Lessons for London: How the UK Can Be a Global Leader in Blockchain
Block.one President Rob Jesudason believes the city in which he was raised can lead the blockchain revolution — but only if it creates the right regulatory environment
Today, London stands on the cusp of a great opportunity — and it needs to be careful not to miss it.
While all the headlines in the UK are consumed by Brexit, and how Britain will eventually leave the European Union, there is a less widely-discussed question that is equally vital to the UK’s economic future — and that is around London’s relationship to humanity’s next technological revolution.
There is no debate that the Internet of the future is going to live on the blockchain. A technology that has the potential to transform the way we live, work and do business by making our everyday digital infrastructure smarter, more secure and more transparent.
This week, London hosted one of the biggest events on the global blockchain calendar, the annual Blockchain Live conference and expo. It’s an annual event that brings together everyone from established luminaries in the sector to blockchain start-ups, c-suite executives exploring what the technology can do for their operations, gifted developers and entrepreneurs, and of course investors.
Few cities can bring such an eclectic mix of people together in one space, and that’s part of what makes London such a dynamic place to do business. But while most attendees have embraced this technology and are grappling with how best to adopt it to address real-world problems or business needs, one major issue remains unresolved: regulation. And therein lies London’s opportunity.
As someone raised and educated in London, I have always loved its ability to be simultaneously at the centre of global business and at the cutting edge of change in business and commerce. But it would be rash to assume London’s ascendancy in the blockchain industry is a foregone conclusion, even as events like Blockchain Live create a buzz around what might be achieved.
A look back at the last technological revolution, brought about by the internet, proves the point.
In the internet revolution, we saw a select group of companies emerge as global titans. What explains their success? Well, it seems to me self-evident that the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, Alibaba and Tencent — all of which count among the most valuable companies in the world today — benefited from being able to emerge and grow in regulatory, tax and trading environments that were conducive, constructive and incentive-driven.
Globally, consumers have been the biggest beneficiaries of those companies’ evolution — mainly through increased choice, supply and competitive pricing. But the last two decades also show us that the tech industry’s footprint across different markets has been uneven.
In fact, if you look back over the last half-century or so, this is consistent with a pattern in which the countries and regions that prosper the most are the ones where there has been concerted government policy to encourage and incentivise innovation — whether through forward-thinking tax and regulatory regimes or through capital investment in education and research and development.
In the US, tech trailblazers like Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Amazon and Google thrived because they were supported to take risks and disrupt traditional businesses. In China, the same thing happened with the emergence of behemoths like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu.
In Europe and the UK, however, we have not seen a similar emergence in recent years of world-dominant companies — either in the tech sector or in other sectors.
In the past, while the US had world-beating companies like General Electric and Exxon, Europe could boast of Siemens, Philips, BP and ICI. And going further back Britain in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries was of course the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. The country’s success was founded on outward-looking, can-do policies towards trade, exports and sales and resulted in the creation of world-class companies.
What’s clear is that with every tech revolution there are winners and losers. The last one took place in the US, before being replicated in China. The blockchain revolution is an open race but I am convinced the winners will be those countries or regions that put in place the most constructive and favorable environments to let business grow.
The technology is already evolving fast and closing in on the tipping point when we could see mass adoption. At Block.one we’re ahead of others in the space in terms of providing the fastest blockchain protocol in the world. EOSIO can support complex business needs without sacrificing operability. We also have in place the developer talent and business leadership to meet the challenge of securing blockchain’s mass adoption. But besides a clear vision and great technology, we need conducive environments that foster innovation and growth.
Being based in Hong Kong, we benefit from being in one of the world’s most dynamic and entrepreneurial cities. I believe that although there is no global centre of gravity for blockchain, one or more will emerge over the next couple of years.
London has a lot to offer the blockchain industry. With the right incentives to let companies thrive and to attract the best talent from around the globe, it can achieve the kind of success earlier generations of tech companies have enjoyed in San Francisco or Shenzhen. I for one hope that this opportunity is not missed to create a genuine blockchain crucible in the UK.