Lack of transparency is becoming IT’s darkest shadow. Will blockchain cast some light?
Computers were once straightforward. Sit down in front of them, switch them on, type in a program, input data, hit ENTER, view the result on the screen. Every step of that process is very different now. ICT runs our lives, yet we don't know how, it is all around us, yet we don’t know where. It’s invisible in various ways.
Sometimes you don’t even know it’s there. You pay cash at a store, yet your smartphone’s bluetooth address is scanned and you are recognized as a person who previously used a loyalty card. But you don’t get notified, your bluetooth MAC address is (currently) not interpreted as personal data.
At other times we are aware of using a computer function, like when we hit that Google search button, but have no idea what goes on behind the interface. Most people think search engines give objective search results, when in reality, it’s a heavily personalised output biased to maximise your “engagement” with the search platform.
If fifty of your Facebook friends write a status today, the platform may only show you a dozen of them, and hide the rest. How that one dozen is selected, is not only non-transparent to you, but may even be unknown to the social platform’s engineers, because AI has taken over that job from them. Computers now write computer algorithms and we don’t yet know how to see what’s going on behind those closed doors. Machine learning algorithms are just unreadable strings of numbers to us now.
All this presents a serious problem. Would you trust an AI algorithm that selects videotaped job candidates, if the criteria are unknown even to its programmers? Some corporations already do. Or how about an autonomous car, when it’s deciding to avoid a drunk pedestrian or hit a tree, with you in the front seat? Would you want to know what data set trained it to that particular decision? Well, you can’t.
Lack of transparency is becoming IT’s darkest attribute. As more customers want to see what goes on “inside the box”, technologies that are transparent may win both their hearts and wallets.
Open-source software could gain new momentum. Blockchain has transparency written in its DNA, so it might not be the immutability of the distributed ledger, that’s its biggest popularizing factor, but the fact it lets the actors see what’s behind the curtain.
This is clear in blockchain’s popular IBM-Maersk logistics use case. It isn’t that worldwide shipment documentation was being forged, and that blockchain prevented that. It’s the ability of different players, shippers, ports, customs offices and container owners, to transparently view the relevant information, which provided the adoption impulse. I suspect we’ll soon see more similarly motivated use cases.
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