A screenshot of the Drive-thru Oracle interface.
What if blockchain technology ENacted its principles instead of reinforcing existing power structures?

Drive-thru Oracle

Drive-thru Oracle is a film that speculates on the future of voting mechanisms within DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) through the perspective of Charlotte, who works for numerous DAOs, and her interaction with an artificial intelligent agent.
Role: Individual Project Studio
Timeline: 4 weeks + 7 weeks during an "Intro to Unreal" summer course
Advisors: Ben Hooker and Tim Durfee
Tools: Premiere Pro, After Effects, Unreal and Blender

Challenge

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The Oracle Problem exists within the field of Computer Science and describes the fact that a closed system cannot inherently determine the truth of information about the outside world. For such a system to validate the truthfulness of information, it requires the connection of a sensor or a user interface, translating information from the outside into data the computer system understands. In effect, the solutions to the Oracle Problem require an interface that is both reliable and trustworthy. Within the context of DAOs, the verification of a member's identity is crucial for upholding the principle of one vote, one person during voting events.

Process

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The project brief required the critical and creative exploration of an aspect of the future of work and to consider how the proposed systems profoundly implicate and impact individuals through the currency of our most valuable commodities: time and labor.

Deeply intrigued by blockchain technology and its wide-ranging implications, I chose to focus on DAOs, specifically their operational and governance structure. During the research phase, I found it quite frustrating to discover critical reflections on the socio-cultural implications surrounding DAO voting mechanisms, so it took me awhile to encounter something interesting. When I discovered the oracle problem, something clicked and I wondered how other public infrastructural systems establish reliability , trustworthiness, accessibility and frictionless user experience. Then, one day when dropping off a letter at a nearby mail box, I was struck by the similarities of mail infrastructure and blockchain technology insofar as they both moved information around the country, especially verified voting ballots, based on various factors, such as coded information (e.g., zip code, street, number),and it is accessible, relatively reliable and simple-to-use.

My extensive project research can be found on this are.na channel.
After the interaction with the USPS mailbox, I conducted a design research investigation using a 360-degree camera of a public blockchain oracle. Note the proximity of the public train station and the historic water well, as I see this user experience in dialogue with publicly accessible infrastructure.
Three logos of fake gig economy companies used as a prop for the film.
I created several logos that were used in the film to gesture to gig economy companies and their associated political-economic implications (i.e., unfair labor practices and exploitive algorithms) in the hopes of suggesting to the viewer that similar implications might be emulated in DAOs as the organizational structure broadens across the future economy.
The script of the dialogue between Charlotte and Michael (AI agent). I used IBM Watson's Text-to-Speech service as the voice of the AI agent.

Documentation

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By framing DAO voting through the context of a fast food restaurant’s drive-thru and the oracle archetype (a play on the Blockchain Oracle Problem essential for the technology’s mass adoption), I suggest that the future of labor in which DAOs dominate the operational structure of business, signals the arrival of a hyper-neoliberal, capitalist society. In such a society, all workers are extremely individualized and objectified. Proof-of-work algorithms push oppressive optimization, individual wages are financialized, and power continues to concentrate in the hands of the few–all through the democratic practice of voting. 

These socio-cultural byproducts are in direct contradiction to the values of democracy, transparency, political and economical equality, and freedoms that are championed by blockchain evangelists (i.e. venture capitalists). As a consequence, individual contributors of DAOs may become worse off economically and socially, as foreshadowed by the current politico-economic struggles of gig economy workers in forming work collectives and fighting for adequate employment terms and conditions.

Why is a nascent technology like blockchain and the nebulous concept of Web 3.0 of such interest to powerful capitalists? Who benefits from the mass adoption of such technology? And, what values, both in the physical form and in the service, do we want to imbue into this transformational technology moving forward?

Consideration

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Similar to the ways in which the ancient Greeks traveled to and consulted the Oracle at Delphi, I envision a network of public oracles that form the human computer interface of the blockchain network. By using the metaphor of the ancient Greek oracle archetype, I draw parallels to the stated values of blockchain technology: "truthful", a public resource, democratic and functionally mythological. Much like the interaction with the Greek oracle (minus the sacrifice and hallucinogens), users can interact directly to the public blockchain through the use of computer vision and artificial intelligence. The interaction uses natural language processing and facial recognition for identification purposes.

A sketch of the public oracle with people interacting with it.
This is the sketch I drafted after my encounter with the USPS mailbox. Instead of using the form of USPS mailboxes, preferred the cylindrical form of the vintage Royal Mail letterbox.
A simple diagram of what the structure of the landmark might look like from overhead.
This is my idea of the architectural structure of the landmark based on research of different shapes that democratic organizations (e.g., the UN Security Council) form as well as the shape of native American Pow-wow gatherings.
A sketch of the UI and identity verification for the AI agent.
Here is a sketch of what the UI and UX for the 360-degree camera might look like.
A screenshot of the prototype created based off of my sketches.
I attempted to create my vision of a public blockchain, but after seeing the results in Unity, I was not satisfied and I decided to pivot to a counterfactual position in which the future does not adopt my idea.

Reflection

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I'm very proud that I decided to stick with my interest in blockchain technology despite the challenge in understanding the implications of DAOs. By no means do I believe that project is exhaustive, rather I see it as more about the questions it raise for me to consider in the future. That being said, I do not see blockchain technology, especially DAOs, as liberatory as many of the Silicon Valley proponents herald. Overall, I see blockchain technology more as a piece of the cybersecurity puzzle, integrated into the underlining infrastructure of cloud computing. Unfortunately, during the prototype phase, I ran into the constraint of time and the lack of cohesive narrative structure, so I ended up pivoting to another method of conveying my message.

Lastly, I wonder about the personality of the public-facing artificial intelligent agent and the accessibility of the technology to everyone. What advances in technology would need to occur for this type of experience to manifest, and who would be responsible for the maintaining the technology's infrastructure? Could the responsibilities of the USPS expand to include such as service?

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