La blockchain1 identifie des poulets2 et des sacs Vuitton3, des objets d’art4 et des transactions5. On y contractualise des mariages6, on y ravive les querelles de l’appropriationnisme7, on y fait certifier son diplôme8 et même son consentement9.
« La liste des choses qui n’ont rien à faire sur la blockchain est très longue, et cette dernière est en haut de la liste » comme le dit si bien Eva Galperin10, directrice de la cybersécurité à l’Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Mais qu’est-ce que la blockchain, précisément ?
Pour le dire simplement, il s’agit d’une manière d’échanger et d’enregistrer des informations de façon décentralisée, c’est-à-dire sans passer par des institutions tierces qui valideraient ces processus.
Et qu’a-t-elle à voir avec l’art ?
Eh bien, hormis les applications financières pour lesquelles elle a été créée, et les applications marchandes pour lesquelles certains s’en sont emparés, la blockchain permet notamment d’établir des systèmes de vote et donc de prise de décision collective. Elle est aujourd’hui le paradigme d’une infrastructure spéculative : nous sommes au moment même où elle peut encore être considérée comme un champ totalement ouvert, comme une technologie dont le spectre complet reste à explorer.
Beaucoup d’artistes produisent et ont produit des projets à propos des blockchains (des projets descriptifs et explicatifs notamment), d’autres les utilisent pour des usages relativement similaires aux projets non artistiques bien que déviants par rapport à ceux que l’on connaît déjà (des types de cryptomonnaies par exemple), relativement peu encore les explorent à d’autres fins.
Et si la Blockchain inspire les artistes, est-elle pour autant applicable à la production artistique ?
1 Il y a même des blockchains privées aux côtés des blockchains publiques. Une blockchain publique est totalement ouverte, quiconque peut intégrer son réseau qui dispose, généralement, d’un mécanisme incitatif pour encourager les futurs participants à la rejoindre. La blockchain du Bitcoin, la blockchain originelle, celle à laquelle on fait référence avec un B majuscule, est aujourd’hui encore la plus grande blockchain publique, les transactions qui y sont opérées sont ainsi visibles par tous.
2 En mars 2018, le groupe Carrefour fait les gros titres en annonçant que la traçabilité de ses poulets d’Auvergne est désormais accessible au consommateur via un QR code placé sur l’emballage de chaque volaille, grâce à la première blockchain alimentaire d’Europe. Aujourd’hui Carrefour a rejoint plus de quatre-vingts géants de la distribution alimentaire, parmi lesquels Walmart, Nestlé et Unilever, sur l’IBM Food Trust lancée en octobre 2018.
3 Ian Allison, Louis Vuitton Owner LVMH Is Launching a Blockchain to Track Luxury Goods, Coindesk, 26 mars 2019.
5 C’est la cryptomonnaie Bitcoin, première du genre, qui a rendu célèbre la technologie blockchain sur laquelle elle se fonde, « une technologie qui permet d’envoyer des paiements en ligne directement sans passer par une institution financière » ainsi que l’explique Satoshi Nakamoto dans le whitepaper du Bitcoin publié le 31 octobre 2008 sur une liste de diffusion dédiée à la cryptographie. http://satoshinakamoto.me/whitepaper/
6 Comme par exemple via https://smartvows.com
7 L’appropriation de l’iconique Pepe la grenouille comme symbole par l’alt-right américaine au moment où Donald Trump entrait en campagne ne fut pas du tout du goût du créateur du placide héros de la BD Boy’s Club. Pour en savoir plus sur Pepe et la petite révolution dans l’histoire de l’art que certains ont tenté de lui faire opérer :
Matthew Gault, The Great Meme War II: Amid Lawsuit Threats, the Alt-Right Says Pepe Belongs to Them, Motherboard, 19 sept. 2017.
Matthew Gault, Here Are the Letters That Pepe the Frog’s Lawyers Sent to the Alt Right, Motherboard, 18 sept. 2017.
9 Une start up hollandaise de smart contracts pour l’immobilier eut la riche idée de lancer, début 2018, une application de « demande et de vérification du consentement sexuel » avant l’acte, avec enregistrement de l’information sur la blockchain. Largement moquée dans la presse, l’application a depuis été retirée des plateformes de téléchargement pour cause de sujet « adulte » violant les politiques de l’Apple AppStore et du Google Play store.
10 Samantha Cole, Don’t Fuck Anybody Who Wants to Get Your Consent Uploaded to the Blockchain, Motherboard, 16 janvier 2018.
