The producer of Nirvana’s landmark record, In Utero, levied some interesting critiques of blockchain technology in an interview long before the technology had captured the attention of some of the world’s largest corporations in 2015.
In a discussion with the podcast Decentralize.FM, Mr Albini seemed suspicious of blockchain technology. The Shellac guitarist did not understand why, if an open source community like Bitcoin and blockchain were trying to change, if not get rid of, modern institutions, why they would try and mimic the institutions themselves?
“What most of the underground culture has been based on is not finding an alternative version of something in the mainstream culture, like in [the Bitcoin] example, finance, but making those things we find repellent about the mainstream culture irrelevant,” Albini told Tony Sakich of Decentralize.fm. “It’s not let’s have our own lawyers and contracts and our own automated version of bill collecting; let’s not have lawyers, let’s not have contracts, let’s not have bill collecting, and not let’s have our own version of exclusive relationships that we police, but let’s not have exclusive relationships and not have any police.”
He points out that Bitcoin is merely mimicking the ways things have always been: “Bitcoin is creating equivalents to items that exist in the material world but in the digital ether, and my point, and probably the fulcrum of my existence, has been to eliminate those things from my life, not create an alternative version I could cherish as my own invention.”Albini highlights how his personal philosophy differs from this. He leveled some interesting criticisms at smart contracts, and contracts in general, at the time.
“I’ve made contracts irrelevant and unnecessary in my life,” he said. “I don’t use contracts in business, I literally do not use them. I’ve had a successful and extended career based on the idea that I’m only dealing with people I can trust and who can trust me. I’ve never signed a piece of paper; never even had a verbal understanding of the details of our relationship…”
While Bitcoiners champion how blockchain technology means we can do away with trust in the modern world, Albini thinks some trust is a good thing.
“In the terrified straight world people say, ‘Well aren’t you afraid of someone taking advantage of you?’ Like someone books a bunch of studio time and then cancels it…Well that happens very rarely and it happens very rarely because we do a good job at vetting the people that we’re working with. We spend a little bit of energy making sure the people we’re dealing with are trustworthy, and building a personal relationship with them, then we don’t have to spend an extraordinary amount of time structuring agreements, and contracts and collecting on payments that people are reluctant to make.”
One year later, smart contracts have been adopted by Microsoft, IBM, and the world’s major banks. At conferences for blockchain technology, representatives of some of the world’s most influential corporations discuss how the blockchain can be applied to modern systems. They debate whether or not blockchain technology can streamline the criminal justice system, banking systems and even the Internal Revenue Service.
At a Blockchain Conference in 2015, some members spoke openly about their visions for blockchain technology.
Former Mechanics Bank CEO Christa Steele, Boardroom Consulting LLC, Founder & Managing Member, pondered how the Blockchain could be used for criminal justice.
“Why don’t we just overhaul the whole criminal justice system?” she said.
“[My husband is a police officer] and when he pulls someone over right now and they have a felony, there’s no way to figure out what type of felony,” she lamented. “I’d want to know that if I pull someone over. He pulls someone over there’s no way, so they have to check into five or six different systems to access the information. What if we were to tie all that information together? What would the worth in the scheme of things? Because then you [must] incorporate the whole criminal justice system as far as prosecution, going to jail and a whole slew of steps along the way.”
John Wolpert, product lead on IBM’s blockchain efforts, said at the same conference: “Compliance is a big issue we talk about on our team. A lot of people talk about regulation of blockchain. Most of the time they’re really thinking about [the regulation of something in banking we’re building on the blockchain].”
Wolpert continued: “You can instrument Dodd Frank on the blockchain. [And] you could instrument the tax code. I would love to never have to file taxes, any transaction is just ‘hashtag taxes,’ and it just [automates the process], and all the rules get written to the chain.”
Despite his caution, Albini still likes the Bitcoin technology: “I appreciate bitcoin as a technological innovation.”