The hype of cryptocurrencies has almost reached fever-pitch as commentators see the meteoric rise of Bitcoin as a bubble. Whether it is a bubble or just the start of a new norm, is anyone’s guess. I can see it going both ways, but I have been intrigued enough to start researching it. It has been my focus over the summer, as I try to understand this new space.
While the cryptocurrencies get all the media attention, I have been drawn towards understanding the principles behind the technology itself — Blockchain, and my-oh-my, its a fascinating world! I work in the tech industry and as I learn more about blockchain, I am more excited about this space than anything in the recent past. There are hundreds, if not thousands of startups that are designing and developing this tech that is seeing rapid improvements. I have no doubt in my mind that the next Google or Amazon is being founded right now!
Blockchain, simply put, is a growing list of public records (blocks) which are secured by cryptographic algorithms. In other words, a blockchain is nothing but a distributed ledger, which can be either public or private. Bitcoin runs on one blockchain and Ethereum is another public blockchain.
So, what’s the big deal, you may ask. The power comes from its openness and the consensus that is reached by the participating nodes in a distributed manner. Succinctly put by Nick Szabo, the cryptographer & pioneer, who’s whitepaper introduced the concept of smart contracts and cryptocurrencies: “Blockchains don’t guarantee truth; they just preserve truth and lies from later alteration”. This has some serious implications with how products and services will be built and what the future economy will look like.
The sky is the limit for the amount/type of applications that can be designed and developed. I invite you watch the following talk (Length ~1hr) by Alex Tapscott titled “Blockchain Revolution” as an introduction to the field. Alex and his father, Don Tapscott are the co-authors of the book with same title, and is currently one of the most popular books in the space — and is on the top of my wishlist to read.
Another resource that I highly recommend is the podcast Blockchain Innovation. While all episodes are great on the podcast, one interview that really stood out for me was “Episode 10: Toyota’s Breakthrough with Blockchain and Autonomous Cars with Chris Ballinger“. Chris is the CFO & head of Mobility Services at Toyota Research Institute. He is also an economist, who worked for the Obama administration at the White House, so he brings knowledge from both finance and technology (my two great interests 🙂 ) together. This interview was the “Aha!” moment for me when I realized how the smart contracts will be designed, implemented and leveraged in the future economy. In addition, the following nugget really stood out for me:
“The Aha moment for me was when I realized that Bitcoin or Ethereum had the potential to turn any asset, whether physical, financial, or intellectual property data into a bearer instrument.”
So, when you have any kind of a transaction involved — monetary or otherwise , blockchain technology can have an impact and can potentially disrupt the incumbents. There are definitely some low hanging fruits that are being taken care of, right now. Companies like Abra are already disrupting the worldwide money transfer space, which will spell doom for the likes of Western Union and put a big dent in fees from the big banks. This is not to say that financial world (i.e., banks) will suffer and will go out of business. Banks will be impacted, but they can turn it to their advantage by using the technology and cutting costs rather than shunning the technology. Alex from the video above touches on this subject briefly.
I am just starting out this journey on learning about blockchains and I am super excited. I encourage you to learn more as this is something that cannot be ignored. If you have any other good resources in the space that I should be paying attention to, please be sure to leave a comment below.
As far as cryptocurrenies themselves go, I have a few thoughts to share, but will save that for a followup post. Stay tuned! 🙂
Followup: Here’s a great Blockchain 101 demo video which explains the technology visually.