Blockchain is just hype? Allen & Overy won’t worry

Don't believe the blockchain hypeArtificial Lawyer published an article this week entitled ‘Blockchain Is Just Hype? Allen & Overy Doesn’t Think So‘.

On Twitter Artificial Lawyer tweeted:-

Is #blockchain just hype…? Nope. There are some distinct and very real use cases.

I immediately assumed Allen & Overy had implemented some daft blockchain application within their firm of the Pinsent Masons partner voting kind. No, this was just a press release about Allen & Overy providing legal advice (corporate, technology, financing and commodity trading, compliance and regulatory matters) to clients who are building Forcefield:-

A digital platform that manages commodities throughout the supply chain life-cycle by implementing blockchain, internet-of-things (IoT) sensors and near-field communication (NFC) chips.

In short it tracks and it logs shipments to make sure no-one is playing games with inventory – which is not a small issue when one considers that global commodities trading is in the tens of billions of dollars each year.

The system will use traceability to help the supply chain monitor provenance throughout the product life-cycle. The Forcefield system will initially focus on refined metals, but functionality will be expanded across other areas.

The premise of the article was that this couldn’t possibly be a hyped up use of blockchain because Allen & Overy were involved in it:-

Now, A&O is clearly getting paid for this work. But, taking on a project like this for clients of this calibre on the basis that you don’t really have any faith in it does seem rather unlikely. Even more unlikely is that companies such as Accenture and Anglo American would want a legal adviser that was just paying ‘lip service’ to their project and didn’t really think it worthwhile. There are a lot of law firms out there – smart clients tend to pick the ones who believe in their business and see a future in it.

Solicitors day in day out represent clients in losing situations. They have to have faith in them and do the best job for them. They don’t pay lip service. That doesn’t mean they have to believe in murder, theft, fraud, divorce etc. etc. This is just another job for Allen & Overy not evidence, in any way, that this particular blockchain application is not another hyped up one.

On the question of whether it is a good use of blockchain comments were made on Twitter.

Ed Wilson commented:-

In fairness most negative commentary on blockchain in our particular bubble relates to use in law/as a delivery vehicle for legal services, + tendency for hackathons etc to produce blockchain-based solutions without explaining ‘why blockchain’. Pros/cons wld help as always…

Martin Clausen said:-

There is absolutely nothing in the information available regarding Forcefield that indicates that blockchain is required or the best means to achieve the stated goals.

Peter D Lederer added:-

Facially this seems the perfect use case: a “title and traceability concept in relation to physical supply, moving trading and financing away from paper-based to electronic systems.” I get electronic, but why does it need to be blockchain? (asking for friend😎)

Artificial Lawyer didn’t respond to any of these points.

Ron Friedmann, however, came back to Peter with:-

I believe advocates would say with #blockchain, all have access to same “database” without one party controlling it. Plus better proof of performance. Perhaps someone from alliance will chime in for a better or more complete answer.

Then David Gerard, author of ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain: Bitcoin, Blockchain, Ethereum & Smart Contracts’, entered the fray:-

Short answer: it won’t. ‘Supply chain is obviously not a blockchain use case‘.

This brought Artificial Lawyer out for the first time with:-

A lot of people at a lot of large corporations/banks/trading houses would likely disagree. But, a healthy debate is a good thing. Proof will be whether it works and delivers on aims.

To which David shot back:-

So far it’s been ten years with nothing, so current “production systems” literally just use a 100% private instance of Hyperledger as a back-end database so they can market it as “blockchain”.

Thus, in effect, hype and blockwashing:-

Blockwashing (v. int.): The practice of touting something that was entirely possible without a blockchain as particularly special because you are using a blockchain.

I’ve shown this flowchart on here before:-

Blockchain Flow ChartIf you prefer to use tech to find the answer then please do try out doyouneedablockchain.com

And do ignore any suggestions from anyone that a law firm providing commercial legal services to a company with a blockchain application means you have magically found the holy grail of blockchain: an actual valid use case.

Reactions on Social Media

In addition to the comments in the comments section below there have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

On LinkedIn the following comments have been made:-

Aron Solomon (Busy Building Things):

Stellar. As usual.

-+-+-+-+-+-

Mitch Kowalski (Strategic Advisor on Legal Operations and General Counsel. ICD.D designation in corporate governance):

Bingo

Alex G Smith (Global RAVN Product Lead at iManage):

Make your students read this Mitch as part of your 90 day deprogramming approach ….

-+-+-+-+-+-

Ron Friedmann (Chief Knowledge + Information Officer at LAC Group):

You have persuaded me. I’m back to being a blockchain skeptic.

Thanks for continuing to update your blog post. Too bad some of the exchange has become acrimonious. But even that illustrates the need to separate theory v fact and plans v actual implementation.

Me:

Thanks Ron. It has been updated again to include a lot more comments on Twitter from yesterday. I will add in the extra LinkedIn comments later. It certainly appears to be an emotive topic!

Allen Woods (Retired):

Brian Inkster I wonder if anyone writing this guff has opened and read the message forms contained in something called OAGIS 10?

Me:

I’m afraid that is Double Dutch to me Allen and probably to them too! You might have to explain what OAGIS 10 is to us and the relevance to this debate?

