The blockchain, an unloved?

Blockchains and crypto-currencies are often ignored, decried and even stigmatized, especially in France. It’s strange to say the least — and even absurd.

About two years ago, the technical director of one of the largest French Web service providers explained to me “not believing in blockchains at all”. A few months ago, a French decision-maker from another very large service company assured me that identification and authentication solutions based on blockchains, “that’s bullshit”.

On blogs and social networks (and even on Bitcoin.fr), I regularly face anonymous commentators and digital experts who criticize blockchains, or minimize their importance. Many see it at best as “hype”, at worst as a harmful and/or dead-end technology.

When it does not encounter outright hostility, the blockchain is often ignored. For example, this very interesting “overview of social media in 2020“, produced by a recognized expert, does not once mention neither blockchain nor crypto-currencies — while several dozen social networks, some of which have been in existence for two years, are entirely based on blockchains and crypto-currencies and even form, at one of the most notable recent developments in this area, in my opinion. Shame.

In short, I’ve been writing about cryptocurrencies and blockchains for six years, and rarely have I encountered so much skepticism about an emerging technology.

Avoid the obvious?

From my point of view, you have to be very uninformed or downright dogmatic not to see, or admit, that blockchain is a ground swell — and even a key technology of the years and decades to come. All industries, without exception, will take advantage of blockchains, crypto-currencies, smart contracts and tokens, thanks to which applications and services will be reinvented.

And I’m not the only one to think so.

Last October, in a historic speech not necessarily perceived at the height of its importance, Xi Jinping announced want to “accelerating blockchain development”considered as “a major breakthrough for innovation”. A real plebiscite on the part of the president of the 2nd world power, who thus places the blockchain at the very heart of all Chinese innovation, whether it concerns monetary management, traceability, optimization of public services, or management of smart cities. China has thus put “full steam” on the blockchain and, in April 2020, there were already a few 35,000 Chinese companies claiming to rely on this technology — 13 times more than five years ago.

Elsewhere, blockchain is seen as a technology that can help address major global challenges. For UN Secretary General António Guterres, last december, “We need to embrace blockchain to achieve our sustainability goals”. And the World Economic Forum, by launching a blockchain platform dedicated to the manufacturing industry, explained in January 2020 how “blockchain technologies can increase traceability and transparency, to create more efficient and sustainable production chains”.

Added to this are blockchain experiments or deployments by all the world’s largest companies, from IBM to BMW, from Microsoft to Tencent, from Nike to EY. The latter, one of the world’s largest consulting and auditing firms, predicted at the end of 2019 that “3/4 of global companies will soon use public blockchains” and actively contributes to improving Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency in the world and the main blockchain used for the deployment of decentralized applications.

The movement is global. In France, several Carrefour products — milk, camemberts, eggs, salmon, etc. — offer new transparency thanks to a blockchain — and all of the brand’s food products will be traced on blockchains by 2022. In Italy, ANSA, the country’s main news agency, has been relying since last month on blockchains to counter fake news and guarantee the authenticity of all articles published on its media. In South Korea, a process blockchain authentication, notably developed by Samsung and LG, was deployed in March by one of the country’s major banks. In Brazil, the Ministry of Education plans to manage all university degrees on a blockchain. And in Switzerland, one of the first countries in the world to experiment blockchain voting (in Zug), we are about to launch Nedaoa decentralized platform based on Ethereum to explore new models of governance and management, in the canton of Neuchâtel.

Do we need other examples to understand the scale of this massive transition to blockchains?

At the roots of doubt

But then, how to explain this lack of interest, this distrust, even this denigration, towards the blockchain in France? To be honest, I can’t explain it to myself. But we can try to outline some possible causes.

New and complicated

Some technologies are easily described in a few words. But, the principle of blockchain, even by simplifying it, is difficult to grasp. Today’s blockchains are inseparable from cryptography, programming, even “smart contracts” or “zero proof knowledge”… Scholarly techniques, barbaric terms… the blockchain is complicated. And this perhaps explains, in part, a lack of media interest in the subject.

