Arnoud Berghuis co-founded the Blockchain Knowledge Foundation (BKS), a development organization for blockchain that uses the natural blockchain language UBL. He talks to us about BKS, regional differences in blockchain use, and the adaptability of blockchain.
Leaders League. What is the purpose of the Foundation?
Arnoud Berghuis. We spread and promote technologies for the greater good. We built the first blockchain-based election application that truly participated in a western parliamentary democracy, used three years ago. Our mobile app connects citizens to members of parliament (MPs) using a blockchain-based dialog. The bridge to our current western parliamentary democracy was facilitated by MPs promising to let their votes in parliament always be guided by the app.
This safe, secure and intelligent dialog aimed to shut out populism and make MPs’ backroom dealings more transparent. This is done by giving people the right to propose and filter questions too. Now we are used to voting on the agendas of political parties.
Technology can recalibrate our centuries-old parliamentary democracy for the better. Coronavirus showed us that our collective decision making is weak. The main problem is not the virus, but how we handle it.
Launching a democratic innovation during elections is hard. So we concentrate on offering a toolbox to let existing political parties build solutions themselves, using our Oorlog app. It’s a toolbox to build democracy or the way we organize. The first two ‘o’s stand for object-oriented; the word itself is Dutch for “war”.
We offer an easy Natural Blockchain Language, a methodology and a compiler to digitize business and assets ten times faster in a maintainable and adaptable way. It incorporates formal verification to prevent and get rid of errors.
Why is it necessary to produce new languages and coding for blockchain?
I believe we need proper tools like blockchain language to build a system that works. Machine-generated code works and is needed. Blockchain is a part of a larger family of solutions, most of it in place for decades, such as encryption. The fabric that made blockchain can produce more, like digital DNA.
Blockchain is a cornerstone technology. We were all waiting for such a solution for decades, without knowing exactly what we missed. The proper tools to build blockchains were missing, plus it’s hard to remove errors on a distributed write-once blockchain. Tracing and transferring digital values and integrating data collections are still notoriously hard. We had a bad habit of copying data, creating messy solutions to connect data. To copy something is easy, but it’s a bad solution once you understand blockchain. Most organizations are inflexible and are in some ways designed to resist change using fixed statutes.
It’s important to rethink how we organize these days. Our world just lost decades of growth. It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent: it’s the one that is best able to change and adapt.
"Blockchain brings an easy way to implement transparency and tractability at an untold scale"
In what specific ways can blockchain technology be applied to active democracy?
Blockchain brings an easy way to implement transparency and tractability at an untold scale. It solves some of the problems that writers like Franz Kafka were describing 100 years ago. The excuse “we didn’t know” will cease to exist. If all actions can be traced, all errors or fraud can be accounted for.
I already described improving tracing the work of MPs; another specific app for this purpose is bitlaw.nl. Using this app, anyone can scan and timestamp documents and compare them easily. All organizations are still built largely on paper files. We let people can compare bills, fines and legal documents. Google does not offer that. We also shield privacy and give people bottom-up power.
What are the current limits and challenges of applying blockchain to democracy?
It’s all about the acceptance of technology. People need a problem, often a huge one, in order to change. People also need time to understand new concepts. Real problems will make people think. Covid-19 is sad, but maybe quarantine time can be used to think about systemic issues that have long been there.
To understand new concepts is a huge mental effort. Remember the first definition of a new thing like the internet a few decades ago. People often described it as a sort of phonebook or catalogue. It was something else entirely. Blockchain adds a new layer of tech that makes us rethink the definition of the internet.
How does Europe’s approach to blockchain differs from Asia’s?
Asian do organize differently. They are differently minded on an individual level too. I do believe in the individual creativity of western free minds; I also believe in Asia’s ability to execute. In any case, the results are clear: blockchain implementation in Asia is far ahead of Europe. Asia also has a deeper understanding of change and growth. I strongly believe in a third way where we organize ourselves better using technology.
Both the western and the eastern way of organizing are based upon individual leadership. The human brain is made to control a cave-size community, not billions of people. It goes wrong too often. Covid-19 has shown this.
How could blockchain technology help in the current Covid-19 crisis, or in any similar healthcare crisis?
Building a blockchain-based healthcare system is what we need. For example, e-health could mean that the entanglement of pharma and privacy, of doctors’ and patients’ wants and needs, can now be untangled. This is a crossroads in our current world that deserves far more attention.
Lengthy clinical trials can be shortened by adding digital compliance; that would be a quick win. Using our language, we could produce code faster in a maintainable way. Blockchain leaves the integrity of all current systems intact.
I do hope that people start to think during their quarantine that we do not have a sustainable way of organizing ourselves. We offer a different approach. We believe leaders do need to trust tools and be framed by better governance systems.