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Blockchain - Not invented here

In May, 2017, I was asked, by Interxion, a European Data Centre provider, to host a panel on Blockchain. Long a skeptic, I leapt at the chance to explore what experts in the field thought about the topic.
The panellists were:

Before kicking off the panel session, we were treated to a keynote speach by Professor Michael Mainelli, executive chairman at think tank and venture firm Z/YEN Group

By long-term skeptic I don't mean to say that there is no value in Blockchain, but, rather, that possibly the claims of it being the tincture that will cure all ills are somewhat over cooked. Given the panellists, this seemed an excellent forum to test this hypothesis.

You can read a full reports of who said what at the Markets Media website, but the jist was clear. Blockchain has many great and valuable uses; however, it is definitely being oversold. For a start, as Michael Mainelli pointed out in his keynote speech, the technologies are nothing new. The enrcyption technologies used by Blockchain can be traced back to way before the emergence of Blockchain in 2008, and distributed database technology is as old as some of the cheese I found in the fridge last week[1].

So why all the hype? One explanation lies in that human tendency to swarm, the hive mind. We don't want to miss out, so when everyone else seems to be doing something we assume we should be too. So, many people run after the Blockchain because they see others and don't wan't to be left behind. I've heard a lot of people recently talk about the wisdom of the crowd. Sure, if you're a penguin living in the frozen wastelands of Antarctica, huddling in a group is a sensible way to keep warm; however, if you're a bison on the American plains, you might find your herding tendencies exploited by the native indians to drive you, and your fellow fodder, into a canyon where you become easy prey. Blockchain might help you, but don't assume it will; it might not.

There's a mistaken belief that Blockchain is cheap. Actually, the computational power required for most operations is anything but.

Next, there are privacy issues. This is particularly relevant in light of the recently introduced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that we were all spammed about in April and May 2018. You can read a previous article I wrote on Linkedin on this specific topic a while ago. One thing to keep in mind on the privacy issue is that even if all the data is encrypted and the keys are kept securely, the imminent advent of Quantum Computing could easily unlock that encryption, at which point you're noncompliant.

So, it is good for anything? Well, yes. It's great for non-privacy, non-critical tasks, like vote counting[2], and for acting as a record of truth for non personal data.

  1. Only kidding about the cheese! ↩︎

  2. I'm not implying that voting isn't in itself a critical function, just that it's not core to the business of most businesses. ↩︎

Blockchain - Not invented here
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