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New York City Launches First Blockchain Initiatives (nycedc.com)
49 points by edwinksl 62 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

That's a complete waste of tax payer money. Per the article this money will be used to actually find a use of blockchain, rather than funding existing ideas for how blockchain could improve "security, efficiency, and turn-around-times for government services."

In other words, NYC is blowing $200M to chase a fad that they nor many in the press even seem to grasp. This is one of those schemes they look back on with shame and embarrassment.

I'm still waiting on the edge of my seat for the other uses for blockchain than pseudo currency. But I've been on the edge of my seat for three years now, and other than perhaps DNS I've not heard much.

Most of the proposals ignore the fact that the ledger gets larger and more costly [by design] which limits the growth potential. That's why nothing has ever come on tap (except currency/investments where increased cost is a benefit, not a drawback).

A couple weeks ago I saw an RFP (request for proposal) from a small midwestern town looking for blockchain solutions:

> The purpose of this process is to solicit proposals from qualified vendors to provide a technology solution leveraging blockchain technology to overcome information sharing barriers, facilitate continuity of care, flag at-risk individuals, and serve as a communication and referral mechanism to appropriate services

I wonder how widespread this is?

How can this even be solved by the "blockchain"?

It cannot. It is a traditional "big data" problem that involves a large amount of data collection, merging, and analysis.

Blockchain's distributed ledger offers no value-add here. Making it just a glorified Merkle Tree, but that doesn't even seem like the most appropriate way to handle this type of data set.

(Nit: A blockchain is not a Merkle tree.)

If you remove the distributed ledge, that's how blocks are stored.

The contents of the blocks of the Bitcoin blockchain (and other cryptocurrency blockchains) happen to be Merkle trees (of transactions, in Bitcoin's case). Blockchains as a data structure are unrelated to Merkle trees.

I legitimately don't understand what distinction you're trying to make here. Typically a "nit" clarifies something, but you're just muddying the discussion for seemingly no real benefit.

It is a basically set of Merkle trees, each with a header.

That's the joke, but unfortunately the drafters of this RFP seem to not be in on it.

Like usual with these hyped technologies people use them and search for a problem.

That said I take issue with "pseudo currency". In many ways it's a better currency.

An ever increasing ledger isn't that big of a deal either as technology improves and not everyone needs to store the whole ledger.

It is not a better currency in any reasonable way besides illicit uses. To be honest, it would even be hard to classify it as a currency.

It is not a currency, neither a store of value. The blockchain technology is also not really technologically relevant.

> It is not a better currency in any reasonable way besides illicit uses.

Oh yeah?

* Donations to wikileaks. Paypal froze their account and there are tons of examples where they have done this without good cause.

* Legal businesses like marijuana sellers, porn, escort services and gambling platforms have had trouble using and keeping payment services. Some have been forced to only accept cash payments as they couldn't accept credit cards.

* A way to accept irreversible payments digitally. Credit card charge back fraud is a big problem.

* Credit card companies take a 5-10% fee. Cryptocurrencies are much cheaper (see Bitcoin Cash as Bitcoin is not a good example).

* Send money to remote countries, for example to countries in war, Argentina or North Korea. Western Union is slow, expensive and cannot be used to send everywhere. With cryptocurrencies all you need is internet (sometimes a VPN as well).

I'm not a connoisseur but your last bullet point seems strange. In order for a currency to be functional, it needs to have someone accepting it. Would a war torn country really find value in digital currency?

The more corrupt and broken a given economy is, the higher the markup for reliable crypto and (relatively reliable) foreign currencies. Rule of thumb I have almost always found to be true.

Case in point, Zimbabwe just tried to ban bitcoin and now the market price there jumped by almost 5000 USD.

It's hard for people who don't see the government as what it actually is, to see the value in cryptocurrencies. Some governments hide their nature better than others.

For those which are very straight forward about their parasitic nature and do not make any real attempt to justify it though, people subject to them are extremely aware of the actual value of state and central bank proof currency.

Inhabitants of OECD nations will at this point say "but nobody here needs that" with a straight face, unaware the US government just "lost" 21 trillion dollars. Which actually probably means worse than lost. It probably means it was illegally spent for nefarious ends. And given the foreign policy objectives of the US coupled with the "questionable partnerships" they've recently been discovered to be directly financing, that money probably has a lot of blood on it.