Allen Wood:

Brian Inkster ok. This medium is not the place to discuss this. Send me a link request and I will send you some stuff to read and have a think about.  But basically, blockchain is a viable means of messaging protection for relatively simple block forms that deal with uncomplicated push/pull transactions that lend themselves to relatively simple in structural terms, blocks.

Anything else, and you end up considering how to manage multiple chains that need considerable coordination effort.  OAGIS 10 is an internationally agreed standard messaging library that consists of many hundreds of message forms capable of being used in JSON/XML form.  OAGIS 10 is used in defence supply chains for example.  It is a bloody complex messaging library in its own right which covers multiples of messages of the type required to support the kind of wide ranging activities supply chain management is about.  If anyone, for a moment, thinks blockchain as a technology, given issue like immutability, can cope with what OAGIS 10 represents, they need their heads examining…

-+-+-+-+-+-

Tara Taubman-Bassirian LLM (GDPR, Data Protection and IP consultant – Voted Privacy Hero of the Year):

Blockchain is no that new, it’s first promise has been security, we have witnessed several breaches recently. It’s high in energy consumption. Most of all it cannot be GDPR compliant. Excluding all personal data from the BC will make it even more useless. I let Allen Wood and Dave Dickson to add their vues on BC hype.

Me:

Thanks Tara. Presumably if it can’t be GDPR compliant it will have very little if any use for lawyers? Can you tag Allen and Dave in so they see the post and maybe give us their views?

Tara Taubman-Bassirian:

Brian here is the CNIL’s document that pose such conditions that I can see how it could ever become GDPR compliant : La Blockchain : quelles solutions pour un usage responsable en présence de données personnelles ?

And from the EU Parliament: EU Parliament’s resolution to boost DLTs and blockchains

And one more read that clearly expose why BC is not GDPR compliant : Blockchain technology is on a collision course with EU privacy law

I know of a French law firm who is promoting the use of BC for Patents. I don’t think they can be GDOR compliant, they will need to extract personal data and make it possible to delete data on to of identifying the data controller. Tough job.

-+-+-+-+-+-

Dave Dickson (International Privacy Advocate and Cybersecurity Consultant):

Thanks Tara, Brian, where to start, or can anyone ever? BC discussions are usually more polarized than Roe V. Wade. Of all my articles, this has received the least input. So many discussions offline about the technical, legal, legislative and most importantly ‘why’ about BC, yet if you try to discuss you are either part of the Hype or in Denial. Until we have an honest conversation, the hype will continue and maybe we will lose another decade going around in circles : BlockChain. An open discussion.

Me:

Thanks Dave. So as a result of the lack of input did your proposed series of posts to separate the Hype from the Reality just not happen?

Dave Dickson:

Brian, in a vacuum, no-one can hear you type… so not much point in opening up a discussion for a party of one. Everyone was being very vocal on DM but when it came to sharing in an open forum… crickets.

Blockchain speaker - spare some cryptoMe:

I’ve had the same experience whenever I’ve asked for a use case of blockchain for lawyers. Maybe that says all that needs to be said about separating the hype from reality without any further debate being necessary?

-+-+-+-+-+-

Allen Woods:

By the time blockchain has an active use case, besides bitcoin, that is fully functional, it will be redundant.

-+-+-+-+-+-

Chuck Henrich (Document Lifecycle Evangelist at Litera Microsystems):

Love this: “Blockwashing (v. int.): The practice of touting something that was entirely possible without a blockchain as particularly special because you are using a blockchain.” From Zach Smolinski.

-+-+-+-+-+-

And on Twitter:-

Ron Friedmann:

Good #blockchain debate.
@TheTimeBlawg (Brian Inkster) disagrees with @ArtificialLawya (Richard Tromans)
After the high volume of Tweets re A&O initiative, I do wonder if the supply chain use case really warrants blockchain.

-+-+-+-+-+-

John A Flood:

I am truly uneasy about this response. Blockchain is a new technology (10 years) that’s evolving fast. I believe in the way we hold, own (disown), exploit data will be profoundly affected by blockchain. And it will be a key weapon against the likes of Facebook et al.

Me:

John, we had a similar debate during #LWOW2019 https://twitter.com/JohnAFlood/status/1117530026826772481 when I referred you to an article about the ‘immutable’ nature of blockchain. I am no expert on the topic. I have just read more reasoned arguments against than PR for. @davidgerard may have more to say?

This part of that #LWOW2019 thread is relevant and included the ‘immutable’ article: https://twitter.com/JohnAFlood/status/1117533947540516866

David Gerard:

It’s neither “evolving fast” – nothing in “blockchain” is new – nor will it be a weapon against Facebook.

This sort of talk is projecting dreams onto a magical new technology, emphasis on the assumption of “magic”: What ordinary people think a “blockchain” is — and the weasel term “Blockchain Technology

John A Flood:

I recall that Brian. However I do think we’re on the cusp of a great shift with this technology — blockchain. If it undermines the FAANG I’ll be happy 😊

David, it’s an interesting polemic you’ve put forward but nothing more. The fact that blockchain evolved out of prior research in a number of cognate areas is well known. It’s not hidden. But a broad global community now sees much benefit so it will thrive.

Me:

As David says you need to be careful of imagining magic. That of course is the second deadly sin of #LegalTech predictions: Travels through the Blawgosphere #2 : Artificial Intelligence and Law ~ Robots replacing Lawyers? #7deadlysinsoflegaltechpredictions

David Gerard:

> If it undermines the FAANG I’ll be happy

You’d need to show how it will actually get from point A to B on this one, though.

