Hey Kai, your take is a classic “trough of disillusionment” perspective, no?
Tommy Leep
291

Tommy — fun to see you on here! I guess there are three things that make me skeptical of this unknown-future-benefit argument.

(1) Technologies are actually typically purpose built—one of the early internet engineers was on the comment thread here and took umbrage at everyone saying nobody knew what the internet was for for the first ten years. He was like, No, we wanted a better way to send messages and transfer files, and so we created one. We didn’t understand the eventual scale and implications, but we didn’t just stumble into it. I think that’s actually a little more typical—that a new technology might have unexpected implications, but is typically invented with a very specific thing in mind, that from day one it’s better at than the status quo. I don’t see that with blockchain.

(2) The technology implications of blockchain are opposite to the use cases—in most of the situations it’s proposed for (identity, transaction processing, voting, public database, contracts) the blockchain is directionally worse than status quo from a customer-needs perspective. As an identity layer, it’s one-factor rather than two; for voting, the experts are moving in the direction of paper ballots; for contracts, even crypto nuts don’t want to be held to the terms of buggy smart contracts; etc. And you point out that all the subject-matter experts prefer the status quo to the blockchain version and the crypto crowd responds, “Well in the future we’ll be able to make blockchain technology as good as non-blockchain technology!”

(3) The product pitch is almost always the technology itself—if you look at anyone’s blockchain company or solution, it puts the underlying technology first. It’s not like, “This is a football league where the fans vote on plays” it’s “Football league on the blockchain.” It’s not “the best way to digitally timestamp your documents” or “the cutest cartoon kittens” or “the cheapest way to move currency between bank accounts.” To me this is evidence that the initial interest is not real adoption—the customers are people who looking for for ways to use blockchain, not for people looking to solve a problem.

So many commenters cited IBM’s blockchain for supply chain consulting—but if you google IBM supply chain, on the top five pages blockchain is mentioned only once, in a headline under “Discover supply chain trends” that links to an article. The conclusion is, they are selling non-blockchain software to people who want to improve their supply chain, and selling blockchain software to people who want to buy blockchain software. IBM is happy to take your money, but they don’t actually think blockchain is a very good way to manage your supply chain.

I guess a year in maybe you can say, “cool technology, wonder what it’ll be used for,” but how long do you give it before you say, Wait, what everyone actually wants is a ledger—a truly revolutionary technology that can be used for everything from voting to banking to supply chain—and the distributed ledger is just a cool way to talk about multiple parties recording and sharing data (which I am all for).

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