Everyone is talking about Bitcoin, and the other cryptocurrencies coming out, when we should rather be having more conversations about its’ underlying technology, Blockchain, because that is where the real value lies.

Now that the Bitcoin bubble has burst, the real value of blockchain is coming out. Blockchain technologies represent huge innovation. They are not only influencing the ways we understand, and use money, and create contracts, but also how we govern our societies, and even vote.

Many lines of parallel are drawn between the rise of the internet, and the rise of Bitcoin and blockchain. When the internet, first came out, it wasn’t a trusted source, and no one fully understood it. We saw the rise of the early internet companies, like Netscape, AOL and others, whose funding rose to ridiculous heights. Then the bubble burst, and they all crashed. Only then did the real value of the internet become clear.

That’s when companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, came to the fore, and all these amazing new companies that didn’t exist before, were creating things that we’d never imagined were possible. Once the initial shine wore off, people started to find the real value in the technology, and the internet started to grow into what it is today. It’s hard to imagine life without the internet anymore. Bitcoin and blockchain are following a similar trajectory.

Like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR), data science, digital biology and biotech, medicine, nanotech and digital fabrication, networks and computing systems, robotics, and autonomous vehicles, blockchain is presenting as an exponential technology. That means it is rapidly accelerating, and shaping major industries, and all aspects of our lives. At Singularity University, we believe that the solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges lie in the intersection of these exponential technologies. That is, when two or more of these technologies are used in combination to attack a persistent challenge, the possibility of developing a sustainable solution becomes much more likely.

Blockchain is still in its infancy. It’s a technology that has been digitised and has gone out into the digital world. It’s currently in its deceptive growth stage that period where its’ linear, and exponential growth, appear to be on the same path. Once it becomes clearly disruptive, its’ power and/or speed will double each year, and/or the cost will drop by half, and then it can claim to be an exponential technology.

It’s an exciting time for exponential technologies. You have major companies creating tools for smaller companies to use so they can get onto the blockchain, because the technology is just so much better. There is an AI platform called TensorFlow™, for example, which allows companies to build AI using their tools and, in their ecosystem, saving them time and money. TensorFlow™, originally developed by researchers and engineers from the Google Brain team within Google’s AI organization, is an open source software library for high performance numerical computation. Its flexible architecture allows easy deployment of computation across a variety of platforms and devices. It comes with strong support for machine learning and deep learning and the flexible numerical computation core is used across many other scientific domains.

At the moment blockchain does still have a fairly high barrier to entry because it is still very new, however as it grows each year, and the price halves, the technology is becoming democratised and more available for everybody to use. In Africa, where there is a strong need to support, and encourage entrepreneurs, the opportunity exists for a blockchain platform to be built that will allow small businesses easy access to the tools they need to build their businesses on blockchain. This will enable the smaller businesses to grow, be successful and stay relevant even though they don’t have the same budgets the bigger corporations do.

The potential applications for blockchain will have a huge impact on many industries. While blockchain got its start in the financial services industry, it is growing steadily in other industries too. It’s being used for supply chain management, identity and contract management, data storage and IoT, the pharmaceuticals industry, in food safety, and in the transport logistics industry too. It’s even being used to manage humanitarian crises – for example the UN is using blockchain across 16 agencies, including the World Food Program, to help refugees purchase food.

Content producers, such as music, film, and television companies, for example, lose millions each year to illegal downloads. Blockchain can change all that. Organisations who move their whole business onto blockchain will have the ability to monitor, and track every single transaction, to protect their copyright, contracts, and products, because everything will be protected by cryptography, and logged in the decentralised ledgers which clearly define ownership, as well as register every transaction. The content industry will see a massive shift, from everyone stealing content, to everything being paid for again. In the future, one of the biggest jobs will be the creation of adaptive content, which can’t be produced by a machine. The ability to be confirm ownership and be paid properly and quickly for it, will see the content industry grow.

In the property industry, blockchain removes the need for a middleman or conveyancer, because the contract process will be automated through a smart contract built on an Etherium type blockchain will do that for you, and it will be very clear who holds the deed to a property.

During its March 7 general election, Sierra Leone made history as the first country in the world to utilise blockchain technology to verify votes. The service that was provided at 280 polling stations in the country’s Western District by SLNEC-accredited international observers Agora, was used to trial tallying votes in an effort to provide transparency in the country’s elections. Each vote was read aloud, then captured on a joint, private blockchain network accessible only by Agora staff before being posted on their election results site. This reduced the possibility of voter fraud and vote manipulation, which is known to occur in the region.

Blockchain also has the ability to speed up the transmission of money which will see us all being paid faster too, imagine earning Rands every second as you work. Instead of the traditional payment systems, we will see money streaming from a purchaser to a seller, a client to a service provider, much in the same way music is streamed.

The potential to answer some of the world’s most pressing challenges using blockchain, and other exponential technologies is clear. Right now, we expect big growth from blockchain technologies, but we can’t really imagine the scope of where it will go yet. There is a change happening and we need to find ways to become more adaptable and agile, to keep learning, re-educating and skilling ourselves for the future.

One of the ways is to start learning about these different technologies and engaging with us as Singularity South Africa, because our goal is to #futureproof Africa, to bring this mind-set and way of thinking, and to educate and inspire people, so that they have a better understanding of the available technologies and tools. We want to show everyone, regardless of age, geographic location, or economic status, that they have the potential to become the new Elon Musk. We want to see South African’s rise on the global stage using technologies to positively impact a billion people across our continent.

 

Mic Mann is the director at Mann Made and Co-organizer of the SingularityU South Africa Summit. He is a futurist, speaker and strategist on exponential technologies. In 2017 he co-organised the inaugural SingularityU South Africa Summit.

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