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futuribile / curating futures - Issue #39 - NFTs problem with interoperability

futuribile / curating futures
futuribile / curating futures - Issue #39 - NFTs problem with interoperability
By Marta Arniani • Issue #39 • View online
Imagine. You are a proud avant-gardist who invested the amount of a flight to an exotic country (a good as luxurious as three villas, these days) in a JPEG of an Elon Musk-themed “Moon Ticket” stored somewhere on the internet. The NTF wave rang at your door, and this time you won’t watch it pass by as you did with Bitcoins 10 years ago, when on a drunken night you didn’t trust your friend painting a future of pirate richness (a couple of weeks later, the same friend used his Bitcoins to buy pizza). This time you are ready: a Non-Fungible Token is a unique proof of ownership of a digital item; it graves in the holy blockchain stone that you own the original, like a Van Gogh painting, although the art piece is not in your living room but on the Web, and it can be copied countless times, like a Van Gogh poster. Van Gogh seems happy because, in the era of platform-mediated fruition, he can gain from his art directly (at least, this was the original idea of the first NFT prototype back in 2014. One of its two authors is quite disappointed with the artists’ place in this new market and points out how all of today’s popular NFT platforms still use the same shortcuts of the prototype created in a one-night hackathon 🤷🏻‍♀️).
Shortly after purchasing your NFT, you want to look at your new possession as a novel hybrid between Lorenzo de Medici and Gordon Gekko. And it is gone. Error 404. It is a concatenation of banal but impactful technical reasons (well explained here) in the NTF circle of life. In short, terms of service violation on the marketplace resulted in the image suppression. Plus, an unreadable token standard made it inaccessible on Etherscan, a block explorer for Ethereum. A record of your transaction exists somewhere on the blockchain, but you can’t read it, and your new possession is gone from your digital living room. 
This (true) story is a good reminder that a blockchain does nothing else than recording information in a distributed database that seals that information with a collaborative cryptographic procedure. It does not certify or reify a damn thing. Most importantly, the story illustrates the elephant in the room: interoperability. Blockchain services and markets are born every day, but their capability to communicate with each other is an overseen boomerang: the hard truth is that cryptocurrencies count on unreliable third-party applications and the collaboration of a small empyrean of experts to be accessed and operated. Not good if your value proposition is “let’s get rid of intermediaries”. Moreover, most NFTs are based on the Ethereum blockchain: decentralisation dreams are fine with being centralised on a system (and cross fingers that it lasts). Finally, there is the tremendous environmental problem that somebody proposed to solve using tokens as a battery. While this could work in abstraction, I am afraid interoperability would make that battery unfit for many places.
Marta Arniani

The European Commission aims to present a reinforced public sector interoperability policy in 2021. A public consultation is open until April 26 (link in Nyan cat)
The European Commission aims to present a reinforced public sector interoperability policy in 2021. A public consultation is open until April 26 (link in Nyan cat)
Good news
Gen Z meets the traditional newsroom. “Yes, we still exist”, says with a good dose of self-mockery the TikTok profile of Yahoo News. The news channel dared popular TikTok’s formats to cover topics like politics, climate change, social justice, student loan debt, and personal finance: it was rewarded with more than 1M followers in 1 year of activity. 🤳
YouTube’s purge. The video platform is know as one of the most fecund web rabbit-holes for conspiracy theories and hate. But what if the same mechanisms were utilised to spread verified news and pop misinformation bubbles? The project BreadTube does so. By making videos on the same topics as the far-right, BreadTube videos essentially hijack Youtube’s algorithm by getting recommended to viewers who consume far-right content.
YouTube is a rare place for Russian dissidents to express themselves (link in picture)
YouTube is a rare place for Russian dissidents to express themselves (link in picture)
Sidewalk ontology
Robots are now “pedestrians”. Pennsylvania just passed a law that authorises delivery robots to circulate on sidewalks and classifies them as pedestrians. When the law accommodates this kind of equation, it is ringing its own death bell. More here. 🤖
Pedestrians are wild. People looking at the smartphone while walking are agents of chaos with cascading effects on their surroundings. Human pedestrians, in general, can be pretty annoying when you operate robots: let’s make models of their movements so that they can be better predicted.
Heather Burns
This is the only conference slide I give these days, and you should store or tattoo it somewhere convenient.
/// Zero-cost agreements, meetings with no minutes and product-improvement clauses: a months-long joint investigation by the Guardian, Lighthouse Reports and Der Spiegel into how the US tech company Palantir, famous for its zero scruples operations, works with the European public agencies. Must read. 😱
/// CERN is launching a new Technology Impact Fund to bridge the gap between the technology developed for research at CERN and its potential applications to address societal challenges.
/// Automating autism: a paper on the dangers of AI ethics focusing on personhood and agency in a world in which many populations are treated as having neither.
/// Afrofeminist data futures: research on how feminist movements in sub-Saharan Africa can be empowered through gender data, and - since it is sponsored by Facebook, recommendations for private technology companies.
/// Good use of facial recognition: detecting pain in patients unable to verbalise it themselves, like people with dementia.
Oh, dear!
That’s all for this monthly tour of tech discovery under a socio-cultural lens. Share online, and forward to support my work, hit reply for feedback.
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Marta Arniani

A monthly newsletter at the intersection of technology innovation and social justice. Insights and news about technology impacts on society and how society can strike back.

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