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Blockchain is the most overhyped technology that I have encountered. Even one of the large blockchain inspired startups, the R3 consortium, has determined that blockchain is not needed for the problems in the finance industry that it set out to tackle.
To understand why blockchain is overhyped, you first must understand what the business problems it is trying to solve. These business problems inevitably are storing relevant data, insuring its accuracy, and making it available to the correct stakeholders.
All of these can be achieved by database technologies other than blockchain. Furthermore the biggest challenges are not solved by blockchain. One of the greatest challenges is insuring accuracy, validity, and integrity of data entering the database. Blockchain does nothing to prevent a false affidavit or a license obtained by bribing official from being recorded in the ledger. Another challenge is getting various parties to agree on common conventions for exchanging data and adapting legacy systems to support those conventions. Finally, there is the cost of cleaning and converting data from legacy systems.
People talk about blockchain enabling “smart contracts.”. However, software fulfilling the needs supplied by smart contracts can execute on non-blockchain systems. If you use the automated toll lanes or have automatic payment of your electric bill you are already using such software.
Blockchain only solves the problem of making it harder to alter data without detection once it is in the chain. Digital signatures, Merkle trees, and linked timestamps also accomplish this. These technologies have been around prior to the release of Bitcoin and are critical components of blockchain.
True usage of blockchain actually adds a tax of copying transaction information to and maintaining it at many blockchain nodes, which number in the thousands for Bitcoin and Ethereum. Private blockchains, in which nodes are explicitly established by some organization, would likely use fewer nodes. This situation would then be not much different from other database technologies that provide redundancy and business continuity.
Although blockchain itself is not such a world-changing technology, some of the software marketed as blockchain has implementations of useful components and provides protocols for data exchange and verification. Thus blockchain marketing might promote adoption of this software, even if people make do not use a full blockchain.
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