Trust in blockchain, then forget it

Joseph Pindar’s hope for the future of blockchain is that no one will really care about it anymore. “I want to see it at a point where it will be running seamlessly in the background, doing what needs to be done, while everyone carries about business as usual,” he says. A definite change from today’s very visible hype around blockchain.

Pindar is Director of Strategy in the CTO Office at digital security firm Gemalto, and is also a founding member of the Trusted IOT Alliance working with BNY Mellon, Bosch, Cisco, Foxconn, U.S. Bank and several startups, to use blockchain technology to secure the internet of things (IoT).

I spoke to him for more of his insight ahead of his talk on blockchain at TM Forum Live! Asia in Singapore.

AM: What are your thoughts on the current state of blockchain?

JP: At the moment it’s still very early in its emergence, and there are good things and bad things about that. The good thing is that it’s really exciting, and there is plenty of opportunity and use cases to apply it to. However, the tension to that is a lot of people still don’t necessarily understand what blockchain is, what it’s about and why it can be important to people. I find a lot of people confuse it with cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin and all the stuff that’s making the news at the moment. Fundamentally, blockchain is what enables cryptocurrencies, but many other things too.

AM: At the event you’ll be talking about blockchain and securing digital transactions. Specifically in terms of transactions and blockchain, are you seeing a lot of development, interest and use cases?

JP: Transactions are the fundamental thing blockchain is all about. The pain point/business need we all have is:  “How do I transact with someone I don’t fully trust.” The way we do that today is through intermediaries – banks, lawyers, stock brokers, etc., and there is really good money to be made in those middlemen intermediary roles, because today it’s the only way we can trust transactions.

What blockchain is all about at a fundamental level is taking that trust and rather than having a central middleman do it and/or having a single person or company do it, it actually breaks that trust down [read a more detailed explanation here]  distributes it, and has a consensus understanding with the group involved of “is this transaction trustworthy”. This can be established through an inviolable, preserved record of transactions, and that is essentially what the difference is.

AM: How much of an impact do you think blockchain will have? Will there be a massive uptake?

JP: Personally, I hate the hype around blockchain, but I do see it as a fundamental foundation technology. There are lots of opportunities to go in and undercut premium prices for intermediary services in the professional sector, that’s one side of it. The other side: when we look at 5G and IoT, and new ways of working with mobility, you start talking about edge computing; rather than having a single centralized cloud environment, you’re getting lots of edge-computing environments. Really, it’s the whole way that technology is evolving is from this centralized model into a distributed model.

But, the one thing I reiterate time and time again is the fact that ultimately, it’s a hidden piece of infrastructure, and I hope that by 2020 or 2025 we’re all using blockchain with no one actually thinking about it.

The closest comparison I have is the example of databases. You have Oracle, a $200 billion company, and you as a consumer of technology, of apps, of mobile phones and the like, are using and syncing data to these devices through Oracle. But, you really don’t care whether it’s Oracle or some other system because it’s so far down in the back end. It’s vitally importantly for your operations but it’s completely hidden, and I think that is the position that blockchain should be in, and will be in, within the next decade.

AM: In your presentation, it mentions you’ll be discussing how to navigate some of the technical hurdles of blockchain. What are they?

JP: I read recently that a single Bitcoin transaction uses the same power as your entire house uses in a week, and that just crazy. We’re looking to scale billions of IoT devices, and that just does not make economical sense.

If you think about the amount of data that’s going to be pushed through their systems, it doesn’t make sense for it to take that much energy. Companies are working out more efficient ways of applying this technology, but we’re not fully there yet. It’s probably going to take another year or so for things such as sensor devices to actually be able to operate in this distributed trust environment without having that amount of energy overhead.

AM: Tell us a little more about the Trusted IoT Alliance?

JP: We’re working at the interface between IoT and blockchain to look at what the use cases are, what’s needed to build that market out and actually have opportunities there. We’re bringing together large companies, Cisco and Bosch for example, and startups. One of these startups is a Singapore-based company which is looking to ensure the way that premium products, high-end luxury goods, are tracked and have provenance through the supply chain.

This way, you have assurance and understanding that what you’re buying off the shelf for a large amount of your salary is actually genuine and can be proven to be from Luis Vuitton or whoever. This kind of supply chain integrity will cover a lot more, from medical supplies, chemotherapy drugs, hip replacements, all the way through these luxury goods. The identity of goods, are actually becoming more important such that you get the best experience at the end and know where exactly it’s come from, or, as a business owner, you know exactly who’s using what and where, and being able to do all shaping of the production run and the likes from that information.

AM: Is there anything else you think companies interested or investing in blockchain should think about?

JP: One of the challenges of blockchain is that it is so broad, so new, so open, that I think it’s essential to have that clarity of focus on a particular topic/theme as you can go off in so many different directions.


    About The Author


    Arti has been writing and editing for seven years in the fields of technology, business and finance. She is particularly interested in how firms are innovating to bring us into the next digital age.

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