„Dead Man’s Block“: Digital Legacy on the Blockchain and the future of asset management

(Original English Version: Hier geht’s zur deutschen Übersetzung.)

With Bitcoin hitting all-time-highs every other week, blockchain technology is an omnipresent topic. But what does it have in store for digital asset management beyond the grave? An interview with Tom Nguyen, developer of „Dead Man’s Block“ (www, devpost, github)

Hi Tom! Thanks for taking the time. My first question: Why do you spend your time on topics around death and legacy? There’s merrier topics, for sure.

Tom Nguyen, developer of Blockchain's "Dead Man's Block"
Tom Nguyen (c) private

Unlike most people, I’ve always viewed death as something that is a part of life. People always have a strong reaction when I ask the question: if you could find out the day you die, would you want to know? Almost everyone answers No, but the truth is you do know approximately when that is with a fair amount of certainty. Life expectancy and actuaries at life insurance companies can calculate this for you.

What is not well thought out is: What Happens after you die? It wasn’t until I started participating in a Geneaology hackathon that the idea of using technology to lay out directions upon your death really manifested in my mind. I started reading about social media pages of dead people becoming a problem for family members. A guy told me that it’s been two years and Facebook still hasn’t given him access to his deceased dad’s account. It hit me that there is nothing to solve this sensitive and private issue today.

How did „Dead Man’s Block“ come into existence and where did the idea of a blockchain dead man’s switch come from?

Recently, I became really immersed in blockchain. I started reading and coding it only since Nov 2016 to now Mar 2017. The recent hackathon was only the second time I was forced to dig into why blockchain is powerful and what its true applications are. It was only a few days before the actual event that the idea of death was surfaced again. Something clicked with me that the blockchain is the perfect platform to do it. During my research, I came across the Dead Man’s Switch concept.

Dead Man's Block: A blockchain based dead man's switch
Switches enlighten – even after death

This was the first time I’ve ever heard of it. It’s built into a lot of mechanical products like trains and lawn mowers for safety. The most familiar example would be the bad guy wearing a vest bomb with a finger pressed on the trigger. The name stuck with me plus I wanted to convey familiarity with users so I decided to call it Dead Man’s Block. luckily, deadmansblock.com was available so that sealed it.

Fun fact: two famous hackers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden both have a dead man’s switch in place in cases something bad happens to them.

What does (or will) it do and how does it work (in Layman’s terms)?

In the most simplest terms, Dead Man’s Block is a secure trigger that releases digital wills to the right beneficiaries after you die. Digital wills can be anything from the most sensitive data like Inheritance and Access to social media accounts to low security content like regrets, secret recipes, and letters to loved ones. The trigger is released based on certain conditions and validations that you set for the 3 distinct layers of self, circle of trust, and public (eg. government).

The death of a person doesn’t only affect the person but it has ramifications to their family and friends and society as a whole. All three must verify your death. So if you stop checking in to say you’re alive after some time, your family or trusted persons will get to confirm your death. If that is true, then the public like notary or mortuaries must also confirm your death. This is designed to avoid fraud and errors.

Digital Currencys like Bitcoin are the most popular use case for blockchains. But that’s just the beginning

Is this solution secure and reliable?

By using blockchain, this is the most secure method of managing something as immutable as death. This wouldn’t be possible without the blockchain. Once encryption and keys management are in place, this will be as secure as it gets anywhere in the world. Once more testing is done, I’ll know more about reliability. There will always be outliars where this won’t work like you could be kidnapped or family wants to take your wealth but I believe that this will work 99.99% of cases.

Will Dead Man’s Block stay open source – and do you think that is a necessity for digital legacy solutions? What are the core criteria for this use case?

The way blockchain works is that in exchange for absolute decentralized trust, things are visible and open across the nodes. Everything is controlled by the smart contracts. No one person has control over it. You are the sole owner of what you add to the chain. I believe that this is required if people are going to store very private data, which is a major part of what digital wills should contain. I’d imagine other plug in services can partner up to make it even better.

Do you think blockchains are superior to other software/databases when handling digital wills?

Yes, this is the best technology we have today to do this. But it must a Public Blockchain with total decentralization across nodes around the world. No person or group can alter its existence.

And last but not least a look in the crystal ball: What’s your opinion on the future of blockchains? What do they have in store for us?

Blockchain today is like the internet in 94-95. Outside of bitcoin, it’s very much in its infancy for other applications. However, it’s picking up pace with a lot of interests across industries. Challenges like scaling and privacy are being solved this year on Ethereum. Make no mistake, blockchain is an integral part of the fantastic future. It will truly democratize every aspects of society not just locally but globally. It is a game changer.

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