Oranges, babies, democracy, frozen people. We take a whirlwind tour of all things on the blockchain that probably shouldn’t be.
When you put a thing “on the blockchain,” you’re not actually putting it “on the blockchain.” Nothing is “on the blockchain.” The “blockchain” doesn’t exist. Instead, what you’re really doing is “notarizing information about a thing using a database distributed across a network of nodes, which is sometimes called a blockchain.” Or perhaps you’re “fragmenting data about a thing into non-fungible digital assets that can be traded, via a distributed network called a blockchain, for ERC20 tokens.” But those are far less catchy, so everybody just says “on the blockchain” instead.
So here we go—”The Ten Most Ridiculous Things On the Blockchain.”
For this list, we’ll explain a) what each thing is, b) whether the thing is actually “on the blockchain,” and c) how ridiculous it is. We chose them by scrolling endlessly through Google and through our own hearts. We also asked internationally reviled blockchain hater David Gerard what he thought.
We had one rule: the phrase “on the blockchain” needs to have been associated with the thing listed. (Except the many items where we broke that rule. Sorry.)
The items are ranked from least to most “on the blockchain.” (Most of the scores are all very low, obviously.) We hope you like it.
1: “Democracy on the blockchain”
What is it? Swiss Blockchain startup Agora said it put the Sierra Leone voting system on the blockchain.
Is it actually “on the blockchain”? No. Agora “observed” as voters at 280 polling stations submitted paper ballots. Agora then recorded those results independently on a distributed database. So it’s actually…”a copy of the election results from a small minority of polling stations stored on somebody else’s blockchain ledger.”
How ridiculous is it? Not ridiculous, just an abject lie.
“On the blockchain” level: 0
2: “Estonia on the blockchain”
What is it? Estonia’s digital infrastructure, called the “X-Road,” is on the blockchain! It distributes the country’s vast data troves across regional lines, which makes them managing them more efficient.
Is it actually “on the blockchain”? No. And not only is it not literally “on the blockchain,” it’s not even in anyway tangentially “on the blockchain.” In fact, blockchain isn’t involved at all. X-Road runs through a distributed system—not a blockchain—developed by software firm Guardtime. Perhaps the confusion stems from Guardtime also producing “enterprise blockchain solutions” among the other many things it does which do not involve blockchain.
(Meanwhile “e-Estonia,” a metonym for Estonia’s tech scene but also somehow a website, claims to have put “national health, judicial, legislative, security and commercial code systems” on the blockchain. Not much evidence for this, though.)
How ridiculous is it? X-Road has been working pretty well for a while. But it’s not on the blockchain.
“On the blockchain” level: 0
3: “Babies on the blockchain”
What is it? It’s the “first blockchain baby,” of course! A firm called AID:tech tracked an unborn baby’s progress during its gestation period using blockchain.
Is it actually “on the blockchain”? No. “Anonymous, unique identifiers” about the baby are held partially on a “blockchain ledger,” but also partially on a “traditional Structured Query Language (SQL) database that is encrypted and not accessible by the blockchain,” and is not itself a blockchain.
How ridiculous is it? The data harvested is used to flag up vulnerable women for charitable donations—which can be misallocated or stolen when the books are centralized. Not necessarily a good idea, but not a ridiculous one.
“On the blockchain” level: 2
4: “Cryonics on the blockchain”
What is it? If you’re already immutably preserved in ice, why not immutably preserve yourself on a blockchain, too?
Is it actually “on the blockchain”? Sadly, “cryonics company” KrioRus is (was) actually just selling digital tokens to raise funds for its cryogenics research which it believes will one day be applicable in, er, space.
How ridiculous is it? Chillingly.
See also: Russian startup Synthestech put (but also didn’t) “cold fusion”—i.e. alchemy—on the blockchain.
“On the blockchain” level: 2
5: “A bit of a Picasso painting on the blockchain”
What is it? Startup Maecenas has put a “Picasso painting on the blockchain!”
Is it actually “on the blockchain”? No. What’s really happened: investors have bought shares of the painting that have been distributed digitally and stored on the Ethereum network. It’s the difference between owning a Picasso, and owning a receipt for a Picasso.
How ridiculous is it? John McAfee endorsed it.