If magical flying unicorn ponies exist, their wing feathers will have *all manner* of use cases!!

But they don’t exist.

No, you really do have to show how each of the steps get there. Because it’s been ten years with literally nothing coming out of it except snake oil and fraud.

Potential is great, but eventually you have to show something. The burden of proof is 100% on the advocates by now.

Alex G Smith:

See you all on Cryptocruise later this year then to discuss the future of society. The Irish border may be immutable by then too.

David Gerard:

Crypto cruises are certainly interesting places, from a certain angle: Trapped at Sea With Crypto’s Nouveau Riche

John A Flood:

I hope the lack of Irish border remains immutable and permanent and decentralised!

Alex G Smith:

The Tories are talking to the Big 4, what could go wrong …

John A Flood:

Crapita will fix it, now that Jim isn’t around anymore

Me:

What could possibly go wrong?

blockchain and the TitanicJohn A Flood:

We’ll be in the Mediterranean, mate, nowhere near the Atlantic

Me:

As likely to happen there!

Blockchain and the ConcordiaJohn A Flood:

That was definitely human error when he squeezed between rocks. Nothing unexpected, just human stupidity!

Me:

A lot of the same human error and stupidity surrounds #LegalTech #LegalAI and #Blockchain 😉 I did a round up of some of the examples that caught my eye in 2018 before #Lexpo19 here: Legal Tech Reality Check at Lexpo 2019

Alex G Smith:

I just find blockchain funny now, the main interest is gauging the twisted headspaces the evangelists live and wondering what happened in their lives to make them “believe”. Kind of why I liked conspiracy theorists in my teens and 20s.

David Gerard:

A lot of blockchain evangelism comes from completely sincere people who assume there’s no smoke without fire! … but haven’t figured on all the blockchain marketers frantically deploying fog machines.

Alex G Smith:

Good point. People are having to do a lot of “deprogramming” of kids coming through the education system for whom BC is just “the answer” with no critical thinking whatsoever. Have done exactly this in a programme I was a mentor on and with innovation programmes. It’s bizarre.

David Gerard:

This is a good worked example of someone who was sure there was something there – until he actually looked, and found *zero* examples that checked out on closer examination: Blockchain for International Development: Using a Learning Agenda to Address Knowledge Gaps

Alex G Smith:

“Blockchain firms supporting development pilots are not practicing what they preach — improving transparency — by sharing data and lessons learned about what is working, what isn’t working, and why.“

David Gerard:

There must be SOME REASON for this,

Kyle S. Gibson:

Why would BMW/Jaguar/Toyota/Audi ALL agree to join ephemeral marketing campaigns (which we buy the media space for…)? u think these companies DON’T know blockchain? >TRON

Mitch Kowalski:

It’s a debate between wishful thinking and reality.

Alex G Smith

Also about shortcuts … why bother with proper systems thinking when a magic pill is going to take away all that hard work.

Michael Edelman:

Reality: Link to crypto currency fraud thread on Twitter

Nir Golan:

All you have to do is say Blockchain…

In all honesty, I still don’t understand what it will be good for or what problem it solves. Nothing against it just don’t understand why I need it.. and I have hundreds of startups around me working on some BC based tech.

Mitch Kowalski:

I’m the same. It’s cool and all, but how does it make my life better in a cost-effective way?

Nir Golan:

Love to hear an answer. Nothing like great tech that solves a real problem. Makes my day when I see one.

Alex G Smith:

I’m reminded of Douglas Adams’ quote (was Towel Day yesterday): “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”

Nicholas Weaver:

It solves one very important problem.  When someone says “Blockchain can solve X”, you now know the person knows nothing about X and that person has announced it to you proudly.

Alex G Smith:

It’s like a real time (unlike BC) version of the Darwin Awards.

Michael Edelman:

So much this. There’s nearly ZERO discussion related to the ‘implementation details’, which should give pause to anyone who thinks that a silver bullet is already chambered.

Nir Golan:

I wrote a post about this on LI asking this question in the context of legal. It got 50,000 views dozens of comments but no one had an answer.. people love talking about it, love dropping that name every now and then but no one really knows what’s it good for.

Alex G Smith:

50000 views! really. there’s the answer to why the big corporates want a BC PoC there alone.

Me:

50000 views on blockchain can’t be right. Nir is clearly doing it all wrong. You would expect at least 1.7m 😉 What does it say when a Legal Blockchain eBook is promoted by FAKE views?

Alex G Smith:

hahaha! I demand a recount.

Nir Golan:

That damn LI algorithm. They screwed me over…

Alex G Smith:

just count it in any way you want, add multipliers etc …

Me:

And then make up any story you like about the figures to present blockchain as the saviour of the legal profession.

Nir Golan:

All I wanted was to understand why. Several days and 50,000 views later and still didn’t get an answer

Alex G Smith:

because they don’t have one, you just have to believe … hard, really hard.

Alex G Smith:

it’s darker than that but yes … just believe.

Nir Golan:

On the other hand, we can do some pretty amazing things with the tech that we already have. Most of the time we don’t even know we have it. Happened to me Friday night and saved my ass. Solved a real problem I had. Major time saving.

