About Scientific Revolutions, Web3, Arweave, and More
Let’s face it, now, Web3 is more a promise than an actual seamless smooth experience. It is bulky, faulty, and it gives an overall crude vibe. On the other hand, the comfort of Web2 is undeniable.
In Web3, we usually can’t see the wood for the trees. All the talk about the financial implications makes us forget that, above all, it’s about technology and, ultimately, about science. A book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, written by Thomas Kuhn, explains with accuracy what is currently happening in the digital realm.
He states that there are only two stances in science, one relatively linear, characterized by conceptual continuity, and one of abrupt change. You can currently observe a scientific revolution that is questioning the system of beliefs of the previous period and proclaiming new paradigms.
Paradigms, according to Kuhn, are:
“universally recognised scientific achievements that, for a time, provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners.”
In fact, those universally recognised scientific achievements are just common beliefs accepted by the majority of the practitioners at a given time regarding things like “what is to be observed and scrutinised”, “how the results of scientific investigations should be interpreted,” etc. Nothing more.
How Copernicus gives an entirely different meaning to “We are still early!”
The apparent shortcomings of Web3 in comparison to Web2 are touted as reasons for the latter path’s rightness. A stunning example showcased in Kuhn’s book has the ability to reveal how faulty this perception is: the initial clash between Copernicus’s ideas and the Ptolemaic system.
For over a millennium, people believed that the earth was a stationary sphere located in the middle of the universe. All the calculations made to predict the movement of celestial bodies, with direct implications on agriculture (for example, the prediction of seasonal cycles and the subsequential prediction for the correct date for sowing and harvesting specific crops), were made relying on this system. Even if it was a system based on false assumptions, being refined for a thousand years by brilliant people, the actual results used in real-life applications were
accurate enough to further “validate” the system.
In comparison, initially, the Copernicus model, based on heliocentrism, didn’t manage to offer better predictions; on the contrary, it was more complicated than the previous model. It took countless attempts to refine the idea to become better. The heliocentric model became what it is today thanks to Galileo’s, Kepler’s, and Newton’s contributions. They pushed the narrative further, even if the mainstream scientists of the era reputed this path. The efforts made to improve the overall concept were vital. The idea of heliocentrism wasn’t even an original
First, it was devised in antiquity, and initially, it lost the fight with Ptolemaic theories. We are witnessing the same trajectory in our case: right now, Web3 offers a more complicated way of doing things without an “obvious” benefit compared to Web2. “Decentralisation” is as relevant for the average internet user as it was the earth’s position relative to the sun for the XVI century farmers.
Even if the ideas behind Web3 are right, we must understand that this does not represent an infallible ticket to winning the race. There is undoubtedly a multifaceted battle between two paradigms in which, unfortunately, the truth has little to do with it. Besides new adopters, there is still a need for a Galileo, a Kepler, or a Newton of our time to assure victory.
The economic dimension
Probably the most visible field of the battle—certainly the loudest. What happens if we cut through the noise to the most elementary level? The dynamic between supply and demand seems, at first glance, the same: disregarding the monetisation model (freemium or subscription-based in the case of Web2 or mostly pay-per-use sort of thing in the case of Web3), both parties are offering a service or a product that fits a specific demand. If the demand goes away, the product or service will disappear.
While the majority of people think the opposite (crypto is a bubble, it will burst immediately), Web3 has the potential to deliver resilient services over time, disregarding the future demand. Take the case of Arweave: your payment lands in a digital vault, bound to a protocol that will gradually release that money over vast periods to entities willing to offer storage for the file you uploaded 100 years ago. The servers that initially stored your information would have been extinct long ago. Still, your data will continue to be saved by new servers because the demand that existed back in the past would still fuel the existence of the offer long into the future. Show me a traditional company that is bold enough to consider that they will be around for at least another 200 years?
One could achieve this outlandish certainty of resilience only by replacing the company with a digital protocol that guards the usage of the funds paid for a digital good, a protocol that is embedded in the actual preserving mechanism of that digital good and will never get exhausted
or try to embezzle customers’ funds.
Paradoxically, this outstanding feature (prioritising the protocol over a centralised entity) is sometimes seen as an issue by new potential adopters. Why? We only tend to acknowledge the authority of centralised entities when it comes to money dealing. It’s the same bias that plagues regulators in the matter of crypto: Somebody should beheld accountable if something goes south. By “somebody”, they mean a natural person, a corporation, or any already known entity.
It is a trait almost ingrained in human nature: the need for a potential physical culprit that can be punished. We are inclined to fear anything that we can’t theoretically “discipline”.
Now, if one only takes this reluctance into consideration (I’m not even trying to get into more prosaic issues like Sybil attacks, the occurrence of blatant confidence tricks, and so on), maybe, just maybe, the “new money” narrative is not the best for trying to beat the old Web2 paradigm. I get that it is very appealing and seems right into the blockchain alley to use it, but remember the paradigm clash example from above.
The economic/financial angle is pretty similar to the agricultural use of Copernicus’s model. Yeah, you could use it, but the advantages were minor versus the use of the other model. The actual relevance of the correct Copernicus’s frame was revealed much later for far more refined use cases; it led to the theory of gravity. This understanding of how our solar system works helped us eventually achieve space travel.
Imagine unlocking this type of future ideas but still wasting energy on trying to develop more transactions per second than Visa. Let them have it; Web3 is a whole lot more than a financial apparatus!
The true impact of crypto
In the case of a successful revolution, the actual extent of the transformation that we will witness through Web3 could, for now, just be glimpsed.
In a somewhat contradictory turn, humanistic studies will witness the most remarkable transformation among all the fields that will be affected. The mere introduction of a protocol as a bearer of authority will challenge more and more aggressively notions such as “legal entity” and “personhood”. This will also question the legitimacy of the state actors as we know them today. It’s been months since Sam Williams, the founder of Arweave, started this thread, and I’m still thinking about its implications:
In sci-fi, AI was a necessary component of sovereign machine intelligence.
We thought that sovereign machines would need their own synthetic brains. The AI field set about building them.
In reality, blockchain networks simply co-opted our brains to work for them instead. /2
— 🐘🔗 sam.arweave.dev (@samecwilliams) November 30, 2021
In our quest for – I don’t know what – we stumbled upon a new form of entity: one that doesn’t respond to any jurisdiction in particular and which was bestowed by its constituents with authority over certain matters; an entity that assures its existence through a “social contract” that offers incentives for those who are “feeding the beast” more efficiently. Keep in mind that those incentives do not necessarily have to be financial.
In the case of Arweave, the motivation to compete with the storage space could be primarily driven by other reasons: a “miner” could be a national archive that didn’t seek token rewards but data immutability for its files. The first proper form of artificial intelligence may not be born on a server fed with images or words but may be present through the algorithm of a DAO. Instead of relying on its own processing power, this type of intelligence uses people’s minds to achieve its goals.
For some, this will sound scary. There will be people that will try to capitalise on the fear of the unknown. Back in the day, they used to showcase the shortcomings of AC (alternating current) by electrocuting dogs in front of an audience. Now AC is everywhere, and we are all alive and well.
Instead of a conclusion: just note that behind those cruel demonstrations that fueled people’s fear by electrocuting dogs was Thomas Edison, one of the greatest visionaries mankind has ever witnessed. Apparently, he had a direct interest in AC’s demise. Food for thought.