A survey report issued in September of 2015 by the World Economic Forum identified blockchain as one of six “megatrends” that will shape the future of society. It suggested that one tipping point will occur when 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP) is stored on blockchain technology, and they believe this will occur within the next ten years. This report identifies a second tipping point when a government collects taxes via a blockchain for the first time. This is expected to happen even sooner. Many economists believe that blockchain will change the world in profound ways which will impact nearly every aspect of our lives. But what will this mean for the average person?
The concept of a decentralized network for sharing things is nothing new. The Internet itself is a perfect example of such a technology, primarily for transferring information. Over a relatively short span, it has evolved into a mainstream implementation of such a platform. It has come to be fully embraced by both the tech-savvy and the average individual and has changed the world in remarkable ways. But how about a decentralized network for transferring value? Will it insinuate itself into people’s lives as fully and impactfully, and if so, how quickly?
Just as the Internet began its life among specialized academicians and scientists, the ideas behind blockchain were developed and first implemented by computer scientists and cryptographers. However, many expect blockchain popularization to follow a trajectory similar to the Internet in moving towards widespread application and acceptance.
Already, major companies such as Visa, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAP, Infosys, Bank of America, Barclays, Morgan Stanley, Wal-Mart, and others have either initiated blockchain projects or are actively selling blockchain products and services. It is currently one of the brightest sectors in technology, and by some estimates, 6 in 10 large corporations are looking seriously at blockchain technology.
As blockchain slowly becomes more mainstream, what will likely be the effect on the average citizen? Probably quite minimal. After all, do most people understand all the technologies that currently underlie the products and services that they depend on? Not at all, and they probably could care less, as long as things work.
That is not to say that the actual impact won’t be profound. After all, the core principles of blockchain, such as decentralization, transparency, democratization, and accountability, will change people’s lives in ways that are only now in the early stages of being imagined. However, most people won’t necessarily equate the changes with blockchain.
Certainly, the world will become more efficient with the adoption of blockchain’s “Distributed Ledger Technology” or DLT. The cost savings from this peer-to-peer model should be significant, as it eliminates the costs associated with middlemen reduces transaction time from days to seconds, and decreases the potential for fraud, misuse, and abuse. There may be only a handful of things that can be done with blockchain that cannot be accomplished using current technologies, but when one compares the use of card files with electronic catalogues — yes, they both get the job done, but the difference in speed and efficiency is stunning.
From financial transactions that span the globe in seconds, to smart contracts that execute automatically when certain conditions are met, to enabling vast improvements in trust, authenticity, and immutability in all types of data, most everyone will be affected by blockchain. Whether they know it or not.