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Spoiler: Blockchain will not save the world

CMS Digitalbytes

17 May 2018

Blockchain has leapt out from the shadow of Bitcoin, its poster-child application and is receiving a huge amount of attention from tech investors, commentators and afficiandos alike. In many ways justifiedly so. Whilst it is generally accepted that Blockchain technology is highly likely to have a significant impact, how and in relation to what is not yet clear. Whether the technology can meet the weight of expectation being placed on its young shoulders is yet to be seen but, given the hype, there is cause for concern.

In the last twelve months it has become received wisdom amongst the tech community that the real technology game-changer is not crypto-currencies themselves but the underlying technology that supports those currencies, generally referred to as The Blockchain (cue stirring music). Those gurus of the conference circuit are breathlessly telling us that whole industries will be revolutionised by Blockchain across all sectors from manufacturing to finance to medicine and beyond. Blockchain will purportedly change, save or possibly even destroy the world, depending on your audience.

The idea that a decentralised database would incite such excitement can, to the casual observer, seem a bit strange and yet here we are. The impact of new technology is almost always universally misunderstood in its early days of adoption. Blockchain is the next in a long line of technologies to arrive in a fanfare of misunderstood glory. There are few experts and too many uninformed cheerleaders. If you have the temerity to ask a couple of simple questions like "what is it for" or "how does it work", you are too often met with confusion and uncertainty by those who only have a surface level understanding of the what the technology can do. How or why Blockchain is a better solution that will actually change the way a business operates, save it time or money simply isn't clearly defined in far too many cases. Trough of disallusionment here we come.

This cycle of hype to disallusionment though is dangerous and potentially smothers or worse hinders the impact of true innovation that really can make a difference. Somewhere in the cloud of hype there are undoubtedly real businesses using Blockchain to actually change an industry. As the attached article points out there are strong indicators that Blockchain is allowing the concept of money to evolve. Blockchain offers a new method of transferring value from one person to another. The rise and rise of the ICO as a successful method for raising finance is undeniable. ICOs simply don't work without the Blockchain. Blockchain is here to stay and we shouldn't expect this technology to do anything other than become more relevant and important to all of our lives.

Innovation is the life-blood of a healthy economy. Helping users, business partners and investors to find those real businesses, support their growth and really make a difference is in all of our interests. Blockchain will, very likely, be a force for good. Just don't expect it to save the world. It won't.

The main thing distinguishing a blockchain from a normal database is that there are specific rules about how to put data into the database. That is, it cannot conflict with some other data that’s already in the database (consistent), it’s append-only (immutable), and the data itself is locked to an owner (ownable), it’s replicable and available. Finally, everyone agrees on what the state of the things in the database are (canonical) without a central party (decentralized).

The content above was originally posted on CMS Digitalbytes - CMS lawyers sharing comment and commentary on all things tech.


Portrait of Anthony Waller
Anthony Waller