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Blockchain 23 June 2016

Internet and blockchain technology: expectations of what is to come

Walid Al-Saqaf
By Walid Al-SaqafMember, Internet Society Board of Trustees

The Internet is an enabler of many disrupting technologies – of which the blockchain is currently one of the most exciting.

Simply put, the blockchain can act as a virtual public ledger that records transactions processed and maintained by a network of communicating nodes running cryptocurrency software. It was invented in 2008 as part of Bitcoin by a person with the computer nickname ‘Satoshi Nakamoto’. It was envisioned as a peer-to-peer payment system and digital currency that can be transferred between any two users connected to the Internet, without using any intermediary.

As of today, the value of one bitcoin exceeds USD 600 and the trading cap of the cryptocurrency has recently exceeded USD12 billion.

While Bitcoin’s popularity is on the rise, what I believe is truly fascinating is the blockchain technology. It is a public ledger that holds immutable data in a secure and encrypted way and ensures that its transactions can never be altered.

This in itself is a major technological feat that can be compared to the creation of the Internet itself.

The strength of the blockchain is that it has no single point of failure. The “One Internet” report released by the Global Commission on Internet Governance (GCIG) this week at the OECD meeting specifically mentioned that “distributed ledger technologies” such as the blockchain “let people who have no particular confidence in each other collaborate without having to go through a neutral central authority.”

Applications can range from storing valuable data for permanent preservation to enabling fast and effective delivery of aid with a fraction of the cost and time needed to send it using a bank wire transfer.

What is concerning is that while technologists and businesses have been exploring the blockchain technology and its applications, many governments seem skeptical and not taking it seriously.

In a time when multistakeholder collaboration is the key to addressing Internet-related issues, governments need to learn more about this evolving technology and how it could change the world.

At the OECD High Level Ministerial Meeting in Cancun during 21-23 June, I will be reflecting on the need for governments to stay up-to-date and to engage with other stakeholders on Internet-enabled disruptive technologies that are gaining steady momentum.

Let us not forget that the Internet itself didn’t get enough attention by governments during its early years of creation. And I fear that policy makers are also not paying attention and are insufficiently informed about the blockchain.

I will ask public policy shapers at the OECD a question on how to get them to educate and inform themselves about the blockchain and its enormous potential for economic development.

The Internet Society believes that while we should not ignore some of the risks associated with disruptive technologies such as the blockchain, the balance should tilt in favor of embracing the benefits and opportunities of such technologies. This is particularly the case for disruptive technologies that are built upon an open, trusted and interoperable Internet

I am confident that to make the best out of the blockchain and other Internet-enabled disruptive technologies, we have to harness the collective expertise and wisdom of all stakeholders, including governments, civil society, business and the technical community.

Governments of today should realize that it is better to learn and embrace positive aspects of new technologies. They should not ignore them. Embracing new technologies can ensure effective economic development for their countries and the world at large.

Image credit: BTC Keychain on Flickr CC BY

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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