In recent years, “blockchain” technology has been gaining more attention from the mainstream press. Heralded by some as the fourth wave of computer technology with implications potentially as profound as the advent of modern property rights, blockchain represents far more than the Bitcoin cryptocurrency with which it is often confused. In its simplest form, blockchain is nothing more than a new type of data structure. But by bringing together a number of existing technologies in a novel way, blockchain technology secures the integrity of a network — essentially codifying “truth” and eliminating the need for “trust.” The implications are vast, and perhaps most important is the ability to exchange anything between two parties without the need for an intermediary. The asset can take any form — even intangible things like sensitive information — and the parties involved may not even be known to each other. Blockchain enables a nearly frictionless exchange of value, much like the internet has enabled a nearly frictionless exchange of information.
This paper introduces blockchain technology and explains how its unique characteristics could help fundamentally change the building blocks of commerce and society. Part One provides a summary of what blockchain is and how it works, using as few details as possible. Part Two explains how blockchain is being used today, how it may be used in the near and long term, and why it is important to people and organizations far from the front lines of technology. While blockchain technology holds a lot of promise and can generate powerful economic forces, it does have its limits and some entities will deliberately strive to slow its adoption. Part Three explains what’s behind some of this.
It’s important to note that many of the developments described won’t be applicable until several years from now, perhaps even decades. We’re not suggesting that everything will happen precisely as we lay it out — only that the technology now exists to make it possible. As such, it is not a call to action but, instead, a call to awareness. In some areas, you may end up with more questions about blockchain than you had when you started, but with a basic understanding we hope you will be in a better position to consider how this technology may have an impact on the social, commercial and societal elements most important to you and your organization.