Blockchain, Yo

Contributed by Faraz Fookeer


A couple of months ago I dropped my daughter off at Saturday school, and was walking back to my car, when I overheard a guy hanging outside of the local barbershop shouting, “yo, it’s the blockchain!” When he’d finished his call, we had a chat and it turns out that he knew more about cryptocurrency than me (no surprise) but had just discovered the blockchain (yo).

I’ve oft heard the analogy that blockchain technology is “at the same place that the internet was in 1994”, but I beg to differ. Back in ’94 the World Wide Web crept into our homes via CD-based browsers that would cause mum to scream blue murder as her phone call to her sister was disrupted by your impending search for dubious material over dial-up. The point is that the tech driving the internet was pretty much well known and mass adoption was inevitable – the world was on the cusp of the Information Age and everyone knew it.

Blockchain is where the internet was in in the ’60’s and ’70’s, where various protocols vied to prove the viability of packet-switching (spoiler alert, ARPANET won out). What’s interesting about today is that, thanks to the internet, we are seeing the birth of a foundational and fundamental technology unfold before our very eyes. The ubiquity of blockchain, and at such a nascent stage of its evolution, is truly unique and is something that we should both embrace and be wary of. Are we ready for the impending utopia of “true” decentralisation, as the evangelists would lead us to believe is right around the corner? My response: the much maligned, opaque, “third party”will always exist and will impinge upon blockchain processes in ways that we may not anticipate. I am a believer of the tech, of that there is no doubt.

Going back to the internet analogy, we potentially have 50 years of technological evolution ahead of us until the blockchain becomes a seamless part of life. This will likely happen much, much sooner as we are lucky to be witnessing the births of multiple foundational technologies at once (AI, Big Data et al.) and convergence will prove to be a mighty catalyst.

Unlike the baby internet protocols of the ’70’s, each of “our” protocols are jostling for a position in this new world – each has it’s own fans and their developers are Telegram superstars. We have clogged the internet with “consensus”, “private key” and “crypto” – part of a cornucopia of words that have broken out and taken root in our everyday lexicon. LinkedIn is creaking with blockchain “experts”, “investment advisors”, “enthusiasts” (I chose it first!), “founders” and “educators”. This hype train has been built by Doc Brown, for sure (Back to the Future III, btw).

But, the technology remains utterly compelling. Dig into the application layer and find dApps, excavate further and you’ll glimpse a P2P network, further still and consensus mechanisms will reveal themselves in their complex, mathematical glory. Finally, you’ll hit pay-dirt when the first block header starts poking out of the rubble of bits and bytes. My interest is not in the technology, although it is beautiful. My passion lies in¬†how¬†blockchain protocols approach implementing their ‘chains into use cases the world over. How do these companies approach Change Management and mitigate risk? What use cases are emerging and how can we employ the technology to solve actual problems; be they commercial, social or cultural – could we decentralise a religious movement on the blockchain, for example?

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Also published on Medium.

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