A Week in the Life of Blockchain

It’s hard to ignore the omnipresent buzz surrounding Blockchain. It is mentioned in every media outlet we consume, it infiltrates seminars and conferences we attend for work, it’s a constant on everybody’s social media feeds and it pops up in conversation all too often.

And as the noise around blockchain increases to almost deafening levels, so too does the polarity between blockchain’s opposing factions, with evangelists and naysayers alike shouting ever louder. If we take a look at just a small selection of articles which have appeared in the media over the last few weeks alone we can observe how a remarkably conflicted and jarring landscape is starting to develop.

Blockchain is “useless”

This week at the Blockshow Conference in Las Vegas, economist and renowned crypto-critic Nouriel Roubini, who was dubbed Dr Doom after he predicted the global economic crisis in 2008 stated “blockchain is probably one of the most overhyped technologies ever, with the amount of hype vastly exceeding what are going to be the applications of it.” In a follow up interview with Forbes, he went as far as to say “It’s useless technology and will never go anywhere because of the proof of stake and scalability issues. No matter what, this is not going to become another benchmark because it is just too slow.”

Scalability and speed are concerns echoed by Daniel Newman in his article entitled Don’t believe the hype: understanding blockchain’s limits, who also adds trust and security into the mix of stumbling blocks which are dragging blockchain out of its “honeymoon phase”, as he puts it.

Downplaying growth

Meanwhile a cluster of reputable IT analysts have published reports in recent weeks which bust the myth of widespread blockchain adoption and roll-outs. Gartner’s 2018 CIO survey claimed that just one per cent of the CIOs who took part in the survey indicated any kind of blockchain adoption, with 77 per cent claiming they had no interest in the technology or any planned action to investigate or develop it. The firm also claimed that the technology is entering a “trough of disillusionment” phase as interest in blockchain “wanes”.

Backing this up, Forrester also released a report which estimates that 90 per cent of active blockchain projects will either be put on hold or abandoned altogether.

The other side of the (bit)coin

Despite all this, in the media, the balance unequivocally tips firmly in the opposite direction, as international governments, financial companies, tech firms and many others, who are eager to be seen as a cut above the rest and skyrocket their share prices, seek to promote their adoption of blockchain technologies.

Take this week alone as an example, we’ve seen:

· The World Bank launching its first blockchain bond

· Russian state pension fund announcing plans to deploy blockchain tech

· The OECD announcing a new Blockchain Policy Forum event

· China launching its new Blockchain Lab initiative

And this is merely a miniscule sample of the vast cacophony surrounding blockchain on any given week.

Just to build up the hype even further, PwC this week published its 2018 Global Blockchain Survey, which found that an astonishing 84 per cent of executive interviewed said their companies are “actively involved” with blockchain technology, research which confusingly paints a completely different picture from the studies published by the IT analysts.

Staying grounded

As with many exciting and innovative technologies, everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon and find a way to apply it and make it work for their business. Some will find that once the initial excitement recedes, a project is deemed too ambitious or that there are too many barriers rendering it difficult to get off the ground, whereas others, often with more realistic applications, will succeed and transform the way they work.

With blockchain we are at a pivotal phase whereby companies need to understand exactly how the technology can fit into their work cycle and be of benefit to them. As Varun Mayya, CEO of Avalon Labs says: “The good news is that good projects will continue to survive and authentic ones will continue to reap the benefits of both blockchain and smart contracts.” I am delighted to be part of one such organisation recognised last week by Forbes as one of the companies using blockchain technologies to help transform the publishing industry and improve education.

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