Category Archives: code/space

Reblog> Social Justice in an Age of Datafication: Launch of the Data Justice Lab

Via The Data Justice Lab.

Social Justice in an Age of Datafication: Launch of the Data Justice Lab

The Data Justice Lab will be officially launched on Friday, 17 March 2017. Join us for the launch event at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC) at 4pm. Three international speakers will discuss the challenges of data justice.

The event is free but requires pre-booking at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/social-justice-in-an-age-of-datafication-launching-the-data-justice-lab-tickets-31849002223

Data Justice Lab — Launch Event — Friday 17 March 4pm — Cardiff University

Our financial transactions, communications, movements, relationships, and interactions with government and corporations all increasingly generate data that are used to profile and sort groups and individuals. These processes can affect both individuals as well as entire communities that may be denied services and access to opportunities, or wrongfully targeted and exploited. In short, they impact on our ability to participate in society. The emergence of this data paradigm therefore introduces a particular set of power dynamics requiring investigation and critique.

The Data Justice Lab is a new space for research and collaboration at Cardiff University that has been established to examine the relationship between datafication and social justice. With this launch event, we ask: What does social justice mean in age of datafication? How are data-driven processes impacting on certain communities? In what way does big data change our understanding of governance and politics? And what can we do about it?

We invite you to come and participate in this important discussion. We will be joined by the following keynote speakers:

Virginia Eubanks (New America), Malavika Jayaram (Digital Asia Hub), and Steven Renderos (Center for Media Justice).

Virginia Eubanks is the author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age (MIT Press, 2011) and co-editor, with Alethia Jones, of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith (SUNY Press, 2014). She is also the cofounder of Our Knowledge, Our Power (OKOP), a grassroots economic justice and welfare rights organization. Professor Eubanks is currently working on her third book, Digital Poorhouse, for St. Martin’s Press. In it, she examines how new data-driven systems regulate and discipline the poor in the United States. She is a Fellow at New America, a Washington, D.C. think tank and the recipient of a three-year research grant from the Digital Trust Foundation (with Seeta Peña Gangadharan and Joseph Turow) to explore the meaning of digital privacy and data justice in marginalized communities.

Malavika Jayaram is the Executive Director of the Digital Asia Hub in Hong Kong. Previously she was a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, where she focused on privacy, identity, biometrics and data ethics. She worked at law firms in India and the UK, and she was voted one of India’s leading lawyers. She is Adjunct Faculty at Northwestern University and a Fellow with the Centre for Internet & Society, India, and she is on the Advisory Board of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

Steven Renderos is Organizing Director at the Center for Media Justice. With over 10 years of organizing experience Steven has been involved in campaigns to lower the cost of prison phone calls, preserving the Open Internet, and expanding community owned radio stations. Steven previously served as Project Coordinator of the Minnesotano Media Empowerment Project, an initiative focused on improving the quality and quantity of media coverage and representation of Latinos in Minnesota. He currently serves on the boards of Organizing Apprenticeship Project and La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles. Steven (aka DJ Ren) also hosts a show called Radio Pocho at a community radio station and spins at venues in NYC.

The event will be followed by a reception.

Reblog> Free Download: Digital Rights to the City

Via Mark Purcell.

2017-02-06-103004_550x790_scrot

Free Download: Digital Rights to the City

Published Today: Our Digital Rights to the City

Free to download (pdf, epub, mobi): http://meatspacepress.org/

 

‘Our Digital Rights to the City’ is a small collection of articles about digital technology, data and the city. It covers a range of topics relating to the political and economic power of technologies that are now almost inescapable within the urban environment. This includes discussions surrounding security, mapping, real estate, smartphone applications and the broader idea of a ‘right to the city’ in a post-digital world.

The collection is edited by Joe Shaw and Mark Graham and its contributing authors are Jathan Sadowski, Valentina Carraro, Bart Wissink, Desiree Fields, Kurt Iveson, Taylor Shelton, Sophia Drakopoulou and Mark Purcell.

Please follow us @meatspacepress

Join our mailing list at http://meatspacepress.org/

‘Our Digital Rights to the City’ also available free at:

* Free to download (epub, most e-readers): epub

* Free to download (pdf): pdf

* Free to download (mobi, for Kindle): mobi

* Free to read (pdf): Here

When design fiction becomes the advert(?) Amazon Go and the refiguring of trust

I think I’ve been late to this. I saw the story about Barclaycard wanting to do “cardless” credit cards but, of course, Amazon want to vertically integrate. See the first video below. Interesting that this is incredibly similar to previous ‘envisionings’ of “the future” of retail/shopping. The first thing I thought was: ‘hang on, this is  Microsoft circa 2004’, see the second video below… and I’m sure there’s been others, not least from the likes of HP Labs… I wonder where patents lie on this stuff, cos that will be a big bargaining chip.

