For this week’s interview, Chain Reaction caught up with Alex Tapscott, author of Blockchain Revolution.
“You and your father Don have been on an amazing journey over the last year or so to share the messages of your book, ‘Blockchain Revolution’. Can you tell me a bit about the kind of responses you have had to the book’s message?
Over the past 6 months, I have carried out 40 speaking engagements in every Continent except Africa. In most of the places I have been to speak about the book I would have expected knowledgable audiences and that has been largely true. But I have been pleasantly surprised, and even shocked, at how much people already know about Blockchain even in countries with a fairly nascent tech community. The breadth of industries has also been surprising – interest has moved from the financial and technology sectors into a range of attendees from Government, and other industrial sectors outside finance such as supply chain businesses, energy companies and manufacturing. The industrial sector in Germany, in particular, seems very switched on to the possibilities offered by Blockchain technology.
What are the messages and language around blockchain that you have found resonate most with your audiences? Are there particular examples that seem more sucessful in converting new people to the idea of a ‘blockchain revolution’?
The key message is that Blockchain is not a technology that changes just one or two industries. To be sure, financial services will be changed by Blockchain but the potential is far greater than that. Since this technology enables peer-to-peer transactions with no need for intermediaries to establish trust, it enables totally new business models. Blockchain will drive down costs for individuals and businesses because it reduces friction and risk. But looking at Blockchain as an opportunistic tool which saves costs and adds value is quite a short-term view. If you look at Blockchain that way you may be missing out on seeing how it will change the entire structure of your market. Thinking about Blockchain requires taking a strategic view on how this innovation can enable you to expand or open into new markets, products and services that may have been impossible in the past. Often industries are quick to miss the opportunities happening in their own field – there is a reason why Marriott didn’t invent AirBnB and Blockbuster didn’t invent Netflix. In the first era of the internet, no one could have predicted the emergence of the sharing economy and Blockchain represents a second era of the internet which is moving faster still.
You have spoken quite a bit about the power of Blockchain to change industries other than just financial services – things like the music business, voting and so on. Can you give some examples of concrete projects that are happening now with blockchain outside of banking and finance?
I believe that 2017 will be the year when a lot of proof of concepts (POCs) transition into production use cases. Just recently we have seen big announcements from Hyperledger and IBM and, on the same day, the launch of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance. Larger enterprises are partnering and investing in a significant way but ultimately they still need to know that the projects they invest in will be scaleable and secure so governance issues remain key.
I know you have a strong interest in governance of bitcoin/blockchain. What’s the current state of play in your view?
It’s now 3 years since my father and I were on a skiing holiday and came up with a plan to launch a Bitcoin Governance Network. So much has changed since then in terms of public awareness and understanding as well as the range of investors and enterprises involved in the industry. I’m very optimistic about the future but current progress still tends to come from ‘camps’ – be it the bitcoin camp, the Ethereum camp, Hyperledger, R3/Corda etc. In the future the ecosystem will need to come together more to deliver better education, policy work, advocacy, and address tech standards and interoperability of different platforms.
From a policymaking perspective, how well informed do you think policymakers and regulators around the world are when it comes to this technology?
Policymakers ultimately have a duty to educate themselves but civil society groups and business leaders also have a key role to play in helping in that process to make sure there is quality research and information provision. Regulators need to remain an active part of conferences and conversation about Blockchain.
What are the key things companies should do if they are thinking about embarking on a Blockchain project?
There are 4 key things I suggest:
- Personal use – Get familiar with the technology, download a bitcoin wallet, buy a small amount of bitcoin or another digital currency, get used to sending digital assets and become hands on. This is the best way to learn.
- Get Educated – via articles, books and events
- Start a Pilot – Think big but start small. Work with talented start ups and tech vendors or hire in talent
- Start Now – This Blockchain Revolution will happen faster than you think. You ignore new technology at your peril. We are in a period of exponential growth in advancement of blockchain projects. We are already sitting on the 2nd half of the chess board.
What do you think the current US and European political landscape post-Brexit means for bitcoin and blockchain. Is it positive or negative?
We can argue that Blockchain is not just a technology revolution but a philosophical shift in the way we think about the world. This technology came about during a period of growing mistrust in institutions, politics, so-called ‘self-serving elites’ and special interests, which has contributed to the rise of populism. Blockchain provides an opportunity to help restore trust and resolve this crisis of legitimacy and accountability. We must not just think about Blockchain allowing Governments to do business better and more cheaply – for example, reducing welfare fraud – but also about doing the ‘business of government’ better. How can e-voting via the Blockchain increase democratic participation, for example, or can policy be made via smart contracts? How can we use Blockchain in the public sector to help build a more democratic future?”