Aude Launay, 10.06.2019
The blockchain1 identifies chickens2 and Vuitton bags3, artworks4 and transactions5, and, on the blockchain, marriages are contracted6, appropriationism disputes7 are rekindled, diplomas8 and even sexual consent are certified9.
“There is such a long list of things that don’t belong on the blockchain, and this is high on the list” as Eva Galperin10, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says so well.
But what exactly is the blockchain?
Simply put, it is a way of exchanging and recording information in a decentralized way, i.e. without going through third party institutions that would validate these processes.
And what does it have to do with art?
Well, apart from the financial applications for which it was created, and the commercial applications for which some have built on it, the blockchain makes it possible to establish voting systems and therefore collective decision-making systems. It is now the paradigm of a speculative infrastructure: we are at the very moment when it can still be considered as a wide open field, as a technology whose full spectrum remains to be explored.
Many artists produce and have produced projects about blockchains (descriptive and explanatory projects in particular), others use them for uses relatively similar to non-artistic projects although deviant compared to those we already know (types of cryptocurrencies for example), relatively few explore them for novel purposes.
But if blockchains inspire artists, are they applicable to artistic production?
1 There are even private blockchains alongside public blockchains. A public blockchain is totally open, anyone can join its network, which generally has an incentive mechanism to encourage future participants to join it. The Bitcoin blockchain, the original blockchain, the one referred to with a capital B, is still today the largest public blockchain, so the transactions that are carried out there are visible to everyone.
2 In March 2018, the Carrefour group made the headlines by announcing that the traceability of its Auvergne chickens is now accessible to the consumer via a QR code placed on the packaging of each poultry, thanks to the first food blockchain in Europe. Today Carrefour has joined more than eighty food retail giants, including Walmart, Nestlé and Unilever, on the IBM Food Trust launched in October 2018.
3 Ian Allison, « Louis Vuitton Owner LVMH Is Launching a Blockchain to Track Luxury Goods », Coindesk, March 26, 2019.
4 https://www.artory.com/; https://blockchainartcollective.com/; https://verisart.com/; https://artid.ch/; etc.
5 It is the Bitcoin cryptomonnaise, the first of its kind, that has made the Blockchain technology on which it is based famous, « a technology that allows online payments to be sent directly without going through a financial institution », as Satoshi Nakamoto explains in the Bitcoin whitepaper published on 31 October 2008 on a dedicated cryptography mailing list. http://satoshinakamoto.me/whitepaper/
6 As for example via https://smartvows.com
7 The appropriation of the iconic Pepe the Frog as a symbol by the American alt-right when Donald Trump entered the countryside was not at all to the liking of the creator of the placid hero of the BD Boy’s Club. To learn more about Pepe and the little revolution in art history that some people have tried to make him operate:
Matthew Gault, « The Great Meme War II: Amid Lawsuit Threats, the Alt-Right Says Pepe Belongs to Them », Motherboard, 19 sept. 2017 ; Matthew Gault, « Here Are the Letters That Pepe the Frog’s Lawyers Sent to the Alt Right », Motherboard, 18 sept. 2017.
9 A Dutch start-up of smart contracts for real estate had the rich idea of launching, in early 2018, an application for « request and verification of sexual consent » before the act, with recording of information on the blockchain. Widely mocked in the press, the application has since been removed from download platforms because of « adult » topics violating Apple AppStore and Google Play store policies.
10 Samantha Cole, « Don’t Fuck Anybody Who Wants to Get Your Consent Uploaded to the Blockchain », Motherboard, January 16, 2018.
Textes canoniques / Canonical Texts
Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. Privacy is not secrecy. A private matter is something one doesn’t want the whole world to know, but a secret matter is something one doesn’t want anybody to know. Privacy is the power to selectively reveal oneself to the world.
If two parties have some sort of dealings, then each has a memory of their interaction. Each party can speak about their own memory of this; how could anyone prevent it? One could pass laws against it, but the freedom of speech, even more than privacy, is fundamental to an open society; we seek not to restrict any speech at all. If many parties speak together in the same forum, each can speak to all the others and aggregate together knowledge about individuals and other parties. The power of electronic communications has enabled such group speech, and it will not go away merely because we might want it to.