This is interesting though insofar as, when I was writing about the Microsoft Office Labs videos in 2008/9, the ‘future’ they figured was always positioned at some distance, it was certainly not explicitly stated that this is something you should definitely expect to happen, more a kind of ‘mood music’ to capture some sensibilities of a possible future, by representing it and hooking ideas into our general  imagination of technology and society. It certainly plays on the trope of the normalisation of heavy surveillance… what else can such a system be?

The Amazon Go video is an interesting confluence of lots of contemporary trends in attempts to refigure how we imagine digital technology. Implicit in the video is a normalisation of yet-more automation (of payment, of trust). Explicit here, as already mentioned, is that these kinds of places are not ‘private’ in any way – the system “knows” you, will know your habits, manages your money and that’s ok, in fact – it’s apparently preferable (trust, again).

Amazon seem to be fairly aggressively pushing this, taking the smooth apparently effortless aesthetics of many tech design fiction videos and using this as a means to capture the idea that such technology = Amazon. Apparently there is a “beta” shop in Seattle (where else?). No doubt someone will already be writing a journal article about this as code/space and, of course it is (and just as Kitchin & Dodge suggest about airports – I wouldn’t want to be in this shop when the servers go down), but I think the thing I find more interesting is that it seems to me that this is perhaps an overtly political manoeuvre to capture the public story about what ‘currency’ is and how payment works when we take for granted higher levels of automation, through what kinds of institution and who we can trust. This is quite a different story to the blockchain, Amazon seem to be saying “let us handle the trust issue” – a pitch usually made by a bank, or PayPal…  That might be interesting to think about (I’m sure people, like Rachel O’Dwyer, already are), not least in relation to other ways ‘trust’ is being addressed (and attempts are being made to refigure it) by other companies, institutions and groups.

All this means I’ll definitely be re-writing my lecture about money for the next iteration of my “Geographies of Technology” module next term…

A lack of politics in the geographies of code/software?

An interesting provocation for those who feel wedded to the ‘digital turn‘ from Mark Purcell on his blog… in particular:

the work, in general, seems to be quite aloof, or detached, or trying to stay above the fray, to remain non-committal, as though that were the more professional, academic stance to take.  All this detachment seems to have produced an upshot that is something like: “with all the new technologies coming into our lives in the past 10 years or so, it is important to think through their implications instead of just adopting them uncritically.”

Perhaps those that do “geography o[f] software/ information/ geodata” would like to respond..(?) For me, I think, there is simply a difference in focus between Purcell’s locating of politics and, for example – his colleague at Washington, Sarah Elwood’s in relation to “geodata” (e.g.), i.e. perhaps the difference between a politics of production as such and a politics of implementation.

Nevertheless, Purcell’s point about commons and peer production in open source software is valid – perhaps those involved in recent conference sessions on geographies of software have addressed these issues in some way? (I don’t know, I wasn’t there…)

Read Mark Purcell’s full blogpost on his blog.

“At play on the field of ghosts” – James Bridle on code/spaces of competitive sport

Reflecting upon the increasing instrumentation of the sporting field off play, for spectating, e.g. the ‘Hanwha chickens‘, and for the judgement of rules, e.g. ‘HawkEye’, James Bridle has written a nice piece on Medium about how the idea/ideal of ‘sport’ may be getting translated into something else…

This distinction between the actuality of the event and the fidelity of its recreation is narrow and could easily be dismissed as just another conjuration of spectacular TV coverage, were its remit limited to mere representation. But in the hyper-competitive domain of sports, lubricated with broadcasting and gambling dollars, recreation turns into prediction, and representation into judgement. The distinction between what is seen and what occurs becomes crucial.

More and more, the practice of human adjudication in sports is being crowded out by the supposed superiority of machine perception; a perception which is based on the recreation and prediction of real events, rather than their explicit witnessing. Since 2001, the Hawk-Eye computer system has become increasingly ubiquitous in major sporting competitions, combining machine vision with motion analysis to not only declare where precisely a ball touched or crossed a line, but where the ball would have gone if it were not rudely interrupted.

