Jutta Steiner on power and the decentralized web
Jutta Steiner is the founder/CEO of Parity Technologies, a fast and secure application for interacting with the Ethereum blockchain. She also served as Chief of Security for the Ethereum Foundation. As a participant at Blockstack Berlin 2018, Jutta discussed the decentralized web, how it differs from our current system, and how power and authority will change as the blockchain develops.
How can we prevent power from becoming centralized again?
So the interesting thing about the technology is actually that you can, sort of, hard code intention into the system that you build – so you could hard code certain commitments almost into the application that you are going to launch. I think through this, there are mechanisms that this technology provides in contrast to previous things that we’ve seen that, hopefully, will provide means that power doesn’t become the factor that compromises the whole system. I mean, whether we are blind to something that we’re not seeing at the moment is unclear. In the end, it is a technology and every technology can be abused, can be misused. But I would still hope that the benefits prevail.
Does decentralization need regulation?
The fact is that the technology is such that, to a large extent, we don’t have to trust – we don’t even have to trust the people that build it. Given its open source development, everybody can look into what it is and how the system works. So, of course, it’s helpful if you are a developer, but if not, you could rely on entities like the Electronic Frontier Foundation who could certify or look independently into the system, and that’s very different from those systems that we currently use. Like nobody knows how an iPhone really works, apart from Apple, and maybe they don’t even know all the details in the supply chain because some of it is, like, even not transparent to them, and it’s an interesting paradigm shift to build completely transparent systems where, by the way how its architecture, you can prove certain properties and you really don’t have to rely on at, least, certain statements that you would rely on and trust – put trust in these days.
What drives the creation of decentralized technologies?
I mean, you can find analogies, like, sort of liken the technology to something that has already existed. I think a lot of the people here that are in the space are very motivated by things, by the fact that, like, the – it becomes more and more obvious that the technology we’re currently using is just fundamentally broken, and so they want to do something about that because they recognize how fundamental – how key – the internet is for society and so that’s more sort of the the common ground where people come together, and this is what what they want to help build.
How will decentralization change our lives in the next 10 years?
Predicting what the future will be is inherently difficult. Hopefully what we’ll achieve through these technologies is that we have to have systems in place so that we can remove trust from the equation, and I mean, like, the negative side of trust, like, in the sense of how we say in German, “for town is good, control is better,” so that – so trust is good control is better, so that users actually can verify and can trace what they actually get.
So one example would be – take Schufa, like, the agency that basically does credit scores for consumers, like, it’s so difficult these days to get transparency and where the scores came from, but then even worse if you think the score isn’t the right one, there’s no way of proving, there’s no way of getting behind the system because it’s this institution that we’ve built and that we’ve given authority to basically govern this relationship between the different entities in our economy. And I basically hope that this technology can help us remove these institutions. And to some extent also the authority that some of the institutions don’t really want to have anymore because it also on their side comes with a lot of risk, to remove that from the equation.
What are the risks that decentralization will not work out?
So whether in the end this will become, like, a dystopian or a utopian future, I think to some extent will depend on regulation and on how the governments also will come into this game, and whether they give the innovators actually a chance to systems that we want to see, or whether they make it inherently complicated to do so. I mean there will always be scammers, there will always be bad people, bad actors and it’s up to society to figure out how to deal with that, but otherwise make sure that the good aspects of the systems can prevail and help people.
How do we not screw it up?
I think also as a company ourselves, removing us as much as possible from the, from where having authority is actually a bad thing,so making sure systems are redundant, making sure that a lot of what we build, like, remains in the hands of users… so that’s how I think about how we make sure as as companies that what we do is actually useful for for the users.