Did Asimov Predict the Permaweb?
Let’s forget for a few minutes about bulls and bears, charts and floors – these concepts can distract from the futurism of the blockchain. Let’s become children again and see how our favorite blockchain protocol would fit in a Sci-Fi narrative.
Usually, there is no awe to be found in most technology available on the market. Corporations tend to deliver only what is cheap enough to mass-produce and what is dull enough to not stir actual controversies, like philosophical or ethical debates.
Much of crypto is founded on inventions from the 1980s, and the non-crypto world makes tiny steps – only after a decade has passed can we look back and see that our way of life was altered in a real way.
Probably one of the few windows into an untapped future, bold and bright, or edgy and dark, with technologies brave enough to question the essence of humanity as we perceive it today, is through Sci-Fi literature.
Rarely does a Sci-Fi gadget become a reality; even rarer is the materialization of an elaborate concept like AI or space colonization, for example.
This is what startled me when I first encountered Arweave: the sheer “out of this world” proposition (permanent and immutable storage), and the potential debates that this could ignite. This entire vibe connected me almost instantly with Asimov’s universe from the Foundation series.
I won’t do a synopsis. I just want to point out what it would look like – a universe without a reliable memory, and the solution envisaged by Asimov. You can check it here if you want to refresh your memory on the novels.
I know that one can find countless themes cramped in the series. For me, after you scalp the “politics”, the underlying theme revolves around memory and knowledge.
What struck me is how prone to oblivion the entities created by Asimov are in the initial trilogy. Humans are scattered all over the galaxy; they founded a great empire, but they forgot their roots. Each star system has its own genesis story, a tale, not even close to a documented record. Each generation of rulers messed a little with their archives, erased inconvenient facts, and glorified their past.
In the process, their knowledge was distorted to the extent that humans didn’t recollect anything before hyperspace travel. Beyond this, Asimov depicted how evolved societies weaponized scientific knowledge and transformed it into a religion that enforced the servitude of other planets that lost their contact with relevant information. How planets, distant enough from the center of the empire, forgot how their own machinery worked, engineers becoming a hereditary cast, without knowing how to operate their own perennial nuclear plants. The entire galaxy was a giant metaphor of a never-ending cycle. A continuous falling and rising phoenix.
The basis for the plot, the fictional science of psychohistory, was flawed; its purpose was to predict and mold the future, but its basis was off. It lacked essential pieces of information about the past of humanity and finally led to distorted paths of action. Basically, the world portrayed in the trilogy was obsessed with its future and present. The past was too far away to matter.
Is this genuinely fictional? How different is it from our own reality? Imagine that the digital age stretches 5000 years into the future. Civilizations will rise and fall; data centers will be conquered and burned, or purged to make room for other data, or just become obsolete.
Ages ago we renounced writing on clay tablets and engraving in stone. We traded the trait of resilience for portability and accessibility, and that’s fine. Still, we must understand that if we don’t compensate for the fragility of digital data in its current state, we are doomed to planetary amnesia in a relatively small time frame.
What was the solution in Asimov’s universe? In the fourth book of the series, he forced humanity to choose: to get stuck in its older ways or to evolve into something different, something scary and beautiful at the same time. An interconnected galaxy that never forgets and is taking decisions as a whole.
We don’t know how this project concluded, but it was already implemented at a smaller scale in the form of Gaia: an entire planet. Animals, plants and minerals were all linked together, creating a global, high redundant memory. Gaia sharded data and stored it anywhere: in living humans and rocks, in animals and in trees. A permanent network with almost instant retrieval for its peers.
If we elude the post-human, hive-like consciousness and focus only on how Gaia managed data, isn’t it the permaweb? A distributed ledger of immutable information, based on consensus. Aren’t permaweb dApps the first proto-entities that formed Gaia? We could undoubtedly fancy the idea that Asimov predicted the permaweb.
In his writings, the step towards Gaia was made tens of thousands of years into the future. In our world, the permaweb is present now. We can only speculate on how it will evolve, but one thing is sure: if we play our cards right, we, as individuals and as a society, will not end in oblivion.