When a new and potentially transformative technology comes into view, it will commonly divide observers into three broad camps: ardent believers, dismissive non-believers, and the wait-and-sees. One of the most famous examples of this is of course the information superhighway, or as we refer to it now, the internet.
Back in the innocent, early days of the internet, as hard as it is to believe, many people thought the internet would at best become something like a global electronic bulletin board for academic papers. Aside from a visionary few, not many saw its commercial or even cultural potential.
Arguably the most cited example of the non-believer perspective is a semi-famous article from 1995 by an academic named Clifford Stoll. To be fair, Mr Stoll was not totally dismissive of the internet, but he did display a now-unfortunate degree of cynicism about just what the internet could become:
Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries and multimedia classrooms. They speak of electronic town meetings and virtual communities. Commerce and business will shift from offices and malls to networks and modems. And the freedom of digital networks will make government more democratic.
Baloney. Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.
Today, we see similar screeds about other new technologies, especially blockchain, which has become maybe best known as the underlying technology for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
As with the internet, blockchain has its boosters, naysayers and neutrals. It is at a relatively early stage of development and most people are still getting their heads around what it actually is, let alone what it could become in 5, 10, or 25 years’ time.
But many more entrepreneurs, startups, big companies, and even governments are seeing the massive potential of blockchain beyond bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and even banking and finance. Just as the internet moved beyond its initial adoptee community of academics, cyber pioneers and computer enthusiasts, blockchain is emerging from the shadow of bitcoin.
Just in the past couple of months, these organisations have been testing ways to incorporate blockchain into their operations and value chain:
● The Bank of Canada and the Monetary Authority of Singapore successfully completed a digital currency swap using blockchain.
● PepsiCo’s pilot project incorporating blockchain into its digital advertising yielded a 28% improvement in advertising efficiency.
● Amazon Web Services has made its Amazon Managed Blockchain generally available, allowing businesses to connect AWS accounts as nodes in their own blockchain network, with Amazon overseeing the management and maintainenance of the overall network.
The sober perspective on all of this is encapsulated by this quote from experienced tech venture capitalist Todd Hixon:
The bottom line for entrepreneurs: don’t expect Blockchain to change the world anytime soon. Blockchain architecture faces an uphill battle in many large-scale applications. Major near-term impact will be limited to a few markets with lower transactions volumes and higher importance for security and direct end-user control of personal data: medical and personal financial records are possibilities. Much of the currently-vigorous activity in the Blockchain world is option-buying or pure speculation.
As with any new wave of technology, there will be winners and losers. There will be those who brave the risks and go all in on blockchain, only to find they’ve backed the wrong horse, while others will seemingly stumble into good fortune.
But it’s vital for any entrepreneur or business to be thinking about the possible scenarios and at the very least investigating the ways in which your business could utilise or benefit from blockchain. So what camp does your business fall into? Believer, non-believer, or wait-and-see?