The funny thing about technology is, it’s hard to recognize when it’s really in the process of transforming life as we know it. Most of us have lived through some pretty big digital revolutions, like the invention of the internet, the creation of the smartphone, and the roll out of a social platform so big, it would allow anyone in the world with a computerized device to share images and information. While these technologies have altered the essence of how we interact and connect with one another, pinpointing the exact moment when they came on the scene is a bit trickier. All of a sudden—poof—they were just there and already woven into the very fiber of our culture, our society, and who we are as people.
And now, on the cusp of arguably our biggest revolution of this decade—namely, the implementation of blockchain—we are still not totally sure what it is, where it came from, or how it will change our lives forever. As a distributed database, or digital ledger, with “blocks” of continuously growing information, blockchain technology enables the backbone functions of all cryptocurrency transactions. But oh, it’s so much more. As a public record that is not only 100% unalterable, or immutable, it is beholden to no government, no bank, and no specific group or individual. It stands alone as a neutral mathematical process, with no need for human oversight or central recordkeeping. Each node in the form of a network-connected computer gets a copy of the blockchain, which is then downloaded automatically. Further, blockchain technology creates an indelible, unchangeable record whose authenticity can never be questioned, not even by the disinformation plague that appears to be sweeping the world.
Where did blockchain technology come from?
We have bitcoin to thank for the creation of blockchains. As distributed ledger technology (DLT), it is used to verify transactions, which of course made the actual use of this cryptocurrency possible. Blockchain relies on cryptography to function, ensuring it can always be distributed but never altered or copied. As the technology behind the world’s most infamous digital coin, DLT has been used by millions and million of people over the past decade—although many of them likely didn’t even realize that by using bitcoin, they were also inadvertently growing the record-keeping technology of the future into something bigger and badder than anything we’ve seen before.
What is blockchain up to now?
This underlying technology of bitcoin has since been separated from the coin itself and examined as a legitimate solution in its own right. You could say blockchain isn’t just for bitcoin anymore, as it now has a broad range of uses. This DLT is now finding its way into all sort of seemingly unrelated industries, such as real estate, data storage, asset management, health care—and of course, the financial sector of fiat currency.
According to Deloitte, one of the leading authorities in the market, “the momentum is shifting” for blockchain, so it can assume a more breakout-worthy position. No longer is it being viewed as just an extension of bitcoin—it is now being considered on its own merits and evaluated (and appreciated) for its own practical applications to all forms of business. Entrepreneurs and out-of-the-box thinkers have recently evolved out of the honeymoon phase and have started to run with blockchain, building practical, profitable business models for its use.
That said, DLT has been implemented in “emerging disruptors, rather than in more traditional enterprises that are still working on how to incorporate digital into their existing operations and protocols,” says Deloitte. The word is out on blockchain, and savvy, risk-taking companies are not afraid and have shoveled more resources behind blockchain in an effort to achieve even great efficiency in their new business models and revenue sources.
Does blockchain have problems?
Sure, all cutting-edge innovations have troubles, mostly in the form of haters and naysayers who continue to resist civilization’s impending digital transformation. This is where the “sensing our own technological advancements in real-time” becomes challenging. Even though blockchain is slated to take off—no, really take off—in about five years, you don’t hear many people talk about it, you don’t see it on your bank statement, you can kind of even forget it’s out there.
And the haters continue to hate—today, 39% of of the global sampling say they think blockchain is “overhyped,” a number that creeps up to 44% in the U.S., a country whose lifeblood relies on capitalism-loving innovations like that of DLT. Although these opinions likely stem from the steep increase in token values as of late, an incentivizing feature businesses have started using to drive investment, the numbers themselves are not indicative of what’s really happening. Blockchain is absolutely, positively not moving in the wrong direction—quite the opposite. We just haven’t noticed it’s growing up.
What does the future hold for blockchain?
Well, no one really knows the answer to that question, but all signs point to good things. Useful things. Beneficial things. And highly disruptive things. Because blockchain is still in the early stages, patience will be needed to witness its full maturation in any market sector. As financial executives pave the way by using DLT to reexamine various antiquated processes and functions, that have frankly remained static for centuries, professionals in areas like health care and real estate are just beginning to eye it with more optimism.
The future of blockchain can probably be best evaluated through what it really is—namely, a sophisticated ledger system. As a “Trust-as-a-service (TaaS), it can accomplish all sorts of things. Financial transactions and payments could become instant. No three-day waiting time, no grace period for funds “to clear,” — instant. Medical records could become fully digitized and transferable without authorization from health care organizations, meaning your own medical records would become your own, held in your own digital wallet, and available to use or share with any doctor or medical association you choose. Talk about returning the power to the people. Any technology capable of changing our lives to such an extent is worth waiting for. And so, we must wait.