The Museum of Contemporary Commodities in EXETER

The Museum of Contemporary Commodities

Just a quick note to let you know that the brilliant Paula Crutchlow has brought “The Museum of Contemporary Commodities” (MoCC) to Exeter for the majority of May.

There’s lots going on, much of it creative and interesting – so if you’re in Exeter or nearby: come and visit!

Two immediate things this week:

RIGHT NOW!: help re-create the internet in paper with Artist Louise Ashcroft from 11 -2 in the Exeter University Forum.

TOMORROW: sign up to do a data walkshop with Alison Powell from the LSE on Saturday from 10-1. Places have to be booked, and the Eventbrite page is here https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mocc-data-walkshop-tickets-24464719635

Please do visit the MoCC website for lots more events and activities taking place this month and visit the shop:

87 Fore St,
Exeter
EX46RT

Open 10:00-18:00pm Weds-Sat, 4th-21st May.

Reblog> Everyday Code

An interesting post by Mark Purcell on his paper at the AAG:

Everyday Code

Here is the text from my talk at the AAG conference last week. It was for a really great session organized by Joe Shaw and Mark Graham (who are at the Oxford Internet Institute) on “An Informational Right to the City”.

Everyday Code: The Right to Information and Our Struggle for Democracy

Introduction

Henri Lefebvre proposed a right to information, and he thought that right must be associated with a right to the city. I want to urge us to understand both those rights in the context of Lefebvre’s wider political project. That wider project was the struggle for self-management, what Lefebvre often called “autogestion,” and what I prefer to call democracy.

Lefebvre articulates his wider political vision in terms of what he called a “new contract of citizenship between State and citizen.”

Read the full post.

Internet of Things, ownership and Ts & Cs

iot-toothpaste
Toothpaste terms of service

Decided to make a spoof image that follows some others’ attempts to satirically reflect on the kinds of business models that seem to be creeping in for ‘Internet of Things’ products and services. My impetus is that I’ve enjoyed some of the recent posts on the @internetofshit satirical twitter stream, which lampoons IoT business ideas. These got me thinking…

Many of the successful posts take to the extreme a model we are already experiencing – which is that we do not necessarily totally control those things we think we own. I am aware that other folk will probably have commented in more depth and with greater nuance, but there we are… this is just a blogpost! (I welcome suggestions for further reading though)

For example – I recently bought a Kindle Paperwhite and to remove the inbuilt advertising I had to pay (in addition to the retail price) a £10 fee to ‘unsubscribe’ from ‘Special Offers‘. So, I had bought the device but to remove the adverts I had to pay more.

This, of course, resonates with the inkjet printer business model – in which the printer manufacturer can almost give away some models because the ink itself is highly lucrative, which led to stories comparing it’s value to that of gold…

In my most recent lecture for my third-year option module (Geographies of Technology) I addressed some of these issues and invited the students to consider the following questions when thinking about an ‘internet of things and places’:

Questions of ownership/responsibility:

  • Whose things?
  • Whose data?
  • Who has access? How? When? Where?

Questions of power:

  • How are decisions made on the basis of the data?
  • How doe these decisions influence our lives?

Questions of value:

  • How can/should we negotiate the value(s) of our data?
  • What are we willing to give(-up) for perceived benefits?
    • When does giving away lots of data become not worth it?

Later the same day, on the train home, I idly tweeted a speculative satirical scenario:

Which led me to create a still image (above). I think there’s a lot of scope of using speculative design techniques in a satirical way to provoke more debate about the kinds of relationship we want to enter into with and through the technologies we bring into our everyday lives. My key inspiration here is Anne Galloway‘s work, especially the beautiful Counting Sheep project.

Apps & affect – Fibreculture 25

This issue of Fibreculture on “apps and affect” from last year (2015), stemming from a conference of the same name,  has some fairly substantial looking contributions from interesting people. These include a conversation between Alexander Galloway & Patricia Ticineto Clough, the ‘algorithmic agartha‘ paper by Nandita Biswas Mellamphy & Dan Mellamphy I’ve linked to before and (of particular interest to me at the mo) a paper by Melissa Gregg on speculative labour & app development. It’s edited by Svitlana Matviyenko, Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Alison Hearn, and Andrew Murphie.