Me:

#bringbackboring

Jason Morris:

So my starting point is strong scepticism: Blockchain? Probably Not.

But there are SOME uses. Like inter-party e-filing for litigation, with court approval.

Alex G Smith:

I enjoyed this article a lot, asked the right questions, something the ‘religious’ don’t like to do … if there are use cases it will come from rationale placement of function not belief.

Me:

Does e-filing really need to be on the blockchain?

David Gerard:

so, what do they use now?

Me:

In Scotland manual filing! Even if you send a court document in by e-mail in the first instance you have to follow it up with a hard copy in the post! Can’t speak about other jurisdictions but believe in England & Wales there may be an online portal that has been causing problems.

Michael Edelman:

Manual filing -> Blockchain-based system.

Piece 👏 of 👏 cake 👏

Alex G Smith:

In England, bad experience of badly designed IT systems based on old tech procurement model, needs modernising, pretty sure the people modernising are going nowhere near blockchains as they are sensible and trying to break the old IT system and not create a worse future state.

Ron Friedmann:

A putative blockchain benefit is trust.  If government runs a system, isn’t trust built in? (Excluding cyber attacks).

Daniel Acevedo:

Exactly the thing I’m saying since a time ago. Lets think for example in one of the more known use-cases for Blockchain; transparency and immutability in public records. But… aren’t they already clear for all citizens?

Alex G Smith:

And why a high performing, fast properly functioning system is key, not saying more but are problems these problems will not be solved by BC. Trust is built in to a central organisation … the courts.

Don’t worry, I’ve been to quite a few government digital event and BC as panacea is a joke for the folks doing the hard yards of transformation. They just have to fight off the big consultancies recommending (at £££££) magic answers to important people.

Jason Morris:

The point is this: if a court does not offer e-filing, two firms could agree to e-file via blockchain, and treat it as filed at court. Afterward, the court doesn’t need to trust either party, nor do the parties need to trust one another, to know what was filed when.

I’m not saying that it is a revolutionary application. I’m just saying it is an example of something with merit. They are hard to find.

And the question, more precisely, is whether the government distrusts itself. Easier to see why BC is not useful in most cases.

Stephan Eggermont:

That application has zero need for blockchain

Me:

But surely it would still need to be filed at court if the court does not offer e-filing? Forgive me if it is down to local practices I might not understand. And is trust not a primary pillar between solicitors that we shouldn’t need blockchain to prove?

Jason Morris:

The idea is that the court and parties would need to agree to treat blockchain filing as court filing, in order to avoid costs of paper filing. Then everything can be filed at court in one go when required.

Lawyers and courts don’t trust each other enough to forego filing.

Me:

Ok. But everyone would have to get on board with this and agree a common platform to use. Can’t see that happening easily. Indeed doubt it could ever happen in advance of a court putting in place its own e-filing (probably not blockchain) system.

Jason Morris:

You have more confidence in courts adopting tech than I do.

Me:

No more than I have in all lawyers in a particular jurisdiction adopting a common blockchain e-filing system that the courts also agree they can use! Think reality is unless and until the courts take a handle on it then it won’t happen and we may, in any event, have a long wait.

I last did a blog post about technology in the Scottish Land Court six years ago. Things have not advanced any on that front since (indeed they may have gone backwards)! Technology and the Scottish Land Court

David Gerard:

problem: “we need e-filing!”
solution: “let’s set up e-filing!”

I want you to take me through what part of this requires a blockchain, with actual technical detail on what blockchain brings to the party. so far it’s handwaves.

“trust” is not it. this is a common species of blockchain BS: take a technical mathematical jargon term that is also a squishy English word, and assume whichever squishy English meaning suits your argument.

the “trust” bit in blockchain means so a machine could trust another machine. it doesn’t have anything to do with more general human meanings. blockchain as “trust machine” is blockchain salesman bollocks.

this sort of sales equivocation is pervasive in blockchain discourse.

these solicitors are professionals. the trust problem is dealt with in paper filing by the court having the power to sanction them for fucking around, yes? wouldn’t that be the obvious technology to bring to bear? what am I missing here?

William Pietri:

Amen. When I was at Code for America, I repeatedly got asked about blockchain solutions to govtech problems. Blockchains are interesting when you have no central authority. But when I asked what good that might do for something defined as a central authority, I never got answers.

Paul Berg:

Exactly. I always ask what central authority they are trying to cut out. In this case it’s the court. But wait…. You still need the court to rule, so who again do you think you are cutting out?

Alan Graham:

The most objectionable aspect of this is the “smart contract” which is an imaginary idea that somehow machines can understand nuance and perform every possible measured outcome based on the situation. Which is not an actual thing. So they propose inflexible brittle code instead.

Paul Berg:

I don’t find it inherently objectionable. Some contracts have no inherent ambuguity: “I pledge these assets contingent on 2 others pledging the same” is simple enough and systems like 0x do it well. But if a subjective judgement is needed then you need human central auth.

Alan Graham:

There is no such thing as a non-ambiguous contract. All contracts are ambiguous. That’s why we have lawyers and courts. Show me a singular contract in the world that cannot be challenged in court over “intent”. Computers do not understand intent.

I can’t think of a single binary agreement that exists that can’t become infinitely complex once two lawyers are involved.

