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Keep Calm and Blockchain On


Andrew Vorster, Innovation Catalyst , AndrewVorster.com

“The solution is Blockchain – what’s your problem?”

If your work or interests take you anywhere near tech then I’m sure you’ve come across your fair share of Blockchain evangelists.

I’m not one of them.

But then, neither am I a skeptic.

I find that I have frequent, arguments with myself over the Blockchain fuelled future that is rapidly becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

On the one hand, I keep on telling myself “but it’s just another database and what it does could have been accomplished in the past with technologies that already existed.”

My life in tech began in the days of mainframes, and in hindsight we could have built the distributed systems along with the rules and processes that are now being implemented on Blockchain.  We centralized and shared resources back then to conserve the precious little compute power we had at our disposal, but the core tenant of DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology – aka Blockchain) is in the name. It’s a distributed ledger – one whose immutability depends on multiple (potentially infinite) copies of an ever-increasing number of blocks (potentially infinite) of information, resulting in an incredibly resource hungry infrastructure.

On the other hand, I see the incredibly diverse areas where Blockchains are being implemented, or at least investigated, and I can’t help but reach the same conclusion as the evangelists – “Blockchain is the solution, what’s the problem you need solving?”

According to a recently released report from Deloitte documenting a study of the GitHub code repository, over 26,000 new Blockchain projects were initiated in 2016, bringing the total to over 86,000 Blockchain projects on GitHub.

Many of these are in Financial Services and no surprise therefore that even the World Economic Forum says “Blockchain will become the ‘Beating Heart’ of the Global Financial System.”  We’ve already seen a number of successful Blockchain use cases and implementations from cross border money transfer where efficiency gains have resulted in fee reductions, to a plethora of RegTech (Regulatory Technology) solutions which alleviate the burden of compliance, reducing costs and freeing up resources and so the list goes on and on.

But what’s been much more fascinating to me personally has been the rising number of non-financial applications of Blockchain technology that have leveraged the inherent transparency of the technology to benefit of all participants. Things like:

  • Proving sustainability claims in global supply chains of produce

  • In a similar vein to the above, tracking the provenance of diamonds is being considered by the World’s Blood Diamond Watchdog – who wouldn’t want to know more about the ring on their finger?

  • And of course you’d want to trust that your medication was not counterfeit

  • The clothing industry is also hard hit by counterfeiters – could Blockchain connected clothing be an answer?

  • Could a Blockchain powered rights and payments system help musicians protect and license their IP?

  • MIT thinks that it could enable a much smarter energy grid where consumers could be producers that trade energy within a micro-grid.

  • Will registering marriages on the Blockchain put divorce lawyers out of a job, or will they be hired to create the smart contracts in the first place? (<if : infidelity = yes; transfer total assets to spouse/>)

I could go on and luckily for me I have the opportunity to find out a whole lot more very soon.

In order to play the role of Innovation Catalyst for my clients and audiences across the world, I constantly track TIPS – Technologies, Innovations, Patents and Startups and I contemplate the consequences, opportunities and impacts these will have on society, industry and the individuals within.

My annual pilgrimage to CES has long been an excellent source of new TIPS, and this year I am fortunate enough to be chairing a panel called “100 Uses for a  Blockchain” during the Digital Money Forum conference track.

Will I be more skeptical or more evangelical by the end of it?

I genuinely don’t know – come and see for yourself.

Andrew Vorster will moderate “100 Uses for a Blockchain” during the Digital Money Forum at CES 2018 on Tuesday, January 9 at the Venetian, Level 4, Lando 4302. See the full agenda and register here. To learn more about Andrew, visit www.andrewvorster.com or follow him on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

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