Blockchain advocates really promise a lot. The Blockchain ledger can turn the financial sector on its ear by providing greater transparency, cutting out the middleman, and creating records that can’t be easily tampered with after the fact. This kind of big talk can really make people wonder if they can put their Bitcoin where their mouths are and actually develop the kind of applications they’re talking about.
Guess what though: It’s really happening, and quickly enough to make Wall Street nervous. When the Overstock CEO gets behind the idea of a decentralized stock exchange, you know things are getting serious. There are already Smart Contract apps and at least one couple has already recorded the important details of their marriage in the Blockchain equivalent of a marriage license. This is a technology that could handle both financial matters and governance in a way that is both decentralized and purely voluntary.
If you worry about how this kind of thing could lead to chaos, you shouldn’t. As the creators of all those altcoins are learning, anything that is created using the Blockchain won’t mean much if it doesn’t get used. It would be very easy to ignore a “Blockchain nation” that doesn’t get used for much beyond a smart contract system and dispute resolution among its adherents because, as amusing as it might be to see the Blockchain become a featured part of a case on Judge Judy, at least they aren’t tying up the court system. Unlike the U.S. judicial system, you could just entirely ignore any particular Blockchain nation even if it issues a default ruling against you in pretty much the same way that the United States ignores the World Court. Just don’t expect that Blockchain nation to be particularly friendly if you suddenly need it for something.
So, obviously, it becomes a case of which applications can gain enough traction to stick. A century from now, people who ignore Blockchain governance systems and “smart” contract providers could either face no real world consequences or find themselves increasingly isolated until they cave and either join one or create their own. (It’s open-source. You can already customize your own smart contract system if you’re inclined to do so.) We might even see dozens or hundreds of competing organizations, all of whom offer about the same services to varying degrees of cost and quality. The norm for smart contracts could wind up being that you can file one for the equivalent of a few pennies, but disputing the fact that your car drove itself to a dealership because you didn’t make a payment would mean a judicial fee of the equivalent of $20 in your choice of cryptocurrencies used by that Blockchain governance system.
“Kill all the lawyers?” Nope. By the time it even becomes an issue, one would hope we’ve learned to keep all legal documents, including contracts, simple enough that all you’d have to do is point to yours. At most, “Retrain all the lawyers for other jobs” would be a less violent and more appropriate way of putting things in an ideal system that includes Blockchain ledgers whose records can’t be tampered with easily once they’re created. The ability to reverse a contract with no more harm done than a little wasted time would certainly be helpful in reducing the number of protracted civil court cases – and the ones that do get filed obviously involve either a total jerkoff who won’t quit even though he’s in the wrong in this case, or a compromised node that needs to be isolated until the Blockchain administrator can figure out why it erroneously instructed a car to drive back to the dealership.
Like Bitcoin, most Blockchain applications could become seen as a niche thing that isn’t useful in all cases. Some organizations may decide that they can take it or leave it, especially if they don’t have a lot of branches where important decisions are being made locally (decentralized, remember?). Even when they do, they may not wish to make the extra initial investment to establish nodes for their Blockchain. Others will think it’s worth it for the sake of having a system that encourages greater transparency, accountability and tamper-proof records because it’ll mean the competitive edge of reassuring their clients that their rights will be protected too. Even when it’s a “niche” that doesn’t capture the majority of market share, the Blockchain could capture enough that it’ll be impossible to ignore. Call it the next multi-billion-dollar industry if you like. It’s new and needs a really good marketing team that can discuss its benefits in plain English, but once organizations see how it can benefit them, it’ll just be like rolling stones down a hill. It’s hard to stop the momentum once it starts.
Will it be enough to keep the promise of the current hype from supporters? It’ll be an uphill battle for sure, but eventually, relying on the automated record-keeping Blockchain system for most things that require record-keeping that is both secure and transparent could well become a habit.