Theorising blockchain in the future Internet: Building bridges

Blockchain has the potential to be a game-changer, not only because of its possible applications in preventing offending and victimisation; the technology provides a platform for rethinking law enforcement and crime control practices in the future Internet. Police interventions and engagements charted via Al, the loT and mobile robots’ sensors, and recorded in public or private blockchains would ensure much-needed transparency of the agency (Al-Saqaf, 2018). The application of DLT in addressing censorship, facilitating free speech, countering fake news, voting fraud, poverty, and upholding human rights is drawing attention in social sciences (van Rijmenam and Ryan, 2019; Magnuson, 2020). Blockchain could also be instrumental in addressing the Internet and other forms of government and corporate surveillance, and enforcing accountability. As indicated by van Rijmenam and Ryan (2019) and Andreas Antonopoulos (cited in Danaylov, 2016), blockchain-based innovations might be used to create a better world, not just less risky and more private financial systems. Decentralised ledgers containing data that should concern only interested parties (such as in business transactions and identity information) should remain out of the domain of governing bodies as much as possible. Amplifying security while restricting unwanted ubiquitous surveillance (including surveillance conducted by devices in the loT networks and smart machines) is a big promise of blockchain.

It is the convergence of blockchain with other digital frontier technologies covered in this book that should be of interest for academia. Integrating technologies to achieve their best performance and address identified and potential shortcomings of DFTs is a trend in the IT industry; some examples of such integration have been presented in the previous chapters. The intersection of blockchain, Al, and the loT is likely to shape the future Internet and ‘mark a paradigm shift in our world. In fact, you cannot see these technologies as separate, as combined they will strengthen each other’ (van Rijmenam and Ryan, 2019: Section 10.4 The convergence of technology). Blockchain-powered smart devices and autonomous robots will be deployed in smart homes and cities in the future (Chowdhury, 2019). Issues that might arise with the application of ambient intelligence and Al, such as violations of privacy and extensive surveillance, vulnerability to cyber-attacks, and the problem of diminishing human agency in techno-human hybrids, could be, at least to some extent, addressed by blockchain. For example, DLT could mitigate the issue of growing big data by reducing the amount shared and collected in the loT systems by turning the systems into decentralised networks. Blockchain’s privacy features secured through cryptography and semi-anonymity of participants/nodes could represent a return of privacy in contracts and transactions that have been jeopardised by oversight and surveillance of the state, corporate and financial entities. By using blockchain in the loT systems, access to our data will be limited to those entities with public and/or a private key to the chain. By decentralising the loT network, blockchain is likely to make the future Internet less attractive for cyberattacks and less vulnerable to a single point failure of the system. For instance, if a part of the traffic control grid in the smart city fails because of a terrorist attack, communication between members of the network could still be established via direct link based on blockchain technology. Other features of blockchain, such as immutability and distributed consensus, are of value in building more robust and less vulnerable ambient intelligence systems in smart homes and cities. As such, blockchain can assist us in achieving ‘a higher level of autonomous security’ (Hossain, 2020: Section 1.1: Introduction) in the future Internet.

Somewhat less clear is a potential of decentralised technology' such as blockchain to reintegrate the human element in thing-human assemblages. As suggested in previous chapters, the rapid development of digital frontier technologies brings increased autonomy of things and gradual collapse of the thing-human alliance. Blockchain could be instrumental in re-establishing this connection. Other than the context of smart contracts, the technology requires an active agreement by nodes in the chain—devices and machines operated on behalf of, and by humans. Distributed consensus compels a degree of human involvement in which building the next block in the chain and maintaining the ‘life’ of the system needs, at least on the control level, a human oversight. However, some critics warn that blockchain might result in exactly the opposite scenario. As such, DLTs might be the final act of removal of humans from the processes about and around us, as seen in the context of smart contracts (Danaylov, 2016: Section: Andreas Antonopoulos).

Notwithstanding the above dilemma, let us go one step further in scenario writing. What if blockchain and DLT could help us solve crimes or record human right abuses? After all, Al, the loT, and mobile robots have been used for that very purpose for years. Given that blockchain is still in its infancy, the full impact of the technology' is hard to fathom. It is conceivable, however, to imagine future societies with no central authority (law enforcement or border control agency) in crime prevention and control. The network of distributed ledgers of information about objects and transactions associated with such objects could get us there without the overseeing, central authority'. In the distributed, decentralised network, participants would verify' transactions and events as they happen. Similar to a mango example outlined above, transactions about a ‘journey’ of a gun would be added to the chain. We start with the process of manufacturing a gun, followed by the transport, distribution to the seller, and the purchase of a gun by' a client. But what if every next step is also added to the chain: the event (firing of a gun) and identity of a person who fired it, by bystanders and others who witnessed the crime and have access to the public ledger containing information about the incident or the gun in question? Once verified, this information becomes immutable and cannot be altered. No more tampering with evidence or police corruption. Solving crimes is a process that requires trust and a centralised organisation to get the ‘truth’ about what happened. By using blockchain, we could potentially get there and, at the same time, bypass crime control agencies of the state. The same process could be applied in documenting human rights abuses at the border and beyond, within immigration detention camps or in prisons.

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