Beyond the “hype” on the blockchain
Almost a year later our platform “France must not miss the blockchain revolution”, we wanted to take stock of the past few months.
1. The blockchain has become a sometimes annoying buzzword … but we must take a step back from the hype that surrounds it
More than 1,600 articles appeared on the blockchain in French media alone in the space of six months. Like the portmanteau word “uberization” last year, blockchain has established itself as the big topic of the year in the digital world, and even beyond. Until more thirst … The same examples of projects are often repeated, even though some are no longer relevant – let us quote the land cadastre project in Honduras, announced in early 2015, and which has never actually seen the day, having never even been confirmed by the country in question (conversely, the government of Georgia has officially announced the launch of a project in this area this year, in relative discretion). Likewise, in the field of carpooling, where we often speak of “uberisation of Uber” thanks to the blockchain, the start-up La Zooz is often cited but nevertheless stopped its development several months ago; As for the Arcade City project, which is certainly very interesting, it does not yet have anything blockchain (the integration of blockchain elements has been postponed several times).
However, there are many very promising projects still little mentioned in France: let us quote the start-up Abra, which wants to revolutionize the transfer of money internationally, via a system of multiple local partners, and which is increasingly talked about in the United States; OpenBazaar, a decentralized platform for the exchange of goods and services that opened in the spring; Augur, a decentralized predictive market based on the Ethereum blockchain; but also Storj, Circle, Colony, etc.
Philippe Dewost, who launched a blockchain initiative at Caisse des Dépôts, said in May during the last OuiShareFest: “80% of what we can read in the press on the blockchain is bullshit“. If the point was probably deliberately exaggerated, it is true thatsometimes you have to take some distance from what you can read on the subject. No, the blockchain in itself does not store files, but “only” proof of existence, and is therefore not an alternative to Dropbox. No, transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain are not truly anonymous, but pseudonyms: for example, we can see all the user names and amounts exchanged on the blockchain.info explorer. No, the Bitcoin blockchain has not been hacked in recent months, or even years: it is some platforms housing bitcoins that have been hacked. The security of the Bitcoin blockchain is not questioned during these hacks.
In reality, we must take a step back from the media interest surrounding the blockchain and understand that it, created in 2009 with Bitcoin, existed long before the media took hold of it, and will continue to develop no matter what. In its latest study on the hype cycle of emerging technologies, the Gartner firm places blockchain practically at the top of the curve. It is therefore probable that the “hype” which surrounds it will end up going down again, while the uses develop.
2. The blockchain could greatly transform the financial world … but goes well beyond it
The banking and financial sector was by far the first to take an interest in blockchain (followed by the insurance industry). Well Named. In a report published in August, the World Economic Forum also estimates that “blockchain is central to the future of finance”. Currently, announcements of blockchain projects often focus on the financial sector: for example, we learned in September that four large banks including UBS and Deutsche Bank are developing a system based on blockchain to speed up settlement procedures for payment of financial securities.
The blockchain should not, however, be stored under the FinTech label: it goes well beyond. It is quite possible that it is in fields other than finance that the most spectacular uses emerge. Peer-to-peer energy exchange via blockchain is one of these very promising uses that will have to be closely monitored, as is the security of medical data, or the automated payment of royalties in the industry. musical. Other less talked about applications could also emerge: let us quote the (re) sale of show tickets or transport that the blockchain could facilitate and secure.
Be careful therefore not to consider blockchain under the sole financial spectrum, especially since the current projects in this area, most often based on private blockchains, only partially take up the concepts of peer-to-peer and transparency, and tend rather to be “simple” distributed and secure databases whose revolutionary aspect is more questionable.
3. The blockchain will take several years to fully deploy … but now is the time to look at it
The current limits of blockchain are known: among others, the Bitcoin blockchain is now theoretically limited to seven transactions per second, against an average of 155 for PayPal and 2,000 for Visa on the VisaNet network. But these technical limits are far from insurmountable; The Lightning Network, a network of payment channels under development that would be added on top of the Bitcoin blockchain, is today considered to be one of the most promising solutions in this area. “The promises of the Lightning Network – thousands of transactions per second with very low fees and instant transactions – are realistic. There is no doubt that it will be done, but certainly not from the first version ” So says Nicolas Dorier, technical expert in bitcoin (and CTO of the startup Metaco), in an interview given in the spring to Bitcoin.fr. The French start-up Acinq is currently developing an implementation of Lightning Network. Blockchain Ethereum, meanwhile, started with 10 transactions per second in 2015, but aims 50 to 100 for 2017, and 50,000 to 100,000 by 2019, according to its founder Vitalik Buterin, interviewed in February by William Mougayar in his book ” The Business Blockchain ”.
In short, if the blockchains are not yet ready today for all the different uses envisaged, technical advances suggest that these constraints could be lifted in the medium term. Not everything will be solved by technology, because other challenges, at least as difficult, await the blockchain (cultural challenge vis-à-vis the image of cryptocurrencies and peer-to-peer; legal challenge; challenge) organizational in terms of implementation…). However, “If companies are not interested in blockchain now, the risk is that it will reach an inflection point from which it will then be too late”, estimates the firm EY in a recent study.
In fact, after the discovery of the subject in late 2015 and early 2016, experiments have already started within companies, without necessarily communicating on the subject. Thus Engie has designed in Yonne a blockchain infrastructure on a network of connected water meters, which automatically triggers a call for a repairman in the event of a leak, thanks to smart contracts. BNP, for its part, is testing the blockchain for recording the transactions of start-ups in fundraising; if the experiment is successful, commissioning will take place this fall. Crédit Agricole is also working on a pilot project. Several other French companies, which we are supporting at the moment, are working on the subject internally, without communicating. Even public organizations have started experiments: we thus worked in the spring with the Bank of France for the construction of a specific proof-of-concept, and abroad, the British government is experimenting with blockchain for the traceability of social benefit expenditure, and Australia will test it for online voting.
In short, if the concept of distributed technology represents a change in mentality that will take time to diffuse in organizations, it is necessary to prepare for it now to avoid the Kodak syndrome when new uses appear. To use Bill Gates’ famous phrase: “we always overestimate the changes that will occur in the next two years and underestimate those that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled by inaction“.
Claire Balva, Alexandre Stachtchenko, Clément Jeanneau and Antoine Yeretzian are the four co-founders of Blockchain France, a company specializing in the democratization of blockchain technologies within organizations.
In particular, they have developed a MOOC for businesses, in partnership with Learn Assembly, which will be launched on September 28.