to manipulate, the most powerful tool of power, blockchain technology will be fiercely resisted.

  5. Dear Prof. Tiwari, Thank you for your enlightening post, which educated me in Bitcoin and Blockchain technology. Looking at the power and advantages of blockchain technology, I wish it would soon be adopted in India. There would be many hurdles, which would be created to stop/slowdown its adoption in the country. The present political dispensation can at least take a lead in this matter. The corruption has affected all aspects of our lives and governance. It must be curtailed and ultimately eliminated, if we wish to see India as a superpower and world guru.

    The suggestion of going for a middle path between the two extremes (or mean) is a kind of compromise to me (or is it a diplomacy!). Truth is only one and the right is only right. One must take side depending upon his/her inclination. Mean can lead one to a very precarious situation (often stated idiom – head in the freezer and legs in the fire; the mean of two puts the individual in a comfortable situation). A mean should always be accompanied with standard error to enable any informed conclusion.

    Some by nature live simple, lean and with integrity and for others, it is hoped, the blockchain technology will force them to adopt these traits.

  6. Chef-d’oeuvre, Prof Tiwariji !

    Your concept of connecting human life to emerging technology is superb !!

  7. Dear Sir, Another thought provoking piece we can all learn something from! I love this question: “Who will allow it?” With it, I believe you have underscored the hesitation deeply rooted in human beings. We want a better world, but what are willing to build and at what pace in order to realize it? So much of history is threaded with the collective pauses we experience before that progress is made. The climate crisis will certainly require Web3 transformation and the embrace of blockchain to pursue a zero emissions economy. I’m grateful for you for clarifying not only the conflation of language in this arena but of course for reiterating the fierce urgency of now when it comes to open-mindedness and open sourcing strategies for a “foundational” future.

  8. Arunjee, You have a teacher’s way of putting across such complex things so simply. It leaves me fascinated. I find my self inadequate of commenting on it so I do the next best thing…share it with as many people as a constricted human like me is capable of off.

  9. Dear sir, As rightly brought out most people relate this technology with the BITCOIN. It could be partially true but this technology has a wider application and has the ability to change the way we live. It is quite disruptive and can enhance integrity and transparency in all walks of life.

    Probably if the application of the technology can be demonstrated in one or two verticals of day to day activity, it will gain the confidence of the general public. Once the common starts appreciating the great advantages of this technology then it will get widespread acceptance and the demand. But this needs the will and the support of the Government as well.

    I am confident that this kind of technology cannot be prevented from taking the center stage. Thank you once again for a thought provoking topic and explaining the advantages of block chain in such simple words that everybody comes on board and can see far reaching benefits easily.

  10. Sir, I have never thought blockchain as an instrument of transparency and integrity. The enthusiasm around blockchain is due to its promise of a completely new Interne of Value.

    Goswami Tulsidas writes:

    राम नाम मनिदीप धरु जीह देहरीं द्वार।
    तुलसी भीतर बाहेरहुँ जौं चाहसि उजिआर॥
    O man, by saying Rama’s name there will be light both outside and inside like a lamp kept on the door.

    If blockchain is used in—money, deeds, government records, financial instruments, or art—could be securely stored, tracked, and transacted – we will be living in Rama Rajya.

  11. Sir, Thanks for a wonderful blog on blockchain. I have come across this poem on Internet.

    Operating on the edge,
    this idea has the power,
    to free us from our bonds
    and now is the hour

    Our future is so fragile,
    our reality– greed and pain,
    it’s time for this binary savior
    unleash the blockchain.

  12. Thank you Sir for sharing your blog on blockchain. Blockchain is still a mystry for most of the people like me. I am trying to understand how it is going to affect the healthcare domain, still no luck. Searching for a base book or a project work to understand how it works exactly and how we can improve the healthcare delivery system with the help of Blockchain.

  13. In love with these blogs on Blockchain that are coming up lately. The best part is how you beautifully crafted your thoughts on the technology around Bhagwad Gita. Blockchain will surely revolutionize the business models and digital property worldwide. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of its wider capabilities.

