LONDON -- Blockchain has the potential to completely transform how we live: That was the key message from Tools for Humanity, an event held by WeWork, the global startup co-working space and community, here in the UK capital as part of London Tech Week.
At the heart of the discussion was how blockchain could transform the economic system and the world around us, from government to property ownership and management. On hand to discuss those major topics were senior industry executives -- Michael Hudson, CEO of Bitstocks, Maria Marenco from the Swedish Blockchain Association and Simona Pop from The Bounties Network at ConsenSys -- who were interviewed during a panel session by Dylan Davies, the Innovation and Strategy Lead at Mastercard. (See Blockchain Will Revolutionize Our Interactions With Government.)
Hudson started the session by explaining Bitcoin and blockchain's benefit to the world, saying that, at its most basic, the economic system is "the more wealth you glean, the more freedom you have." Furthermore, Hudson added, this implied that money, the core of economics, was freedom -- the more money you have the more freedom you have. Except this is wrong, Hudson said -- money is "tokenized time," and how you deploy that means you find your own personal freedom or not.
Humans innately do not trust the system, Hudson added, because everything is registered to a centralized database -- i.e., the world's governments -- and we do not have full ownership because items like our cars or our houses can be taken away from us. In contrast, with the use of blockchain, we own what we own -- no questions asked. "Bitcoin's byproduct is sovereignty over what you acquire," Hudson stated.
Blockchain exists on a decentralized ledger whereby the users in a transaction each have a copy of the ledger. (Image: Chris Liverani, Unsplash)
Davies then asked the panel members what makes blockchain revolutionary. Marenco answered first, saying that, for her, it was the freedom and inclusivity that distributed ledger technology offered, which turned it from being an evolution of the internet to a true revolutionary technology. Pop, meanwhile, said that "the revolutionary thing about blockchain, or distributed ledgers, is that it acts like a spreadsheet, except that spreadsheet is not only on my computer, but everyone who takes part in a transaction, and once the details are there, it's read only: they cannot be modified or changed."
Hudson, meanwhile, looked at the big picture with his answer: "It is the potential of taking something out of the physical realm and into the digital realm that makes it truly revolutionary." He elaborated on this, saying the potential of blockchain meant that a property could be owned by multiple people according to a tokenized system, with access only coded in for certain parts of the property for those with the correct tokens.
The three then looked at potential use cases of blockchain. Pop used her experience at ConsenSys in her answer -- bounties. She clarified this by saying she didn't mean the traditional concept of a "bounty hunter" -- rather that, at the core, a bounty was a reward for completing a task. A specific example was giving people tokens for recycling a product, or teaching people to code. She mentioned an initiative in Afghanistan whereby girls who learn to code receive tokens that can be used as a form of currency in some places. Unlike "real" money, these tokens cannot be taken off them by their families or abusive men, because they are unquestionably theirs -- the tokens are unique to them.
Maria looked at healthcare, using the example of cancer patients whose data was valuable to multiple research facilities and hospitals. In the present day, this data gets shared among many, as long as the patients tick a box saying they're happy for this to happen, but, using blockchain, it would mean the data gets transmitted securely and the patient gets asked when before the data is shared, leading to increased privacy and control by patients over their own, highly personal, data.
There is still confusion amongst the general public about the difference between Bitcoin and blockchain. (Image: Thought Catalog, Unsplash)
Hudson once again looked at the big picture, saying that his vision was to "tokenize everything," and the potential for this was huge. "Imagine if everything in your house was tokenized and access was controlled [based on] who had the correct tokens versus someone who didn't," he said. "It would eliminate crime, because as soon as your TV or laptop was stolen, no one except you could use it," he added.
Finally, Davies asked all three about the challenges of blockchain. All three said similar things: that distributed ledger technology is so new and this will cause growing pains and in some cases that is already the case. There are issues with scalability, power usage -- it was recently revealed global Bitcoin mining uses the same amount of electricity as the whole population of Ireland -- and a lack of regulation, which is both good and bad. Hudson added that scale will be a significant issue -- currently only about 5 million people use blockchain-based products, whereas that could scale to the same number of people that use the Internet -- more than 5 billion.
Phil Oakley, Site Editor, TechX365