Tech watch: the internet of unique things
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June 5 2018

Every time I enter a conversation around blockchain I come out with a different idea about its capabilities. I must confess, this may be because I'm just a humble writer and don't totally grasp the significance of the new technology. There are developers here at the studio who have a far better understanding of its capabilities than I do. However, as a creative I love to daydream; it's fascinating to think about what the world might look like if these technologies fulfill their ultimate potential.

 

A chat I had with one of our developers really struck a chord with me this week. As I tried to work my way through the jargon, it struck me how radically de-centralised public ledgers could change the landscape of our digital world. And if the term 'de-centralised public ledgers' has already got you feeling woozy, let me explain.

 

Why is blockchain technology important?

Digital cash systems have a lot of advantages, but for decades had one very major flaw; if you have a file containing units of digital currency, it's incredibly difficult to stop anyone simply duplicating or falsifying that file to rapidly expand their net worth. This is called the 'double-spend problem' - the problem of spending digital coins more than once.

 

Blockchain technology solved this difficulty by recording every transaction within a de-centralised 'ledger'. In principle, every transaction that each 'coin' in the network participates in is recorded in a central location. If one tries to duplicate a coin it wouldn't be registered in the public ledger and therefore would not exist in the network.

 

The result is that, in a sense, every 'coin' or node in the network is completely unique. This has interesting repercussions if we start to imagine how this idea could be combined with other technologies.

 

A universe of individuals

When I was a kid I had a game called Petz on Windows 95. It was essentially a window that would lay an animated dog or cat over your desktop. It was a nice time waster for those of us without enough space for a real pet. The only problem was that it never really felt like my pet - anyone that bought the game could spawn and play with the exact animations that you could. For some reason, this took all the fun out of it.

 

But what if your pet really was unique? With blockchain technology, it could be possible to spawn randomised behaviors and characteristics exclusive to the AI that controlled your pet. Your animated dog really could be exclusively yours - uncopyable, inimitable. What's more, these traits could be passed on to more pets via a breeding process, each creating a new, completely unique pet. After a few generations, you have real pet breeds that have grown organically from innumerable transactions. Just like with real pets, there could be pedigrees, mongrels, rare and even endangered breeds.

 

Now, let's imagine they're not dog breeds at all. Let's imagine they're complex artificial beings with machine learning algorithms that spontaneously manifests traits and passes them on to others. We've just modeled (conceptually) a living population. The applications for this could be endless, from modeling the way information moves through populations to building living, breathing virtual reality worlds. A universe of individuals.

 

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