2017 and 2018 were big years for blockchain. The cryptocurrency boom thrust immutable ledger technology into the spotlight, piquing imaginations and leading to increased venture capital contributions for blockchain-related businesses (as well as unimaginable hype). 2018 was supposed to be the year blockchain truly began to capture its potential – until it didn’t.
MIT Technology Review – a publication owned by the famed research institution but operated independently – argues that the technology failed to live up to the hype in 2018, pointing to steep declines in valuations of cryptocurrencies. But their outlook for blockchain in 2019 and beyond is far from negative. In fact, the Review believes 2019 is the year that blockchain becomes so commonplace, it’s “boring.”
The blockchain ecosystem has never been healthier. 2017 attracted new developers who haven’t left; bigger companies have begun developing it for their own uses, and “innovative-sounding projects are still alive and even close to bearing fruit.”
One of those big companies is Walmart, who has been developing (and is ready to roll out) a blockchain-based food supply tracker for their lettuce suppliers. Then there’s New York Stock Exchange owner Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) and investment giant Fidelity: the former “plans to launch its own digital asset exchange in early 2019,” while the latter created Fidelity Digital Assets to act as a custodian for cryptocurrencies. Fidelity has created “a variety of sophisticated security measures” that they believe will safeguard them from irreversible fraudulent transactions on blockchain. While regulatory issues remain mostly unresolved, hindering widespread adoption, two financial power players and one of the country’s most successful companies embracing the technology is a positive sign for its mainstream prospects.
The Review predicts smart contracts are ready to take the next step towards prevalence. Their potential has been acknowledged for some time, but the lack of truly functional “oracle” technology – designed to feed accurate, real-time information to smart contracts on blockchain – has hamstrung progress. But a startup called Chainlink “recently teamed with academic researchers at Cornell to create what it calls the first ‘provably secure, decentralized oracle network,” using “cryptography and a type of secure hardware called a trusted enclave to securely feed data to smart contracts on the blockchain.” And legal technology companies finding real-world applications for “simple smart-contract-based legal agreements…[like those] between a worker and a company,” that, once fulfilled, will pay out the appropriate parties using cryptocurrency.
Finally, the Review sees potential in national cryptocurrencies – an ironic status for an asset that has roots in anti-government and pro-privacy movements. While they may not arrive in 2019, luminaries such as Christine Legarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, believe they “could reach more people, and offer better security, privacy, and consumer protection, than private cryptocurrencies or commercial payment technologies.”
Blockchain may not have reached the heights anticipated for it in 2018, but its future remains bright – so bright it’s potentially “boring.” Real-world blockchain applications are on their way, and ubiquity may be following closely behind.
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