For this week’s interview, Chain Reaction, tracked down entrepreneur and educator, Nicolas Cary, President and Co-Founder of Blockchain, to talk about programmable money, world currencies and bitcoin recycling bins:
“Hi Nic – You spend a lot of your time speaking to total newcomers about bitcoin and blockchain technology, what are the types of questions you get asked most often?
It’s really hard to explain what bitcoin is and what the blockchain is without providing some context and history, partly because many people are intimidated both by mathematics and by technology. I tend to talk about this topic at the usability level by providing some examples of how technology advances. For example, in the past you had physical VHS tapes that you had to put inside a machine; now you have streaming services. Once you had to buy books and records; now you have almost every book or song in the world available online at the touch of a button. The bitcoin blockchain is basically a digital network that makes it possible for anyone to exchange value online. So when people ask how it works I try to talk about it on that level. Of course, everyone learns differently and some people want to get deeper into technical explanations but usually I start at a more functional level. People also want to know – Where it came from, who created it, and will this become a world currency?
What was it that first attracted you to start your company, Blockchain – was there a lightning bolt moment or was it a more gradual process?
There was definitely a gradual process of learning about the technology but if there was a lightning bolt moment it happened when I really thought about how important digital scarcity really is. Human beings attribute value to things that are both useful and scarce – such as gold and oil, for example. The core innovation of the bitcoin blockchain is in replicating these properties digitally. As a result of this innovation, it’s now possible to launch purely digital currency, create more secure identity systems and web certificates, trade stocks and shares in a new way and even build more advanced applications like smart contracts in which certain actions are triggered under specific conditions. The potential is enormous. We now have programmable money.
What are the types of new innovations you are trying to build at Blockchain?
Blockchain’s mission is to build an open, fair and accessible financial future. The three core services we provide to drive the ecosystem are Wallets, our block explorer and our Developer API Platform. We build the world’s most widely used system for storing and transacting digital assets. Our wallet makes it simple and easy for anyone in the world to securely send, receive, and manage bitcoins. Essentially, we build software which allows people to ‘be their own bank’. With our block explorer – blockchain.info – we have created a search engine for understanding data and analytics. We host valuable metrics on the history of the blockchain and our site is regularly used by media organisations to report on the status of the Bitcoin Network. We also host a developer platform which has allowed thousands of developers to use our APIs to build a huge array of products and decentralized applications. These range from digital games, to new types of wallets for encouraging saving, to inventive schemes like a ‘green bin’ which rewards users with a small amount of bitcoin for doing their recycling.
Do you think Blockchain is really best viewed as a financial technology or can it also transform other sectors?
In many ways financial sector is still relying on decades-old technology so there are some large unrealized efficiency improvements to be gained. Before blockchain technology can achieve its full potential we have a lot of work to do. This is one of the reasons we are working on a project with The Digital Asset Research Lab in partnership with Imperial’s Centre for Cryptocurrency Research and Engineering in London to develop some super-high capacity transaction networks, among other initiatives. Outside of finance, meanwhile, there is some compelling early work happening in healthcare, energy, humanitarian aid and more.
How can Blockchain projects take off when there are so few developers who are expert in this field?
It’s true that there is a dearth of technical skills globally in computer science, not just in our industry. Though there may be a greater scarcity of talent in deep cryptography and distributed computing but it’s not just limited to those areas. The good news is, you don’t have to be expert in mathematics or distributed computing to build on top of many APIs.
Do you think Bitcoin will eventually become a global currency to rival the dollar or the yen?
I think all currencies will ultimately become digital and bitcoin will be just one of these currencies competing against the rest. If you look at history as a guide, bitcoin has been the best performing global currency in 4 out of the past 5 years. This technology is doubling in size every year and that type of exponential rate of change is rare. Once it sneaks up on people that it is vastly more affordable to use the bitcoin blockchain than to use traditional banking infrastructure, more people will come to rely on it than already do today. The market capitalisation of Bitcoin is already higher than the market cap of Twitter so we are on the right track”.