The modern concept of skill and ability evolved from the ancient unit of financial measurement. Today, blockchains are unifying these concepts into a new forms of functional and social currency.
The word “talent” has existed for thousands of years, and across multiple cultures, with a meaning that denoted a certain unit of measurement, a financial sum denominated in weight. In ancient Greece specifically, it was equivalent to eighty pounds of silver, or 6,000 denarii—about twenty years’ wages for the average worker.
It wasn’t until the 15th century that the term began to take on the modern meaning of a natural ability or skill, with the best known example being found in John Milton’s Sonnet 19: When I consider how my light is spent, where he also makes a connection back to the biblical parable of a hidden talent.
It’s fascinating that our conception of this word today, understood to be so inborn and indefinite, evolved from a term that was a denomination of deadweight. Because this relationship exists, the concept of capital has long been used to refer to money as well as the potential for making money via workers—human capital.
Today, a novel approach to recording financial value has been emerging with decentralized applications like Bitcoin and Ethereum. In these systems, participants get paid for how much they computing power they contribute to running the software service, and blockchains are used to keep track of how much coin each participant has earned. It acts like an incorruptible public witness attesting to truth of these transactions.
Not only have coins evolved from being a physical weight into being a weightless value, blockchain ledgers can be used to record another type of currency: social currency.
Not only have coins evolved from being a physical weight into being a weightless value, blockchain ledgers can be used to record another type of currency: social currency. When an institution gives any person an official record — like an identity card, a land title, an academic record, or a professional license — they are conferring value to that person at a particular point in time. Issued correctly, these records form a set of digital proofs that individuals can use to reveal different aspects about themselves while pursuing upward economic mobility and greater security.
To make a record digital isn’t just to make it electronic; it means placing it in the hand of it’s true owner. The ability to possess and reliably use digital objects is a critical part of individual empowerment.
Decentralized software applications, enabled by blockchains, are the mechanism by which our financial and social conceptions of “a talent” are re-converging around value and trust, ownership and usefulness.