The Future of Blockchain Technology: Top Five Predictions for 2030
An Op Ed piece by Ray Valdes (CTO @ ConsenSys) and Kate Mitselmakher (CEO @ Bloccelerate VC) on the future of blockchain technology.
In 2017 cryptocurrencies took the world by a storm. The price of Bitcoin shot up to nearly $20,000. The average ICO returned well over 10x. ICO funding surpassed traditional VC funding. Blockchain technology emerged as the new buzzword of choice by executives. Is this all just hype?
We argue this is just the beginning. In fact, both Ray and I left our jobs at the well-known technology research firm, Gartner, to join the blockchain movement. Here is how we think blockchain technology will shape the world by 2030.
Prediction # 1: Government Crypto
By 2030, most governments around the world will create or adopt some form of virtual currency.
The government currency of the future is inevitably crypto. Compared to the traditional fiat alternative, cryptocurrency is more efficient, provides reduced settlement times, and offers increased traceability. Cryptocurrency can also be backed by real assets, similar to fiat currency, and its price can be artificially manipulated by numerous controls (e.g., monetary policy for “printing” more tokens).
In the short term, government-based cryptocurrency will become an area of experimentation and explorations, led mostly by developing nations with unstable economies and weak institutions. Many of such efforts will move in a hasty fashion — with a timeline driven by political concerns rather than economic issues or technical progress. Consider the Zimbabwe dollar, for instance, which has suffered a staggering inflation of 500,000,000,000%. Many Zimbabweans have already turned to Bitcoin as a hedge against their national currency, thereby driving the Bitcoin price up on the local crypto-market. Creating a new cryptocurrency presents a viable solution for the Zimbabwean government to alleviate the bleak perception of its country’s monetary challenges. In the short term, such efforts might prove very successful. Considering Venezuela’s newly minted cryptocurrency “petro” raised over $5 billion during the pre-sale event, many other countries will follow suit. However, many of these early projects will inevitably fail due to the early stage of the technology which is yet to mature and due to lack of in-house knowledge by a respective government in charge.
In a lot of these cases, such experiments will be unintentional. In other words, governments moving forward with a cryptocurrency project may not realize that they are test subjects in their own experiments. Due to the lack of requisite expertise internally, these governments will turn to external consultancies, some of which are newly formed and with limited resources. As a result, many governments will end up victimized by hackers, due to inadequate or incompletely implemented practices regarding private-key management and related processes. This situation parallels the early days of the Web, where major companies that were successful in commerce (but not familiar with e-commerce) made mistakes in initial implementations, resulting in loss of data and funds.
In the long run, however, successful cases will emerge. Next generation blockchain technology will resolve many current limitations, such as scalability, privacy controls, toolset maturity, and interoperability. Price-stable tokens regulated by monetary policies and backed by collateral will start to gain traction as they become more reliable as a means of exchange and as a store of value. Governments that have failed to create a successful cryptocurrency will turn to “stable coins” as their virtual currency of choice.
Sample companies trying to solve this problem today: Tether, BitShares, Maker, Basecoin, Carbon, Stably, Havven, Kowala, TrueUSD, Arccy, Sweetbridge, Augmint, Fragments, Petro, and others.
Prediction #2: Trillion-Dollar Protocols
By 2030, there will be more trillion-dollar tokens than there will be trillion-dollar companies.
There is a race among the four most valued companies in the world (based on stock market valuation) as to which one will be the first to reach one trillion dollars in value. Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), and Microsoft are in a race to the “4-comma club.”
These companies are all representative of the new economy — one that should perhaps be called the no-longer-so-new economy. This new-ish economy is one based on the decades-long transition to digital business and online connections. It is the Internet economy or what blockchain advocates call “Web 2.0” (anticipating the next era, the blockchain era, as “Web 3.0”).
The old (traditional, pre-internet) economy is analog, brick-and-mortar, based on oil and resource extraction, on manufacturing of raw materials and cultivation of foodstuffs and accoutrements, and on the transportation and sale of these through traditional physical channels. Obviously, the real world will not disappear. It is where we live, breathe, eat, and ambulate. But its economic role has declined in the grand scheme of things.
The new-ish economy is a layer of value on top of the physical substrate. It has not yet fully diffused through all corners of the globe and economic sphere. Its impact will continue to grow, hence the high and growing valuation in stock markets. It is possible that after the first trillion-dollar company, others will also cross that threshold, and there may be three or five.
But the next era is emerging, and that may follow a different pattern than previous waves of economic transformation. What the old economy and the new-ish economy have in common is that they are both predicated on the notion of a company. In business there is a long-standing notion of the theory of the firm, articulated in 1937 by Ronald Coase. The theory of the firm seeks to address questions as: Why do firms exist? Why do they grow? How are they structured? What are the different functions of a firm? And so on.
