Moving from Trust to Truth with Blockchain

November 9 2016


A Pandora’s box of challenges offering a Cornucopia of opportunities.

Is it difficult to know where to start when trying to write a useful post about some key activities in Blockchain and Bitcoin, because the world consists of the widest range of reader, including investors, entrepreneurs, professionals, the deepest technical and business experts right the way through to the ordinary person on the street and those that are only just discovering Blockchain or distributed ledger technology for the first time.

Also because the potential impact could be so profound, any writing (especially as short as this) will rarely do it justice. Even the terminology can be confusing (which I am not going to address here and keep it simple by using just ‘Blockchain’), but for the purpose of this article I have decided to offer some short answers to a few questions I am often asked by those new to Blockchain, and then share some observations on some of the exciting conversations taking place in and around the Kickstart Accelerator and the wider Swiss and UK Blockchain community.

And so to the first question:

What is Blockchain? Upon reflection I decided not to take up space answering that question here, partly because I think the average reader of this particular blog probably knows quite a lot already, but if you are relatively new to the topic then a simple search will produce a lot of excellent primers, but here are a couple of useful links: (No affiliation – just liked the clarity of the description).

A short video from the World Economic Forum, here.

Investopedia has some useful definition paragraphs here:

(Note: – not all definitions on the page are relevant such as “Block Trade” but most are).

What will the impact of Blockchain be?

In my view – two words sum it up: – utterly profound.

But both in a really good way as well as in some surprising, challenging and unintended ways. If we consider for a moment that one of the key ‘useful’ things being introduced with Blockchain is the concept of moving from ‘centralised trust at a price’ to an agreed, shared ‘distributed truth’ with potentially greatly reduced repeating (and costly) need for a central trust authority, it really is a potential cornucopia of astonishingly useful opportunities. But what these opportunities will require (particularly from those that are building or even regulating these new opportunities), is a whole new level of understanding and capability, both technical, legal, business, regulatory, and not forgetting the need for great capability around the ethics around some of these opportunities. We need that in order to ensure that the purposeful or accidental misuse of Blockchain doesn’t unleash a true Pandora’s box of unintended consequences.

The other important point to make is that the pace of change is fast. And those that are predicting 10 to 20 year adoption timeframes are forgetting the drive of the “unreasonable entrepreneur,” backed by bold risk capital and the incredibly low digital barriers to entry nowadays. Also the flight of some of the best talent, fed up with fighting fires and supporting legacy, as well as almost weekly announcements of senior executives heading up or advising some of the boldest new startups.

I was asked what I thought some of the key examples were of interesting developments we have seen over recent years in Blockchain, Bitcoin and Ethereum:

One of the questions we are most often asked (by government, corporates, investors, and startups) is “when or how long will Blockchain take to enter the mainstream and what are the barriers/things we should be thinking about.”

I will take a stab at a qualitative answer below, but first let me share an anecdote:

A few months ago I was chatting with one of the members of our team in London during our preparations for the Kickstart Accelerator in Zurich and he asked me the same question. Bear in mind this is someone who during their interview told me that they had read the original Satoshi Nakamoto white paper and had written a paper on the subject. My answer at the time was: – “when it becomes as transparent to us as TCP/IP, and we can just enjoy the benefits of Blockchain technology and all its applications in business, government and society.”

His reply was interesting because it actually made my point perfectly: He said:- “what’s TCP/IP?”

So there you have a simple answer: The equivalent young person in a reasonable number of years who are “digital natives” will hopefully automatically assume they can enjoy the benefits of things like:

And many more use cases as we experiment and test the technology as it applies to the widest range of industries and uses.

So how do we get there? Well one way is that we continue to encourage the major corporates to engage with some of the most innovative startups such as those in the Kickstart Accelerator, and push to test and try these new solutions together.

Another thing that needs to happen sooner rather than later is that national regulators need to really grasp what Blockchain really means. Challenging concepts such as trans-national distribution of data, stateless domicile, unclear place of supply and use, trustless trust, more on this here and a whole new grasp of fifty shades of “identity” in the new world.

Some are getting there, such as the UK through its regulatory sandboxes and the sharing of knowledge between countries. And I for one am rarely pushing for regulators to be asked to do more; but this stuff is so important, and rather than knee jerk reactions to try solve problems once they have happened we need to encourage them to engage and embrace the technical, geographic, operational and even ethical parameters of this fast emerging field, so they know what to encourage and not regulate, and what to protect.