With use cases ranging from replacing modern currency to tracing the origins of wine, Blockchain is an open field for exploration. Discussions on the Blockchain most often center on its financial implications, with a general focus on scrambling to keep up with the disruptive force of Bitcoin and the world of cryptocurrency.
According to IBM, with 15% of financial institutions using Blockchain technology — and an expectation for that to ramp up to 66% by 2020 — it’s hard to ignore the impact the Bitcoin bubble in December had on our discussions of technology, innovation and the future. Everyone wants to know how to become a Bitcoin millionaire, but there is a much broader spectrum of applications for this technology. Armed with an understanding of how Blockchain works, entrepreneurs are finding new avenues to put the technology to work: from cracking down on election fraud, to creating in-game marketplaces for cosmetic items in video games
To Jeremy Clark, assistant professor at Concordia University, the key to moving past the financial focus is, scalability. For both cryptocurrency and the Blockchain technology at large, there is a gap between potential and practice. As he notes, though many in the tech community understand — and may even have stakes in — Bitcoin, it has yet to replace FIAT currency as we know it. The focus, as Clark sees it, should be to get Blockchain technology into the hands of as many developers as possible, to create solutions that can reach across industries and bring the blockchain into the mainstream.
Mantle Technologies Inc. hopes to address this in the B2B space through the deployment of virtualized Blockchains, allowing companies to build proofs of concepts on the Blockchain, quicker and cheaper than ever before. Mantle’s vision, as described by cofounder Pascal Leblanc, is to accelerate the adoption of Blockchain. By looking at non-financial uses, they are probing how the technology could not only change the way we store data, but alter our perception of data itself.
Blockchain will allow access to new insights, and new understandings of what is true, what is permanent, and what is legal. But decentralization and deregulation present a new challenge, where developers find it difficult to work together, or even find structure at all. For a fully decentralized, non-hierarchical system to function, every stakeholder has to participate in every decision — an exciting framework conceptually, but challenging in practice. As Jeremy points out, with Bitcoin, there’s no one in charge, and no hierarchy to make decisions, “the governance structure needs to be decentralized as well.”
To operate in a decentralized world, we need to be prepared to go beyond what’s convenient, and to know as much as we can.
Decentralized knowledge is key to the spirit of Blockchain. As Vincent Gauthier of Catallaxy notes, the evolution of Bitcoin was the result of open source innovation, initially driven by its anonymous creator(s) and then taken over by the Bitcoin community. The creation came “out of nowhere,” Vincent suggests, implying its lack of association to any company or university. While certain use-cases may demand private networks, the innovation culture of the technology remains open-source, with a community of inventors working around it. Ultimately, the disruptive force of Blockchain is proposed to have the power to rework how we think about governance and new ideas. Vincent describes it as “open innovation,” and it’s a trend that he believes will stick around.
For the Blockchain enthusiasts, the most important thing is to get informed — then, get involved. Innovative communities across the globe are captivated by Blockchain and its innovative properties, and all it takes is a single idea to spark the next big wave. At District 3, startups and students alike are working on Blockchain solutions to common problems, and looking to understand more about the disruptive technology. Participants in the Residency Program at District 3 are working directly with Mantle to envision new use cases for the Blockchain.
For Sofia Munera, a communications student in the Residency Program, getting acquainted with Blockchain was “painful and confusing,” especially without a background in software development. By working on the mandate with Mantle, Sofia was able to expand her understanding of the technology, and uncover new uses for it. To her, the hype had become warranted — though she still cautions that it’s not the solution for everything. Work like this lays the groundwork for a community empowered by Blockchain, where students and entrepreneurs alike can access the technology and test new solutions — being at the forefront of the Blockchain revolution and embodying District 3’s value of collaboration.
At Concordia, Jeremy looks to educate others on Blockchain, while probing his own questions on the technology and its potential application in the voting process. And Mantle continues to push for a widespread adoption of Blockchain, providing structure, governance, and accessibility to companies that are looking for Blockchain solutions. Vincent’s work with Blockchain Montreal and Catallaxy has created a community of innovators here in the city, and their events, workshops and activities look to strengthen their position in the global ecosystem.
It’s an exciting time to get started with the Blockchain, and whether you want to rework the very fabric of our society, or design a new way to verify the origin point of your coffee beans, there’s an opportunity out there waiting.