New technologies have enabled a do-it-yourself approach to certain services that used to be limited to the government. It is not just public services that are transferring to the common man – the middle man is increasingly being cut out of our lives. DIY is transforming the way we consume, monetise and earn an income.
The first question that comes to mind is: what exactly is decentralisation? According to inventor and thinker Ray Kurzweil in his book The Singularity is Near, decentralisation is “the movement from centralised technologies to distributed ones and from the real world to the virtual world” [sic]. Simply put; with the help of the internet you can now do things for yourself that you were previously unable to. Kurzweil also states that decentralisation will continue to grow because unified services are costly and vulnerable. “Today, we have highly centralised and vulnerable energy plants, and use ships and fuel lines to transport energy. The advent of nano-engineered fuel cells and solar power will enable energy resources to be massively distributed and integrated into our infrastructure.”
Even office buildings and cities, in fact also centralised facilities, will become obsolete thanks to virtual reality. “The ability to do nearly anything with anyone from anywhere in any virtual-reality environment will make obsolete the centralized technologies of office buildings and cities.”
New technologies. Currently, we already see decentralisation on the grid. Affordable solar panels allow citizens to generate electricity themselves and even sell the remainder to the energy provider. A main contributor are subsidies provided by governments to make it easier for people to install the solar cells. And of course, the prospect of a cheaper energy bill at the end of the month helps too. Even electricity companies themselves recognise the benefits of decentralised energy. Power and gas company E.ON lists some benefits on its website: lower carbon emissions, lower energy prices in the long run, and increased stability and national security.
The biggest development of decentralisation currently, though, is coming from the digital world in the form of blockchain. Blockchain technology is described by The Economist as “The trust machine”. Blockchain “decentralises trust” according to Shermin Voshmgir, founder of BlockchainHub, at the hub conference 2016. To her, this means that we are going from an “information and data monarchy to a new paradigm of data democracy over peer-to-peer systems”.
Online, you could never be sure whether the person on the other end was who he or she claimed to be, or actually followed up on their word. Blockchain is still in development, but it has the potential to change all that. In essence, it means that many services that require trust can potentially be executed online in the future. Banking and notary services rely heavily on the legitimacy provided by the institute. Now that legitimacy can also be provided online – it is possible, for example, to execute signed contracts and create money on the Web. The sectors that used to instill trust, like notary and banking services, are slowly being replaced by digital alternatives that offer the same thing. Smart contracts – automated and closed online – might even eliminate the need for an expensive notary to transfer a deed or sell a house. And cryptocurrency brings, for the first time, the ability to create money away from central banks.
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