Blockchain technology can help people, companies and governments carry out a variety of tasks such as banking more efficiently and securely.
However, several key issues need to be addressed, including its ease of use. These were the views of experts in a panel discussion titled “Blockchain and the Decentralised World” at SGInnovate’s Deep Tech Summit, which was held on the second day of the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH).
The annual SWITCH, which was held from 17 to 20 Sept 2018, was organised by Singapore’s National Research Foundation and Enterprise Singapore to bring together technology, innovation and enterprise experts from around the world.
Blockchain applications are decentralized, which means that they are not controlled by a central authority but instead uses nodes in a network to validate transactions and record data.
“With this radically decentralised infrastructure, systems can be built for faster interactions,”
said Mr Joseph Lubin, founder of blockchain software technology company ConsenSys and co-founder of Ethereum, an open software platform based on blockchain that enables developers to build and deploy decentralised applications.
Also, since each blockchain transaction creates a block of information that is added to the chain of records (hence the term “blockchain”), malicious actors would have to alter many blocks of information all at once to tamper with a single transaction. The computing power needed for such a hack also grows in tandem with the size of the network.
“[In] laws or contractual agreements, blockchain being decentralised can be impossible to subvert,”
said Mr Lubin. Ms Meeta Vouk, director of technology giant IBM’s Singapore Research Centre and its chief digital officer of blockchain technologies, agreed and added that any transaction that has intermediaries can be disrupted.
Other panelists in the discussion noted that blockchain will force incumbents in various industries to be more efficient. Mr Martin Lim, chief operations officer of Electrify, a Singapore startup that uses blockchain to allow users to buy electricity from energy retailers and other consumers, said:
“For the longest time, energy has been controlled centrally. You build a massive power plant and then sit there and make money, and there is no incentive to be better. Decentralisation will change this.”
Mr Humayun Sheikh, founder and chief executive of Fetch.AI, which aims to build a self-learning blockchain network that will enable cameras, cars, sensors and other participants, both human and otherwise, to communicate and trade data and services, said that blockchain is necessary in today’s data-saturated world. With the development of new technology, there has been an explosion of data and centralisation is falling behind in handling this.
Still, several improvements are needed in the blockchain industry to maximise the technology’s appeal and usefulness to people, the panellists said.
“There are many blockchain projects now that are essentially foundational building blocks. We are going to see a lot of these technologies being put together into more complex systems that are more compelling to consumers. We really do need scalability,”
said Mr Lubin.
Mr Sheikh added that making the technology easy to use would help to accelerate uptake. This means building not just the framework for blockchain but also tools so that anyone can participate in this decentralisation. Mr Lim concurred and went further to suggest that blockchain needs to be forgotten, similar to how people use the Internet today without thinking of the underlying structure.
Mr Soeren Duvier, managing director of the Asia office of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance, which seeks to develop blockchain standards and education for the freight industry, said that cooperation among developers would be helpful.
“However, bringing the supply chain people together will be a challenge because they are competitors, after all,”
he noted. More people also need to be trained in technology to handle regulation and compliance issues.
Ms Emma Cui, chief executive of Longhash Singapore, a blockchain incubator network, and the panel discussion’s moderator, also recounted her bad experience dealing with the diverse types of blockchain wallets and exchanges.
“We are still at the nascent stage of the industry, and even the leading products have daily users that number in just the hundreds or low-thousands. We also need to address fundamental challenges such as scalability, the user experience and regulatory issues. Still, people want to take back control of things like ownership of their data, and blockchain makes that possible. People are excited about blockchain, and we will continue to see many projects to push out working products.”
Featured image credit: Panelists share their insights on blockchain at Deep Tech Summit, a partner event of SWITCH 2018 (Photo: National Research Foundation Singapore)