But there is no fatality here. We can understand the interest and power of blockchains without mastering the workings. Blockchains and cryptocurrencies are democratizing rapidly. For example, several web browsers (like Opera or Brave), or even smartphones (like those from HTC or others) now natively include wallets to manage cryptocurrencies and easily access decentralized applications.

A sulphurous image

Even if the concept existed before, the blockchain was really born with Bitcoin, which was the first to demonstrate all its interest. The oldest and most well-known public blockchain, engine of the most imposing cryptocurrency, is still and always that of Bitcoin. However, the latter enjoys a contrasting image to say the least. Should we see in this the reason for the denigration of blockchains?

That would be absurd in more ways than one. First, there are thousands of other blockchains, public or not, financial or not, using (like Bitcoin) calculation to verify transactions or not. Then, Bitcoin itself is acclaimed by many prominent personalities. It has been working perfectly for 11 years and confirms that a blockchain can be used to support a decentralized, self-regulated currency, devoid of any control body – and yet weighing 150 billion dollars.

A lot of nonsense has been said about Bitcoin. In 2017 and 2018, major media like Release Where Newsweek announced with fanfare that “in 2020 Bitcoin will consume 100% of the world’s electricity” and predicted a “ecological disaster” driven by cryptocurrency. It’s 2020 and guess what Bitcoin is barely consuming 0.2% of the world’s electricity — 500 times less than we were told — while producing, according to several university studies, no more than 0.05% of total CO2 emissions.

The blockchain an unloved
The Itaipu Dam, on the Brazil-Paraguay border, could largely supply all of the electricity used by Bitcoin on its own
(Photo : Jonas de Carvalho – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Technological limits

Some of the detractors I have met know about blockchains and even recognize their virtues, but stumble on the question of their effectiveness, or their “scalability” (scalability).

Admittedly, the oldest blockchains sometimes suffer from a lack of speed. But they are constantly improving. Bitcoin Lightning, the most promising evolution of Bitcoin, overcomes its limitations via a clever parallel device, which already offers almost instantaneous transactions. Ethereum, which was beating records at the beginning of the year, is preparing to launch its “2.0” version, which promises to considerably increase its speed. There are also several public blockchains, such as EOS, NEO, Zilliqa or others, already reaching 3000 transactions per second. And much higher speeds are announced by many projects, while multiple tracks are studied to increase the scalabilityincluding that of MIT which proposed in February a solution to multiply by 4 the speed of blockchains.

There is therefore every reason to believe that blockchains can “scale“. And rejecting a very recent technology from the outset on the grounds that it “could not” improve seems lighthearted, to say the least.

A technological rejection of principle

At a time when 5G antennas are being burned in several places around the world, and when many are proposing degrowth – or even “dis-innovation” – as a model of society for the future, blockchain may also be doing part of a global rejection of technology. Associated with the image of data centers deemed excessively energy-intensive (which is wrong), blockchain may just be the baby thrown out with the bathwater.

Blockchain of the future

Either way, I see no reason to overlook blockchains, let alone underestimate their importance or potential contribution. At a minimum, we can assume that:

  1. Blockchains and cryptocurrencies allow things that no other technology has allowed before.
  2. These technologies are attracting considerable industrial interest, and have already given rise to countless projects, start-ups and applications that work and challenge.

For my part, I have the deep conviction that the blockchain and its derivatives will be one of the dominant technologies of the next few years. You have to go back at least 20 years, with the birth of the Web, to see such an effervescence in terms of innovation, breathtaking concepts and potentially disruptive solutions.

As the Internet was between 2000 and 2020 – transforming information, communication and commerce – blockchains and cryptocurrencies will profoundly change finance, retail, social networks, energy management, real estate investment, the notary… and perhaps even serve to modernize the organization of companies and civil society. In short, blockchains and crypto-currencies will play a key role in the evolution of our world. I am delighted to open this blog to chronicle its development.

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The blockchain, an unloved?


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