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Amy Winecoff, a data scientist and researcher at CITP, will give this week’s Work-in-Progress talk. Amy will present her work studying ideological visions of the future held by founders, venture capitalists, and engineers working in the blockchain sector.
Blockchain advocates claim that decentralized technologies will revolutionize how people interact with each other as well as how they will interact with institutions such as governments and financial systems. They argue that such technologies can help users reclaim control of their digital identities, act as an alternative to institutions plagued by corruption, and create mechanisms for more democratic governance of technology platforms. On the other hand, critics have questioned the extent to which blockchain technologies are truly decentralized either in terms of their underlying infrastructure or their social and financial power dynamics. Neither public-facing advocacy or critiques sufficiently capture the privately-held motivations and beliefs of blockchain actors or their day-to-day experiences working in the blockchain sector. In the current study, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 26 founders, venture capitalists, and developers working in the blockchain space about the ideological visions of the future they hoped their technologies would enable as well as what they perceived as potential barriers to achieving such futures. These actors expressed heterogeneous ideas about what would constitute an ideal future, but were often optimistic about the potential of blockchain technologies to act in the service of it. Yet at the same time, these actors also frequently pointed to dynamics unfolding at “the social layer” as a source of undesirable centralization and concentration of power that create impediments to achieving the social imaginaries of decentralization
The CITP Works in Progress (WiP) Seminar meets weekly during the semester. This reading group is open to any Princeton affiliate, including faculty, staff and undergraduate and graduate students.