  14. There is no other way than blockchain altering the future from banking and secure communications to healthcare and ridesharing. But as you hit the bull’s eye the issue is transparency and not secrecy. Society today is filled with uncertainty and trust issues — and with valid reason. We need a system with strong security where records are stored, and facts are verified by many witnesses so that no one could cheat it. With ill-gotten riches, no society had every flourished.

    I make a little add-on about the the Internet of Things (IoT). These devices, small, inexpensive, and trustworthy fitted on to cars, buildings, doorbells and even refrigerators, embedded with software, network connectivity and sensors. Blockchain technology can make these devices hack-free, which is a great reason, that they are not going mainstream. The possibilities are immense and young technology people can create great business by providing blockchain measures to organizations.

  15. Nice article Sri Arunji. Very interesting to see this topic in your blog.

    You have explained technology (blockchain) vs bitcoin (one of the most popular cryptocurrencies) in super simple language for common person to understand.

    The application of blockchain across industries is natural cause to follow in decades to come, largely for greater good as highlighted well in your article. However, when it comes to applications of blockchain as cryptocurrencies, regulation on mining for preventing uncontrolled wealth distribution and laws/policies for preventing fraud, scams, rug pulls, and market manipulation become interesting points of debate.

    Anyways, the lifestyle guidance you provide towards end of your article are brahmastras, which adopted can undoubtedly take followers of your blog on direction of happy and meaningful life. The gem for me this time has been – “Live simple, lean, and with integrity. A hut in the garden never fears an earthquake, nor is a person harmed in a financial crisis, who has always been giving more than he is taking.”

  16. Very well written. I completely agree with other commentators and few words to add!

  17. Thank you for another great article on an interesting topic Prof. Tiwari! The invention of Bitcoin – combining blockchain with cryptography and proof of work algorithm – is certainly one of the greatest inventions of our time. And in the future, the compounding effects of IoT-Blockchain-AI will bring more incredible innovations and wealth creation. However, these innovations bring more freedom to the individual and threaten certain institutions as you point out with the Uber/taxi driver example. Blockchain is certain to change the world in big ways as you mention but also many ways we may not imagine now. The journey has just begun, thanks to Satoshi Nakamura.

  18. Thank you for the good piece on technology and integrity!

    In addition to educating me on blockchain, I like the part on integrity.

    I simply wonder whether technology (driven by artificial intelligence) should be our integrity monitor. Because, applications and their algorithms depend on what input they are fed with to generate the output. The moral (integrity) compass remains, as far as I see, for now, a human thing. Our philosophers and the guardians of various faiths, should stay tuned to what technology brings to influence and direct our moral compass.

  19. Oh! My God, Arunji…. This is a wonderful piece of info. You make understanding so simple. No wonders for us, you are the right professor at the right place and at the right time.

    Won’t agree less, the technological arrow of change and up-gradation leaving the bow around 25 year’s back is never to return to its arsenal. Akin to visuals first experienced in the TV show Mahabharata, it multiplying into several trajectories and benefiting the world across is unstoppable. Computers and the world of technology have leapfrogged. Awareness, information, business, social set up, travel, medical, agriculture produce…. In fact name the vertical and notice the change. A mammoth difference has seeped in. The world has shrunk and one is able to peep into others life, likes, dislikes etc at a click of a button. Terminologies have changed, ‘mouse’ of era gone-by is no longer despised but metamorphosed into a gadget which moves the digital world. Our grandparents could never have dreamt of it. So one can contemplate, can imagine what the next 25 years is likely to be like.… Fully agree, Blockchain and Bitcoin are likely to revolutionize. Yes! One needs to move with times. It’s better to be prepared than get caught in a tornado of oblivion.

