After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is …(cue fireworks and drum roll please):
Yep, that’s right. “Post-truth” is the word of the year for Oxford. And for a good reason.
The truth seems to be annoying a lot of people at the moment. Facts have become boring and Orange is the New Black, as the orange-coloured Donald Trump takes over from Obama as US President.
The word “post-truth” has actually been around for 10 years already. It was created to describe circumstances where “facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. While Oxford has managed to thrust the word “post-truth” into the news and public discussion, the IT community has been quietly working on solving a more fundamental problem that has perhaps contributed the most to creating our new post-truth society. The problem of trust.
Even Adam and Eve couldn’t be trusted
Ever since humans arrived on Earth, trust has been taking a real beating. Adam and Eve couldn’t even be trusted not eat the biblical fruit from the tree. But despite this beating, trust is fundamental to the human existence.
You can’t drive down the road without “trusting” that other drivers are reasonable people and not crazy rabid-eyed ego-fuelled BMW wannabe drivers of the stereotypical type.
You can’t eat food at your favourite restaurant without “trusting” that your fed-up looking waiter didn’t spit in your food.
So you have to trust the world around you. Every day.
And yet how much of the world do you truly trust? Do you trust our president? Do you trust the police? Do you trust the news? Do you trust that your vote will be counted? Do you trust your pension fund?
Succulent lamb ribs, anybody?
Many people globally have found their trust chewed up and spat in their face by institutions they thought trustworthy such as banks. Depositing money in a bank account one day, only to be told the next day that the bank has closed down and their money is gone.
Personally, I can’t even trust myself to behave like a gentleman when presented with succulent lamb ribs from the Karoo.
If you look closely enough, you soon realise that trust is as fundamental as the air you are breathing.
So in 2008, a brilliant computer scientist by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto decided to create the ultimate “trust machine”. A machine that creates trust without you having to trust other human beings. He called it Blockchain technology.
Nakamoto clearly had foresight, intelligence and computer programming talent. But he also had a deep mistrust of his fellow human beings. His mistrust is so deep in fact that nobody knows who Nakamoto really is. As it turns out, the name Satoshi Nakamoto is a pseudonym.
Nakamoto has somehow managed to execute a seemingly impossible feat. He has delivered to the world a piece of programming genius that is literally changing the world, and at the same time, he has managed to remain anonymous.
Blockchain technology is the genius database software behind the more publicly known digital currency Bitcoin. As Bitcoin has grown in both use and notoriety, there has been a concerted effort to find out who the Bitcoin mastermind is.
But Nakamoto is either unusually smart or freakishly mistrusting because he has never revealed any information that could lead to his identification in any of the technical interactions he has had.
The mystery and intrigue surrounding Nakamoto are overpowering. Who is this guy? Investigators from governments, major news agencies and other self-appointed experts have all tried to find him. Without success. Efforts have ranged from stylometric analysis, which has analysed his style of writing and compared it to early Blockchain and Bitcoin programmers to find out who the culprit is. The effort has failed.
A pint-drinking British mastermind?
On one website, Nakamoto describes himself as a “37-year-old male” who lives in Japan. But in some of this technical comments on online forums he uses phrases like “bloody hard”, which has made it, well, bloody hard to believe he is Japanese and not a pint-drinking British mastermind.
In fact, there is also debate as to whether Nakamoto is even an individual and not a group of people. Really, who could mastermind this whole thing by himself?
But another researcher has put the time records for more than 500 of Nakamoto’s posts onto a chart. The chart shows Nakamoto doesn’t post much between the hours 5 a.m. and 11 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time. Which suggests this genius also needs some beauty sleep. Or time to rest and dream up new schemes to mock the status quo.
So the world doesn’t know who Nakamoto is. So does this mean Blockchain is a gimmick?
Far from it. Currently, global financial institutions are actively implementing Blockchain technology into their financial systems to improve trust and lower transaction costs. Examples are Goldman Sachs, Mastercard, Nasdaq and Tokyo Stock Exchange, etc.
Even in South Africa
In South Africa the following banks have set up a working group to explore the use of Blockchain:
Absa, Investec, Nedbank, Rand Merchant Bank/First National Bank, Standard Bank, the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb), the Financial Services Board, the Payments Association of South Africa and central securities depository Strate.
Other companies are implementing Blockchain to build trust in areas as varied as the diamond trade and medical records. Increasingly, it’s becoming clear that the list of industries that are going to be impacted by Blockchain technology is endless. Universities want to use it to verify certificates, and there is talk to use Blockchain to verify votes in elections.
Yes, we don’t know who Nakamoto is but his invention, the Blockchain, is changing the world by taking aim at a core human value: Trust.
And I think if we were to find him, and ask him why he invented the Blockchain, his response would be something like this…
Sorry, I just don’t trust you.