Is Blockchain the Building Block of the Future?

I recently stumbled across a quote that captured my imagination by speaking to today’s entrepreneurial mindset and unleashing the future possibilities of innovation and hard work. Tapscott Group CEO Don Tapscott, during an interview with a tech writer for McKinsey & Company, said, “I’m not a futurist. I think the future’s not something to be predicted – it’s something to be achieved.”

Tapscott’s words should resonate with any successful innovator. We learn through experience that while ideas are important, the execution of the idea builds the true foundation for success. Too many good ideas have been compromised by faulty execution or overshadowed by others who got there first. Tapscott reminds us that prediction is not as powerful as action – that the future is built by those who take the first leap forward.

Technology’s Next Big Leap

I read Tapscott’s quote in “How blockchains could change the world,” a fascinating article that explores blockchain, the technology behind the Bitcoin. While the future of Bitcoin is less than certain (although cryptocurrency is almost certainly here to stay), the open-source, encrypted distributed database that underpins it offers a new vision for the future of the internet. This is the technology that Tapscott feels will provide the building blocks of innovation and achievement in the near future.

Blockgeeks, an online forum for discussion about blockchain technology, provides a helpful breakdown that answers the question “What is blockchain?”. “Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared — and continually reconciled — database,” Blockgeeks explains, which “isn’t stored in any single location, meaning the records it keeps are truly public and easily verifiable. Hosted by millions of computers simultaneously, its data is accessible to anyone on the internet.”

Or, as Tapscott says, it’s “An immutable, unhackable distributed database of digital assets. This is a platform for truth and it’s a platform for trust.”

A Platform for Truth and Trust

If the internet as we know it today is a repository and trafficking platform for information, blockchain offers an “internet 2.0” that is based on value. The Economist, which calls blockchain “The great chain of being sure about things,” says “It offers a way for people who do not know or trust each other to create a record of who owns what that will compel the assent of everyone concerned. It is a way of making and preserving truths.” Because blockchain stores identical information across a distributed network, it is democratic – unable to be controlled or managed by any single entity or gatekeeper – and nearly impervious to error, as there is no single point of vulnerability.

Tapscott calls this “the biggest innovation in computer science,” citing “the idea of a distributed database where trust is established through mass collaboration and clever code rather than through a powerful institution that does the authentication and the settlement.” Viewed through this lens, blockchain offers the chance to build an internet of direct, peer-to-peer transactions where trust is established through an immutable and verifiable record. It’s big data without corporate gatekeepers, where users have ownership of their own data.

This may seem like grand, philosophical, unverifiable speculation (running counter to Don Tapscott’s call to achieve rather than predict) but the real-world impact of blockchain is already being felt.

Blockchain in Finance

The most obvious applications of blockchain are in financial transactions. After all, that’s where the technology originates. Harvard Business Review notes that blockchain has the “potential to fundamentally change the financial services industry – by dropping the cost and complexity of financial transactions, making the world’s unbanked a viable new market, and improving transparency and regulation.” Banks as prestigious as the Bank of England have researched the impact and deployment of distributed ledgers.

Blockchain Beyond

However, the implications for blockchain development extend far past the financial sector into government and business applications. Intellectual property could be established and preserved through blockchain, and one music company is already exploring “intelligent songs with smart contracts built in, which enable artists to sell directly to consumers without going through a label, financial intermediary, or technology company.” The sharing economy stands to benefit from blockchain as well, and this along with the implications for networked Internet of Things applications could fill an article of its own.

Building the Future

The impact of blockchain in finance and other industries is just starting to be felt, but innovative thinkers are excited about the possibilities. Many of them speak of feeling echoes of the 90’s tech boom, which resulted in an open frontier of innovation, and a chance to rebuild the internet on an egalitarian level that removes corporate and government middlemen while preserving accountability and oversight.

Tapcott’s exhortation to achieve the future is also a call for a system of governance to create a future of truth and trust. “Unlike the Internet,” he says, “which has a sophisticated governance ecosystem, the whole world of blockchain and digital currencies is the Wild West… This could kill it if we don’t find the leadership to come together and to create the equivalent organizations that we have for governance of the Internet.” If innovators put their minds to achieving a model for this governance, blockchain could truly become the foundation for incredible growth and change.

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