Paul Berg:

Conflation of terms. I deal with API contracts a a software engineer all the time. I call your service with a name value pair, and upon query of name you return the value i gave. This is different than a legal definition of contract. Both forms are useful.

Alan Graham:

So back to the debate…why blockchain?

Paul Berg:

Blockchain, in this context (Nakamoto Concensus) solves a previously unsolved computer science problem. In a group of untrusted entities, when we want to unanimously agree, it’s the only known way to do it. This in itself is useful.

If 32 things must all make the same decision in an untrusted network and any minority breaking rank would suffer negative consequenses… Blockchain.

Current application is a naive obvious one: immutable transfer of ownership of a token in an untrusted network. IMHO that is not useful at the retail level at least BECAUSE it is immutable. At a higher level there may be uses (clearing houses perhaps).

Federated identity without central authority is probably the most currently useful case I can think of, and one that has been under pursued IMHO. Revokable certificates without a central signatory.

Alan Graham:

Please explain how a known group of parties in what is clearly a permissioned system is untrusted. There are no untrusted/unknown parties in a court filing system. Not-blockchain.

Paul Berg:

Oh, as for the court filing application, I agree. Use of a blockchain is worse than pointless. It is a million times more costly, severely high latency and serves no purpose. A traditional document database is called for there 🙂

Alan Graham (replying to David Gerard’s last comment):

I’ve been writing this for years…

A machine will always accept something as true because it has no concept of truth. It is just data. It requires humans to assign it truth and that has nothing to do with blockchain.

Trust is a human requirement, not a data requirement.

John A Flood:

Hi Alan that is a perfectly reasonable statement with which no one will argue. I suspect, although I’m not certain, the discussion is conflating ideas of machines taking over with machines supplementing human behaviour. The latter is where I stand

Alan Graham:

Seems the argument here is why blockchain? What inherent powers does it bestow that allows the reduction of intermediaries that cannot be done with other technology? There is this assumption sold that blockchain is inherently more trust worthy and automated, which is not true.

Two trusted parties that need to file with a court do not require a blockchain to do so. There is nothing inherently magical about blockchain that makes it more trustworthy or efficient than a database, when all of the parties are known and trusted.

There’s this magical handwaving aspect to blockchain which has been remarkably well packaged and sold by IBM (and others) as a replacement for existing technologies because it contains some pixie dust that makes it faster, better, cheaper, more secure than other solutions.

IBM We are still here

Ron Friedmann:

Re IBM, you mean it promoted #Blockchain like it did #IBMWatson?
I attended #WorldOfWatson in 2015. Very exciting + cool but I had trouble finding a there there.

David Gerard:

Promoted *just* the same, per people I’ve spoken to who saw both in action. Change the buzzword to “blockchain” and these two articles will be eerily familiar:

https://medcitynews.com/2017/09/former-ibm-employee-ai-truth-needs-come/

https://gizmodo.com/why-everyone-is-hating-on-watson-including-the-people-w-1797510888

You don’t need a “there” there to sell consulting hours

Alex G Smith:

👍 yes, the marketing force is strong there … pivoted the marketing machine from AIing to blockwashing.

John A Flood:

An example I was tangentially involved with was the use of voting in Estonia. They were looking for robust, distributed systems that would resist Russian cyberwar and provide a way of assuring voters their votes had been correctly recorded #hangingchads

Alan Graham:

There’s no perfectly secure system, why then do you want to have a distributed voting system? Why network something as critical as voting? And if you compromise a blockchain voting system, it is worse because it is assumed to be an impervious & immutable truth. That’s dangerous.

Computers don’t understand truth from lies, any acceptable data is true. If you therefore compromise a voting system with a solution that’s been sold as truth, immutable and secure, it gives a false sense of security. It is even possible the state could compromise its own system.

In a world where Spectre is possible (the chip exploit not the James Bond organization, although…), there is no truly safe and secure solution. Voting is sacrosanct and frankly paper is still the most secure way to vote. But I digress, my point is why blockchain?

David Gerard (responding to John A Flood’s last comment):

Did it use KSI Blockchain, perchance?

The system that isn’t even a blockchain, but was renamed a “blockchain” for marketing purposes?

Estonia’s smartcard security problem is probably not blockchain-related — but what is Estonia’s “KSI Blockchain”?

Alex G Smith:

Ah Estonia … a hash graph database. So built on a fast database (not BC) using hashes. Estonia has come out several times to refute the claims this is a blockchain.

John A Flood:

What they did ultimately I’m not sure. I reviewed the research proposal on which it was to be based and that explicitly referenced blockchain

Alex G Smith:

Back to the gap between theory and reality /technological implementation. Blockchain is often the victim of placement of function with tech folks who need to make things work in real systems. But nothing new here, was ever this.

John A Flood:

No I can’t let what you say go in this way. This was a successful proposal in conjunction with Estonia to the EPSRC in the UK. And blockchain was an integral part.

Alan Graham:

“Successful proposal”

Sorry was this a working bit of kit or an idea? What made the blockchain aspect safer, better, more trustworthy than paper?
—-
Do you think digital voting via machines or networks is safer than paper?

John A Flood:

As a research proposal to a research council it is about ideas which can be implemented. It was for digital voting.

The digital voting here was designed to let the voters see their votes had been recorded in the appropriate place. The state running the vote could see the vote had occurred but not its nature.