Introduction

In William Gibson’s recent futurist novel The Peripheral, the planet has been devastated by a massive eco-techno-political catastrophe (‘the jackpot’) but remaining inhabitants are still able to enjoy the luxury of activating digital devices simply by tapping their tongues on the roof of their mouths. This touch is sufficient to set into play systems that communicate across space and time – enabling the establishment of connections back in time, for example, to people closer to our own present-day, for whom mobiles are still (somewhat) separate from the body. Thirty years ago, in his first novel Neuromancer, Gibson immortalised cyberspace with the account of what now sounds like an amazingly clunky process whereby the hero ‘jacks-in’ to virtual reality. But in The Peripheral the process of translation and transition into networks is streamlined – occluded, internal, intimate and implanted – right at the tip of the tongue.

This issue of the Fibreculture Journal explores a moment along this hypothetical trajectory by investigating the contemporary intersection of ‘Apps and Affect’, publishing papers from a conference of that name organised in October 2013 by faculty and students at Western University (specifically from its Faculty of Information and Media Studies and Center for the Study of Theory and Criticism). By recognising apps as objects that are related to the constitution of subjects, as a component of biopolitical assemblages, and as a means of digital production and consumption, our conference aimed to make an intervention in what had – since the announcements of the App-Store and the iPhone3 in 2008 – been a largely technical and rather technophiliac public discussion of apps.

Isn’t it paradoxical, we asked, that instead of becoming ‘transparent’ and ‘invisible’ – as envisioned by the thinkers of ubiquitous computing decades ago – the app-ecosystem manifests itself as permanent excess: excessive downloads, excessive connections, excessive proximity, excessive ‘friends’-qua-‘contacts’, excessive speeds and excessive amounts of information? How does the app as ‘technique’ (Tenner), indeed as ‘cultural technique’ (Siegert) and as ‘technics’ (Stiegler), channel our ways of maintaining relations with/in the media environment? Do the specific and circumscribed operations of individual applications foster or foreclose what media theorists call the transformative and transductive potential of collective technological individuation (Simondon)? How might we think about the social, political and technical implications of this movement away from open-ended networks like the internet towards specific, focused, and individualised modes of computing? Do apps represent ‘a new reticular condition of trans-individuation grammatising new forms of social relations’ (Stiegler) or do they signal instead the triumph of ‘regulatory’ networks over ‘generative’ ones (Zittrain)? If apps are micro-programs residing by the hundreds and thousands on cell-phones, mobile-devices and tablets, and affects are corporeal excitements (and depressions) running beneath and beyond cognition, what is the relation of apps to affects?

– See more at: http://twentyfive.fibreculturejournal.org/#sthash.6y9K3uyP.dpuf

Reblog> 10 bitcoin myths

This is worth a read, from The Institute of Network Cultures:

10 Bitcoin Myths

By Eduard de Jong, Geert Lovink and Patrice Riemens

“Pigs will fly, but not in the next 100 million years.” Johan Sjerpstra

1. “Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer system.”

In order to transfer value from one Bitcoin account to another, the owner of bitcoins uses the services of a collective of operators known as ‘miners’ who validate the transaction on the Bitcoin distributed database also known as “the ledger.” The relationship between these operators and an individual user, i.e. owner of bitcoins, is hence one between merchants and customer and not one of equals. Only miners are, and then only operationally speaking, peers, since they all perform the same software program. However, they are also, and mostly, in competition which each other because they need revenue to pay for the equipment they operate. Also, any time an update to the database is made, only a single miner is actually adding the transaction records with bitcoin value transfers to the ledger, and gets the financial rewards for doing this. In this way, the incentive for miners to support each other is limited, and one cannot speak of a peer-to-peer relationship in the traditional sense.

Over the time Bitcoin has been operational the inherent hierarchical relation between miners and users has become more pronounced by an ever rising technical and financial barrier to becoming a miner. Investments and operating costs of the necessary equipment rise in tandem with the continuously increasing difficulty of adding a new record to the database that is built into the bitcoin protocol.

Conclusion: Bitcoin is not a peer-to-peer system, but an on-line merchant-customer transaction market place.

2. “Bitcoin does away with intermediaries and fees.”

To make a payment using bitcoins a Bitcoin user needs a “Bitcoin exchange” and these exchanges charge a fee. The sole exception is if the user is a data base operator (a.k.a miner), having aggregated some bitcoins by mining and exclusively pays other users that have decided to keep bitcoins.

