I don’t consider myself a Luddite, but I know I am more analog that digital. Because of that I’ve never quite caught on to some of the technological advancements that keep coming. Case in point: Bitcoin. So it was with both interest and trepidation that I watched Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain.
For those who don’t know, blockchain is the technology that enables Bitcoin to work. It is an unalterable record that is stored across numerous computers to make sure that the history of each Bitcoin is accurate and valid. But blockchain may have far more uses than just keeping track of Bitcoin. For example, it may enable reliable online voting. It can provide a clear identity for refugees. A day or two before I received an invitation to watch Trust Machine, I read an article in the paper about Walmart requiring its food suppliers to start using blockchain so that any contamination can be traced to a specific farm.
The context that the film explains all this around is Lauri Love, a British hacker who was fighting extradition to the US for a computer hack. Much of the film is about the way the new information technology can be used by those with power to suppress the very communication the internet is theoretically designed to facilitate. A part of the idea behind blockchain is a decentralization of information—taking it out of the hands of those who would consolidate (and thus control) information. Love is the human face that filmmaker Alex Winter uses to help us understand blockchain and its potential. Love also provides a bit of plot and suspense for a topic that on its own might seem dry and esoteric.
I have to admit that the film pushed through the history, description, uses, and issues of blockchain (and Bitcoin) far faster than my analog brain could properly deal with it. Just as I was beginning to grasp one idea the film had moved on to something else. At only 85 minutes the film could have been a bit more leisurely in its pacing to let us better understand the concepts involved. The value of the film for me was not so much getting an understanding of Bitcoin or blockchain as it was creating more questions that I would want answers to. And if the film is right about blockchain being the newest technological revolution, then the questions will just keep growing.