People have been doing that for ages without a blockchain!

Thirty-three years ago, when I started out as a mathematics undergraduate at Cambridge University, I met a second year physics student at a formal dinner.

“What if the speed of light in a vacuum wasn’t constant?” I asked him.

“It is though,” he replied.

“Yeah, but what if it wasn’t? What if it decreased or increased over time. Or went up and down cyclically? What effect would that have?”

He frowned. “But it doesn’t. The speed of light is constant.” And then he turned away from me and started talking to the person on his other side.

I was surprised and disappointed. I wasn’t claiming that the speed of light was variable. I was just asking what the implications of it being so would be. And here I was, in one of the top universities in the United Kingdom, surrounded by intelligent people, and this presumably intelligent yet highly unimaginative chap was here too.

With that kind of thinking we wouldn’t even have Newtonian mechanics, let alone Relativity or Quantum Mechanics.

Fractional NFTs

Today I had a short discussion with Sara Adami-Johnson about what fractionalized NFTs might be, and then posted a brief description of how they work and where they might be useful. The post was meant to illustrate how an NFT could be split among people, and what use that could be put to, in a simple and concise way.

I was especially happy that I got to slip in the idea of a rudimentary Decentralized Autonomous Organization, or DAO, in the description as well.

To provide a concrete example (because in my experience people generally don’t get new concepts unless you can pin them onto something familiar), I used the idea of an apartment block owned by a group and rented out to a set of tenants,

Most of the comments were supportive, a few were interesting, and then there were a surprising number that were completely and utterly dismissive.

The dismissive comments fell into three broad categories:

  • you haven’t taken into account building maintenance issues, management, insurance, liabilities, housing law, dispute resolution, late payments, and other issues,
  • the Law and the State do not allow for the application of fractionalized NFTs and DAOs to property consortia, and
  • people have been fractionalizing real estate for decades without blockchain or tokens, so why investigate changing that?

I will now go through those in turn:

Practical Issues

Yes, I didn’t take into account building maintenance issues, management, insurance, liabilities, housing law, dispute resolution, late payments, or any other of the mundane humdrum issues that have to be address if you are running a standard housing corporation.

It was a 400 word LinkedIn post explaining fractionalized NFTs and basic DAOs. Not a two hundred page business proposal to be used to back up a pitch to a Venture Capitalist for ten million dollars in funding.

If you spend your life saying, “Ah, but it’s much more complicated than that!” you will never learn anything.

Legal Issues

Yes, I didn’t take into account that the current legal framework in most (if not all) countries does not take into consideration the possibility of a housing cooperative in which ownership is indicated by control of a token on a blockchain, and in which payments are made through an automated (or at least semi-automated) system implemented through a smart contract.

In 1995 the legal systems didn’t properly take into account the flood of copyright infringement that was about to start due to the World Wide Web, or the arguments that were going to take place over the meaning of “owning a URL”, and things like that. Innovation happened anyway, and eventually the Law caught up.

And in any case, I am not about to launch a blockchain-based rental management service. It’s a thought experiment and an illustration of what is possible, or at least might be in the future. Plus I did mention in the last line that you’re definitely going to need a lawyer if you do want to implement it.

Things Already Work As They Are

This one just seems plain stupid to me.

Filing cabinets worked just fine for storing and retrieving data too. So did horses for transportation, singing mythology chants for transmitting information to the next generation, and hunter-gather clans as a basis for societal survival.

If you give up on a new idea because the old one works, nothing changes. And speaking of filing cabinets…

Potassium Cyanide

One of my first ever summer jobs was in 1987 at my father’s workplace — a mineralogy research laboratory. A junior manager with an eye for up-and-coming technology was put in charge of me, and decided that the best thing for a sixteen year old with an interest in computers and chemistry to do was to:

  • spend the mornings going through the supply cupboard in the two main labs to match the bottles and vials with the card index they had for recording their stock,
  • in the afternoon to code up what I later realized was a database, in Turbo Pascal, on an IBM PC 5150, and then
  • copy the index cards into that database.

(I really liked that computer, probably because it had the same identifier as my favorite album at the time by Van Halen).

My manager’s manager — let’s call him Wim — thought this was a waste of time. The cupboards were fine, the card index worked fine, and my pseudo-database was not particularly easy to use or reliable, although it did work.

Wim changed his mind when one morning I found bottles of potassium cyanide, Clerici’s solution (thallium formate and malonate), and a few dusty liter containers of mercury in the back of the cupboard, none of which were in the card index.

When I say he changed his mind, what I mean is that he decided that a) searching through and categorizing the content of the cupboards was a very good task, and b) it wasn’t a good task for a sixteen year old. He still thought the database was a waste of time, but that’s what I spent the rest of my vacation job working on.

And yes, my database was a complete disaster, and commercial databases were too expensive and complicated for a small mineralogy laboratory in the eighties.

But if that lab still exists today, I bet they keep track of their stock with a bar-code scanner or RFID tags, possibly ID badges for people to unlock the cupboards and check out what they’re using … and of course a database.

Not a card index. Which if he’s still alive, is probably what Wim still wishes they were using.

And I bet he hates blockchain too.

About the Author

Keir Finlow-Bates is a blockchain researcher, inventor, and author.

You can buy a copy of his book, “Move Over Brokers Here Comes The Blockchain” at http://mybook.to/moveover.

He does not hate blockchain.

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Keir Finlow-Bates

Keir Finlow-Bates

CEO and co-founder of Chainfrog Oy, a Finnish startup researching and developing advanced blockchain technologies.