There is an other intermediary in Bitcoin, the operators of the distributed data base, the Bitcoin miners. A miner also needs to charge for its labor and expenses. For the time being, a miner is rewarded with newly created bitcoins—that is why updating the database is called ‘mining’. By design, the available amount of bitcoins that can be mined is restricted, and it is expected to be exhausted somewhere around 2040. After exhausting the lode miners can only earn money by explicitly charging a fee.

Conclusion: De-facto, Bitcoin users need to engage services of intermediaries and do pay fees for their transactions.

3. “Bitcoin is an alternative currency.”

An alternative currency, by definition, is designed to _entirely_ displace and replace existing currencies. Complementary currencies intend to _partially_ displace and replace existing currencies, usually in a local setting.

By design, Bitcoin is an alternative currency. Real world observation however, shows that most transactions in bitcoins translate, either at the point of purchase, or at the point of sale, in transactions in existing currencies. Only miners can create bitcoins, non-miners need to acquire them, usually by way of purchase.

In practices Bitcoin transactions are often intended to avoid high transfer fees or bypass local restrictions in making international payments. In such cases, bitcoins are purchased, swiftly change hands, and are just as fast converted again in another currency. In this cash-in Cash-out scheme Bitcoin operates then as a facilitator in the circulation of existing currencies and not as a replacement of these. Cash-in cash-out has been shown the most common mode of operation in bitcoins. A Bitcoin transaction can also be speculative in purpose, to hoard bitcoins expecting a raise in their value. In this case bitcoin can be considered an alternative to other currencies, comparable to an speculative investment in dollars or in commodities, like iron ore, gold or grain.

Conclusion: Bitcoin does not actually operate as an alternative currency.

4. “Bitcoin is not a fiat currency.”

In practice, acceptance of Bitcoin payments takes place before the (irrevocable) recording of the transaction in the distributed database. That is, without formal confirmation of its validity. Apparently, the parties involved in payments in bitcoins _believe_ in their eventual recording. The payee therefore trusts the _eventual_ availability of received funds.

This looks distinctly similar to the way traditional instruments of payments, such as coins, banknotes and bank transfers, operate. The users trust, based on experience and social convention, the correct operation of the system such that received funds are available for further spending. This ‘systemic trust’ in traditional, fiat, currency is underpinned by a mix of technical features such as hard to copy bank notes, fraud detection software in financial institutions and government imposed and enforced regulations.

Conclusion: Where in practice the ‘systemic trust’ in Bitcoin is no different from that of traditional currencies, Bitcoin operates _de facto_ as a fiat currency.

5. “Bitcoin is anonymous.”

The central database with transactions in bitcoins is publicly accessible. This is an essential Bitcoin design property to, at least in theory, allow any party to participate as processing node (miner) in order to get involved in updating the distributed database. The parties in a transaction are identified by unique numbers, and a payment transaction is linked through this number to the transaction wherein the spend value was received.

But as most Bitcoin transactions effectively constitute a payment in traditional currency at one end or the other, or both, they involve well known parties that exchange bitcoins for and against these currencies, the Bitcoin exchanges. Hence, payments in bitcoins can be traced as the value flows between these exchanges. Identification to the humans involved in a payment, e.g. by law enforcement, are therefore _potentially_ possible.

Conclusion: Bitcoin is not an electronic form of cash and does not protect privacy.

6. “Bitcoin is secure and cannot be hacked.”

Security for electronic payments has several parts: first to make sure that only the rightful owner can make a payment, secondly to make sure that the intended recipient actually receives the moneys paid and finally that only money can be paid that is actually owned by the payer and hence can not be spend twice.

In the Bitcoin sphere a payer uses a password to initiate a payment from her computer. The password unlocks a private cryptographic key stored on the computer to send cryptographically protected messages to be recorded in the Bitcoin database to make the payment. Yet, computers can be hacked, and a hacker can gain control of the private key and hence initiate a fraudulent payment. A loss of the private key, for instance by a crashed hard disk, does not just lose access to the money, it actually loses all the moneys controlled. Indeed one of the design features of Bitcoin is that payments, once made, cannot be reversed or recalled.

For the ordinary user, this represents a much higher level of risk than in traditional banking, where losing the bank card or PIN does usually not result in losing the whole balance held in the bank account.

On the functional side, the operators of the processing nodes in the distributed implementation of the shared Bitcoin database use an protocol, to agree on the next version of the database. This is required to correctly incorporate the payment transactions made since the last update. The software in each of the processing nodes must verify the correctness of the transactions by inspecting previous transactions where the payer has received the value to be spend. Yet, servers can be hacked (e.g. with a virus) and the continued operations can therefor not be guaranteed.

