1. Time stamping on the blockchain is already a well-functioning application.
“Blockchain brings time stamping to big data, which is much cheaper than previous versions of time stamping big data. I’m surprised how many features you can build on that simple feature,” Gilles Cadignan, chief executive and cofounder of Rennes, France-based Woleet, a Bitcoin blockchain-data anchoring company, said in a panel. This, of course, presumes that the data is accurate and trustworthy. Woleet’s service uses the Bitcoin blockchain to track, say, the provenance of pharmaceuticals to prevent counterfeiting. He also noted, “Even if Woleet disappears,” the record of any data that the company has stamped onto the Bitcoin blockchain will endure if that ledger does.
2. The blockchain is likely to be useful in identity authentication.
Though several issues would need to be worked out first, speakers acknowledged the promise that blockchain holds for identity. However, standards for entering verified data into the blockchain must be determined first. In one panel, John Geater, chief technology officer of Plantation, Florida-based Thales e-Security, an enterprise data protection company, made the point that the difficulty of putting a mistake in the ledger for identities is that is’t not like recording $100 too much in one ledger entry and then later entering a $100 subtraction. “For IoT, … you’re dealing with a different quality of information,” he said. “The fundamental thing you have to understand is that if you put a mistake in the ledger … it doesn’t guarantee the information inside it. It guarantees that someone with this corresponding private key put that information on the ledger. The contents of what’s read back — that’s a subjective assertion as far as the technology is concerned.”
Separately, in an interview, he also noted that the while blockchain could be useful for identity, it may not be the cure-all some imagine it to be: “We don’t have any computer systems in a world that have lasted for 100 years, so cradle to grave for any technology might be difficult.”
3. Blockchain technology will likely enable individual control of one’s personal data.
This is particularly relevant in Europe, where the big tech companies have battled European regulators over European “right to be forgotten” privacy laws, resulting in Google now being the arbiter of requests from users to have certain links removed from search results. “The digital trail you leave online may be manageable,” said Geert Van Kerckhoven, senior manager for Ernst & Young.
“This kind of brokerage model for [personally identifiable information] is something that’s going to happen,” said Martin Ruubel, president of Amsterdam-based GuardTime, which offers blockchain solutions for industries such as telecommunications, financial markets, and defense and aerospace. “You’ll be in control of this data, you’ll be able to share it with whoever you want to, and you’ll be paid for it,” he said.
4. It will be useful to government in a variety of ways.
Among the ways in which governments may employ blockchain technology, speakers mentioned items such as imposing VAT: “We could automate VAT in three lines of code,” said Woleet’s Cadignan.
Ruubel of GuardTime noted that Raytheon, Lockheed and Boeing are all customers — “which indicates these big defense companies don’t really have a choice.” He said DARPA is currently doing formal verification of GuardTime’s blockchains, and said, “I can guarantee within 5-6 years, we will several nation-states with their data in the blockchain.”
5. Blockchain technology will help the four in ten adults who are unbanked.
Gilles of Woleet said blockchain technology would help the unbanked access financial services without a bank account: “Today people forget you can send money from here to China in 10 minutes. Try that with your bank account. It will take weeks.”
6. The blockchain will likely help secure the Internet of Things but the realization of this application is even further off than others.
Referring to recent DDOS attacks that have been orchestrated through hacked Internet of Things devices such as webcams, digital video recorders and smart refrigerators, Bernd Lapp, founder of the Ethereum Foundation’s decentralized consulting network, described how blockchain technology could secure the identity of a device so it cannot be commandeered in this way.
Thales’s Geater also notes that blockchain’s “use cases for IoT are more for industrial use cases,” such as warranties or “to prevent industrial refrigerators from melting down and losing $1 million of stock.”
7. Companies are trying to use blockchain for the wrong reasons.
Several panelists and speakers felt that blockchain hype has created froth. Woleet sees it as being used in cases where it’s “too big a solution for the job,” as well as too expensive. Others said that many are viewing it, inaccurately, as a database, whereas a blockchain “stores the fingerprints of items, not the items themselves,” said Geater, though this is of course not true for cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoins that only exist on the bitcoin blockchain.
8. Many of the layers of infrastructure around blockchain still need to be standardized and built.
While many see the potential for blockchain to offer advantages in security, it’s still not clear if the ledger created by the blockchain is enough, and it’s clear that other layers of security need to be built around blockchain technology in order to ensure that it is storing accurate data such as identities and more.
Examples of technologies that would be complementary to blockchain include InterPlanetary File System, an effort to make the web faster and safer by decentralizing data and enabling peer-to-peer file transfers. For instance, a document stored in IPFS could be linked to a certificate on the blockchain, said Kevin Loaec, managing director of Dublin-based blockchain consulting firm Chainsmiths.
9. It’s too early to decide whether Ethereum will stand the test of time.
In discussing a network like Bitcoin called Ethereum, which ambitiously tries to offer much more functionality than the Bitcoin network, several panelists were also skeptical about Ethereum’s ability to deliver. Several panelists mentioned some of the debacles suffered last summer by Ethereum, which was not even a year old when the first of these fiascos (the DAO, a decentralized autonomic organization that was meant to act as a venture fund and became the largest crowdfunded project in history, raising $150 million in cryptocurrency — $50 millions of which was later pilfered) began.
10. Smart contracts are not and may never be ready for prime time.
Numerous attendees questioned the viability of smart contracts, which are software programs that are programmed to automatically carry out the functions of an agreement when certain conditions are fulfilled.
Rubble of GuardTime questioned whether Ethereum, the network most associated with smart contracts, would ever be able to fulfill its vision of enabling smart contracts the world over. In his opinion, any network like Ethereum that was built to be “Turing complete,” which means it could run any algorithm, would not be able to support smart contracts because they enable endlessly looping transactions. This feature made the DAO fiasco possible — someone siphoned $50 million from accounts by repeating transfers using that looping function. “It doesn’t work for a $160 million investment fund because inevitably, it will be gone,” he said.
by Laura ShinBLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS