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Blockchain: What It Is and Why It Matters

by Maddie Donnelly
Blockchain cityscape

If you’re planning a meeting focused on future trends or disruptive technology, chances are you’ve come across the term “blockchain.” Goldman Sachs said blockchain has the potential to redefine transactions” and, according to Deloitte, banks and businesses are rushing to implement blockchain-based technology—investing millions in the hope that it will ultimately save them billions. But what is it? And why does it matter?

A blockchain is a global digital database that—unlike databases typically used by banks or governments—is entirely decentralized and unowned and can be accessed by anyone online. Data is stored across a network or chain of personal computers in “blocks.” The network uses a type of technology called cryptography to make sure records aren’t altered or forged, and transactions are validated by an entire network of other users. The overall effect is a near hack-free system where transactions happen in seconds rather than days.

Blockchain is best known now as the basis for bitcoin, a type of digital currency that can be sent directly from user to user anonymously, or without a middleman like a bank.

So why is it so important? Our experts weigh in:

Tom Wheeler: Blockchain Will Increase Efficiency & Decrease Cost
Tom Wheeler led the FCC, the nation’s primary authority for communications law, regulation, and technological innovation, during a period of rapid tech advancement: 2013-2017. Blockchain’s crucial benefit to businesses, Wheeler says, is in it’s free validation of users, enabling money to be distrusted across networks and de-centralized.

Mitch Joel: Whatever Happens Next, Blockchain Will Be a Part of It
“My sentiment and attention to the blockchain keeps amping up, because this is how I felt when the first web browser was available,” writes Mitch Joel, technology and innovation expert and best-selling author. Joel believes that in the same as way the Internet changed the ways we communicate, shop, learn, and play, blockchain will also redefine our lives.

Neil Jacobstein: Blockchain Has Human Implications
Neil Jacobstein is the Chair of the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Track at Singularity University. Neil believes that for all of the benefits technologies including blockchain will bring, it’s also likely to disrupt entire industries and turn job descriptions as they read now on their head.

Greg Williams: Blockchain is Creating New Industries
Some future trends experts think blockchain will be the technology that leads to the next Google or Facebook. Greg Williams, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, wrote this piece about a 36-year-old Harvard graduate who has become a one-man hedge fund. Technologies like bitcoin and blockchain will certainly speed the trend.

Mike Steep: Blockchain is One Piece of the Disruptive Equation 
Mike Steep is Executive Director of the Stanford Global Projects Center's Digital Cities Program. In a recent Q&A presentation on "Everything You Wanted to Know About Bitcoin and Blockchain but Were Afraid to Ask," he talked about how blockchain is just one aspect of advancing financial models, but could single-handedly replace Wall Street attorneys. He also noted it could be a tool used by bad actors if not used appropriately. 

While the future of blockchain remains to be seen, it’s likely that its effects will begin to be felt in as few as five years. Book one of these speakers now to stay ahead of the change.

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