“On the blockchain” level: 3
6: “Literal oranges on the blockchain”
What is it? The geniuses at IBM did it again! A “literal orange” now resides sur le blockchain. Look, there it is! The literal orange, sat astride a Chain of Blocks.
Is it actually “on the blockchain”? All oranges—unless otherwise stated—are “literal oranges.” And in this case it should have been otherwise stated, because there are no “literal oranges” on the blockchain here. There is rather a receipt of facts about the oranges’ route from China to Singapore, each representing a point on oranges’ supply chain, written onto a distributed ledger.
How ridiculous is it? Not very. Apparently it reduced the time needed to transfer “critical shipping documents” from seven days to just “a second.” But someone get a journalist to double check.
“On the blockchain” level: 3.5
7: “Scott Scheper’s cat on the blockchain”
What is it? XYO founder Scott Scheper says his “cat” is on the blockchain.
Is it actually “on the blockchain”? Not really. The cat, Mr Bigglesworth, wears a bluetooth brooch around his neck, which transmits data to the Ethereum blockchain. At best, he’s wearing the blockchain. But he’s certainly not “on” it.
How ridiculous is it? Bigglesworth receives “XYO” tokens in exchange for the data transmitted to the blockchain. Scheper believes the funds raised should be used to support animal-based charities.
“On the blockchain” level: 4
8: “Roomba on the blockchain”
What is it? Spineless crypto rag Decrypt recently blared that somebody had put a “Roomba on the blockchain.” A blockchain USB device plugged into the Roomba allows it to “pay” its docking station for electricity. This could plausibly be useful for electric cars, and stuff.
Is it actually “on the blockchain”? No. Closest would be “the Roomba is fitted with a USB device that supports various distributed ledger technologies and smart contracts.” But who would click on that.
How ridiculous is it? Not ridiculous. Just morally indefensible.
“On the blockchain” level: 4.27899
9: “Society on the blockchain”
What is it? Bitnation is reportedly putting “society” on the blockchain. Specifically, new societies formed from people with aligning interests who may be otherwise marginalized by the rest of us. So Kurds, LGBT people, bollard enthusiasts—and indeed any under-represented group—are given the tools to create and administer their own opt-in online dominion. Blockchain supposedly makes these resistant to censorship.
Is it actually “on the blockchain”? Inasmuch as “society” is a giant filing system, it is plausible that Bitnation could put society on the blockchain. If all birth certificates, credentials, administration, constitutions, etc. were uploaded to a blockchain, and then legal and administrative processes were then automated by that blockchain, you could say, technically, that society is on the blockchain. But that leaves out culture and love and life and music and swimming against the swelling tide of hot sunlight that hits you as a get off the plane at LAX on an unseasonably warm winter’s day and…you get the idea.
How ridiculous is it? It’s only ridiculous if you think libertarians shouldn’t be able to self-organize into censorship-resistant enclaves.
See also: Bitnation putting “love and marriage” on the blockchain. (But actually just uploading a digitized marriage certificate to the Ethereum network.)
“On the blockchain” level: 8
10: “Your last will and testament on the blockchain”
What is it? “DigiPulse” tracks your social media accounts, and if you stop using them for a set period, it assumes you’re dead and passes on your cryptoassets to your next of kin.
Is it actually “on the blockchain”? Yes. And because the system is truly “on a blockchain,” it requires an “oracle” to feed it information about meatspace. Hilariously, this “oracle” is DigiPulse chief Norm Kvilif, who emails you to double-check that you’re dead.
How ridiculous is it? Deadeningly so.
“On the blockchain” level: 10 but that’s not a good thing.
Who knows, though? Maybe we’re just being pernickety and the preposition “on” is far more malleable than we’re giving it credit for. Do we take issue with “on the internet?” Nobody is literally standing on top of “the Internet.” But it still makes sense.
Yet we remain convinced that there is a difference. There is semantic trickery at play. One would never say “oranges are on the Internet,” or “Estonia is on the Internet.” It would be something like, “you can buy oranges on the Internet,” or “Estonians are using the Internet to….WHATEVER.”
Nothing—besides DigiPulse, which is now defunct—is on the blockchain. Use words properly.