Throughout history, from time to time, a new technology emerges that completely changes the world as we know it. The printing press, the industrial revolution, radio and then television, and the internet all made the world a much different place once they were developed and spread across the globe. These advances also have some similarities. Each one has spread faster, seeing adoption occur at a faster pace. Each has unlocked untold wealth and new prosperity. And each has been a precursor to additional technologies that have greatly improved our understanding of the world, while also shrinking the globe and bringing us closer together as a species.
When asked, most people today would probably point to the internet as the most recent world-changing technological development, but they would be wrong. No, the most recent technological breakthrough that will change the world as we know it is blockchain technology. Something not often heard in normal conversations, and currently even less understood that internet technology. Consider that the internet took somewhere between 20-25 years to reach mainstream adoption, and you will understand that blockchain technology, which is just 9 years old, is just in its infancy and has a very long way to go, likely unleashing marvels we can only dream about today.
You see, if the internet is about creating and transmitting information, the blockchain is about storing all of that information, something we desperately need as information is growing exponentially. This article (which ironically enough was written exactly 9 years ago from the day I’m writing this, and was also written just as Bitcoin and the blockchain was being created by Satoshi Nakamoto – to solve just such an issue?) explains not just how information is growing exponentially, but that the majority of this information growth is personal. It is your data and it is my data. If it belongs to us should we not keep our rights in regards to its usage, and be somehow compensated when others do use it, for whatever purpose?
If the internet has indeed become the Internet of Everything we need a way to store Everything. Enter blockchain – The Ledger of Everything.
From the dawn of history we’ve had to rely on third parties such as our governments and banks and other intermediaries to store information, and to make it available when necessary to conduct a transaction or to establish trust. This has worked fairly well, but certainly not perfectly as current methods for storing data:
1. Can be subject to corruption and fraud.
2. Transfers the ownership of data from the creator to the holder – or at least benefits the holder far more than the creator.
3. Are centralized and can be breeched and hacked.
4. They can be unreliable and are often slow as well.
5. They undermine our privacy.
The blockchain solves these problems and more as it is decentralized, and all the information stored in it is protected by cryptography – meaning no part of the ledger can be modified unless the proper secure key is used, which is held by the owner of the transaction. Any fraudulent changes will be rejected by the network as the fraudulent data disagrees with what has already been proven within the ledger. This eliminates fraud and corruption in the system and it also rids us of the need for third party intermediaries in many transactions. That alone could save the world trillions of dollars in fees and expenses.
Furthermore, because each entry in the ledger is owned by the creator of that entry, and they have the secure key to prove it, they maintain control of that data, and if it has some intrinsic value they can be compensated for that value. When you consider that the majority of data currently being stored and used is personal data this has huge implications when it comes to the transfer of wealth. Rather than being centralized and controlled by a minority, in a world run on the blockchain wealth also becomes decentralized and distributed. What changes would that make in a world where everyone is compensated to some degree for the data they add to the blockchain. Would it rid us of the need to work for others? Maybe not completely no, but I do think so to some degree.
Currently the focus in media is on the implications of the blockchain to banks and other financial institutions. Bitcoin is the top blockchain, and its token, or coin, is considered to be a digital currency as it was developed specifically to remove third party’s from an electronic cash system. One of the other top blockchains, Ripple, was developed specifically to address the issue of security, speed and cost of monetary remittances and settlements through application of blockchain technology. It makes sense since a ledger is typically used in accounting and business applications. However, there are so many more uses being made of the blockchain, and dozens more are being dreamed up and created each month.
Here are some of the blockchain projects currently being worked on:
– Social networks are being tackled by several innovators, and the largest so far is called Steemit. In addition to a Reddit like app Steem has also released a YouTube, Twitter and Instagram clone. The idea behind Steem is that everyone using the social media applications gets paid when their ideas, posts, videos, pictures and articles are upvoted by the community.
– Distributed computing and file sharing are being addressed by several projects as is cloud storage and even DNS hosting.
– Transportation sharing – think Uber on the blockchain
– Arts and Music
– Health care records
– Personal identification
– And many others
The thing to keep in mind is that blockchain technology is just 9 years old. That’s like thinking of the internet back in 1982. It wasn’t very useful to most people, in fact most hadn’t even heard of it, and if they had they couldn’t imagine what good use it could be. Fast forward 25 years and internet usage was growing by leaps and bounds, and was considered the greatest invention of mankind.
I have no doubt that increasingly complex and innovative uses will be made of the blockchain, and it will continue to improve, becoming safer, faster, more transparent and most importantly more useful. It will create untold wealth, but this time around the wealth is more likely to be spread more evenly, freeing people and creating a world where people are able to devote more time to their passions and leisure activities. And as each new technology has evolved more quickly, I think all of these changes can be seen in as little as two short decades, meaning most of us will still be around to see all the wondrous changes brought about by Bitcoin and the blockchain.