From the Bronze Age to Blockchain
Commentary by Allen Alishahi
Before we get into what is an exciting technology today, let's first go back to the Bronze Age.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Roughly occurring in the 3300 B.C.E. to 1200 B.C.E. timeframe, the Bronze Age is widely considered the era when humans first started working with metal to create tools. Using a clichéd term like "game changer" doesn't do this era justice. It was part of the necessary evolution of materials and tools—aka the "technologies" of the time—that have brought us to the present day.
Think about it. Just as the introduction of bronze superseded clumsy stone and soft copper tools, the telegraph superseded the semaphore, the radio superseded the telegraph and the introduction of blockchain could supersede e-commerce.
Speaking of the present day, the more I think about blockchain, the more I am convinced that it is one of the true groundbreaking technologies of the current epoch in human history. Blockchain is certainly not the only one, however. AI, quantum computing and augmented reality/virtual reality are among other technologies that are changing society today, and leading us into uncharted territory in the not-too-distant future.
Blockchain and the Periodic Table Have More in Common Than You Think
I find it helpful to think of these technologies as elements, similar to those that make up the periodic table we all remember from high school. Combining elements is how humans create tools and technologies, and it's helpful to think of blockchain this way. By combining modern technology elements such as powerful computing resources, decentralization and cryptography (among others), blockchain was created. The main difference is that natural elements are extracted from the earth, whereas blockchain was extracted from our minds in the form of creativity and ingenuity.
How we buy and sell things, prove our identities, enter into and execute contracts and track the food we eat back to its origin are just some of the use cases today. The contracts feature alone is particularly potent when you consider that almost every transaction is a contract of sorts, whether written, spoken or even implied. Smart contracts are in use in many industries, and I expect to see the concept advance from machine-readable, non-legally binding agreements to human- and machine-readable, legally binding, immutable and transparent contracts—and that's just this year, and just with the smart contract function.
Decentralization First, Ubiquity Second
One of the reasons for my confidence in blockchain's future is its decentralized framework. At a high level, decentralization means that data of any type stored in a "block" is not just in one, centralized location. Rather, data is distributed—not copied—across thousands of computers all over the world; there is no one master version like there is with paper or most digital files.
With many of the key pieces to the technology puzzle in place with regard to blockchain, my co-founder, Chao Cheng-Shorland, and I keep ubiquity squarely in our sights. There is still a lot to do to build out and grow blockchain-powered platforms like the marketplace we are creating, but until blockchain reaches the type of ubiquity that there is with the internet and mobile phones, it will still be just a technology with mostly unrealized potential.
From Discoveries of the Earth to Discoveries of the Mind
In the grand scheme of things, blockchain is still a nascent technology. While we have mostly moved beyond discoveries of the earth to discoveries of the mind like blockchain, there is still a long way to go. But we are making incredible progress—and the best is yet to come.