In our view, looking at a company resembles looking at a single-cell organism, looking at its internal subsystems, and at the semi-permeable membrane that permits the flow of certain substances across that boundary. Coase’s theory is that firms exist because the cost of certain transactions or business processes inside the membrane is much lower than having to cross the boundary. Other transactions and processes must cross the boundary (to do business with other entities), but certain functions naturally gravitate inside the walls of the organization or organism.
Blockchain technology changes the nature of this equation. It dramatically reduces the costs of transactions and information flows. Where there was friction and impedance, these levels are lowered. Doing so erodes the traditional rationale for a firm, especially a trillion-dollar firm. Large firms exist, in part, because there is a huge schism between processes that occur inside the walls versus those that cross to the outside. Blockchain technologies change the equation and favor frictionless flows of tokens and other digital assets.
What this means is that, in the future blockchain era, trillion-dollar firms will be replaced by trillion-dollar tokens — tokens that support a decentralized ecosystem of entities that together fulfill the role of the mega corporation. We are in the dawn of that era, and there will be more trillion-dollar tokens in 10 years than there will be trillion-dollar firms.
Prediction #3: Blockchain Identity for All
By 2030, a cross-border, blockchain-based, self-sovereign identity standard will emerge for individuals, as well as physical and virtual assets.
If e-mail proved to be the “killer app” for the Internet, identity solutions will prove to be the “killer app” for blockchain. Identity systems, as we know them today, are highly dysfunctional, operating in silos, and insecure. Blockchain-based identity systems will solve these problems. These systems will provide a single source of verification for individuals’ identities and assets.
Blockchain-based identity decentralizes the data collection, cross-verifies the collected data via a consensus mechanism, and stores this information on a decentralized immutable ledger. It enables reduced risk of security breaches, significantly higher efficiencies, higher reliability, and most importantly self-sovereignty.
According to various data sources, 1.5 billion people in the developing world lack proof of identity, including more than 65 million refugees. Blockchain-based self-sovereign identity platforms will provide the disenfranchised population with tools to obtain and maintain legal documentation. The new identity platform will be more secure and reliable since it will be stored on a distributed ledger rather than being in the possession of a central authority. Blockchain-based identity platforms will also enable self-sovereignty, which ultimately means individual privacy. The decision to disclose identity information will be within each individual’s control. With recent Facebook data-breach scandals dominating the news, blockchain-based identity creates a viable and important solution to many data privacy issues.
Some use cases for the types of data stored on a blockchain-based identity platform include (but are not limited to):
- Government records (e.g., date of birth, etc.)
- Reputation & trust scores (e.g., credit history)
- Certificates & attestations (e.g., university diploma)
- Healthcare & medical records
- Tax identification records
- Employment records
While it is unlikely that, by 2030, a clear end-to-end solution will emerge as a clear winner, a high degree of interoperability among identity platforms will enable ease of use and global cross-verification.
Furthermore, a blockchain-based asset identity platform will collect, store, and share data for both physical and virtual assets. More than 20 billion IoT devices are projected to exist by 2020. From your smart refrigerator to an airplane engine, these “smart” chips are already pervasive. By their nature, IoT devices are continuously connected to the internet. They collect, store, and transport unique sets of data. Blockchain will provide a secure, reliable, and efficient mechanism for these devices to transact among one other. Blockchain will keep an immutable record of all interactions and will enable instantaneous payment settlements (e.g., two IoT devices transferring assets between each other).
Virtual assets will also have a unique identity on a blockchain. One example of virtual assets would be crypto kitties, fictional cats existing in a virtual game and living on the Ethereum blockchain. With the power of blockchain, these virtual objects are turned into tokenized assets which, similarly to physical assets, will have their unique identity. Ultimately, blockchain will enable an automated operating system seamlessly connecting individuals with assets in physical as well as in virtual worlds.
Sample companies solving individual identity today: uPort, BlockAuth, Civic, PeerMountain, IDRamp, Sovereign, Sovrin, LifeID, TrustedKey, Ping Identity, SelfKey, TheKey, NuID, ValidatedID, 2way.io, Microsoft, CryptID, ExistenceID, IBM, Blockstack, BlockCerts, Lumeno.us, etc.
Sample companies solving physical & virtual asset identity today: WAX, Verses, BlockV, Xage, Guardtime, Filament, Chronicled, Blocksafe, DMarket, etc.
Prediction #4: World Trade on a Blockchain
By 2030, most of world trade will be conducted leveraging blockchain technology.
