Could the future we want be built on Corda?

November 20, 2018

Could the future we want be built on Corda?

~ Or how will we all get paid in a decentralised economy? ~

On Corda, Commons-based peer production and a decentralised economy in the future

TL;DR : if you’re a London dev looking to develop tools to facilitate a decentralised economy or simply want to get your hands dirty with Corda, then join us at the Big Blockchain Bug Bounty Bake Off.

The problem with so many of the “grand new technologies” — AI, VR, biotech, 3d printing, quantum computing etc — is that they all seem to have something about them which inspires gloomy predictions of a dystopian future. There has been more than one occasion over the past couple of years where a pub conversation of mine has turned sour over visions of a future composed of mass working-class unemployment, an un-closable gap between “the haves” and “the have nots” and Government prescribed Soma for those who dare protest. In fact it seems to be easy to get carried away with the bleakness of it all, and to be honest there aren’t often many good suggestions for why these horrible predictions are unlikely to happen.

And I think that’s the appeal of blockchain technology. I think the reason why blockchain has the ability to inspire people, to ignite their imaginations — in a way that AI technology just doesn’t do — is the idea that decentralisation technology could actually facilitate a really positive future.

We’re all aware of the increasing dominance of a handful of very powerful global companies, led by a handful of very rich multi-billionaires. And these Megacorps increasing do seem to be doing fairly nefarious things with our data — be it personal data or otherwise. In fact they even seem to be able to turn what we would have thought is fairly innocuous data about our daily lives into commercial datasets that they can extrapolate all sorts of financial benefit from.

At the very least I think we all have the sense that whichever Megacorp has this data about our lives has more control over it than we do. And they’re totally unaccountable. GDPR or not, I wouldn’t bet on many national Governments’ chances if they went head to head against a Google or an Apple.

Flying in the face of all this centralisation has been a small but noticeable rise of decentralisation — from Wikipedia to the exponentially popular Open Source Software (even Microsoft has embraced OSS — though I’m yet to truly get my head around that one). And most recently we have seen the arrival of blockchain technology.

Perhaps blockchain could stop and reverse the march of centralisation

The ability of blockchain to capture the imagination and to inspire people has been clear ever since the introduction of Ethereum in late 2015 — and with it has come an incredible explosion in development activity. Huge amounts of time and money have been spent on trying to turn various decentralised business models into reality — in fact I don’t think I’ve met a single developer who has read Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin whitepaper and not got excited about it.

But after 3 years of all that developing, experimenting, persuading, investing, etc it doesn’t necessarily feel we are any closer to seeing that dream of decentralisation being achieved. There’s obviously a huge amount of work going on, but with the price of crypto so low, and the inability of any Ethereum project to break into the mainstream consciousness (Cryptokittie-mania aside) it’s easy to become a Doubting Thomas.

For those who doubt that blockchain technology will ever deliver on the hype, I would point out that these delays are because blockchain technology works at the level of the operating system, not at the (instantly gratifying) application level, but moreover because blockchain is a decentralisation technology it demands a decentralised business model, which creates an extra layer of complexity that hasn’t really been successfully solved on so big a scale before.

Strangely, in many ways the hardest challenge of blockchain is not a technology one, it’s a people one.

Getting a decentralised business model to work without it quickly morphing into a centralised one explains why the few examples of blockchain technology we’ve seen working really well so far have been centralised implementations — re Cryptokitties — or ones with massive de facto centralisation — re Bitcoin.

Running in tandem to the mainstream blockchain technologies of Bitcoin and Ethereum (and all the many others) we have also seen the steady rise of Distributed Ledger Technology being used for business by businesses, most notably Corda.

Corda’s decentralisation is achieved without globally sharing a complete copy of all the transactions in the entire network’s ledger, and the mechanism to append new data to the ledger is P2P rather than monopolised by a small number of very powerful nodes.

Which means that Corda achieves the “what you see is what I see” promise of blockchain whilst maintaining everyone else in the networks’ privacy… which sounds a lot like that blockchain promise being a reality.

However today the existing products built on Corda are only availab
le for businesses to transact on — LenderComm for business loans, MarcoPolo for trade finance, Blocksure for insurance etc, they are all B2B products, putting that promise out of reach for the likes of you and me. Which does make perfect sense considering that Corda is “The Open Source Blockchain For Business”, it was designed for the Financial Industry.

But Corda is Open Source — anyone can build and then go live with their own CorDapp today. And there are quite a few entities out there working on Open Source CorDapps that are, or could be, B2C, or even, C2C… aka P2P.

Cordite by the Cordite Foundation is one of them.

Cordite — unveiled by Ben Wyeth at this year’s CordaCon — is Open Source and (amongst other things) provides the tools to create the operating and governance framework for running a Corda network as a digitalised mutual society, or “Digital Mutual”. Examples of what could be a Digital Mutual are a Mutual Insurance Company, a Cricket Club, or any kind of group where the members pay regular organisation fees to keep it running and the executive committee is elected by their members. Cordite also has tokenisation built into it, and put together this means that it provides all the tools you would need to design and run a Digital Mutual on a Corda network, including its finances.

An Open Source Bounty scheme is also an example of something that could be run as a Digital Mutual.

If you think about it, a standard Bug Bounty Scheme decentralises the work but the incentive to reward the work tends to be centralised in the hands of a single company or entity, however with Cordite we have a powerful tool to create the financial incentives and governance necessary to build and maintain high quality Open Source Software.

Cordite = tokenised rewards + decentralised governance = a Bug Bounty Scheme

Once you get your head around that, you realise that Cordite is a tool to Professionalise Open Source Software. It creates a commercial incentive to find bugs and to resolve identified bugs.

From there, you can see one way in which the “gig economy” of the future could be run and rewarded in a way that sounds really good, really fair for the producers. A future with many people each making piecemeal contributions to create complex business software, and each one being paid for their contribution on a basis that the community as a whole agreed was a good fee.

In fact you can glimpse a very positive vision of a future with a Decentralised Economy.

And because it’s an economy run on Distributed Ledger Technology that doesn’t require the massive computational power that it takes to validate transactions using SHA256 as a consensus mechanism, it’s a future that is far closer to becoming a tangible reality for us all.


If you enjoyed this article by Martin Jee, then you check out his other articles about Corda on Medium, contact him at [email protected] for his CorDapp Developer recruitment services or if you’re a programmer in London and you want to improve your CorDapp development skills you can join the weekly Corda Code Club he runs.