Think Tank: Blockchain Could be ‘Economic Layer’ for the Web

Nermin Hajdarbegovic
Nov 11, 2014 at 15:24 UTC
Updated Mar 16, 2015 at 16:10 UTC
NEWS

The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) has published a brief article advocating the use of blockchain technology.

In the article, the IEET describes the blockchain as next-generation information technology with many potential upsides in a number of fields beyond digital currencies.

The IEET made a clear distinction between ‘bitcoin 1.0’ (currency) and other emerging technologies, classified as ‘bitcoin 2.0’ (contracts) and ‘bitcoin 3.0’ (beyond currency and finance) applications of blockchain technology.

More than just a currency

IEET affiliate scholar Melanie Swan said the currently developing models of bitcoin and blockchain technology are “not the final paradigm”, as they are plagued by problematic flaws. However, she pointed out that decentralised models in general could have a pronounced impact on technology and society.

Swan said:

“Bitcoin and blockchain technology is much more than a digital currency, the blockchain is an information technology, potentially on the order of the Internet (‘the next Internet’), but even more pervasive and quickly-configuring.”

She described blockchain technology as one of the first identifiable large implementations of decentralisation models.

Looking at the bigger picture, Swan argued that decentralised models have the potential to “reorganise all manner of human activity” due to their ability to provide frictionless and trustless interaction between people and technology.

“The blockchain (decentralised network coordination technology) could emerge as a fundamental infrastructure element in the model to scale humanity to its next levels of orders-of-magnitude-larger progress,” she said.

Connecting the world

Swan pointed out that new computing paradigms usually arise once a decade. Mainframes were complemented by PCs in the ’80s, which were revolutionised by the Internet in the ’90s, followed by mobile devices and social networks in the 2000s.

The fifth paradigm, according to Swan, could be described as the ‘connected world’ – a future marked by wearables, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and smart homes, cars and cities – all backed by blockchain technology.

The IEET is not the first organisation to examine the potential uses of blockchain technology in the emerging field of IoT. Tech heavyweight IBM is also looking similar possibilities, along with German conglomerate Bosch, which is examining ways of monetising IoT with blockchain-derived technologies.

This is how the IEET described its vision of the ‘connected world’ paradigm:

“Paradigm 5 functionality could be the experience of a continuously-connected seamless physical-world multi-device computing layer, with a blockchain technology overlay for payments, and not just payments, but micropayments, decentralized exchange, token earning and spending, digital asset invocation and transfer, and smart contract issuance and execution; all as the economic layer the web never had.”

Apple Pay was described as a “critical intermediary step” in moving to a full-fledged cryptocurrency world, in which the blockchain will serve as the seamless economic layer for the web.

Promoting new technologies

The IEET has been promoting new technologies and looking at their social implications for more than a decade.

The institute is a 501(c)3 non-profit organisation based in the US and was formed as an offshoot of Humanity+ – an international organisation that advocates the ethical use of emerging technologies to enhance human capacities.

Over the years, the IEET has had the occasional controversy, with some observers and authors criticising some its views as being transhumanist, a movement that is advocated by Humanity+. The IEET maintains that while some of its fellows have transhumanist views, others do not.

As for Swan, she is a principal of the MS Futures Group, a futurist, philosopher and options trader. She was director of research at telco consultancy RHK/Ovum and she previously held management and finance positions at JP Morgan, Fidelity, iPass and Arthur Andersen.

Connected world image via Shutterstock