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Decentralization and its Discontents

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Decentralization and its Discontents

Duration: 00:09:42

Speaker: Sarah Friend

Type: Talk

Expertise: Intermediate

Event: Devcon 4

Date: Oct 2018

There is building movement to decentralize the web (or re-decentralize the web), and Ethereum plays a particularly significant role.  Communities that engage with these technologies often frame decentralization as a moral good in and of itself - but to what extent has this claim been validated? We'll consider examples where censorship resistant networks are used to host content that is morally repugnant to their maintainers, at times when centralized networks are cracking down (stormfront.eth vs blacklisting by dns providers), cases where there is disagreement about what constitutes decentralization at all (POW vs DPoS), and seeming technical challenges that block decentralization (scalability and performance). The concept of decentralization appears, at least on the surface, to be the enemy of specialization - but yet the networks we hope to build are the product of specialized knowledge. Can we decentralize the building of decentralized networks themselves? Ultimately, I hope to make the point that decentralization without governance has few, if any, inherent moral qualities, and that we must consistently and intentionally consider not only how, but why and for whom, we decentralize.
About the speakers


Sarah Friend

Software Engineer and Artist

Sarah Friend (@isthisanart_) is an artist and software engineer working with Ethereum for almost three years now. When not doing that, she creates games and other interactive experiences. Her practice investigates murky dichotomies - like those between privacy and transparency, centralization and decentralization, and the environment and technology - with playfulness and absurdist humour. She is a proud Recurse Center alum, and has presented at Transmediale in Berlin, Ethereal Summit in NYC, and NorthSec in Montreal. She was recently chosen as one of Canada's 30 under 30 developers, is one of the organizers of Our Networks, a conference on all aspects of the distributed web in Toronto.

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