Blockchain: Libertarian, Authoritarian, Or Somewhere In Between?

Adam Winfield

The rise of cryptocurrencies and blockchains has people speculating whether the technologies will lead to a libertarian future, in which governments and corporations lose their grip on centralized power, an authoritarian future, in which they tighten that grip, or something in between.

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, and blockchain, the unfalsifiable, incorruptible digital ledger designed to facilitate cryptocurrency trading, were created with a libertarian utopia in mind. Early advocates believed they could be the forces that wrestled control away from governments and corporations because they would make individuals less dependent on centralized intermediaries such as banks.

What some of these libertarians perhaps didn’t anticipate, however, was the extent to which governments and corporations would eventually begin embracing the technologies – particularly blockchain. Increasingly, state powers and big corps are recognizing the potential of blockchain to restructure their operations, making them more efficient, transparent and secure, and could – advertently or not – be solidifying their rule in the process.

The libertarians who pioneered blockchain aren’t happy about this, as it goes against everything they believe the technology was created for (though some argue the intention was to sidestep state-backed currency systems, not replace them). As Ian Bogost writes in The Atlantic, “the irony would be tragic if it weren’t also so frightening. The invitation to transform distributed-ledger systems into the ultimate tool of corporate and authoritarian control might be too great a temptation for human nature to forgo.”

Such a dystopian accusation deserves an opportunity for rebuttal from the side of the corporation. James Zdralek, a Montreal-based software designer for the global tech company SAP, believes the idea that blockchain could lead to total control is flawed because anything made up of individual units – including corporations and governments – cannot have a unified conscience that chooses good or evil. “It’s like judging a group of mold – it either gives you cheese or anthrax,” says Zdralek. “Either result was not the conscious choice of the group of mold cells.

“As members of the group, we just do our best to influence, and hope we don’t end up as anthrax,” he continued. “Humans organize, and governments exist. The net benefit of having governments outweighs the costs. A good government will prevent corporations from spying on people, which they tend to only do to determine who wants what stuff and how to make them buy more anyway.

“The same charges being levelled at corporate interest in blockchain today were thrown at the internet in the 1980s, saying that ISPs recording our names and addresses would lead to 1984. Instead we have targeted advertising, Twitter and fake news. Not utopian, but not dystopian either, and certainly not planned or predicted in advance.

“Furthermore, totalitarian regimes are becoming harder to maintain with the ever-vigilant internet. The ‘dark spots’ – finance, North Korea, Tunisia – are getting smaller, and more people are believing that technologies like blockchain can be used to track and snuff out corporate and government corruption.”

Wendy McElroy, a self-described “individualist anarchist” who writes for Bitcoin News, isn’t quite so hopeful. “A digital currency under their control could be a stride toward a cashless society in which all white market transactions are tracked by avaricious banks, states and corporations,” she warns. “It could usher in unprecedented financial control. Statists have awoken to the power of the blockchain, which would make their usurpation of money and power more efficient.”

Andreas Antonopoulos, a well-regarded figure in the blockchain community, offered a decidedly less bleak and more harmonious vision when speaking to The Telegraph for its thorough examination of blockchain’s anarchistic potential in 2014. “Most of the hierarchical institutions we have built around finance are there to regulate the fact that if you [put a lot of money] under the control of a single person … they tend to steal that money. This technology makes it largely unnecessary. There’s nothing particularly libertarian about that. It’s simply a recognition that you can achieve in software what regulation has failed to achieve.

“This is not some kind of libertarian manifesto, or anarchist manifesto, saying that we don’t need mechanisms for achieving social cohesion,” Antonopoulos continued. “It’s simply recognising that we can create better mechanisms as we solve problems of scale. That’s all. It’s not some kind of crazy ‘we don’t need governments’ manifesto. It’s simply that we can make better governments when we don’t concentrate power as much in the hands of a few people.”

Antonopoulos’ lofty hope seems to be that blockchain and digital currencies can bring international banking to the six billion-plus globally with no access to it, dramatically improving their standards of living. Such a feat, surely, would require a high level of corporate and governmental influence to pull off. Whether it would lead to a global authoritarian regime in the process is anyone’s guess at this point.

For those libertarian dreamers, better living standards around the world would be of small consolation if it meant living under what they consider inescapable rule. As Zdralek implied, however, some form of self-correcting middle ground is the more likely outcome. Like the internet, blockchain will inevitably be seen as democratizing by some, oppressive by others. Some will feel freer; others will feel trapped and spooked. Perhaps the only thing we can be sure of, collectively, is that blockchain will change the world.

For more on how blockchain is transforming finance, see Blockchain? Bitcoin? What Money’s Digital Makeover Means For You.

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About Adam Winfield

Adam Winfield writes about technology, how it's affecting industries, how it's affecting businesses, and how it's affecting people.

