Life would not exist if it were not able to adapt or improve. Most people consider resilience and strength to be valuable features. But these traits do not benefit from experience any more than something fragile which dies or fails completely. So strength, resilience and rigidity are not the opposite of fragility. For this, Nicholas Nassim Taleb originated the term Antifragile, and he uses a mythology analogy to explain it. Resilience is the ability to withstand damage. Think of the Phoenix, who dies in flames and is then reborn from the ashes. In contrast, when one of a hydra’s multiple heads are cut off, two more grow back in its place. A hydra doesn’t just survive damage; it actually thrives on it. Exposure to unpredictability results in greater strength because you have to overcompensate in response.
Bitcoin and other technologies built on Blockchain are highly antifragile since there is plenty of opportunity to learn from attacks or failures. There is a lot of scope for and actual experimentation on these networks. For example, solutions can be implemented for the platform to help solve some of the issues that Bitcoin users face. While it’s likely that many of these solutions will fail, the failures won’t negatively affect Bitcoin. But, successes would boost the cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrencies are also antifragile in the economic sense, meaning external economically disordering events also result in them becoming stronger. These types of events include governments banning the use of Bitcoin and the crumble of companies in the Bitcoin ecosystem. Consider the hacking of Mt. Gox. Mt. Gox was the first Cryptocurrency exchange platform and, at one point, handled the most trades around the world. However, the site never established proper security measures, and hackers stole 744,408 bitcoins from wallets on the site. In 2014, the site filed for bankruptcy, which made the market value of bitcoin crash by 34 percent. This caused panic to break out in the bitcoin community, but in the end built a stronger ecosystem.
Antifragility is relevant to many aspects of life, even Brexit and the European Union. In 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Many in the UK feel that the EU has become an intrusive bureaucracy and the benefit-risk balance of leaving outweighs that of staying. A bigger and more all-encompassing system such as the EU is prone to instability, with concentration of power increasing the potential for corruption. Efficiencies gains from increasing scale are most relevant at very small scales, not entire countries. A group of separately run countries is more flexible and antifragile, able to learn from mistakes with less impact from failures. This goes to the heart of my position as a Brexiteer. I wish our European neighbours the best and see no reason why we can’t continue to mutually benefit from trading with each other, without becoming an ever more rigid and centralised mass of power that only benefits those in power.
Natural selection is Life’s antifragile process for ensuring longer term survival. Occasional random genetic mutations occur within the pool of a species, mostly to no useful benefit and at the expense of unfortunate individuals, but this does not affect the pool, and occasionally the individual does benefit to pass it onto its offspring. Being able to not only survive failures but harness them to guide us is an important lesson from nature.
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About Jon Pitchfork
“I believe that we are defined by the way we treat the dependent or defenceless, the value we bring and our broadness of vision.”Jon Pitchfork
Technology has become integral to our ever-connected world and will be key to us successfully sustaining our existence into the future. It’s at the touch of our fingertips every day, and we rarely consider the amazing potential it holds.
With our ever increasing population, people around the world are beginning to realise the impact they have on others. Technology gives us the power to reach underserved populations all over the world, as well as the tools to bring about fairness and alter our collective behaviours.
To be truly transformative a technology must consider its Game Theory, the collective, as well as individual behaviours of its participants, its greater and longer term effects on the environment and groups as well as simply the result for the individual. It must find the balance between flexibility in its purpose and control such as through incentives. Well distributed governance across its community helps to avoid corruption and ensure that whatever direction the technology evolves in, it is an ethical and sustainable one.
As with political decisions, knowledge, biases and reasoning of the individual is a potential area of concern and weakness in a democracy. We naturally tend to pigeon-hole things as say good or bad to allow us to manage them simply, particularly things we find difficult to understand. But we must resist this tendency to oversimplify, which is least helpful when dealing with things of great importance like emerging and developing technologies. Typically, technologies can be leveraged for both good and bad outcomes, and ones that serve us best result from time taken to ensure behaviours are correctly incentivised and disinsentivised. With so much at stake and to gain, we owe it some depth of consideration.
This website is dedicated primarily to exploring the most impactful ideas and innovative ways that technology can be applied to help change the world. The world is currently facing many problems, such as extreme poverty, hunger and global warming in the face of abject inequality and corruption. Could Technology be the answer to all of these crises?
Jon Pitchfork is a natural problem solver. Interested in understanding and improving the world, he finds happiness in creating meaning. Jon Pitchfork is the Director of Truvolution, a technology development company in the UK since 2007 and Concentrates Direct which launched in May of 2017, aiming to reduce environmental impact through product concentration. Since late 2013, Jon has immersed himself in the emerging world of Blockchain believing that it will grow to be the underpinning of many new and reformed services. Ultimately, Jon hopes this technology will help improve the world, making it less corrupt, fairer and more reasoned.
“We each play a brief but crucial link in the custody of this four and a half billion-year-old fragile world. There are any number of ways we can make life unpleasant or destroy it, we have to identify and solve our problems in advance if we are to avoid sleepwalking into disaster”.
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