Since we desire privacy, we must ensure that each party to a transaction have knowledge only of that which is directly necessary for that transaction. Since any information can be spoken of, we must ensure that we reveal as little as possible. In most cases personal identity is not salient. When I purchase a magazine at a store and hand cash to the clerk, there is no need to know who I am. When I ask my electronic mail provider to send and receive messages, my provider need not know to whom I am speaking or what I am saying or what others are saying to me; my provider only need know how to get the message there and how much I owe them in fees. When my identity is revealed by the underlying mechanism of the transaction, I have no privacy. I cannot here selectively reveal myself; I must always reveal myself.
Therefore, privacy in an open society requires anonymous transaction systems. Until now, cash has been the primary such system. An anonymous transaction system is not a secret transaction system. An anonymous system empowers individuals to reveal their identity when desired and only when desired; this is the essence of privacy.
Privacy in an open society also requires cryptography. If I say something, I want it heard only by those for whom I intend it. If the content of my speech is available to the world, I have no privacy. To encrypt is to indicate the desire for privacy, and to encrypt with weak cryptography is to indicate not too much desire for privacy. Furthermore, to reveal one’s identity with assurance when the default is anonymity requires the cryptographic signature.
We cannot expect governments, corporations, or other large, faceless organizations to grant us privacy out of their beneficence. It is to their advantage to speak of us, and we should expect that they will speak. To try to prevent their speech is to fight against the realities of information. Information does not just want to be free, it longs to be free. Information expands to fill the available storage space. Information is Rumor’s younger, stronger cousin; Information is fleeter of foot, has more eyes, knows more, and understands less than Rumor.
We must defend our own privacy if we expect to have any. We must come together and create systems which allow anonymous transactions to take place. People have been defending their own privacy for centuries with whispers, darkness, envelopes, closed doors, secret handshakes, and couriers. The technologies of the past did not allow for strong privacy, but electronic technologies do.
We the Cypherpunks are dedicated to building anonymous systems. We are defending our privacy with cryptography, with anonymous mail forwarding systems, with digital signatures, and with electronic money.
Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and since we can’t get privacy unless we all do, we’re going to write it. We publish our code so that our fellow Cypherpunks may practice and play with it. Our code is free for all to use, worldwide. We don’t much care if you don’t approve of the software we write. We know that software can’t be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can’t be shut down.
Cypherpunks deplore regulations on cryptography, for encryption is fundamentally a private act. The act of encryption, in fact, removes information from the public realm. Even laws against cryptography reach only so far as a nation’s border and the arm of its violence. Cryptography will ineluctably spread over the whole globe, and with it the anonymous transactions systems that it makes possible.
For privacy to be widespread it must be part of a social contract. People must come and together deploy these systems for the common good. Privacy only extends so far as the cooperation of one’s fellows in society. We the Cypherpunks seek your questions and your concerns and hope we may engage you so that we do not deceive ourselves. We will not, however, be moved out of our course because some may disagree with our goals.
The Cypherpunks are actively engaged in making the networks safer for privacy. Let us proceed together apace.
9 March 1993
Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System
Satoshi Nakamoto firstname.lastname@example.org www.bitcoin.org
Abstract. A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution. Digital signatures provide part of the solution, but the main benefits are lost if a trusted third party is still required to prevent double-spending. We propose a solution to the double-spending problem using a peer-to-peer network. The network timestamps transactions by hashing them into an ongoing chain of hash-based proof-of-work, forming a record that cannot be changed without redoing the proof-of-work. The longest chain not only serves as proof of the sequence of events witnessed, but proof that it came from the largest pool of CPU power. As long as a majority of CPU power is controlled by nodes that are not cooperating to attack the network, they’ll generate the longest chain and outpace attackers. The network itself requires minimal structure. Messages are broadcast on a best effort basis, and nodes can leave and rejoin the network at will, accepting the longest proof-of-work chain as proof of what happened while they were gone.
Download the BitcoinWhitepaper
Questions politiques / Political Questions
The Politics of the Bitcoin Blockchain
by Brett Scott
Download Visions of a Techno-Leviathan
The techno-economic imaginaries of a new money technology
by Lana Swartz
(…) Bitcoin is not primarily an alternative to state-backed money but an alternative to private payment intermediaries that seek to control and survey its passage. It affords a cooperativist vision of a money technology and therefore society. (…)
Download What was Bitcoin
Technologies & Social Contract Theories
by Wessel Reijers, Fiachra O’Brolcháin, Paul Haynes
(…) The General Will, in Rousseau’s conception, is primarily concerned with the common interest, in contrast with the “will of all” as implemented in blockchain governance, which is no more than the sum of the individual wills of its members. (…)