Blockchain Ethics

The goal of this post is to help the reader understand what #BlockchainEthics is and why it matters.

What is #BlockchainEthics?

#BlockchainEthics is a civil society-based movement to help shape blockchain technology for the public good. It's a crypto-specific initiative as part of the larger category of other "Tech Ethics" initiatives, like AI Ethics, BioTech Ethics, or Nuclear Security. The crucial idea is this:

When humanity builds an impactful new technology, we should shape it through a co-evolving balance of companies, governments, and civil society. We should not simply let profit-maximizing companies determine the outcome. Instead, we should complement them with public good-maximizing entities who have a different incentive set.

Is Blockchain Impactful Enough to Warrant #BlockchainEthics?

However, not all technology is impactful enough to warrant a Tech Ethics component. You may think that cryptocurrency and blockchain technology does not meet this threshold. I think it does.

If blockchain technology has even 10% of the Internet's impact, we should take great care in developing it.

We Should Take a Proactive #BlockchainEthics Approach Instead of a Retroactive One

There is still a chance that crypto's impact will be small. However, there's enough risk to warrant a more proactive approach. Many folks in the AI ecosystem believe that we did not start soon enough on AI Ethics. Only after there were clear examples of AI issues (bias in criminal sentencing, facial recognition, etc.), did the AI Ethics field really begin to mature.

We should engage in a proactive #BlockchainEthics approach, instead of a retroactive one.

#BlockchainEthics is Neglected Compared to Other Tech Ethics Ecosystems

On the other end of the spectrum, you could claim that "there's enough #BlockchainEthics already." However, this is pretty clearly not true. Although there are some lobbying organizations like Coin Center and some "unbanked" organizations like Open Money Initiative or GiveCrypto, there's no dedicated funding for #BlockchainEthics. Compare this, for example, to the much more mature AI Ethics ecosystem:

I'd estimate the annual spending on #BlockchainEthics to be close to zero (definitely less than $1M), while the annual spending on AI Ethics is between $50-$500M. To conclude:

Blockchain technology has enough potential impact to warrant a proactive #BlockchainEthics ecosystem.

The Three Meta-Categories of #BlockchainEthics

Unlike with AI Ethics, where the idea maze is (relatively) well mapped out, we don't have a clear conceptual categories for #BlockchainEthics. The difficult part of this is that cryptocurrency is both money and technology. So, when we think about #BlockchainEthics, we need to examine Tech Ethics and Money Ethics. In fact, we need to go one step further and focus on the intersection of tech+money as well. As Brian Armstrong writes in his article Is Coinbase a finance or a tech company?: "Ultimately, we are neither one. We are something different and new: a crypto company."

I'll explore more specific topics in BlockchainEthics soon, but wanted to lay the foundation first. If you would like to learn more about BlockchainEthics, please join the mailing list here or check out this reading list. Topics to explore soon:

  • Libra
  • Why crypto as a nonviolent movement makes crypto ethics more confusing. (The crypto community already has aspects of ethics baked in.)
  • Abstraction of trust/money
  • Deep dive into the tech, money, and movement aspects of crypto
  • Possible projects to work on
  • Leading indicators of crypto's importance
  • How crypto could lead to x-risk