Such is the actual naked nature of the state. It's depressing, but there's no getting around it. And that's why the world needs cryptocurrencies; to destroy them all. They are the only possible tool for that essential job.

So sending money to your relatives, who presumably have lost their homes and savings, isn't valuable?

Sure we're not there adoption wise yet where it would help them much. The fundamental properties are there though and nothing else can claim the same.

A deflationary currency is about as bad as currency can get

There are cases against an inflationary currency as well.

Also you assume all cryptocurrencies are like Bitcoin, heavily deflationary, while others like Monero don't have a hard supply cap.

True, I do tend to see all "crypto" as Bitcoin. Probably because the only use case for me was riding the speculative wave before it started to fall and stagnate

Read the press release again, NYC isn't spending $200MM on blockchain, that would literally be insane.

They're just doing some of the usual EDC stuff, announcing some partnerships, opening some kind of coworking space for blockchain people or similar, the usual.

I’m a blockchain bear, but I think this is a sensible move. Once the whole thing crashes we’ll have entrepreneurial engineers who have relocated to New York City.

Yup. Brooklyn has become a genuine hub and destination for engineering talent interested in working on blockchain stuff.

I'm pretty sure the whole blockchain thing as a category is a bubble at best and mostly scams at worst, but that still doesn't stop this general trend from likely having positive consequences for the area longterm.

I couldn't be happier that my tax dollars are going to harness the power of the blockchain to solve the problems of "food deserts" and gentrification.


In case you are wondering if this is sarcastic, let me clarify. I fully expect the blockchain to revolutionize the delivery of government services the same way Bitcoin will revolutionize grocery shopping, and the same way Etherium will revolutionize legal contracts.

--edit 2--

Since people still don't get it, let me elaborate:

Imagine a world where you could use Bitcoin to transfer money anywhere in the world with the same ease as making a Bitcoin micropayment, simply, safely, instantly, with no fees.

Imagine a world where people use Etherium smart contracts to control everything from marriages to college diplomas to corporate governance.

Now imagine the same revolutionary ideas applied across NYC to everything from garbage collection to city ordinances!

The power of the blockchain is bounded only by your imagination.

"As part of Blockchain Week NYC, NYCEDC and GrowNYC co-sponsored a hackathon on May 12-13, challenging technologists to use blockchain technologies to create solutions that improve trackability and transparency of the City’s GrowNYC food supply chain, tracking food from farm, to warehouse, to retail outlet, to consumers, especially those in our underserved neighborhoods. "

That's definitely not what a decentralized database is needed for. Any centralized SQL database could this much better and efficiently.

If you need to look for a use, it's not useful for you.

> I fully expect the blockchain to revolutionize the delivery of government services the same way Bitcoin will revolutionize grocery shopping, and the same way Etherium will revolutionize legal contracts.

Through what technical mechanism? Or to rephase how does a distributed ledger help you shop for groceries or government services? Because without the distributed ledger, there's no blockchain.

Frankly who is even signing the ledger? If there's only two interested parties, why would third parties agree to literally burn money/electricity signing the ledger to verify?

De Blasio: Blockchain to Stop Manhattan From Capsizing

That is an awful lot of words to say "Hey anybody got any ideas how to make 'blockchain' useful to people not interested in bilking cryptocurrency speculators? Sure, we've got homeless on the streets but ALSO $200 million burning a hole in our city's pockets, and saying 'blockchain' is much cooler than 'hunger' or 'poverty' or 'infrastructure.' Ooh look, blockchain!"

Please somebody suggest an even remotely plausible way that "blockchain" could possibly improve "turn-around times for government services."

Instead of waiting for a bureaucratic notary to update a centralised government database 9am to midday Monday to Friday except public holidays, strikes, or other unforeseen circumstances, you interact with a distributed app hosted on a blockchain 24/7/365 which does exactly the same thing, except immediately and with no other human in the loop to slow it down or add errors.

In fact, all of the above plus all the benefits of just destroying the state completely and interacting with all the functions it used to compulsorily provide terribly only by voluntary smart contracts, much more efficiently.

