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Photo: Stefan Palios
Blockchain is for worried people. The worry, mind you, comes not from meekness or insecurity but a concern that malicious actors are taking advantage of loopholes in our current social contract.
Drawing speakers and attendees from around the world, the inaugural Blockchain Revolution Global Summit ate a slice of humble pie from 2017’s Bitcoin mania. Instead of touting new digital wealth, speakers and attendees talked about the (somewhat limited) current applications of blockchain technology and its (exponential) future potential.
A new age of interdependence
During his opening keynote, Don Tapscott, founder of the Blockchain Research Institute and Blockchain Revolution Global, reminded the audience that the world is more connected than it ever has been.
“Everything we do affects others,” Tapscott said, adding that society is also more “conflicted” and polarized than it’s ever been.
The solution, for him, is nothing short of a new social contract.
He believes blockchain will provide that. Why? Because, according to him, blockchain doesn’t require humans to be trusted mediators. The technology does that by itself. Or so the vision goes. The current state is far from that vision.
Still, the real builders of blockchain see hope and issued a new call: for blockchain technologies to come together as a “symphony”, as one speaker phrased it, so that interdependence can be empowered by technology, not hindered by it.
Why don’t millennials buy diamonds?
Mocking a question asked by the media many times over, Everledger CEO Leanne Kemp talked about how her company is using blockchain technology to add transparency into the diamond supply chain.
According to Kemp, the current system of tracking diamonds through the supply chain is completely paper-based. Each level in the supply chain – from extraction, to manufacturing, to delivery and retail – has to simply trust that the paper slip from the previous level is correct via matching codes on literal pieces of paper. This system worked fine for tracking things, and since the UN’s declaration against blood diamonds, Kemp says over 99% of diamonds are now traceable from non-conflict mines.
But it’s losing its effectiveness as a marker of quality with millennials who demand proof of claims. Now, the “I think this is correct” is no longer good enough. That’s where blockchain comes in.
“All I did was replicate, with tech, the human way of doing things globally,” said Kemp, referring to how she built the blockchain system for Everledger.
This is just one of many small, yet profound, applications of blockchain. However, Kemp hopes that people will stop talking about “blockchain” in the future.
“I don’t think we’ll be talking about blockchain in five years,” she said. “I think we’ll dial it back.”
Instead, she believes that blockchain will go the way of HTTP protocols or web browsers. They have become table stakes in the internet world. We instead talk about the applications built on top of the protocols and browsers – in short, the usefulness of it, not the underlying technology.
Upskilling humanity with blockchain
In another talk, marketing technology (martech) entrepreneur Jeremy Epstein looked at blockchain from a different perspective: the skills people will need in order to work with the new technology. Far from asking everyone in the audience to become blockchain developers, he stated that each major technological advancement required different human-focused skills from its users… and blockchain is no different.
The onset of social media, which he used as an example, changed the marketing game from one directional to a conversation.
“Now you have empowered customers who can take down a brand with a tweet,” he added.
Blockchain does something similar, creating an “explosion” of touch points between brands and end-users. Where social media added a few applications that became new central actors (like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), blockchain technology brings with it the opportunity for hundreds, if not thousands or more, additional touch points with customers.
To cope with that shift, Epstein recommended marketers in particular gain skills in data science, network valuation, and game theory.
Data science for general understanding of how correlations work in decentralized systems (work that Facebook or Google analytics won’t be able to pick up). Network valuation and game theory skills will help increase understanding of bids for user attention. This is similar to bids on paid performance campaigns, but with the added dimensions of interacting directly with end users and working in the secondary markets of cryptocurrency, which are subject to wild swings.
What’s a blockchain, anyway?
Instead of touting the potential to get rich on crypto, the BRG summit offered a lot of references to underestimated technologies that made it big – the internet, for one, but also companies like Netflix. The not-so-subtle point is that blockchain is Netflix, not Blockbuster; it’s the future, not the lumbering giant of the past.
While a bit trite on the surface, these comparisons are useful in that they cement a new facet of blockchain innovation into the mindsets of creators: in order for it to be successful, people need to both understand it and want to use it.