Is blockchain ‘the next Gutenberg moment’? Here’s what the experts say
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Amid all the hype and criticisms of blockchain, one of the more entertaining takes comes from Blockchain.info co-founder Nicolas Cary, who says the technology will be as important as the Gutenberg printing press was in the 15th century.
Organisations from the ASX to Australian horticulture exporters are investigating the potential of blockchain to ensure the safety and security of their systems, though it’s best known as the backbone for an every-growing range of cryptocurrencies.
Cary believes that just as “Google it” entered the lexicon over the past decade, “check it on the blockchain” will enter everyday conversations in the near future.
Business Insider Australia asked seven Australian experts to see if they agreed with Cary.
Here’s what they said:
The impact of blockchain technology will be massive and far reaching, but I disagree that people will use phrases like “Check it on the blockchain.” I believe for blockchain implementations to be truly successful they need to almost be invisible – hidden underneath well designed interfaces with quality UX that obfuscates the underlying technology.
In the same way that people say, “Google it” instead of, “Search for it with a pagerank algorithm”, blockchain technology itself will not be front and centre in the minds of the users.
These technologies will become a necessary part of our everyday lives, but for the most part people will not even realise that they are using a blockchain based technology, they will simply enjoy the many benefits of these technologies across a wide range of applications.
The nascent blockchain environment is already beginning to show steps in this direction, with applications such as digital voting, distributed cloud storage solutions and instant peer to peer payments, which do not require the user to be aware of the underlying involvement of a blockchain.
Blockchain technology will be as important to the world as Gutenberg’s printing press but I’m not sure that we’ll be referring to the blockchain in our day to day lives like we do with Google.
I believe that blockchain technology will be ubiquitous in many aspects of our lives, from banking and government services, to autonomous driving and ecommerce, but the technology will – for the most part – be hidden behind the services that are being offered. In a similar way to how the ‘internet’ has just become a hidden backbone for many, many services that we use today.
Blockchain technology will be mainstream in the very near future (12-24 months). I just attended a conference in Dubai where the government has committed to rolling blockchain technology out across most of the services that they offer. This isn’t a ‘future initiative’, it’s happening now!
There is real value in using analogies to technologies that are now ubiquitous that were once cutting edge and highly disruptive. They are powerful metaphors that help us frame how truly impactful blockchain technology will be.
The printing press did two things, it made knowledge drastically more accessible to the layman and took the monopoly over knowledge away from incumbents (the Church in this case). It was invented in the 15th century, scaled by orders of magnitude in the 16th, and was ubiquitous by the 18th.
It is no accident that The Renaissance, which gave us some of the greatest scientific and creative minds to have ever lived, coincides with this period of time.
Public blockchains are are going to be public data sources that we can trust.
They will define the digital reality that we construct and serve as the foundations for the Web 3.0 economy of the future. They will do this by bringing freedom of value exchange and sovereignty over wealth to the layman, and take the monopoly over money away from governments (amongst many other things).
So perhaps they will usher in a Digital Renaissance of their own. The potential is certainly there!
Widespread use of blockchains could be as important to the world as the printing press was in its era.
However, I don’t believe blockchain will necessarily become commonplace for the everyday person. Web 2.0 has shown us that winning products and services minimise complexity and run in the background. That’s why people say “Google it” instead of “See what the web crawler results are”.
Over the next few decades, blockchains and other DLTs may very well be part of the world’s underlying infrastructure, but most people will interact with the products of this technology, as opposed to the actual blockchain tech.
The more exciting effects of the current state of blockchain is the renewed interest on digital infrastructure and building Web 3.0. It’s exciting because nearly anyone has the potential to have skin in the game when it comes to shaping blockchain and the success (or failure) of this tech.
Blockchain technology arrived as the consensus mechanism behind bitcoin, which was the first successful decentralized digital money, or cryptocurrency. But the deeper revolution that blockchain technology brings goes far beyond money and ushers in a new global infrastructure for recording facts about which social consensus is built. These are facts such as: Who is that person? What is that machine, and who controls it? Who owns this house; this car; this asset? What does this contract specify, and so on?
It turns out that technologies for recording facts about which we all need to agree on and coordinate with respect to (i.e. ledgers) is a fundamental building block of not only economies, but also of the societies and cultures that those economies support. That’s the new world we’re entering now, also known as Web3.0 or Industry4.0, but really it’s a new type of global economy built on blockchain infrastructure in which the cost of trust, and therefore of organisation, is much lower because we can ‘check it on the blockchain’.”
Right now we have a large amount of ‘googleable’ information, but to confirm this information is concrete is almost impossible. The term ‘Google that’ found traction in the internet age, with the free flow of information globally. Now, the term, ‘Check it on the blockchain’ will find traction in the age of the blockchain as the ability to universally verify that the information we are googling is legitimate. Verifying this information on the blockchain will provide a large amount of value to the 21st century world.”
Comparing the blockchain to the Gutenberg Press is almost a disservice to both because the way they slot into their own problems and redirect the world is so very different.
Blockchain could maybe even more accurately be described as the next progression from paper, as it could technically represent the most drastic development in the recording of information since then.
Technological progress generally involves translating the things we understand into the technology we now have. One of the first things we did with computers was use them to simulate word processing on paper, followed by spreadsheeting, drawing, file storage, and communications.
With websites came storefronts, publications, offices, and meeting places. What we have happening with the blockchain might actually be more of a discovery than an invention. The Gutenberg Press changed how we used paper to produce and distribute communications to one another, enabling global media and countless more innovations.
I believe what we’ve unlocked with the blockchain is something that will be enabled by inventions based upon it, not unlike how planting became agriculture, or paper became global media.
Blockchain will only be important to the world if we work out how to use it for things far beyond its current use-cases. A great number of blockchain projects are just rehashing gambling, central banking, or managed investment schemes, but there is limitless potential for what the right people could actually achieve with something as unique as a blockchain.
It’s still early, and there are a number of promising projects in the space doing creative and exciting things.
Blockchain is not to be ignored. Don’t rush to write it off because your Bitcoin investments didn’t play out, or someone you know was scammed by a dodgy ICO.
The tech world has stumbled upon something very big here, and we’re all going to start noticing changes.