Sunday, April 22, 2018

Seattle Group Discusses Application and Impact of Blockchain for Small Business

Our great host and leader, Andrew Sengul, led Richard Webb, Reba Haas, Eric Veal, Bruce Follansbee, Dr. Tom Louwers, Thomas Mercer (new job as Assistant Director to UW MBA programs!), and marketer/professor/smart guy Mike Pritchard in a very interesting conversation about blockchain. 

Andrew spoke to the changes that blockchain will bring and how it may impact our businesses and lives.  Andrew is a genius, I’m pretty sure.  I haven’t verified it but in every conversation I continue to be reminded of how much more he knows about most subjects than I do.  Andrew is opinionated, smart and self-assured.

Andrew gave us a printed handout to follow covering a blockchain history, a comparison of blockchain technologies, what it means for our businesses and what it means for us.  As is normal at the events, he was regularly interrupted with questions and inquiries from the guests and participants.  He handled the inputs well and we left the evening with a new level of understanding about this particular technology and it’s impact on us.

Mr. Sengul spoke to us of the history of blockchain and noted that there were predecessors to BitCoin like DigiCash and HashCash and predecessor alt-coins like Ethereum and the like.  Proof of work is one of the core attributes of these systems and other schemes include proof of duration and proof of stake.  These are high level attributes that set the style and applications of the technology.  There are many applications of blockchain other than cryptocurrencies and those domains are still being explored heavily and in new ways. 

Andrew helped us understand what the idea of a crypto currency ‘wallet’ is and how the exchanges are typically holders of wallets on end users’ behalf.  But end users can have their own wallets.  The consequence of which is more computing resources required to run the basic peer-to-peer distributed transaction ledgers.  A single wallet today takes up about 170 GB of space which is not ridiculous for a modern home computer system but at the same time is not a load that the average user would want to run.

The technologies were compared by Sengul and discussion and input ensued.  He  shared information about consensus mechanisms, integrity strategies, obstacles (such as transaction cost, transaction time, regulation, attacks and resource requirements).  We talked through a few of the popular technologies like BitCoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Monero and Hyperledger.  Linux, IBM and T-Mobile are big backers of Hyperledger, for example.   

We discussed the $4B price tag for someone to try to take down Bitcoin now.  It doesn’t sound all that high given all the billionaires and power kings in the world today. 

The meaning of crypto currency and the blockchain technology is interesting.  For example, benefits include getting around central agencies including governments and banks, getting investment capital via initial coin offerings (ICOs) and the secure storage of open data and its associated verification in a peer network. 

There are a variety of challenges with blockchain technologies now and the associated regulation that has come and will increasingly come.   As evidenced by Mark Zuckerberg’s recent visit to the US Congress, the world is not yet ready to see or understand the implications of big data at a very low level of detail.  Stupid questions get asked and it’s hard for people to comprehend the power and enormity of data.  Blockchain adds an interesting element of control and visibility to proprietary models of data capture, storage and transmission. 

Cryptocurrencies are an aspect of the blockchain but not an essential property.  Many of the blockchains rely upon an underlying cryptocurrency to give “gas” to the process like in the case of Ether.  New metaphors and businesses are being built and it’s exciting.  And disruptive.  And new. 
We are starting to see private blockchains, new encryption methods, new related technologies and business models.  People wonder if these things are ponzi schemes and some may very well be.  For example, Ripple is perceived by some as a government and traditional way to give a consumer “blockchain” tomany but in reality it does not use the same technology and benefits as have been created by Bitcoin and its ilk.  Regulation and rip-offs will come. 

Join us Tuesday, April 24, 2018 for conversation with host Berry Zimmerman about that which keeps us human.  We are up against an onslaught of incredibly compelling technologies and need to continue to carve out the niche of humans and individuals in a rapidly changing environment as we have always done.