Blockchain Reading Group
Mi You (KMW), Sam Hopkins (Kunst), Verena Friedrich (exMedia)
Fachseminar Hauptstudium und weiterqualifizierendes Studium
Dienstag 14-täglich 10:30 – 13:00
Filzengraben 2, Atelier- / Seminarraum H 4.02 (Netze)
Q: What is the blockchain?
A: A decentralised, difficult to hack database, that is shared across a peer-to-peer (P2P) network.
Q: Why is it important?
A: It offers radical potential for managing data in a non-hierarchical manner such as creating cryptocurrencies, sharing ownership and commoning information. Blockchain is where cryptography, distributed systems, politics and economy converge.
Q: What is this seminar about?
A: We will read texts together to understand the structural foundation of the blockchain, and its applications in sociopolitical contexts.
Keywords: replicated database, self-supporting incentive system, consensus rule, proof-of-work scheme, possibility to rethink the valuation of value, the commons, interpretation and assignment of rights and entitlements...
- 1 Sessions
- 1.1 April 9, 10.00
- 1.2 April 23, 10.30
- 1.3 May 7, 10.30
- 1.4 May 14, 10.30 - Talk by Pekko Koskinen
- 1.5 May 21, 10.30
- 1.6 June 4, 10.30
- 1.7 June 18, 10.30
- 1.8 June 25, 10.00 - Presentation & Workshop by/with Denisa Kera
- 1.9 July 2, 10.30
- 2 Participants
- 3 Further Reading
- 4 Links
April 9, 10.00
Text: "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System", Satoshi Nakamoto
April 23, 10.30
Text: "Why It’s Hard to “Get” Bitcoin: The Blockchain Spectrum", Dhruv Bansal
May 7, 10.30
Ethereum white paper: https://github.com/ethereum/wiki/wiki/White-Paper#ethereum
Please see how far you can get into the text. There are always articles in simpler language to aid you:
Discussed/watched during the seminar:
- "The Prophets of Cryptocurrency Survey the Boom and Bust", New Yorker, 10/2018
- "Code For Ethereum’s Proof-of-Stake Blockchain to Be Finalized Next Month", Coindesk, 05/2019
- Vitalik Buterin, recent interview "Decentralized finance is going to come first", youtube, 04/2019
May 14, 10.30 - Talk by Pekko Koskinen
Suggested reading: www.urbit.org/primer/
A QUARTET FOR (CRYPTO)ECONOMIES
Blockchain, and the growth of cryptocurrencies that it has enabled, can be observed as a beginning. It could be even characterized as an unfortunate beginning, which has steered the discourse more towards greed than towards exploration of possibilities.
Nevertheless, blockchain is a crack in a wall, an opening, allowing us a peek towards a different economy: All the common economical forms that we utilize, from currencies to contracts, harbor the ghost of paper, the medium they were designed for. Their digital existence still carries crucial limitations that paper has set for us. Against this reality, blockchain offers a discourse towards a natively programmable economy. If we engage this discourse, extending beyond cryptocurrencies and isolated smart contracts, we can start to reconsider what economy is, and how it functions.
While this engagement is a possibility, here and now, it's not exactly being shouted from the rooftops. Of course, such discourse is not in everyone's interests. But beyond factors of greed and power, such discourse is also a paradigmatic challenge -- a challenge we have not been prepared for. Creativity, even artfulness of economic forms might seem like a misnomer, partly because our culture has not expanded and populated such an area. This paradigmatic challenge will eventually ask for an expansion of our literacy of economy. And it will ask this from everyone, however deep they are in cryptotechnologies or financial theory: The forms and systems that would fulfill it do not exist... as of yet.
To prepare for such an engagement, this session will approach the question of economy from four perspectives, the four voices of the quartet, each of them reinterpreting what economy is. Together, they will hopefully paint a picture of economy and its financial instrumentation as cultural potential, and a possibility of our societal development.
The Four Perspectives:
- Economy as (Systems of) Meaning
From this perspective, we will speculate into the nature of value -- from its origins to its capturings, from its behaviors to their contours.
- Economy as Governance
From this perspective, we will inquire into what establishes economy, organizes it to existence, and provides it as a framework for people.
- Economy as Games
From this perspective, we will engage the effects of economies to their subjects, and envision how economy can be expanded by its allegories through games.
- Economy as Religion
From this perspective, we will unravel some of the secrets of economy -- aspects that we're actively compelled to forget so that the artificiality of economy can exist as everyday reality.
Pekko Koskinen's Bio
Here's a one-sentence summary of me, as good (and bad) as any: I (re)design conventional realities into playable forms. From the pawprints I've left in this world, you could trace fictional religions, new social conventions, potential economies and self-designs. Some of these traces overlap contexts sanctified as art. Others are harder to place... designs, perhaps? Strategical units?
As to where I operate: After several years as a research admin in Reality Research Center (RRC), and as a member of YKON, I currently in Economic Space Agency (ECSA), where I'm responsible for the initial design of Space, a grammar for programmable economy and organization, amongst other things.
May 21, 10.30
Text to Read: https://vitalik.ca/general/2018/04/20/radical_markets.html
- We are also keen to hear if you have reading suggestions and/or if you'd like to present a text or ideas related to the blockchain.
June 4, 10.30
As discussed last session, for the next two sessions we thought to open up the seminar to texts that people would like to read together.
For the June 4th session we have 2 texts
- "Blockchain Poetics" by Rob Myers
- "Die Gesellschaft der Singularitäten. Zum Strukturwandel der Moderne" by Andreas Reckwitz
For the June 18th session, if anyone has any suggestions, please bring them to next session on Tuesday 4th.
