We are so very lucky to belong to a vibrant ecosystem of technologist in New England. The IEEE Boston Section (that’s us), publishes a monthly magazine to IEEE members and makes a copy available to anyone interested in the events organized by more than 30 specialty groups. There isn’t a week that goes by that doesn’t involve something from our almost 10,000 members. Below is the editorial published in the March 2018 Digital Reflector concerning blockchain and ICOs, our magazine, that can be found on issuu.com, or by clicking the link (https://issuu.com/ieeeboston/docs/march2018)
Blockchain and ICOs
By Kevin Flavin
Blockchain. Sounds mysterious and exciting and dangerous all at once. The term is often used in conjunction with FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). Or it’s mentioned in hushed tones at the family BBQ, because somebody’s friend’s brother has a friend that is dealing it – whatever that means.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of information out there to clarify what it is. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of information out there to muddy the information, possibly for nefarious purposes.
Fortunately, unfortunately – the key root of the words is: Fortune. Something that you could lose if you don’t become completely familiar with the terms and conditions of what you are working with.
Well, the IEEE is here to help!
First, what is blockchain?
A blockchain records all prior transactions of a block (of information) into the new transaction ‘block’, creating a chain of encrypted blocks, that is then shared publicly. This is an oversimplification, and more and more often, when someone refers to blockchain, they are referring to a particular application of the technology in the creation of ‘digital currency’.
A blockchain, per Google/dictionary.com, is a digital ledger in which transactions made in Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are recorded chronologically and publicly.
Blockchain as an ICO
ICO, or initial currency offering, is when a group of people decide to create a new digital currency. They publish a white paper of their application of the blockchain technology, and take investments into the initial round of creation of the digital currency.
There is a lot of information out there, some of it fraudulent, some of it valuable – caveat emptor, buyer beware.
A popular application of the blockchain, Bitcoin, is the most recognized use of the technology to create an ICO. Bitcoin is often quoted in the financial newspapers now, even though very few people own any of it.
Ethereum, while less recognized by the general public, is more accessible to the broader blockchain industry, and has been ‘forked’ more times than any other to create new ICOs. This is a severe over-simplification, but ‘forking’ is when someone takes a copy of the original, and goes in a different direction. Ethereum as a technology is popular because it’s easier to launch new ICOs than using the Bitcoin technology – again an oversimplification, but you get the gist.
CNBC reports that more than $3 B USD was raised in new ICOs in 2017. I’m just going to leave this here and slowly back away.
If this feels a little ‘squirrelly’ to you, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase is not a fan of digital currency, and he predicted, “[if] you’re stupid enough to buy [bitcoin], you’ll pay the price for it one day.”
However, there are many more uses of the blockchain technology besides digital currency. The technological idea of a secure block of information, encrypted to prevent tampering, is extremely valuable. Companies are beginning to look at ways to apply the concept and technology in new ways to help solve their problems.
AT&T and Bayer are using blockchain to track their digital advertising – to solve the age-old problem of trying to measure the effectiveness of advertising and marketing.
Consulting firms are rushing to fill the void of good information, as well as helping companies apply the tools in their businesses. Cognizant and Accenture are very active in this area, with a steady flow of white papers and thought leadership available.
Companies aren’t the only benefactors of the blockchain movement, governments have a role to play here and potentially can realize cost savings, better service and fewer risks. Estonia is a fast leader in applying blockchain to serving their residents and even Estonian nationals when they are abroad. You can read more about this innovative approach here: https://goo.gl/h5etNK.
What about the IEEE?
The IEEE has so many resources on this topic, in fact it’s one of the top initiatives of the IEEE to provide information as well as developing standards where possible. They’ve built a sub-domain on IEEE just for blockchain: https://blockchain.ieee.org.
Anyone interested in engaging with the IEEE regarding blockchain can also participate on Collabratec: https://goo.gl/Xj4cF5
Finally, they’ve even implemented an IEEE Slack channel for blockchain: https://goo.gl/xvNnXK
I hope you get a chance to dig into this topic, and if you are already using blockchain, or are thinking about it, we would love to hear about how you are approaching it for your business.