Alex G Smith:

Lots of talk of centralised system and central validation here

https://blogs.microsoft.com/eupolicy/2019/05/10/electronic-voting-estonia/?_lrsc=3271e58d-f628-4c68-b2d3-

So needing encryption not blockchain … back to placement of function. May be a part of a BC may be needed in conjunction with other tech. Which is my point that BC will become part of the tech stack but not be the tech stack, like any other new thing.

Alan Graham:

Frankly the number one thing to come out of blockchain is further evidence of the power of cryptography, but also its limitations and weaknesses. As you say…part of the stack, not the stack.

In the beginning blockchain was all about decentralization, & consensus in a trustless system. That was a major selling point. Then there was a pivot to a permissioned bc, which was centralized (distributed), with trusted consensus. Very far from the original selling point.

David Gerard:

Yes. John, you’re blustering again. I want you to tell us all *precisely* in what regard “blockchain was an integral part”, as you literally just said. Because we’re looking ourselves, and finding evidence the other way.

What “integral part” was blockchain? This is a simple qn.

Alan Graham (in another response to an earlier comment by David Gerard):

A snippet from a piece I wrote in 2015 on blockchain. Everyone loves this imaginary idea that blockchains are automated truth machines that can just run and cut out all the middle men blah blah blah. But this is nonsense. A society that automates its responsibilities is doomed.

Blockchain snippet - Alan Graham

Jason Morris (coming back to an earlier comment by David Gerard):

Trust is THE point of blockchain. If you think that’s handwaving, it’s not. It is fundamental to financial transactions, which is what BC is designed for. People just pretend that other situations benefit from eliminating trust, when most don’t.

E-filing outside of court is an exception, because if it is not done by the court, the courts won’t trust it. With blockchain, they don’t need to.

David Gerard:

“Trust is THE point of blockchain. If you think that’s handwaving, it’s not.”

Did you read the rest of the tweets? “Trust” in blockchain is a mathematical jargon term, it’s not the squishy common English word.

It means a machine being able to trust another machine, in a particular defined set of conditions.

It doesn’t mean whatever sense of a human trusting another human in arbitrary situations.

I still want you to take me through what part of this requires a blockchain, with actual technical detail on what blockchain brings to the party, without further handwaves.

Blockchain advocacy *always* seems to fall down on the technical details.

Go on, be an exception.

… surely that’s nonsensical, as the question is precisely whether or not the courts will trust it.

Jason Morris:

No. That is the defining feature of blockchain. If the courts do it, they trust it. If someone else does it, the courts don’t trust it. If it is done on blockchain, no trust is required. If the courts want to know whether the data has changed, they can just check.

Michael Edelman:

How do they do that last bit?

David Gerard:

so … I eagerly await the bit where “The courts trust the particular blockchain, because …” There’s a really obvious whacking great hole in the chain of events there.

Michael Edelman:

And, presumably, there would have to be some mechanism by which ANYONE could just check, right? And that means the court would need to scale to the entire internet or risk going down all the time, no?

Or would the lawyers have to join some peer to peer network all the time? How many people would need to store, update, etc, the entire chain on their locals?

Jason Morris:

Because the blockchain uses independently verifiable math to prove that the data hasn’t changed?

David Gerard:

You’re sure if you just say that to the court they’ll say “oh, ok”? that’s how the court adopting a new technology works?

Michael Edelman:

And here I thought it would take a massive amount of infrastructure and unnecessarily complex UX to even have a chance at adoption.

David Gerard:

No, they trust anyone who just says “blockchain”, well known fact.

This is actually how we’ll take the FAANGs down with blockchain too, if I’m not violating an NDA saying that.

Michael Edelman:

Oh. So, they probably wouldn’t need to also build out major parts of the ‘legacy’ system anyways as a failsafe for when some well-resourced litigant or bad actor inevitably hacks it, either, I suppose.

David Gerard:

Did u kno the BLOCKCHAIN protects against all possible bad actors by the power of byzantine fault tolerance.

They call it a “Trust Machine” u kno.

Michael Edelman:

And when there’s a hard-fork, the court’s IT department will actually travel to your law firms office and upgrade your software for you, too, I’d imagine?

David Gerard:

I’m on Scottish Law SV, the way Satoshi envisioned it. we put in a US copyright registration about it.

Michael Edelman:

Just make sure to leave your server room keys under the mat of your datacentre.

Shit. I’m assuming we’d also need to include a copy of the actual filing in the chain along with the transaction and then store all that on everyone’s local regardless of whether it’s relevant to them or not. Hard to file things under seal I’d imagine.

Obviously, it’s not like we could just trust a certificate-authority-like entity to have dominion re WHAT was filed, since that’s clearly the most important data.

Bunky Fob:

Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t this a case for simple trusted-third-party non-repudiation? Since the Court is authoritative, and MUST be involved in the filing. Having it digitally sign submissions is “proof” enough.
Besides “immutable public ledger”, what does BC gain?

I’m not saying the public ledger isn’t a valuable feature, though it’s by no means unique to BC.
I’m just wondering what else BC has to offer in _this_ case?

Alex G Smith:

I’m trying to find a good article on the Maersk/IBM POC that I read that interviewed the rational Maersk product lead talking about the poc strengths and weaknesses but it seems to have been subsumed in media, talkers and IBM talking about it as if it’s a thing already.