June 18, 10.30
1. Please read this text that looks at identity discourses from the perspective of blockchain verification.
2. If you feel like reading further you can have a look at these articles:
- Blockchain geometries repeats quite a lot of what we've read, although formulates it slightly different.
- Blockchain imaginaries gives an overview of the different ways in which Furtherfield engage with the topic
June 25, 10.00 -
Presentation & Workshop by/with Denisa Kera
Homo Cryptographicus in the Republic of Algorithms:
smart contracts, pacts with the devil & other techno-political rituals
I will use my attempts to design smart contracts on Ethereum and Hyperledger blockchain platforms to discuss issues of future governance and infrastructure. Are these “smart contracts” the present-day "pacts with the devil" that make impossible transactions between human and non-human entities across various scales not only possible but desirable and automatic? Do they transform politics into magical rituals that achieve their ends automatically rather than through agreements and collective action? Are we preparing ourselves for the ultimate posthuman experience of leveling all entities to cryptographic data exchanges between "wallets"? While most blockchain stories still sound like something from a William Gibson’s novels, the underlying technology is transforming our notions of ownership, identity and social bond. It changes our notions of history and time that become parameters of the self-evolving networks and blocks of algorithmically generated and distributed public ledgers. The cryptographic hashes continuously authenticate the transactions on the network and transform the network through them. This seemingly neutral network architecture blurs the difference between a social contract and a technological protocol by transforming them into automatically performed “magical rituals”. This changes once again our understanding of the relation between dominium (right for ownership), (e)mancipation and citizenship. Who will be the nexus, slave and free citizen on the distributed ledgers?
Prototyping blockchain futures in Lithopia
Lithopia is a parody of a “smart” blockchain-managed village that uses open satellite data to trigger smart contracts on the Hyperledger Composer/Fabric. It reflects the current search for national cryptocurrencies and speculative investments in mining, such as ICOs or Lithium reserves in the Czech Republic. It is a functional prototype of a Node-RED interface/dashboard connected to the blockchain smart contracts on Hyperldger over a REST API service. It uses open data from Sentinel 2A Copernicus to change ownership of a location or a resource when covered by 10 x 10 m textile creating a pixel of data for the satellite. The project supports inclusive and democratic “future-making” (anticipatory governance) against the current misuses of emerging technologies in the so-called predictive, anticipatory and frictionless design. The villagers in Lithopia govern their affairs in an extremely transparent, but also aesthetic manner. Special long gestures and large LiCoins, but also acts of covering spaces in a land-art, Christo manner trigger the transactions. Lithopian DLT is inspired by Micronesian island of Yap that uses large stone coins to preserve their oral memory of ownership, marriages, and important events. Lithopians deploy smart contracts as a form of oral culture timestamping emphasizing genealogy over exchange and stewardship over ownership. The project is currently installed at the Milan design Triennial until September 2019.
How to prepare & what to bring:
We will have a 20 min. presentation about blockchain & the Lithopia project starting at 10:00, then from 10:30 we will continue with a workshop on smart contracts & governance issues: we will prototype/work with templates and understand the flow of a blockchain project while rethinking the possibilities of blockchain governance (since one of its main promises is future infrastructure). If you are not familiar with blockchain technology and its challenges, I prepared a basic vocabulary, but we will cover the basic info in the presentation, there is also a summary of issues. (Feel free to add more, this is an open project and part of a research on how early in the development of an emerging technology we can involve the public through prototyping, so its main targets are beginners and I welcome your feedback how to improve this!!!)
What to bring: Laptops. No need to install anything for the basic intro level - we will work with Hyperledger Composer so just check that you can open the page (more on this environment for simulating the ledger: https://www.hyperledger.org/projects/composer). We will also have access to my server to play with real deployment. If you are more experienced and want to install Hyperledger Fabric on your computer/server, you need to have Linux and then here is the list of stuff you need & also here: https://github.com/anonette/lithopia.
BTW, install Node RED too, a great way to interact with the smart contracts. If your goal is to learn Hyperledger Fabric and work with this in the future, I documented my process here.
Recommended readings on blockchain and art: Ruth Catllow: https://torquetorque.net/wp-content/uploads/ArtistsReThinkingTheBlockchain.pdf
Denisa Kera's Bio
Dr. Denisa Kera is a philosopher and designer who uses prototypes and prototyping in the context of STS (Science, Technology, and Society) research into emerging technologies. Prototypes express the entrepreneurial, educational, and activist aspirations and expectations about the future, but they also allow "ontological" experiments, transient and ephemeral, material and cultural embodiments, which combine personal fantasies and ideas with current technological standards and limits. The public engagements in the early promissory stages of every technology are essential if we want to achieve anticipatory governance and more democratic future-making. Denisa Kera spent the last decade as an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, visiting assistant professor at Arizona State University (Center for the Study of Futures), and senior fellow at Prague College (Future Design programme). Currently, she is a Marie Curie research fellow at the University of Salamanca, BISITE group, where she works on blockchain, design, and policy issues.
https://usal.academia.edu/DenisaKera (you will find a recent paper on the Lithopia project here)
July 2, 10.30
- "Art after money - Money after art" (Sign.: KUN F.0 - 48)
- "Artists Re:Thinking the Blockchain" (Sign.: KUN C.8 - 124)
- "Bitcoin & Blockchain - Grundlagen und Programmierung" (in Bearb.)
- "99 Theses on the Revaluation of Value", Brian Massumi (Sign.: GES D.10.1.66)
- "Derivatives and the wealth of societies", Benjamin Lee and Randy Martin (Sign.: GES D.10.1 - 70)
- ZKM – Open Codes