One of the most promising areas where blockchain can provide significant business value is global supply chain. In its current state, world trade is conducted via a chaotic, fragmented set of business relationships among parties that are untrusted. This results in inefficiencies, errors, and fraud. This is a set of real-world business problems that are currently unsolved and cannot be fully solved without using blockchain technology.
Some examples of real-world supply chain problems that need to be solved are:
- Counterfeit medicines in the pharmaceutical industry
- Food supply chain in China (the tragic case of adulterated infant formula)
- Fake Louis Vuitton handbags and other fashion apparel in Asia
- Counterfeit auto parts in North America
- Grey market or counterfeit electronic equipment, including medical devices (World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 8% are fake)
- Enterprise IT equipment — a major manufacturer of enterprise networking equipment estimates 10% of products in its multi-billion-dollar supply chain are grey market
As is evident, the problems in global supply chains are significant and, in some cases, life-threatening. According to WHO, tens of thousands of people die from counterfeit drugs every year. The solution to these problems is difficult because the business ecosystems are fragmented, siloed, only partially automated, and lacking a trusted central authority with jurisdiction, resources and credibility to track provenance and certify authenticity.
Unlike the example of the banking industry, where there is an existing system (SWIFT) that works correctly and reliably, in the supply-chain examples, there is no proven, working system. There is no order, only chaos. Therefore, disruption is not an option, because disruption implies disintermediating or dismantling an existing system.
What is required is “anti-disruption” — i.e., bringing order to chaos by using blockchain technology as a force for unification: to unify disparate flows of payment, physical goods and information. This won’t be easy, and complete solutions will take years to build. In effect, one is constructing an ERP system for a business ecosystem, which means it will take longer and be more difficult than building an ERP system for a single company.
Also, as mentioned earlier, the technology does not yet have the functional scope, flexibility, performance, efficiency, and maturity. Once it matures, the problems in supply chains are real enough, and important enough that solutions will eventually be built, and blockchain will play a critical role in these future solutions.
Sample Companies: Skuchain, Provenance, Blockfreight, Blockverify, Caravaggio, Cargo Chain, Chain of Things, Consentio, Everledger, Filament, Fluent, Kioog, Kouvola Innovation, Mojix, Modum, Synechron, Tallysticks, Tradle, Wave, Zerado.
Prediction #5: (Blockchain4Good)
By 2030, significant improvements in the world’s standard of living will be attributable to the development of blockchain technology.
Poverty and income discrepancy are arguably the hardest problems for humanity to tackle. More than 10% of the world population, more than 750 million people, live on less than $2 a day. More than 2 billion people are considered to be unbanked and have no access to financial services. Though the overall living standards increase, and world’s GDP is on the rise, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Blockchain technology has the potential to shrink the poverty gap. How? It can be done by increasing financial inclusiveness, reducing corruption, and enabling decentralized access to value-creating assets. Here are three examples.
Financial inclusiveness is the most obvious benefit of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. As is already evident today, Bitcoin and blockchain enable the unbanked population to get banked, and therefore, get paid. One no longer needs to rely on a centralized institution, such as the government or a bank, to give you permission to open a bank account. You can buy and sell Bitcoin on an open market (provided access to a crypto exchange) with access to a smartphone. A number of merchants around the world already accept cryptocurrencies. By 2030, cryptocurrency will serve as a de facto standard, similar to how the US dollar is widely accepted today.
Second, blockchain technology reduces corruption by creating transparency of official records. Whether you are a farmer in rural Latin America or a house owner in Russia, you will no longer be driven out of your land by a corrupt official tampering with the land registry. All assets, including land, will be recorded on a transparent, tamper-free distributed ledger open for the public to see.
Solving this problem alone will have massive financial implications on the global economy. According to a prominent economist, Hernando DeSoto, “dead capital,” or, in other words, property or asset which is held but not legally recognized, is estimated at $20 trillion. Uncertainty around asset ownership reduces asset price and tradability potential. Therefore, by creating a transparent, tamper-proof property and asset tracking system, blockchain technology has the potential to increase global wealth.
Lastly, blockchain technology enables a massive-scale tokenization of value-generating assets only available to the rich right now. Think about buying The Plaza Hotel in New York City or an expensive piece of gold mining equipment producing a steady, recurring income stream over several years. To purchase such an asset today, one has to borrow large sums of money from a bank and take an upfront risk on the purchase. Blockchain enables tokenization of large-scale assets. This means that even if you are a farmer in rural Africa, you can now become a fractional owner of a revenue-generating asset such as a gold mine.
Sample companies solving this problem: Everex, ChromaWay, Velox, The BitFury Group, Factom, AlloyCoin, Disberse, etc.