David Gerard:

This is my very favourite article on the Maersk thing. The vendors are … unimpressed. “I believe the industry is quietly and politely saying they are not  interested or at least not currently interested. Blockchain is the overly persistent salesperson.” – Skepticism of Maersk-IBM’s TradeLens hit bigger blockchain questions

Alex G Smith:

Yep, it annoys me I’ve lost this one, the product manager (aka person whose project this was) was awesome saying some interesting findings but so many issues with bad data, ease with which bad actors could make bad info ‘immutable’ + need for wider systems thinking on the problem.

John A Flood:

I don’t read the article as saying don’t use blockchain. The shipping industry is ripe for this. There are ports in Australia that are considering blockchain as part of the tool set they will use to manage complex movements, but not for everything.

David Gerard:

Your blockchain advocacy is infuriatingly vague, particularly in response to detailed specifics. WHICH shipping ports? WHAT PRECISELY are they considering?

I fear I get the impression you’ve read lots of breathless white papers, but couldn’t describe how blockchain will work in these situations, and what it will bring to the party technically, in any detail.   but these are the details that are always absent from these discussions.

John A Flood:

I wish I could say more. I’m involved in some research on this but I can’t disclose the details. Sorry”.

David Gerard:

From your tweets so far, I’m afraid I have no evidence to believe that you have any idea what you’re talking about technically.

John A Flood:

That’s unfair. I’m an academic not a blockchain professional nor have I claimed otherwise. I work with the industry and I continue to immerse myself into it out of interest because it is important.

David Gerard:

You’re a professor of law and society. I’m not, and you’ll know much more about those than me.

But the technical details are important here – because they’re ALWAYS the bit that blockchain dreams fall down on.

And, moreover, you do realise that there’s a buttload of snake oil salesmen, let alone blatant massive fraud, in this space?

Wishful thinking is woefully ill-equipped to deal with the actual bad faith actors.

And passively enabling them is not acceptable either.

John A Flood:

Welcome to the manifold dimensions of society and economy wherein one finds all kinds of people, good and bad. I think capitalism is founded on the immorality of rentiers but I have to live in it and deal with it. Nor do I understand all its technical details. I try as with BC.

David Gerard:

I think that when you make claims that a particular implausible technical thing really is a thing, and we ask you repeatedly over the course of hours to substantiate them … the burden of proof remains on you.

John A Flood:

Oh David, if you want deep technical details I will refer you to IEEE journals, the many pieces on blockchain published on Medium. I work with 3 blockchain enterprises: Inkrypt (journalism), Legaler (law), Touch Social (community). And I was Horizon State too. All public.

David Gerard:

Great! So take me – in technical detail – through how you think will e.g. “undermines the FAANG” – a link will do

or e.g. WHICH shipping ports? WHAT PRECISELY are they considering.

details. I’m sure they are in there somewhere, with precise checkable locations.

Me:

Oh John… surely not Legaler! What does it say when a Legal Blockchain eBook is promoted by FAKE views?

David Gerard:

Y’know I’d mostly think that if someone could back their claims, it wouldn’t take literally hours before they’d vaguely handwave in the direction of further handwaving.

But, welcome to blockchain(tm).

“a key weapon against the likes of Facebook et al.” TAKE ME THROUGH THIS STEP BY STEP. SHOW YOUR WORKING.

SURELY THIS IS AN EASY THING, THAT YOU ALREADY HAVE WORKED OUT THOROUGHLY.

John A Flood:

All this talk about hand waving, as you call it, is tiresome. I’ve pointed you to sources you can read so you can learn more about blockchain. I’ve told you about things I’m involved in. But no, I’m not giving you details as that would be a breach of trust.

David Gerard:

You made a string of specific claims. I asked you to show your working. You spent LITERALLY HOURS dissembling.

John A Flood:

Shakes head wearily as number of ad hominem attacks rise. Let me recap: I’ve given you sources to read, I’ve told you what I am, I’ve told you who I’m connected with (look them up), and I’ve explained the constraints I’m under. Sigh 😔

David Gerard:

Ah, so your secret plan to take down the FAANGs with blockchain (which you’ve mentioned at least twice today, unprompted) is under NDA? Ok

John A Flood:

There are a number of initiatives in play in respect of FAANGs. Tim Bernard-Lee’s Solid is one. The reconfiguring of thin and fat protocols versus fat and thin apps is another. Blockchain is one potential technology that may play a role.

David Gerard:

“potential” = “the burden of proof is on you”.

You are really clearly not answering in technical detail here.

This is an example of why I said before that it’s not clear from your responses today that you understand what constitutes detail.

You need more than handwaves.

I literally posted you response links to detailed texts and you dismissed them as rants, but you won’t even provide actual links, let alone answers that show you understood the question.

Also, “take down the FAANGS with blockchain” is straight out of George Gilder, literally

John Craske:

Still waiting for a killer Blockchain app in legal then 😀

Me:

Maybe #lawscottech are secretly working on one 😉

Peter D Lederer:

Another respected voice chimes in on the flat/round world discussion:

Referencing a tweet from
Paul Krugman:

Blockchain: still a hammer looking for a nail
Referencing and linking to: Blockchain officially confirmed as slower and more expensive

Ron Friedmann:

Thanks for sharing. After spending a lot of time on #blockchain a few years ago, including leading the first-ever #ILTACon blockchain session, I’m spending much less time on it. I don’t see many practical use cases but I continue reading articles I come across.

