There’s a lot more to blockchain than cryptocurrency. Experts forecast what’s next for the game-changing distributed-network and immutable-ledger technology.
By Rob Marvin
It’s been a big year for blockchain. The meteoric rise in Bitcoin’s value has thrust the underlying technology beneath cryptocurrencies into the spotlight, but blockchain’s potential extends far beyond bitcoin.
Blockchain’s distributed network and immutable ledger technology has the potential to fundamentally re-engineer how we interact online, impacting everything from digital identity and healthcare data to insurance, mortgages and land titling, and the supply chain. As giants in the financial and tech sector begin introducing new platforms and tools in the maturing space, we’re already seeing blockchain’s potential to impact areas such as cybersecurity and even global foodborne outbreaks.
Growing Crypto Resilience
We polled experts including author Don Tapscott and execs from IBM, Oracle, Ernst & Young, Forrester Research, and others to chart how the fast-changing technology will evolve in 2018.
“There will be hacks, but overall, blockchain and crypto robustness will grow. These are ‘resilience technologies’ that have an anti-fragility model. The more cryptocurrencies get attacked, the stronger they become. China bans ICOs and hints at hurting Bitcoin exchanges, and the value of Bitcoin goes up. The Ethereum DAO gets attacked, and Ethereum takes hundreds of steps to make itself more robust and secure. It’s not Whack-a-mole, it’s Block-a-mole! — Don Tapscott, author of “Blockchain Revolution”
Governments Jump on the Bandwagon
“IBM believes that 2018 will be the year blockchain becomes an accepted and appreciated innovation for government, a year when the global public sector begins to look closely at this technology, and citizens begin to see its effects on the issues that impact them. Governments are already testing blockchain as a way to replace current voting systems. More ambitiously, it could formalize identity for every human on the planet, regardless of their residency status or whether or not they have a paper birth certificate. Blockchain can enable new models for providing each person their own truly independent digital identity that no other person, company, or government can take away.” — Jerry Cuomo, VP Blockchain Technology and IBM Fellow, IBM
Cryptocurrency Value Explodes
“Forget about a massive and permanent crash. Crypto assets will increase in value across the board. We are still in the early stage. Oddly, Bitcoin’s meteoric price rise makes it easier and not harder for new investors to justify stepping in as it is now a really large asset class too big to ignore. 2018 will see widespread institutional buying of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies but buyers beware. For Bitcoin to sustain its rally, scaling solutions must work in the real world and critical governance challenges must be overcome.” — Don Tapscott, author of “Blockchain Revolution”
Zero Knowledge Proofs Reach Scale
“The long-term future of the blockchain depends on the ability of companies to conduct private business over public, shared infrastructure. Suppliers and customers can’t and won’t join the private blockchain for every one of their business partners. Zero Knowledge Proofs (a mathematical operation and cryptographic tool) are just starting to show working models, and in 2018, a huge amount of effort will be invested to scale and apply them to business problems. Zero Knowledge Proofs will allow blockchains to have key elements of security and privacy without giving up the redundancy and immutability that comes from synchronizing the full transaction information across the network.” — Paul Brody, Ernst & Young Global Innovation Leader, Blockchain Technology
Central Banks Will Embrace Blockchain
“Blockchain-based payment systems using fiat-backed digital currency will allow central banks to interoperate more easily and partner with retail banks to process cross-border payments with immediate settlement finality. Central banks will begin to embrace digital assets as a means of exchanging value on the blockchain securely and in real time.” — Jerry Cuomo, VP Blockchain Technology and IBM Fellow, IBM
Blockchain Will Implement the Rule of Law
“Smart Contracts are powerful tools for automating business process operations, and they will become key productivity enablers for enterprises looking to harness the blockchain. However, they will not eliminate the need to resolve disputes that arise from time to time. The world’s legal systems are an existing and highly robust and reliable mechanism for doing just that, but how will a court order be implemented in a blockchain? Governance models based on different methods of majority voting are generally effective, but the rule of law is not a popularity contest, and in business networks, participants will have to agree in advance to be bound by certain laws and court rulings. That part is likely to happen easily, but implementing such a model in a truly decentralized system will be a new challenge that should be addressed in 2018.” — Paul Brody, Ernst & Young Global Innovation Leader, Blockchain Technology
Blockchain Will Disrupt Modern Commerce
“Some new technologies are so disruptive they force an instant response. Blockchain is one of these. Blockchain is already transforming the global financial industry, and its impact is being felt elsewhere too — from supply chain efficiency and transparency to transactional trust and security. Already, greater than 2,500 new blockchain-related patents have been filed, while the financial impact is predicted to top 176 billion USD by 2025 [according to Gartner]. In just two years, we expect blockchain to have become the disruptive standard in modern commerce, establishing a new transactional paradigm as financial services providers seek to extract as much value as possible from their value chain. You could even argue that blockchain has achieved this status already, and is beginning to influence other industries just as profoundly: healthcare, retail, the public sector, and more.” — Amit Zavery, Senior Vice President, Cloud Platform and Middleware at Oracle
Tokenization Gives Fiat Currency New Life
“Blockchain’s tokenization will give new life to supply chain and fiat currency. There are still far too many blockchain systems that seem to treat this amazing new technology as a nifty kind of digital notary or distributed database service. The way that Bitcoin and blockchains manage digital tokens is one of the critical innovations in the technology, and it is significantly underexploited by business models. 2018 will be the year developers re-discover why tokenization is so powerful. Tokenization isn’t just good for physical assets; it will do wonders for classical fiat currency as well. For most businesses, their revenues are in classical fiat currency, as well as the costs, so asking them to settle intermediate transactions as some kind of new, highly volatile, purpose-built digital currency is a non-starter with most CFOs. Tokenized fiat currency offers all the benefits of blockchain-based solutions without the foreign exchange risk.” — Paul Brody, Ernst & Young Global Innovation Leader, Blockchain Technology
Blockchain + Analytics
“Blockchain applications across multiple industries will enable new data analytics with high accuracy, privacy, and identity protection that provide significant value to both businesses and individuals. For example, in the finance and real estate industries, analytics around the mortgage approval process could be greatly streamlined. Borrowers could elect to share accurate personal income and expense metrics with lenders via a blockchain, bypassing the tortuous, expensive, fraud, error-prone and time-consuming manual process of collecting paystubs, bank statements, and other paper documents. With anonymity sufficiently ensured, these metrics could also be made available for aggregate analysis that would deliver insights enabling greater efficiencies in the lending process, including far more accurate prediction of creditworthiness. Other powerful possibilities exist in health and wellness, pharma, life sciences, finance, and additional sectors.” — Sandy Steier, CEO of 1010data
Cryptocurrency Legislation and Regulation
“Policymakers will continue to take notice of cryptocurrency’s growing investment and use. As a result we believe we will see an increase in policymakers seeking to close the gaps where technology has outpaced our laws.” — Coin Center Senior Policy Council Robin Weisman
Consumers Witness Benefits Beyond Bitcoin
“We are no longer in the era of ‘blockchain = Bitcoin,’ and the indirect benefits of blockchain in personal identity and health will be seen in 2018. Blockchain is already being used in applications that can directly benefit consumers, such as identity management and consumer and luxury-goods traceability and authentication. In the coming year, companies will begin to find ways to enable consumers to trace the lifecycle of a product they purchase using blockchain.” — Jerry Cuomo, VP Blockchain Technology and IBM Fellow, IBM
New Use Cases
“The industries that will have consumers sit up and pay attention to blockchain in 2018? IBM predicts they will be travel (loyalty programs), government (identification, voting, and land registration), luxury goods (ensuring people aren’t getting defrauded), and anti-counterfeiting (rights management) of electronics, media, and entertainment.” — Jerry Cuomo, VP Blockchain Technology and IBM Fellow, IBM
The Next Platform Emerges
“Bitcoin is still limited to being a store of value and a currency. It’s the first big app of the Internet of Value, like email was the first big app of the old Internet of Internet of information. But what is the equivalent of World Wide Web — the general-purpose platform for application development? Watch for Ethereum to continue to grow, not just in value but in the number of game-changing Dapps [distributed applications] built on it. But will Ethereum be the platform for the next generation of distributed applications, or will something else take its place? New platforms to watch in 2017 include Cosmos, Aion, ICON, and Polkadot, all of which could help address critical issues of scalability.” — Don Tapscott, author of “Blockchain Revolution”
A Year of Reckoning
Forrester predicts we’ll see a serious pruning of blockchain projects in 2018. The companies and projects that “failed to translate the headlines into reality will write off their investments and give up,” but the ones that survive the purge and move forward will fall into three categories: pure R&D, applications that provide immediate business benefit, and projects with long-term transformational potential.
“The visionaries will forge ahead, those hoping for immediate industry and process transformation will give up. This is the answer I usually give when asked for a one-sentence summary of how I see 2018 shaping up in the blockchain technology arena.” — Martha Bennett, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research
Read more: “You Might Not Get Any Smarter in 2018, But AI Will”
Originally published at www.pcmag.com.