Private YOU: The Blockchain Episode

YOU, the new podcast presented by Okta, is all about exploring the intersection of technology, humanity and identity. Is there any topic more intersectional of these elements, then, than blockchain? In this third episode, “Blockchain: The Private YOU,” host Claire Evans dives into blockchain, and we’ll hear about how blockchain relates to everything from bail bonds, to refugee crises, to government, to 20th century French artist Yves Klein.

Blockchain – and talk of blockchain – is becoming more and more pervasive. But, what IS blockchain? How does it actually work? Is it scary or no? The questions abound; yet, as Claire muses in this third episode, “Do we truly have to understand how technology works for it to become part of our everyday lives?”

The Ethos of Blockchain, Borne Out by Bail Activism
The main reason people have heard of blockchain is because it’s the technology underlying cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. And the narrative there is just how wildly rich people – mostly already-rich white men – have gotten off of mining Bitcoin. Grayson Earle and Maya Binyam created Bail Bloc to change this narrative. Maya says, “We hoped … to reroute some of the attention that was being given to cryptocurrency mining towards bail.”

Bail Bloc is an app you download to your computer, which uses your computer’s spare processing power to mine cryptocurrency. The money mined is then donated to bail funds run by partner organisations to get people out of jail. The Prison Policy Initiative estimates that 465,000 unconvicted individuals are detained in jails, many because they can’t afford bail. And people, particularly marginalised and low income people, might remain in jail for days, months, even years, whether they are guilty or not.

Claire highlights, “The decentralised nature of this program – dispersed, anonymous users, working together to support dispersed, anonymous beneficiaries – gets at the very core of the ethos that blockchain was founded on. It puts the network in control.”

Visions for Blockchain, Near and Far
Claire also talks with Saya Iwasaki, Head of Developer Relations at Bitski, in this episode. Saya takes us through some of the more out there applications of blockchain. Saya says, “Some of the applications are ludicrous, just because the tech just isn’t there yet, but the vision is really big.” For example, putting refugees’ proofs of identity on blockchain, which could be helpful when they don’t have citizenship or ties back to their country of origin. Yet as Saya points out that when refugees don’t have their basic needs being met, “they’re hoping for water, safety, security. They’re not really downloading an application and being like, hmm, blockchain is where I should store my information so I can carry it around… The idea itself isn’t ludicrous, it’s the conditions around it that make it challenging.”

Blockchain and Self-Sovereignty: Citizens of Earth
Saya also sheds light on conversations around blockchain applications for government, self-sovereignty, and citizenship. Saya gives a reality check, saying, “Everyone needs to buy in, the government has to buy in, everyone has to be on the blockchain, [so] there are no missing citizens.”

And while having our identities on the blockchain sounds exciting, Saya cuations, “Whatever is on the blockchain cannot be removed from the blockchain… Do you want your full identity on the blockchain?” Once personally identifying information is in play, Saya says, “You could start tracing people to the transactions that they’ve done.”

Yves Klein Blue, Yves Klein Blockchain
Claire also talks with Mitchell Chan, Principal Partner and Co-Founder at Studio F Minus, an artist exploring ways to make sculpture as immaterial as possible with the illusion of substance. (Water vapor was a previous medium.) Chan ended up creating Digital Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility a riff on Yves Klein’s 1959 conceptual work Zone de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle. Klein is best known for patenting a certain shade of blue, now known as International Klein Blue. Klein’s Zone was an empty space, imbued with the idea of the color blue. But to buy a Zone, Klein dictated a very specific set of rules that played with the idea of a real, actual value versus an arbitrary transactional value that wasn’t linked to anything physical – not unlike how cryptocurrency and blockchain operate.

Listen now to episode three, “Blockchain: The Private YOU”
Thanks to everyone who has listened and shared the first two episodes of YOU. We hope you enjoy the third episode, which you can get here: