Several months ago, while browsing for online resources on blockchain in the context of real life use cases, I came across a video “The Blockchain Transformation” (by Jack Shaw). I then had the opportunity to hear Jack give a keynote on blockchain at the Blockchain Business Conference in India. These provided great insights on the relevance of blockchain across a range of industry verticals. His expertise on the strategic business implications of blockchain technology is widely recognized.
Here, in an exclusive interview, Jack Shaw, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the American Blockchain Council, shares his perspectives on blockchain.
Let us start with basics. How would you explain blockchain to an 8 year old?
Jack: Blockchain is a technology that lets you share information on the Internet safely with everyone who needs to see it, and without anyone who is not supposed to see it being able to. With blockchain, you can safely share information about who you are, about things you own (like a bicycle or a video game), about what you have bought or sold (like your school lunch or trading cards), and even about what you have agreed to (like cleaning your room in exchange for a weekly allowance). With blockchain, more people can use the internet, use it safely and securely, and for more things than ever before.
A lot of enterprises still ask “Why blockchain?” What would be your answer to a CEO on ‘why blockchain’?
Jack: I would give CEOs a slightly more sophisticated version of the same story as above. From a CEO’s perspective, the technical details of how blockchains work are NOT important. What is important is what blockchains do.
Blockchains perform four vital functions that we have not been able to do well before. And, they do them well together. These are
- They allow the creation of permanent, immutable, signed, and time-stamped records of identity, ownership, transactions, or contractual commitments.
- They allow these records to be shared among two or more entities – people, businesses, governmental agencies, or other organizations – without any of those entities having to rely on any of the others to be the ‘Master‘ record keeper. And without having to pay a third party intermediary to be the master record keeper. This reduces costs across the ecosystem by eliminating ‘rents‘ charged by powerful ecosystem participants and/or service fees paid to third parties record keepers not otherwise required.
- They make this shared information globally available, in near real time, to all parties authorized to view it. And they allow the subset of those authorized to see this information who are also authorized to update it to do so quickly and easily.
- They provide essentially unhackable protection against those unauthorized to update those records from doing so or even to see the relevant information without approval.
As a result, blockchains can provide entire ecosystems with a real time, single source of consistent and reliable data. This allows participants to put in place systems and processes to reduce errors and delays, to increase productivity, to accelerate processes, and to eliminate significant costs in any industry.
Which industry verticals and use cases are gaining traction in 2018? Why?
Jack: There are hundreds of use cases currently in place or being implemented in 2018 – dozens in virtually every industry that has examined its inter-enterprise processes for such opportunities. Some of these use cases are quite interesting. Unless the discussion is confined to a single industry vertical, identifying specific individual use cases gaining traction in 2018 risks understating the scope and impact of blockchain across business and society on a global basis.
Blockchain is either in production or being actively implemented in practically every industry vertical. Those growing most rapidly in their implementations of blockchain in 2018 include financial services, supply chain/logistics/international trade, energy, healthcare, and governmental agencies of various types.
Do you observe any geo-specific (US, Europe, APAC) trends on the uptake of blockchain within enterprises?
Jack: There are some very interesting geographical trends taking place with respect to adoption of blockchain, and some of them are rather counterintuitive. There is probably more blockchain work being done in the United States than in any other single country. But relative to both the size of its economy and the sophistication of its technology resources, the USA is just in the middle of the pack.
A great deal of sophisticated blockchain work is being done across Europe in many countries and industries. In total, it certainly appears to significantly exceed that done in the USA. China is taking a leading role in blockchain, with a substantial amount of work also being done in APAC countries such as Dubai, Japan, Korea, and Australia.
When mobile phone was first adopted in the 1990s, we saw rapid uptake in Africa and parts of Asia and South America. The reason was that those areas previously had been underinvested in wired communications. So in effect, they leapfrogged traditional ‘developed’ economies in their adoption of wireless technologies.
We are seeing a similar phenomenon with blockchain. Smaller countries or those with less investment in legacy infrastructures are, in many cases, taking the lead in adopting blockchain. Such countries as Estonia, Switzerland, Georgia (the Eurasian country, not the US state), Dubai, Singapore, among others are outperforming the great economic powers in adoption of blockchain technologies relative to their size.
What are the challenges you have seen for enterprises who are keen to embark on the blockchain journey?
Jack: Research done last year shows that the three leading hurdles to blockchain adoption are:
- Understanding blockchain and use cases
- Communicating blockchain to key decision makers
- Evaluating costs and benefits of use cases
In other words, the barriers to blockchain use are not technical. They are centered on developing a clear understanding on the part of senior executive decision makers as to the strategic business implications of blockchain and how it can be leveraged to drive digital transformation of both internal business models and processes and, in fact, entire business and social ecosystems.
What are the key enablers to expedite blockchain adoption within enterprises?
Jack: The key enablers are those that address the barriers identified in the question above. These include education of senior management and development of well thought out long-term (3-5 years) strategic plans for blockchain transformation, or more explicitly, blockchain-enabled digital transformation.
What is the most fascinating application that you have heard, read or seen on blockchain?
Jack: I think, perhaps, the most interesting and important application of blockchain technology is for voting. It has already been approved by NASDAQ for stockholder voting in the US. Testing of blockchain based systems for governmental voting has already started taking place in countries such as Estonia and Sierra Leone.
Blockchain-based voting holds the promise of dramatically increasing turnout by allowing people to securely vote online from the privacy of their homes rather than having to travel to and congregate at polling places. It would also allow people to vote as many times as they like with each vote cancelling the last. That way, voters could change their minds based on new information right up until the voting deadline.
Finally, combined with blockchain-based digital identification, and leveraging biometrics, it could essentially eliminate voter fraud. Along with that, it would eliminate spurious claims of voter fraud by elections losers – and possibly even spurious claims by winners that they won despite alleged voter fraud!
* Blockchain will be mainstream by
Jack: 2025, although we will see widespread adoption in many industries around the world by 2020.
* Blockchain and AI
Jack: Go hand in hand. AI depends critically on being able to validate the source and accuracy of data. Blockchain can serve that function.
* Blockchain and IoT
Jack: Also go hand in hand along with AI. As we move from billions to trillions of Things on the Internet, we will need AI to analyze and act on all that data, and blockchain to verify its sources and accuracy.
* Blockchain and connected cars
Jack: It is a marriage made in heaven. Connected cars will be among the most important things on the IoT. We will need blockchain to validate the sources and accuracy of data – both produced by and consumed by connected cars.
* Blockchain is the elixir of life
Jack: Only in the minds of starry-eyed Utopians. It is simply a technology. But it is one that can profoundly improve global economies and societies.
* Blockchain will change the world
Jack: While it is not a panacea, blockchain will change the world as surely as the printing press, industrial automation, electricity, computers, and the internet did.
About Jack Shaw
Jack Shaw is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the American Blockchain Council. He is a leading expert on the strategic business implications of blockchain technology who has spoken and consulted on blockchain around the world. Jack has been a Technology Futurist for over 30 years – helping others to understand the impact of emerging technologies. In addition to blockchain, he is widely recognized for his expertise in breakthrough technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, and 3D Printing. He is a world-renowned keynote speaker. He was recently voted one of the World’s Top 25 Professional Speakers by over 27,000 meeting planners, executives and conference attendees – the only Technology speaker to be accorded this recognition.
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