Recently, I was asked to provide a quote on Blockchain technology for the global publication, Social Value and Intangibles Review, published by the Centre for Citizenship Enterprise and Governance. The quote I offered was:
“Wherever people, processes, businesses, governments, or the social good requires proof of identity, ownership, transactions, or commitments; Blockchain technologies promise to meet those needs with a degree of trust and integrity never before possible.”
But for many, the question remaining is why Blockchain is so especially powerful in addressing these needs. After all aren’t other emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D Printing, Augmented Reality, and especially Artificial Intelligence (AI) equally important? In a recent article I read quoting five other Futurists, all five included AI as among the important trends of the future. Not a single one even mentioned Blockchain.
Now, I’m a big believer in AI. I’ve been writing and speaking about it for over 15 years. I spent several years as Vice President for Commercial Systems for a leading developer of AI technologies. So I fully understand the importance of Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing as well as such less well known AI technologies as Bayesian Belief Networks, Intent Interpretation, and Least Commitment Planning. AI will continue to increase in importance.
But, AI is only as good as the quality of information it accesses. If the information AI uses is inaccurate or unreliable, so will be the results.
The same holds true for IoT. For the billions and eventually trillions of Things connected to our networks, even more important than the ability of those Things to communicate will be our ability, and the abilities of our automated systems (including AI systems), to verify the identity of those Things. This will help ensure the accuracy of our decisions and actions with respect to those Things. It will also significantly enhance our abilities to ensure that those Things are not hacked or hijacked by malefactors.
Blockchain technologies can provide solutions to meet the demands for accurate reliable information of AI and IoT as well as those of more traditional systems and the people who use them. How this is done is the point where, all too often in Blockchain circles, the discussion descends deep into the weeds of the technical details of how Blockchain works. But much more important than how Blockchain works to almost everyone (except the engineers who themselves are designing and implementing Blockchain-based systems) is what Blockchain technologies DO. They do four critically important things:
1. They allow two or more Entities, people, businesses, other organizations, etc. to securely share information on the Internet – without having to use (or pay) a third-party intermediary,
2. They maintain permanent, immutable, time-stamped Records of Identity of people, organizations, or things; of Ownership or Status of assets, both digital and physical; of Transactions; or of contractual Commitments,
3. They afford complete transparency to view this information or to both view and update information – for those authorized to do so, and
4. They provide unhackable security against those unauthorized to view or change this same information.
This last assertion often stirs the emotions of cryptographers, both legitimate and self-proclaimed who will state that nothing is unhackable. And while, technically, they are correct; Blockchain technology, properly implemented, is economically unhackable. That is, the time, money, and resources that would be required to successfully hack Blockchain technology are so vast that there is little if any economic justification for doing so. This explains in large part why Blockchain technology has never been successfully hacked.
Putting all of this together we can see that other emerging technologies such as 3D Printing, IoT, and especially AI, can provide point solutions to specific problems, sometimes very important and valuable problems to solve. But Blockchain technologies take it a giant step farther.
By providing the infrastructural glue tying multiple entities together with accurate, reliable information, Blockchain technologies play a crucial role in enabling the Digital Transformation of business models and indeed entire business, governmental, and social ecosystems to the benefit of all.