Blockchain As A Miracle Cure For The $78 Billion Opioid Crisis

Susan Galer

Blockchain technology is relentlessly hawked as the cure-all for everything that ails business and society. Pushing the hype aside for just one moment, the super-secure, distributed ledger could well deliver the global supply chain transparency that will help this country address the opioid crisis.

Every day, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention country puts a price tag of $78 billion on the opioid crisis, spanning healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice. To be clear, it’s a difficult, multi-faceted problem. Yet some experts argue blockchain’s promise lies in its ability to take on precisely this kind of complex challenge.

Opening the black box

Of all the industry supply chains, pharmaceuticals is among the most strategic, and there’s no further proof of that than the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA). Under this mandate, all drugs delivered to patients must have a traceable technology element—it could be a two-dimensional barcode or something electronic. Regulators would then be able to trace the drugs back to the manufacturer.

It’s easy to see blockchain’s potential fit. It’s ideally suited to open industrial-size black boxes like global supply chains. Pharmaceutical production starts with the raw materials and manufacturers, and extends through suppliers, brand manufacturers and contract manufacturers to distributors, wholesalers, physicians, hospitals and pharmacies, all the way to patients.

Here’s why #blockchain is ideally suited to tackle the #opioid crisis

When it comes to tackling over-prescribing, blockchain could leave today’s databases in the dust. Right now, companies and regulators can manage bits and pieces of the opioid crisis puzzle. But the truth is, if a physician is over-prescribing, others are likely aiding and abetting.

“Once you start tagging drugs with an immutable audit trail, you can do what was impossible before,” said Josh Greenbaum, principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting (EAC). “It’s fairly easy to game a national database of prescriptions, providers, and patients. But making the drugs traceable provides a much more comprehensive view of what each party is doing with the opioids. Blockchain adds the full distribution picture, and could be tremendously valuable in exposing leaks.”

Note to pharma: get a DNA transplant

Of course, there are numerous challenges, notably the dearth of experts who understand the technology, not to mention security.

“Blockchain is very nascent and pharma distribution is old school,” said Greenbaum. “There has to be almost a DNA transplant to make it work well. And, even though blockchain is meant to be secure, it doesn’t mean it’s infallible. You need to make sure it’s truly secure, including at the points of integration between systems. Openness is meant to be the gold standard for commerce in the global economy, but pharma has a tremendous amount of personal identifiable information.”

Blockchain’s immaturity—glaringly obvious in the profusion of disparate, disconnected, non-standardized fabrics and consortia—is another major hurdle. Green sees blockchain in pharma functioning in a more private network. “There won’t be a single blockchain across the industry. You’ll have to reconcile multiple chains so suppliers or contract manufacturers aren’t buried under the technical complexity of monitoring and participating in multiple blockchains.”

Collaborative transparency

Blockchain by itself won’t deter people from misusing drugs. As an auditable, traceable service underlying the pharmaceutical supply chain, blockchain might just provide a trail for investigators to thwart more counterfeiters, and help manufacturers make sure what’s coming out of the factory ends up at the right point of sale to the right patients. There is no single solution to the opioid crisis, but we do have to find some answers. People’s lives depend on it.

This blog was originally posted on SAP Business Trends.

Follow me on TwitterSAP Business Trends, or Facebook. Read all of my Forbes articles here.

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How Blockchain Can Restore Trust In The Wine Industry

Eric Annino

Blockchain is one of those things that everyone talks about but no one (myself included) really understands—like bitcoin or the stock market. I do understand, however, that blockchain is all about trust, and that’s the reason it’s going to revolutionize every industry. It’s also the reason it can revolutionize wine markets.

Fine wine has traditionally been bought and sold based on large measures of trust. A seller offers a bottle for sale, most likely something rare, old, or from an iconic maker; provides a reasonably good story of origin (or provenance) to establish that the wine is authentic and has been stored correctly; and buyers line up to shell out thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars.

That has changed in the last decade.

In 2008, Benjamin Wallace’s true crime hit The Billionaire’s Vinegar (soon to be a movie starring Matthew McConaughey) brought to light the story of a German music manager and wine collector who allegedly duped other wealthy collectors into buying counterfeit wine (i.e., wine that has been adulterated in some way, often passed off under a more expensive brand), including several bottles he claimed belonged to Thomas Jefferson.

Wallace’s book became a New York Times bestseller and planted a significant seed of doubt in the minds of collectors everywhere.

