Feb 5th, Finn Brunton, THE FORK THEOREMS

THE FORK THEOREMS Community, Cryptography, and Trust on the Blockchain

Finn Brunton

WHERE: 1246 Social Sciences & Humanities (STS Conference Room)

WHEN: Thursday, February 5th, 4-6 PM

This experimental talk turns on the question of trust and the “blockchain” — the primary tool, the append-only public ledger, underlying Bitcoin and most other major cryptocurrencies. Trust in the properties of cryptographic mathematics, trust in the open source community, trust in the predicted dynamics of the near future, trust in the infrastructure, trust in the exchanges, trust in banks, governments, biometrics, black market merchants, anarchic mutualism … The question of this talk is not whether such trust is warranted but how we can understand what trust means, and how it works, in the development, deployment, and compromise of a “trustless” software system that is anything but. Understanding how trust is cryptographically reinvented makes it possible for us to reevaluate this concept and, in the process, illuminate the present, near future, and consequences of the cryptocurrency space. The course of this argument, documenting research in progress, will take us from armed libertarian enclaves in New England to a cryogenic tank in Arizona and into the code of the Bitcoin system itself.

Finn Brunton (finnb.net) is a scholar of the relationships between society, culture and information technology. He focuses on the adoption, adaptation, modification and misuse of digital media and hardware; privacy, information security, and encryption; network subcultures; hardware literacy; and obsolete and experimental media platforms. He is the author of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet (MIT 2013), the forthcoming Obfuscation: A User’s Guide (co-authored with Helen Nissenbaum, MIT 2015), and numerous articles and papers. Brunton received an MA from the European Graduate School (Saas-Fee, Switzerland) and a PhD from the University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Modern Thought. Prior to his NYU appointment, he was an Assistant Professor of Information at the University of Michigan’s School of Information.