By design, the blockchain protocol does not guarantee that all past transactions remain stored for ever or can be available to each of the processing nodes (miners) for inspection in a fail-safe way. The protocol does also not guarantee that a processing node actually verifies the transactions it records. The blockchain protocol cannot prevent that fraudulent transactions get recorded, and does not provide a way to remove or correct fraudulent transactions.

Conclusion: using Bitcoin is more risky than the traditional payment infrastructure.

7. “Bitcoin operates without trust.”

Bitcoin literature is adamant that the Bitcoin set-up successfully substitutes ‘objective’ ‘algorithmic’ trust for less reliable, because human error and trickery-prone, ‘subjective’ institutional or political trust.

As described previously, the blockchain protocol used to synchronize updates to the Bitcoin central database (or ledger) does not guarantee the correctness of the updates made. Most processing nodes that update the database, use the same open source implementation, the Bitcoin ‘miner’ program. This program includes verification of transactions, but transaction verification by the miner program might be compromised either accidentally, by a software bug, or maliciously, e.g. by a virus, or by a miner intent on undue gains. Users engaging in Bitcoin transactions implicitly trust that the miner programs continues to operate correctly, that the equipment is protected against virus attacks and that the miners will not subvert it.

Also, protection of the stored value at the level of the individual owner is not very strong in the Bitcoin set-up. As a consequence, Bitcoin service providers have emerged offering enhanced payment security, in the form of managing their clients’ wallets. This service can be provided both online and with physical tokens like smart cards. Making use of ‘wallet providers’ evidently entails trust in the continued correct and honest operations of the online service or of the physical device.

Conclusion: Bitcoin substitutes one form of ‘subjective’ trust in traditional institutions for another in new organizational forms.

8. “Bitcoin is politically neutral.”

British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, in a famous ‘last words’ speech against the Euro, affirmed that decisions about money and currency are all essentially political in nature. In this context politics must be understood as more than what politicians do, essential politics is about the citizens and the state they live in. The decision that is embodied in Bitcoin’s design to limit the issuable volume of bitcoins to 21 million units can only be seen as political.

Other characteristic Bitcoin features, such as it rewards for early adopters and big operators, its essentially deflationary and hoarding-inducing nature (also due to the designed scarcity of bitcoins), its rejection of regulatory oversight and consumer protection and of state intervention generally, all resonate with political beliefs of “techno-libertarians”. Conversely, it is difficult to imagine how Bitcoin could effectively function in a capitalism-unfriendly political dispensation.

Conclusion: like any other monetary system, Bitcoin, in its technical design reflects explicit or implicit political choices.

9. “Bitcoin is a sustainable system.”

The whole Bitcoin set-up is, and especially the functioning of the distributed implementation of its central database with the compute-intensive blockchain protocol, is dependent on increasingly sophisticated and trouble-free network infrastructure resulting in an ever increasing consumption of resources. This clearly is at variance with the ever more forceful, and inescapable calls for less consumption, foremost in the energy sector.

Conclusion: Bitcoin does not fit well in the required transition to sustainability. This contrasts with traditional financial institutions that can reduce energy consumption a pace with improvements in IT technology.

10. “Bitcoin can scale to world size.”

Both the limited number of possible units of bitcoins and inherently severe technical limits to the operational speed of the blockchain protocol pose such insurmountable obstacles to a global economy that would run exclusively with bitcoins. In the absence of governance of bitcoin, even a technical modification to increase transaction capacity are very hard to implement.

For consumer payment transactions, for instance, it is hard to conceive how the blockchain protocol in Bitcoin can be made to operate effectively at the same speed and volume as systems maintained by, e.g., VISA, Mastercard, AmEx, JCB and such.

As shown in Argentina or Greece Bitcoin can be useful in some specific situations. In these cases it has been a mediator between traditional monetary systems. For Bitcoin to ‘scale up’ to a true global scale, while maintaining (a semblance of) stability and security would for quite some time to come require such large amount of resources as to defeat any short or medium term perspective of attainability.

Conclusion: As Yanis Varoufakis, the economist and former finance minister in Greece, formulated it: “Bitcoin is not capable of ‘powering’ an advanced, industrial society.”

Amsterdam, November 30, 2015

(The authors thank Boudewijn de Kerf for a quick review, while keeping
full responsibility for the substance of the argument.)