Trust Is Just A Well-Kept Record

From Hammurabi’s stone to blockchain, the technology of trust is ever-evolving

Brandon Arthur Roth

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“Code of Hammurabi” at the Louvre Museum. (Source: Cyrali/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

There is a reason the stone of Hammurabi, with its hundreds of lines of legal and economic precedents, was made of, well, stone. You couldn’t easily alter it, or pick it up and walk away. That permanence, paired with its authorship by a ruling authority, gave it an “I am truth” aura. The form and function symbolized how vital the record and its keepers are to civilization.

Without a record in stone to point to, there would have been no standard practices, shared sense of value, or rules of social conduct. And without Hammurabi and his scribes there to preside over it, society would have risked falsification and dispute. One basalt monolith — and some copies — formed the cognitive glue that kept Mesopotamia together.

Today, records of who owns what, how much it’s worth, the rules of trading it, and so on, form the basis of all economic activity. Unlike ancient times, though, much of our modern economy has no physical basis. The act of record keeping has moved steadily from documenting stockpiles of physical commodities to the flow of intangible assets — ones whose sole existence is the record itself. “Owning stock” is just having a paper trail. Most tangible assets are represented as digital bits passed…

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Brandon Arthur Roth

Contract Designer & Creative, Co-Founder @RadarRelay, previously Design Director @MadeSays, Board Member @AIGACO