Half a decade later, the wine world was again shaken when wine-collector-turned-wine-forger Rudy Kurniawan was sentenced to ten years in prison for defrauding high-end collectors to the tune of at least $20 million. (For the whole story, check out Peter Hellman’s new book In Vino Duplicitas.) In the wake of the “Rudy affair,” auction houses began to withdraw lots of wine of suspicious provenance. Lawsuits followed, and one prominent collector—billionaire Bill Koch, who fell victim to both Rudy and the alleged forger of Wallace’s book, Hardy Rodenstock—even began a crusade against fake wine, hiring a team of experts and spending more than $20 million of his own money to ferret out counterfeiters.

Trust in fine wine markets has never been lower, but blockchain has brought hope.

Meet Everledger, a London-based blockchain technology firm and the first company to secure a wine’s provenance via blockchain. After making its mark fighting counterfeiting in the diamond industry, Everledger made the jump to wine, and has partnered with renowned wine fraud specialist Maureen Downey (who played an important role in the Rudy Kurniawan investigation) to create the Chai Wine Vault.

Using Maureen’s Chai Method, which identifies more than 90 data points on a bottle, along with high-resolution photographs and ownership and storage records, Everledger creates a permanent, digital representation of a bottle on the blockchain. This permanent record acts as a verification point as the bottle changes hands. The blockchain is updated along the way so anyone who buys or sells the bottle can rely on trustworthy provenance.

This level of supply chain security is increasingly vital to every industry. “If you can track and trace diamonds, you can track and trace anything,” says Joe Fox, SAP Ariba’s Senior VP of Business Development and Strategy.

“One of the things blockchain does is facilitate greater visibility and trust. In embedding it across our applications and network, we can enable supply chains that are smarter, faster and more transparent from sourcing all the way through settlement.”

Wine counterfeiting isn’t new—Pliny the Elder lamented the practice in first century Rome—but it’s certainly reaching new heights. Experts, Downey included, have suggested that as much as 20 percent of wine sold globally is fraudulent. An estimated 10,000 “Rudy bottles” are still in circulation, and just last week, police seized 6,000 bottles of counterfeit wine in China.

For wine markets everywhere, blockchain is a timely innovation that underscores the value of trust in any transaction.

For more on blockchain’s potential to impact business processes, see Improve User Experience With Internet Of Things, Blockchain, And Platforms.

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Eric Annino

About Eric Annino

Eric Annino works for Global Corporate Affairs at SAP.

Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences

Kai Goerlich

 

Google Cardboard VR goggles cost US$8
By 2019, immersive solutions
will be adopted in 20% of enterprise businesses
By 2025, the market for immersive hardware and software technology could be $182 billion
In 2017, Lowe’s launched
Holoroom How To VR DIY clinics

From Dipping a Toe to Fully Immersed

The first wave of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) is here,

using smartphones, glasses, and goggles to place us in the middle of 360-degree digital environments or overlay digital artifacts on the physical world. Prototypes, pilot projects, and first movers have already emerged:

  • Guiding warehouse pickers, cargo loaders, and truck drivers with AR
  • Overlaying constantly updated blueprints, measurements, and other construction data on building sites in real time with AR
  • Building 3D machine prototypes in VR for virtual testing and maintenance planning
  • Exhibiting new appliances and fixtures in a VR mockup of the customer’s home
  • Teaching medicine with AR tools that overlay diagnostics and instructions on patients’ bodies

A Vast Sea of Possibilities

Immersive technologies leapt forward in spring 2017 with the introduction of three new products:

  • Nvidia’s Project Holodeck, which generates shared photorealistic VR environments
  • A cloud-based platform for industrial AR from Lenovo New Vision AR and Wikitude
  • A workspace and headset from Meta that lets users use their hands to interact with AR artifacts

The Truly Digital Workplace

New immersive experiences won’t simply be new tools for existing tasks. They promise to create entirely new ways of working.

VR avatars that look and sound like their owners will soon be able to meet in realistic virtual meeting spaces without requiring users to leave their desks or even their homes. With enough computing power and a smart-enough AI, we could soon let VR avatars act as our proxies while we’re doing other things—and (theoretically) do it well enough that no one can tell the difference.

We’ll need a way to signal when an avatar is being human driven in real time, when it’s on autopilot, and when it’s owned by a bot.


What Is Immersion?

A completely immersive experience that’s indistinguishable from real life is impossible given the current constraints on power, throughput, and battery life.

To make current digital experiences more convincing, we’ll need interactive sensors in objects and materials, more powerful infrastructure to create realistic images, and smarter interfaces to interpret and interact with data.

When everything around us is intelligent and interactive, every environment could have an AR overlay or VR presence, with use cases ranging from gaming to firefighting.

We could see a backlash touting the superiority of the unmediated physical world—but multisensory immersive experiences that we can navigate in 360-degree space will change what we consider “real.”


Download the executive brief Diving Deep Into Digital Experiences.


Read the full article Swimming in the Immersive Digital Experience.

