Understanding Blockchain Technology through Everyday Things and Practices
Blockchain breakfast is a design project that attempts to explain the actions involved in a blockchain transaction to wider audiences. The investigation departs from blockchain’s software-based nature and materialises the transaction in the form of the typical morning routine of breakfast, including toasting bread, cooking an egg, and blending a smoothie.
In the first part of this speculative story, this project explores blockchain’s potentialities with the help of fictional narratives behind each appliance, with the objective to demonstrate how every-day realities may be affected . The first narrative introduces a toaster that only works with locally produced bread, thus questioning how supply chain methods may be affected by the technology. The second one presents a pan that grants eggs with citizenship to the decentralised nation of EGGland, and speculates about blockchain’s potential impact in regards to identity and property management. Finally, the last narrative consists of a blender that grows its own fruit, consequently exploring decentralised autonomous systems and smart-contracts.
In the second part, the explanation of the three main blockchain actions are transposed into breakfast cooking procedures—RECtoaster represents the ‘record’; CRYPTOpan symbolises ‘cryptography’; MINERblender performs ‘mining’; and all of the devices working together represent ‘decentralisation’. Without any of these actions this breakfast is not complete, in the same way that without its components a blockchain transaction cannot be made.
RECtoaster: A Toaster that only Works with Locally Produced Bread
Imagine a toaster that lives by the values of its owner, Mr X. Mr X, believes in purchasing local, and therefore stays away from imported goods as much as possible. Based on such principles, his toaster only works with locally produced bread.
Now imagine that on a given day, Mr X wishes to eat a bagel he bought in a supermarket, but when he attempts to toast it, the appliance does not respond to his commands. While Mr X assumed he was purchasing a local product, his toaster recognised that it was not the case. Mr X must have been glad that his toaster helped him maintain a lifestyle in accordance to his personal beliefs. However, imagine that Mr X was feeling particularly mischievous that day, and really wanted to eat that bagel, despite its non-local provenance? Moreover, would such a thing be even possible with this toaster?
In the case of Mr X, he might have really wanted that bagel, and his toaster did not allow it so he would not break the rules that he defined for himself. While he could change the toaster’s settings temporarily so it worked with non-local bread, he would never be able to remove the record of that interaction. Even if in the end he had that bagel, there would always be evidence of the day he purposely had a non-local product.
In the context of the performance proposed in this thesis, the toaster is equipped with an RFID reader and two bags of bread – a “local” and a “non-local” - with their respective sensors. The sensor only works with the “local bread” bag. Should the user approach the “non-local bread” bag, the sensor does not allow the toaster to power on, and its status light blinks three times. Should the user approach the correct “local” bag, the toaster powers on, thus allowing the user to pull down its side-lever.
CRYPTOPAN: A PAN THAT PROVIDES EGGS WITH A CITIZENSHIP
Imagine what an egg’s life must be. It comes out of a chicken and receives a stamp that specifies it to an egg farm. Even though it possesses a place of birth, it never goes back home. Those who consume it will most likely not know where it came from, and even if they do, they may soon forget it anyway.
Now imagine a pan that enrols eggs onto EGGland right before they are about the be cracked. It attributes them with a citizenship, a unique identifiable number, and finally a date of crack. This egg’s information will permanently stay on EGGland’s blockchain.
In the context of EGGland, the notion of micro-identities is explored in a different way. EGGland seeks to provide a form of identity and citizenship to items associated to a micro-nation, without which they would soon be forgotten. The micro-nation where they are affiliated recognises their existence, their purpose, and the day they disappeared to make us breakfast.
In order to exemplify the egg’s enrolment onto EGGland, there is a separate square on the back of the hob, with an acrylic display, and void to rest the egg on. Underneath that void, there is a light sensor and an LED. Once the egg is placed on top of the void, the LED activates and illuminates the acrylic display with EGGland’s coat of arms on it.
MINERBLENDER: A BLENDER THAT GROWS YOUR OWN FRUIT
Imagine that Mr X stops purchasing fruit at the supermarket, and starts growing it himself. Because he is now in control of the whole process of production, the fruit has an unmatched quality. Furthemore, he can have the exact amount he needs, and easily trade any excess he might have.
All of this happens and yet Mr X does not have a garden or a plot.
Now imagine that Mr X owns micro-plots, or individual fruits in trees. His fruit keeps growing, and requires little effort from his part.
His effort is so minimal, that his blender does everything for him. This blender plants, grows, and trades fruit for him in several remote autonomous plantations. The blender negotiates with other autonomous systems to ensure that the fruit is planted, well-watered, picked-up, and finally shipped to Mr X. How is this process viable?
The blender’s digital wallet utilises a fictitious cryptocurrency called Farmcoins. Every time that a micro-payment is made or received, there is also a carbon emissions’ fee that is charged. This fee exists to compensate the energy required to grow the fruit, but also to ship it to Mr X’s house. It this situation, the fee is based on Mr X’s values, and his belief in local purchased goods. The system acknowledges that certain things need to be imported, such as fruit, and therefore compensates the environment for the damage caused. Nonetheless, if it were someone else that may not care about such matters, should the system, then, reflect its new owner´s values?
In the performance piece, the autonomous plantation is represented by a touch-screen computer system, which allows the user to check stock and quality levels, and trade more crops. It also allows to plant or trade new forms of fruits.
Scans the bag of local bread, and confirms its local origin. The toaster powers on, and starts toasting the bread.
The red LED lights up, indicating the transaction has been initiated.
The egg is placed on the EGGistrator stand, thus enrolling it onto the micro-nation of EGGland. After being cracked, the egg starts frying and the camera button is pressed, in order to take its picture.
The yellow LED of the pan lights up, thus confirming the creation of a hashcode by using the unique pixel distribution of that photo.
Receives the picture and hashcode from the pan, and validates its uniqueness.
The blue LED turns on. Upon validation, it starts the mining process and the blend button is pressed until the record has been placed onto the blockchain.
The transaction is successfully uploaded on the blockchain. All the different LED’s light up in order to demonstrate that each appliance has been made aware of the transaction and its respective hashcode.
The toaster comes out, and a receipt is printed with the transaction record.
Blockchain Breakfast was featured at the Edinburgh Fringe 2018 in the Design Informatics Pavilion Data Pipe Dreams: Glimpse of a Near Future.