Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain

Waiting for that cover of Wired.

(2018) Documentary (SingularDTV) Rosario Dawson, Lauri Love, Laura Shin, Imogen Heap, Jamie Dimon, Bill Tai, Tim Draper, Mark Jeffrey, Vinay Gupta, Gary Wright, Spiros Michalaskis, Michael Oved, Steve Mnuchin, John Lyotier, Matthew Green, J. Christopher Giancarlo, Gramatik, Sky Guo, Bettina Warburg, Chris Hayes, Naomi Colvin.  Directed by Alex Winter

 

Even the non-technology oriented will be aware of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. Some might even know that Blockchain is the technology behind it, a program that is very nearly impervious to unauthorized alteration and is a nearly foolproof way to record transactions between two parties electronically. It is the basis of how cryptocurrency works.

I had always thought cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin (there are thousands of cryptocurrencies out there currently) were essentially a universal digital currency that could be used for Internet purchases but that’s a bit simplistic. A cryptocurrency uses cryptography – mathematics-based codes – to control financial transactions and also the creation of additional units.

Governments and financial institutions look at cryptocurrencies with wariness and for good reason; by their nature cryptocurrencies are decentralized – not beholden to a specific government or financial institution as normal currency, credit cards and most traditional types of exchange are. A popularization of cryptocurrency could threaten the status quo in ways that would pull the rug out from under those in the corridors of power currently so it isn’t surprising that most billionaires, financial executives and the Secretary of the Treasury have denounced them.

But as Winter points out, Blockchain is far more than cryptocurrencies. Winter travels the world to show how Blockchain facilitates other uses that may be deemed revolutionary. For instance, he looks at how solar power users in Brooklyn can buy and sell excess energy without going through a power company. He also goes to Jordan where UNICEF has founded a super grocery store for refugees that uses eye scans for payment and cryptocurrency as a means of exchange.

Winter is clearly a proponent of the technology but let’s face it – there may be no two subjects on earth that are more boring than technology and finance and this film heavily covers both. I give Winter points for trying to tackle the subject and to make sense of it at least to a degree, but the people interviewed – and there are a lot of them – use a ton of both computer and financial jargon that are not always defined and before too long one’s non-technical head may end up spinning as mine did.

But as hacktivists like Lauri Love, whose fight against extradition from the UK to the United States is also detailed here, will tell you that decentralization is a way to fight corrupt governments and corrupt institutions. It’s not a shock when considering the role banks had in the financial crisis of 2008 that affected so many and ruined so many lives, and that the apparatuses that were in place then that permitted it to happen have never been truly corrected.

I don’t know that cryptocurrency and Blockchain are panaceas to effect real change but they certainly could be. I do know that human greed tends to ruin every good thing and I suspect that will be the eventual fate of Blockchain as well, but as Rosario Dawson intones in her narration, Blockchain will require some sort of regulation in order to survive. Given the current administration in place, one wonders if such regulation would be set up to benefit billionaires as has most of the policy to come out of it has.

REASONS TO GO: At least attempts to bring a very important technology into some sort of layman understanding.
REASONS TO STAY: There is a whole lot of jargon that may cause non-computer geeks to tune out.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Winter is best known as Bill S. Preston in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/21/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Inside Job
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Bilal: A New Kind of Hero

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