-+-+-+-+-+-

John Flood started a new Twitter thread:-

I’ve never known a technology—blockchain—arouse so much ire. Yes it’s hyped as so many things are but the underlying ideas are good, useful and enterprising. In 10 years it hasn’t gone away, only strengthened.

James Peters:

To flip this on its head a bit – if half the energy that goes into knocking down blockchain went into creating, we might have something interesting on our hands.

Also a fair bit of irony in the whole “I’m no expert, but the tech will never work” line….

Me:

We’ve been hearing a lot today from an expert. No one so far has managed to come up with any plausible arguments to counter his ones. Awaiting any information to the contrary with interest: https://twitter.com/davidgerard/status/1132660725984444416

Peter D Lederer:

Fair comment. I expect the ire comes largely from the linkage to the wild extremes of Bitcoin…sort of the difficulty one has in arguing that there are some sound medical ideas to be found in Voodoo.

Jayson Moyse:

Well said Peter…. All the noise makes the signal hard to hear.

It is presently 1995 web.

Ella Healey:

Part and parcel of the Gartner hype cycle; the peak of inflated expectations and the trough of disillusionment. Hold out for the Slope of Enlightenment 😉

John A Flood:

Although where is the Gartner Hype Cycle in the cycle? Shall we go recursive to infinity? Zeno, where are you when we need you?

Dermot Casey:

ICOs and ponzi schemes distracting from underlying value ?

John A Flood:

Basic capitalism has suffered frauds (eg, Madoff) and bubbles and recessions for hundreds of years. Hasn’t been replaced yet. Frauds per se aren’t a condition of blockchain, but capitalism or greed. Blockchain can exist independently of that.

Dermot Casey:

And what most people associate with Blockchain is bitcoin and other alt coins. Stories of exchanges ripped off, rise and fall of value. etc I’m not sure the public have seen useful successful examples of blockchain yet so are cynical.

John A Flood:

Dermot, you’re describing a small part of the story. For example, there’s a lot of work going on in universities now on blockchain. It will be transformative

Dermot Casey:

I’m not disagreeing John. Just what the public have seen to date is centered around all the crud rather than the useful stuff – also would be interested in your highlights on the transformation side.

John A Flood:

I think on area in which I’ve been involved is in using blockchain in voting systems. Estonia is formulating this. It might help overcome the mistrust that arose from the Bush-Gore election let alone those tampered with by the Russians

Alex G Smith:

But we also have some awesome other tech emerging that in a placement of function debate with real tech folks would win over BC. BC will be added to the toolkit as with all tech and used as parts of bigger systems. It’s not a thing, it’s a component of bigger systems thinking.

When we see it as a tool in a bigger ecosystem it has a hope of finding a real home, that he may be small but valuable along with other awesome tech.

Mitch Kowalski:

I’d like to see what universities are doing to create Blockchain use cases for an immutable database. The only one I’ve seen that is remotely useful is for land registry – but you don’t need Blockchain for that. Hence my cynicism.

Me:

Me too. I’ve been asking for use cases in legal for some time for both #blockchain and #LegalAI (other than the established e-discovery and document comparison ones) – Legal Conferences and Artificial Intelligence – When you ask the tumbleweed usually blows.

-+-+-+-+-+-

John A Flood:

If you take the history of the Internet, it took between 30 and 40 years for really good use cases to emerge (apart from email which is no longer a good use case). With blockchain we are discussing ledgers.

Ledgers are vital for society and economy. Question is do we need to do it centrally (SQL) or in a decentralised way? Blockchain offers the latter. Blockchain is a potential answer to problems not the problem itself.

Dr Nigel Stobbs:

I think a big part of the problem is that the technology and especially the underlying concepts are so often poorly explained. I’d say 80% of the non-tech people who ask me about it, have read a lot and still don’t understand the fundamental need for and process of blockchain.

John A Flood:

I agree Nigel. And twitter isn’t always the best way to explain it!

Dr Nigel Stobbs:

I find it hard to explain to law students & lawyers as it requires them to juggle abstract concepts in multiple domains at once. And abstract thinking isn’t often their strongest suit. Then their frustration at not quickly grasping it morphs into cynicism about the topic itself.

Law people don’t like the feeling of not understanding something. For law academics of course, it’s such a common experience we take it in our stride.

John A Flood:

Moreover we haven’t reached that phase, as with the internet, where you just do it without having to deal with interfaces etc

5 Replies to “Blockchain is just hype? Allen & Overy won’t worry”

  1. Long years ago a young lawyer came to work for me…he’d spent the first two years out of law school working on ship financing and found it mind-numbing. But he had developed one valuable trick: whenever he found contract language he plain couldn’t understand, he red-lined it. Made most of the contracts he reviewed look as if they had measles, but it got people to a) explain, or b) modify the language, or c) drop it. I guess I learned from young Jamie, and it is kinda where I am with blockchain.

    1. Thanks Peter

      Explain a use case is the big one with blockchain. I have yet to hear anyone explain one to me that makes any sense. Calls today on Twitter to do so have so far been met by silence. Which might be Jamie’s “drop it”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.