Wednesday, 07 June 2017 08:26

Blockchain now, is like the Internet was in the late 90s – unstoppable, claims expert Featured


Blockchain — distributed ledger technology — is on the cusp of disrupting the world as much as the fledgling Internet did in the 90s, only faster.

That is the opinion of Dr Mark Staples, group leader of the Software Systems group at CSIRO’s elite software strategy group Data61. But nevertheless, it was an opinion expressed to media in front of his boss Adrian Turner, chief executive, and Craig Laundy, Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science. Both agreed.

And that is where Data61 is really coming from – to investigate, help set global standards, and establish trial use cases for a thing called Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology.

Turner said, “CSIRO’s Data61 has engaged extensively with industry and government to deliver two reports on the regulatory, technical and societal implications of using blockchain-based systems across various industries. We are experiencing an exponential pace of change and we can’t afford to be followers in the adoption of the emerging Blockchain technology. It has potential to reframe existing industries like financial services and seed new ones like food provenance and personalised health.”

Laundy agreed, saying, “We are at a tipping point with Blockchain – historically it has had a bad rap with Bitcoin and the currency of the dark Web, but it could be the major disruptor to so many industries. We have two choices – embrace and invest or ignore and perish.”

Rob Hanson, senior research consultant, Data61 Insight Team, CSIRO, supports decision makers in dealing with uncertainty. He is trained and experienced in identifying challenges and issues, then addressing them before they become a problem. He said, “We are not seeking to predict the future of Blockchain. It is all about presenting the options and seeing how they can unlock productivity. The biggest issue with it is trust.”

Staples said there is a big difference between trust and trustworthy. When you trust someone or something there is always a risk of things going wrong. You trust a bank but it could go under. Trustworthy meant there was implicit, no risk, trust and Blockchain needed a lot of work before that was reached.

Data61 has released two reports. One, at 60 pages, investigates risks and opportunities and the other, at 76 pages, presents scenarios for the use of distributed ledger technology over the coming decade.

For example:

  • It could stop the massive food fraud costing Australian exporters hundreds of millions of dollars simply by using it to prove food provenance – from paddock to plate. But this has relevance to any supply chain scenario.
  • It could stop the massive Internet of Things (IoT) by proving the pedigree of the device and its software. This may be a game changer for autonomous vehicles trusting the information they need to function.
  • In finance, it could eliminate fraudulent transactions, enable electronic contracts and deeds.
  • And it may enable programmable money – where funds come with electronic caveats for what they can be used for and where they can be used.
  • It could be the foundation of digital identity critical to establishing trust in everything from the sharing economy to medical procedures. Specialised identity ledgers would be a practical approach to managing identity, and associated regulatory compliance, and for facilitating interoperability between distributed ledgers.

Data61 was clear however that Blockchain was not a silver bullet, a panacea, as there were many limitations to it. For example, as the data is unchangeable (in theory) to prevent fraud, what happens if toxic data enters the chain and it needs to be changed?

Data61 also has concerns over scalability and high transaction demands alone may choke a system on its own popularity. Carefully employing blockchains for specific roles inside larger distributed ledgers may optimise outcomes.

The reports are here.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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