The Reach of Web3
I've been reading David Deutsch's excellent book, The Beginning of Infinity of late. For those of you who aren't familiar with David Deutsch, he pioneered the field of quantum computation. He is the Alan Turing of the field. In the book, David ties together concepts from mathematics, physics, computation, biology and philosophy to underline the importance of epistemology (the theory of knowledge), and why it is so vital for the evolution of the human race.
Given the breadth of the topic, there is far more to the book than I will discuss here, but there are two topics that surface and resurface that have relevance to web3 and blockchain technology.
These are reach and universality.
Within the Beginning of Infinity, reach is used in the context of knowledge. The reach of knowledge is infinite. The only limitations are on how far it can be transmitted by a medium. The internet provides a global reach of knowledge. As long as you have access to a device with connectivity you can access this. But without the tools to understand the information being presented, you cannot access the knowledge.
This is where universality comes in. Universality is the ability to encode knowledge in a universal framework. Our alphabets and languages are universal. Using words we can describe most things. However, for those that can't, we use letters from the alphabet to make new sounds and words.
This universality of language is another crucial building block. Emojis, whilst incredibly useful in their ability to articulate feelings and emotions transcending languages are not universal.
Unlike with words or letters, you cannot use emojis to describe anything to someone, and this is where they fall short of being universal.
Computer programming languages are universal. Using any Turing-complete programming language we can program a computer to do or simulate whatever we want.
There are limitations we may encounter in terms of the resource availability to perform all of these computations, such as CPU, memory or storage. However, the limitation is not in the programming language itself, but in the availability of the required resources.
Outside of physical limitations, the only limitation of what a computer can perform is our knowledge. We cannot program a computer to have artificial general intelligence without having the knowledge of how creativity works, and therefore how we can create it ourselves.
It is the ability of the human race to be creative and create knowledge that allows us to evolve as a species and have reach beyond the boundaries of our own planet.
Reach and universality in Web3
Blockchain networks such as Ethereum, are global in their reach. In being built on the internet, they are able to reach a global population of users. However, the purpose of these networks is not to share knowledge and communicate as the internet was created, but to provide a global platform for computation.
Exactly what type of computation is debatable, it means different things to different people. For some, it is a global settlement layer. For others, it is a platform for transacting with others in a trustless way. For others still, it is a safe haven for their money.
These possibilities are underpinned by the universality of these blockchain networks.
Like the World Wide Web before them, which provided universal communication protocols, blockchain networks provide universal, Turing-complete programming languages upon which smart contracts can be created and executed in a permissionless and decentralised manner.
Given these technologies are still in their infancy, there are many resource constraints on what computations can be performed on them, but they will no doubt improve by many orders of magnitude over time.
However one cannot underestimate the significance of the reach offered by these networks.
- They make it possible for people to have an entirely digital existence, without any dependencies on states.
- They provide a neutrality that cannot be overly influenced by a single actor or state.
We are just getting started with these networks. In decades to come they will underpin our everyday lives in some shape or form.
There are criticisms levied toward blockchain networks due to the financial speculation and scams that take place on them. They are not perfect. Our knowledge can always be improved and the builders of web3 are continually searching for ways to make them more resilient, performant or simpler for users.
This mindset of continually improving upon what we have will increase the reach and universality of blockchain networks (David Deutsch talks about all problems being soluble in this regard). The more accessible they are to users, or people building real-world applications, the more they will flourish.
There is so much more to the concepts of reach and universality than I can do justice for in a short article. I believe blockchain technology is of such significance because it transcends geographical, political and cultural borders.
There is so much more that could be debated on these subjects.
To learn more
For more on reach, universality and lots of other thought-provoking material, I really encourage you to read The Beginning of Infinity. It's an amazing book.
I also encourage you to listen to Brett Hall's excellent podcast — ToKcast where he breaks down many of the concepts discussed in chapters of the book and provides his own perspectives on the content too.
There are no shortcuts to getting your head around David's material, but it's definitely worthwhile taking your time to work through it. I have only scratched the surface, and cannot possibly confess to understanding the material fully.
His work provides you with so much perspective unifying mathematics, physics, quantum theory, computation, epistemology, biology, philosophy and psychology. His work has no other equal to the best of my knowledge, which is why it’s so important to study.