Ah, so "blockchain" is a Libertarian Trojan horse that will obviate government. Man, "blockchain" can do ANYTHING.

"voluntary smart contracts"... more buzzwords that sound great but mean nothing. What's so smart about contracts that lose hundreds of millions of dollars because someone put a semicolon in the wrong place? I'm not volunteering for that.

Can't wait for the first time the soon-to-be-obsolete government has to "fork" the Social Security "blockchain" because a few $$$BILLION "went missing" when some 25-year-old, third-tier programmer/consultant screwed up the "smart" contract. Oops.

Blockchains can't do everything.

All hype aside, what they really are is simply a useful platform for permissionless cooperation at scale. That happens to be a pretty useful thing to do, things like economies, religions, and nation states are typically employed to do much the same things, and as such when a blockchain can be used instead of those things and there are gains to be had, it makes sense to do it.

Voluntary is not a buzz word, it has a very specific and important meaning, especially when it comes to questions of the state, where the core force is coercive rather than voluntary. Smart contracts may be a buzzword, but they do in fact mean something very specific that actually once again is useful, which is effectively just an implementation of an application using a platform for permissionless cooperation at scale as the underlying technology. I get that it's cool to be cynical and complete paradigm shifts to the way things have been done for hundreds of years, especially when those things are both extremely morally questionable as well as so vast in scale as to be almost society defining, and typically justified in terms of "necessary evils" are scary, but none of that invalidates the very real gains to be made from these advancements.

That applications can have bugs should be as about as controversial as the statement that water can be a liquid on a forum like this, that doesn't mean they absolutely have to, anymore than it means water absolutely has to be a liquid, either. The truth is this is potentially the first widely visible platform where bugs really, really matter, as in they can't just be rolled back and we pretend everything is OK and a human comes along and fixes it, because that invalidates the entire purpose of disintermediated permissionless peer to peer cooperation. I actually think it's good that bugs matter so much, it is about time that security and software development were taken as seriously as they deserve, rather than treated as a cost centre and just going back and papering over inevitable failures. There's plenty of other areas where that's really not an acceptable modus operandi, either, but because they're not so visible as the failures in this area they've historically been allowed to slide under the radar. That doesn't mean the people that died because of bugs in x-ray software deserved it, though, or that it was alright in any way.

And finally, they're not at all a trojan horse. In the very first block of the very first blockchain a very loud declaration was made as to precisely why the creation was being bought into existence. The real irony in this charge is that the very forces they were designed to disintermediate ended up trying to trojan horse that exact same blockchain barely nine years later to subvert it away from the original vision and back to enslaving the very people it was designed to free.

I know there's a lot of pooh-poohing of the blockchain here, and for good reason. However, I can think of an excellent use case for blockchain in government that couldn't (verifiably) be done with a normal database: tracking grants, contracts, misc spending, etc.

With a public blockchain, grants and other government spending (which are sometimes otherwise misspent or stolen) could be verifiably tracked and published. This could be a great asset to state and local governments that are prone to corruption.

But shouldn’t that be solved by identifying which services need improvement, followed by a rigorous process to seek an optimal solution, then implementation?

If block chain is the answer, awesome! If anything is the answer, awesome!

Do we need some kind of special department to run competitions to try and find a use for blockchain? Probably not.

Living in a that city prides itself on being "slightly less corrupt than Cleveland", I can guarantee you that no corrupt local politician would ever support this. They can't even regulate dogs on restauraunt patios without the state having to come in due to excessive bribery

Taxi companies would never support ride sharing services, either. But the end result is inevitable regardless.

NYC is a high-tax, high-growth region. It should use a blockchain to distribute tax credits to those people who need it most. Those people can then take the tax credits and spend them at city businesses. The great thing is that it could defer these tax credits... that is disallow them to be resolved for N years. Experience growth now and pay for it in the future. It would be an interest-free loan (though in reality, the credits would be discounted) ... in other words it would be currency. It could easily transform welfare within the city.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17041697

Replace blockchain with "mathy database" is the use case still cool? No? Ok then.

Without reading sounds like free money for whatever “friend of NYC” sold them this load of crap! Even better than ICO free money.

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