12. Blockchain and Ethical Perspective

May 27, 2022 lectured by Dr. Bora Erdamar and written by Dr. Merve Ayyüce KIZRAK
Before we talk about what blockchain is, let's try to define how we will approach blockchain in Computers and Ethics, an artificial intelligence engineering course.
“The main advantage of blockchain technology is supposed to be that it’s more secure, but new technologies are generally hard for people to trust, and this paradox can’t really be avoided.” — Vitalik Buterin
In past lectures, we talked about privacy, security, safety and security, and reliability. Most of these concepts came up with data. Data with demographic characteristics, defined as sensitive data, medical data, etc. something we think about and discuss while working on; how this data should be collected, how it should be stored, and how it should be shared. Is there a way to adopt ethical values ​​for this? Based on this quest, we arrive at the blockchain. Can blockchain be of use to us at this point? Keeping data in a decentralized database sounds good. Let's take an example of choices. We have a yes/no option on the ballot papers used. However, very simply, we have the option to vote 0-1-2 even for a movie we watched on Netflix. Is it not possible to make a ranking in the elections? Can't selection be made more reliably, efficiently, and effectively? In fact, it has been piloted in countries with relatively small populations. You can examine the examples from Australia, New Zealand, and Estonia below.
There is something fundamental to democracy; This is the expression of preferences. Perhaps for the first time in human history, levels of democracy and the sustainability of democratic systems depend on cybersecurity.
Long story short, in this lecture, we will focus on thinking of blockchain not only in terms of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin but also as decentralized databases and data processing environments.
Blockchain technologies are still difficult and complex for many people to understand. Because it is an abstract and technical concept. People often get lost in the definition and are focused on buying and selling cryptocurrencies. However, in the last 3-4 years, this situation has changed a little more. We come across very good promotions or negative propaganda about cryptocurrencies. This is not only true for cryptocurrencies, there is a tendency toward polarization across the world. Representation of moderate views is dwindling. We can watch this both in the Trump elections and now in the French elections. It is possible to have pros and cons, but the disappearance of moderate views is neither scientific nor ethical. The world we live in does not consist of a 0-1 logic. We exist within a wide spectrum. The scientific thing is that the shortest distance between two points is not always true.* Therefore, it is necessary to be more skeptical (not at the crazy level) when getting ideas about new technologies. Being aware of the potential of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology is the first step to take.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a technology. This technology; allows people to freely interact with each other in the digital world without any intermediaries. Blockchain is a system created by coding. Blockchain technology is designed for the digital world, not the physical world. This means that if you want to use blockchain technology in a non-digitalized sector, you must first ensure that that area is fully digitized.
The reason why blockchain technology is responding very quickly in the financial sector is that it is both a digitalized sector and an intermediary-based sector. Thus, it shows the success of exactly what the blockchain wants to do. Of course, it has successful applications in different sectors. For example, supply chains… In the blockchain ecosystem, experts in fields such as cryptography, software, economics, and game theory are usually anonymous.

Is blockchain secure?

Although it gained popularity with the article written by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, the foundation of blockchain technology dates back to the 70s. Concepts such as public key, private key, and hash are quite old. Systems designed with blockchain are considered safe thanks to two features:
  • All information of the system is kept transparently by all machines in the network, Not all transactions can be changed retrospectively,
  • It becomes more difficult to do such a job as time goes on.

Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence Duo

The relationship between blockchain and AI is developing. Information distributed on blocks in Blockchain, a mechanism that enables distributed decision-making and immutable record-keeping can be activated by AI. That is, AI can act as a link between blocks and external data. An example of this is the blockchain, a distributed ledger (DLT) social network. Users' general information is stored in blocks. In addition, new blocks can be created based on AI algorithms that collect new information from users and store it in new blocks. For example, such practices may be included in social research on the preference of an election candidate.
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay
So how does this differ from existing social networks? In a distributed social network, it allows for reduced centrality as AI algorithms identify information shared among users and added to new blocks. The use of AI and blockchain together in organizations and services may cause new ethical problems due to the immutable data storage capacity and the increased capacity of AI to generate data.

Blockchain and Ethical Relationship

We start with the idea of ​​focusing on using blockchain technology ethically for the public good. Generally, when destructive and effective new technologies enter our lives, a balanced consultation environment is tried to be created between states, companies, and non-governmental organizations. Instead of just maximizing profits or an environment where there is no competition, a balanced and ethical incentive and governance mechanism that maximizes the public interest is tried to be created. It is aimed to create an ecosystem on this.
To incorporate the ethical component for cryptocurrencies, or more generally blockchain technology, it is recommended to take a proactive rather than a retrospective approach. There is enough risk for even that. In addition to the relatively mature AI ethics, blockchain and ethics are still raw. Discussions for identifying risks are rather recent.
It should be noted that there are no funds allocated for ethics in lobbying organizations focused on blockchain technology such as CoinCenter, Open Money initiative, and GiveCrypto. When we think about it, when we consider the funds allocated for ethics in other technologies such as AI, the difference in ethical maturity between the two ecosystems becomes very clear.
Blockchain technology has enough potential impact to warrant a proactive ethics ecosystem.
Blockchain continues to expand in money-related fields such as finance. The difficult part here is to talk about both the ethics of technology and the ethics of money. Not only money but also the same two ethical issues should be considered together when used in human resource management. Long story short, it is necessary to approach it from a point of view determined according to the usage area.

Conclusion

In general, there are academic studies that argue that the application of blockchain technology in human-related processes, whether in human resource management or national elections, can create a more ethical working environment.* In addition, the necessity of careful application and observance of ethical principles is recommended as in other new and disruptive technologies.
To follow the work of Bahçeşehir University and BlockchainIST:
To be involved in a blockchain ecosystem like Ethereum with your software skills:

References:

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    Sharif, M.M., Ghodoosi, F. The Ethics of Blockchain in Organizations. J Bus Ethics (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-022-05058-5