Speculate.today is an instance of Bookchain, a browser-based peer-to-peer collaborative writing app. Speculate.today is concerned with futures of currency. It exploits the links between blockchain and much earlier media forms such as the written ledger and asks: what forms of writing can emerge within the constraint of a technology of fiscal control?

Bookchain was inspired by decentralised technologies including the DAT protocol, IPFS (InterPlanetary File System), blockchain and distributed social networks such a Scuttlebutt and Mastodon. It invites participants to negotiate the process of collaboration over a distributed system, where, in the absence of total central control, the determining role of protocol comes to the fore. This tendency in the internet itself received some attention from digital media theorists Wendy Chun and Alexander Galloway in the mid-noughties. Given the early promise of the internet as a free space, and its concrete control by telecoms giants, Chun saw the internet as hailing a shift from the opposition between the narratives of Foucauldian discipline and liberty, to one between total surveillance and total freedom.

Galloway argued that control is inherent in the low-level workings of the internet. He admitted that the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) "radically distributes control into autonomous locales". However, he maintained that DNS (Domain Name System), whereby a relatively few name servers act as authorities in mapping human-friendly domain names like speculate.today to numerical IP addresses like 35.210.75.0 “focus control into rigidly defined hierarchies”. This is more the case in Bookchain as traffic between the nodes is distributed by a small purpose-built piece of software running on Google's cloud infrastructure. There is also a single authority that validates contributed texts: a natural-language processing algorithm that tries to pull out the last noun phrase of the previous contribution and ensures any new one contains it. While the former is something of a technical hack, the latter is a result of the computational expense of AI, which like DNS is a force for the hierarchisation of the internet.

In order to communicate with its peers, each Bookchain node is assigned a UUID4 (Universally Unique Identifier). Version 4 UUIDs are random 128 bit numbers with interesting properties. A UUID has over 340 undecillion possible values. Drawing on design theorist Benjamin Bratton’s notion of deep address to illustrate, UUID addresses could be used to uniquely identify every cell in every human body, not just on earth but on all habitable planets in the Milky Way if they all had Earth’s population – 13,804 times over. Random UUIDs are widely used to identify all manner of things in software today, without the need for a central authority allotting addresses. The chance of a collision – of using an already-assigned UUID – is statistically insignificant, though this would not be the case if they were deployed on the galactic scale as in the illustration, nor no doubt on the planetary scale if the illustration benefited from an estimate that included non-human cells.