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Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network His specialties include Competitive Intelligence, Market Intelligence, Corporate Foresight, Trends, Futuring and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.heif Futu

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Jenny Dearborn: Soft Skills Will Be Essential for Future Careers

Jenny Dearborn

The Japanese culture has always shown a special reverence for its elderly. That’s why, in 1963, the government began a tradition of giving a silver dish, called a sakazuki, to each citizen who reached the age of 100 by Keiro no Hi (Respect for the Elders Day), which is celebrated on the third Monday of each September.

That first year, there were 153 recipients, according to The Japan Times. By 2016, the number had swelled to more than 65,000, and the dishes cost the already cash-strapped government more than US$2 million, Business Insider reports. Despite the country’s continued devotion to its seniors, the article continues, the government felt obliged to downgrade the finish of the dishes to silver plating to save money.

What tends to get lost in discussions about automation taking over jobs and Millennials taking over the workplace is the impact of increased longevity. In the future, people will need to be in the workforce much longer than they are today. Half of the people born in Japan today, for example, are predicted to live to 107, making their ancestors seem fragile, according to Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, professors at the London Business School and authors of The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity.

The End of the Three-Stage Career

Assuming that advances in healthcare continue, future generations in wealthier societies could be looking at careers lasting 65 or more years, rather than at the roughly 40 years for today’s 70-year-olds, write Gratton and Scott. The three-stage model of employment that dominates the global economy today—education, work, and retirement—will be blown out of the water.

It will be replaced by a new model in which people continually learn new skills and shed old ones. Consider that today’s most in-demand occupations and specialties did not exist 10 years ago, according to The Future of Jobs, a report from the World Economic Forum.

And the pace of change is only going to accelerate. Sixty-five percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in jobs that don’t yet exist, the report notes.

Our current educational systems are not equipped to cope with this degree of change. For example, roughly half of the subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree, such as computer science, is outdated by the time students graduate, the report continues.

Skills That Transcend the Job Market

Instead of treating post-secondary education as a jumping-off point for a specific career path, we may see a switch to a shorter school career that focuses more on skills that transcend a constantly shifting job market. Today, some of these skills, such as complex problem solving and critical thinking, are taught mostly in the context of broader disciplines, such as math or the humanities.

Other competencies that will become critically important in the future are currently treated as if they come naturally or over time with maturity or experience. We receive little, if any, formal training, for example, in creativity and innovation, empathy, emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, persuasion, active listening, and acceptance of change. (No wonder the self-help marketplace continues to thrive!)

The three-stage model of employment that dominates the global economy today—education, work, and retirement—will be blown out of the water.

These skills, which today are heaped together under the dismissive “soft” rubric, are going to harden up to become indispensable. They will become more important, thanks to artificial intelligence and machine learning, which will usher in an era of infinite information, rendering the concept of an expert in most of today’s job disciplines a quaint relic. As our ability to know more than those around us decreases, our need to be able to collaborate well (with both humans and machines) will help define our success in the future.

Individuals and organizations alike will have to learn how to become more flexible and ready to give up set-in-stone ideas about how businesses and careers are supposed to operate. Given the rapid advances in knowledge and attendant skills that the future will bring, we must be willing to say, repeatedly, that whatever we’ve learned to that point doesn’t apply anymore.

Careers will become more like life itself: a series of unpredictable, fluid experiences rather than a tightly scripted narrative. We need to think about the way forward and be more willing to accept change at the individual and organizational levels.

Rethink Employee Training

One way that organizations can help employees manage this shift is by rethinking training. Today, overworked and overwhelmed employees devote just 1% of their workweek to learning, according to a study by consultancy Bersin by Deloitte. Meanwhile, top business leaders such as Bill Gates and Nike founder Phil Knight spend about five hours a week reading, thinking, and experimenting, according to an article in Inc. magazine.

If organizations are to avoid high turnover costs in a world where the need for new skills is shifting constantly, they must give employees more time for learning and make training courses more relevant to the future needs of organizations and individuals, not just to their current needs.

The amount of learning required will vary by role. That’s why at SAP we’re creating learning personas for specific roles in the company and determining how many hours will be required for each. We’re also dividing up training hours into distinct topics:

  • Law: 10%. This is training required by law, such as training to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

  • Company: 20%. Company training includes internal policies and systems.

  • Business: 30%. Employees learn skills required for their current roles in their business units.

  • Future: 40%. This is internal, external, and employee-driven training to close critical skill gaps for jobs of the future.

In the future, we will always need to learn, grow, read, seek out knowledge and truth, and better ourselves with new skills. With the support of employers and educators, we will transform our hardwired fear of change into excitement for change.

We must be able to say to ourselves, “I’m excited to learn something new that I never thought I could do or that never seemed possible before.” D!

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