    Surely! The big statement as mentioned by Buterin – ‘ technologies tend to automate workers…. blockchains automate away the centre. Instead of putting the taxi driver out of a job, blockchain puts Uber out of a job and lets the taxi driver work with the customer directly.’ Present getting obsolete fast, vanishing into thin air. Consider one locked on a remote island, cut off from humanity. Returning after 5 years to find himself unable to function. That’s how fast today is spinning into tomorrow. Technology does prevail and forces one to adopt to live. But then too fast a change thrust upon without understanding and grasping also is detrimental. Therefore the middle path, Buddha’s ‘The Golden mean,’ as you mentioned – perfect, to the point, hitting the nail on the head.

    So, fasten your seat belts, get ready, the technology revolution in next 25 years is inevitable. The entire present system of business, education, financial….. in fact life itself is heading for a revolutionary change. Let’s be a part of it to the best of our understanding and capabilities.

  20. Why stand embarrassed in the future? The most important question being asked everyday albeit subconsciously, so is the suggested solution!

    Decide on the purpose of your life and organize all your activities around that. Any activity, even thoughts, that deviate you from your life purpose, must be nipped in the bud. And while you do that in your personal life, professional life, and civil life, as the blockchain technology matures, you will see it as a convenience and efficiency enhancer.

    what do we do? By the grace of God may we be empowered to Live simple, lean, and with integrity. Thank you for this article on blockchain and the anticipated results sir!

  21. Thank you Arun ji. Yes, I agree that Living authentically with one consistent version of your self with simplicity and integrity at any time is important independent of technological developments. It is safe to give much more than taking is an important take away.

  22. Welcome to the world of blockchain.
    Only people like us who are accountable and who wish all are accountable would welcome it.
    You have mentioned towards the end, the term ‘integrity’ ……what a pleasant sound it makes and it is the wish that all persons carry out the tasks with integrity …. leading to an ideal society, country and mankind.
    Let good sense prevail in all.

  23. Sir, this blog is a must read by all leaders in the world and business. The digital age has already redefined politics, economies and societies, ethics, and rights. Public opinion is manipulated through mobile phones and there seems to be no end to the menace. Now riding on Internet computers are raising new questions on sovereignty, governance, and security.

    It is important that all democratic nations and technology companies who have invested large sums work together and ensure cryptocurrency technology does not end up in the wrong hands, which can spoil the basic structure of lawful societies. The world is at a historic moment of choice. I especially liked your imaginary observation of Dr Kalam. Having watched him closely and one of his great fans, I can’t agree more.

  24. The prism of life is very clear and humanbeing has to find the path that defines him as he is. Living with evolving technologies and adapting to changing rules is the ball game of life. While we do so..it should be clear to all that there is no technology which is ultimate. Tech X may dominate today , but Tech Y may define tomorrow. Keeping the nuances of our thoughts and action grounded to reality of life makes our existence, our living, and our karma more refined and connected to this ever evolving technological universe and our spiritual self that connects to the almighty

  25. Your blog is very informative and made me aware of the key term blockchain. I do have to google it to understand. I personally feel it’s a good addition to our system.
    Your blog is inspiring me to stay updated and to ponder outside my research paper sometime

  26. Sir you said it right….Blockchain is not Bitcoin only. However, before it becomes all pervasive…many issues such as high energy consumption needs to be addressed. But certainly it is going to change the way establishments work and governments do not like it.
    You may please start digging on Metaverse also. Bhagwat Gita, from which you quote very often, will soon will be available in metaverse. And watta experience it will be. Hope it happens in our lifetime.

  27. It’s refreshing to learn about a new hi-tech term known as ‘Blockchain’ and the potential power it has to transform society. I agree with you that everything must be moderate, and not indulges in extreme form. I like your thoughts on how Dr. Kalam would think about this new term.

  28. Thank you Sir for elaborating on Blockchain. Your Blog is always very much interesting. Thank you.

  29. Dear Sir, Thanks for sharing your point of view on Blockchain, and blending it with mythology. Interesting and I’ll go do more digging to understand application of Blockchain.

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