A Future of Work – Decentralised

Axie Infinity screenshot

The future of work against a backdrop of accelerating technological advances has been the subject of discussion for years, and the debate has intensified in the last few months. Our recent experience has focused on technology and best practice which enables effective communication and collaboration in a distanced setting. There is another dimension which is becoming relevant, however. What are the new ways of earning a living in an economy which has been damaged by measures aimed at limited coronavirus spread. How could blockchain and cryptoassets play their part?

Value in the real world is created through selling your skills, your time or your assets. To be clear, this is not about speculating on tokens, activity which has historically thrown a lot of shade over the blockchain industry. The value of such assets can rise and fall, as the world’s stock markets can attest. Economic conditions and human error can wipe out an investment overnight, and consumer protection is at the forefront of regulation that is being brought to bear across multiple jurisdictions.
I’m far more interested in the pathways to real economic value creation and reward. How could blockchain help us to earn from our skills, time and assets?

Creators Create Value

How can you be sure that a digital copy of any work is authentic, and that the creator will be rewarded if you buy or rent it? Artworks in the real world, once sold, can attract higher and higher prices as they change hands without the artist seeing any benefit. Music has been pirated since the days of recording the Top 40 from the radio on a Sunday night, and the technology which enables sampling and mixing of original works to produce new music complicates things still further. Illicit copies of films and TV productions, however well controlled, are still found on sites the world over. As an author, any mention of ‘free ebook’ websites fills me with horror. How can you be sure that these are legitimate copies of a book, for which the author will receive royalties?

The goal is to help people to earn a real living from the creative skills they have and the time they spend. Culturally we have to recognise the value of the art we consume, of course, but once money is flowing then emerging technologies hold the key to a new future of work.

Blockchain is already being used to confirm that content is authentic. The ARCHANGEL project run by the UK’s National Archives, in association with the University of Surrey and the Open Data Institute, uses content-aware hashing to verify original video recordings across multiple formats. The next challenge is to ensure that the creator is rewarded for your consumption of their artwork, tune, movie or book. Oddly, a bête noire of the early 2000s had the solution to this, but not the technology at the time to make good on royalties. Napster, which appeared in 1999 and was firmly closed down in 2001, and Pirate Bay which followed in 2003, had something of a cavalier attitude to music and film copyright which rightly triggered legal action, but they were pioneers in peer to peer sharing. Users of these and of BitTorrent, launched in 2005, circumvented centralised subscription services. A lot of our current viewing is still siloed in an effort to cling on to intellectual property. That model may not be sustainable in the long term, as peer to peer sharing and customised consumption rises. Blockchains, and the cryptocurrencies which flow on them, offer a way for copyright to be protected in a peer to peer environment, and for money to reach the right people.

Playing with Purpose

The skills honed through hours on a games console are already starting to deliver transferable real-world value at the highest level. We are seeing the rise of e-sports with the English e-soccer competition, the ePremier League (ePL). Among the new generation of Formula 1 racing drivers, 20 year old Lando Norris ascribed some of his success and his ability to read other drivers on the track to his years of sim racing and participation in the McLaren Shadow Esports competition. Even Fortnite has stepped into the arena with its 2019 World Cup Finals in New York streamed to millions of fans. However, deriving value directly within a gaming platform is an entirely new opportunity. If this can be harnessed – and blockchain offers the means to achieve it – the subsequent creation of value could kick-start a sustainable, democratised economy.

One aspect that is growing rapidly is ownership of the assets players create and win in a game. When you have walked miles to catch or hatch a rare Pokémon, earned or paid good money to buy special outfits for characters in anything from Angry Birds to Fortnite, or mined the materials to construct your diamond castle, it feels as if you should own something – but you don’t. Marketplaces already exist for the exchange of items in many role-playing games (RPGs), but the assets themselves do not belong to the players who are trading them. Shifting to a state where there is individual ownership means that the skills and time invested in building up game assets are rewarded when the assets are sold.

Trading in assets from virtual land to battle-hardened game characters is already established and active in a growing gaming community, and the current crisis has created conditions for the model to be proven. In the Philippines, trading activity on popular blockchain game Axie Infinity is netting enough for its players to provide pathways out of poverty, supplementing incomes through the COVID crisis. Their skills, time and assets are creating value. This is a real world blueprint for our decentralised future of work.

You can read more about how blockchain and cryptocurrency are changing the world in Blockchain Hurricane: Origins, Applications and Future of Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. Signed copies on sale from this website, international shipping and ebooks available from Amazon.

Image shows gameplay from Axie Infinity – yes, this is my own battle team.