What the public must know before the mass adoption of blockchain technology

What the Public must know before the Mass Adoption of Blockchain Technology

Whenever I attend Blockchain meetups, I feel this sense of energy and excitement about what’s to come. After all, there’s a sample bias of technologists who are determined to build a more egalitarian society and meet the promises that internet was originally meant to deliver. As the motive shifts from building for profit to building for social good through technology, it’s easy to feel that this is a change that must be embraced by all.

I am convinced that the shift will come and that it’s only a continuation of what we have seen in the past. Just as the arrival of physical light triggered the “chemistry of the shallow oceans and the atmosphere [to] suddenly change,” so that those with eyes and sight could rapidly evolve and survive, internet has brought on tools that forced organizations to evolve and survive by lowering the barrier to entry for accessing information and building software.

Increase in transparency is a natural part of our evolution (picture from this link)

What we are witnessing is the continuing evolution of ‘radical transparency,’ where “they must respond to the new transparency or go extinct.” And just as the internet lead a new standard in who’s the fittest, the blockchain will do the same by lowering the barrier to entry to participating in networks and further access to information.

What will be next after the evolution of smartphones? (source)

The current internet giants know that this quite well, as they have seen previous giants fall in the face of the new transparency that internet has brought. This chart shows how no is willing to fall behind by experimenting with the products that leverage the blockchain technology.

Top companies are looking to utilize blockchain technology and not fall behind (source)

Like R3, IBM and JP Morgan, other internet giants, such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services, both began serving their own blockchain service to everyone just this past week. Facebook already acquired a blockchain company and have announced that their stable coin will be released soon, with one of the leaders of token economics, MIT’s Catalini, recruited to work on this last week.

In Korea, most top software companies have also built their own services, with Samsung building Nextledger, Naver building Link Chain and Kakao building Klaytn. In Taiwan, HTC is planning on releasing their second blockchain smartphone, with their first Exodus 1 already in the masses after being released in January this year. Blockchain technology is finally maturing after its years of experimentation and there is no doubt that it will be coming to the masses soon.

However, history often repeats itself and what we must be cautious of is that users will likely begin using this technology without understanding it fully. After all, Deloitte’s study in 2017 showed that 91% of the users consent without reading the terms and services, with the number being 97% for younger people in the age range of 18–34.

The numbers are staggering (source)

Although technology evolves quickly, our brains are not adapt to such rapid changes. Even if we inform the users about what immutability entails, the behavioral adjustments that one must make to best adapt to this new age will take time and leave a lot of people vulnerable to consequences that they were not prepared for.

For example, let’s take Facebook. A child who is only 14 years old managed to expose what life is like when so much of her privacy is shared without consent on social media. And what’s worse is that those who violated her privacy were those who loved her most, her mother and her sister, who had no intention of harming her. They wanted to share what they found funny and the dopamine hit that they received from the likes each post got likely lead them to share more about their younger sister each day.

Hence, I hope to share two big changes that blockchain technology will have that won’t necessarily lead to immediate changes in people’s behavior, even if it is necessary. Benefits of a technology often shades its potential unintended negative impact on its users. So my hope is that we don’t leave uninformed/misinformed accountable for their misdeeds and be proactive in protecting the late adopters from any harm.

Blockchain is IMMUTABLE

Nessarose: “Elphaba, do something!” Elphaba: “I can’t! You can’t reverse a spell once it’s been cast!” (source)

Those who have watched the musical “Wicked,” will know that spells are powerful and scary because there is no way to revert what has been casted. After all, people are bad at predicting the future, as we are under the mercy of our cognitive biases.

As such, immutability will be foreign to many people when blockchain begins to become mass adopted by the masses. Unless it’s the nature of the game, such as Eve Online, where people expect that they can’t get revert back to the past, we often need an antidote that could nullify the consequences of our actions as the virtual world and the real world converge.

This is why the search for Anti-CRISPR is a booming field, while Facebook has added the unsend feature to their messenger. Our society is full of products that needs one to revert or delete a part of their past and suddenly bringing in technology that no longer allows that will be a huge shift.

Hence, despite the product being immutable, the experts must either act as a miner to check each transaction or ensure that the cost of each mistake must not be too severe. We must take cautious steps towards immutability, which can even be made by offering a form of insurance to enable the user to nullify some of their losses if they end up making a regrettable decision.

We must also think twice about what we allow people to place on the blockchain. Could the behavior that we record on the blockchain potentially come back to hunt the user in the future? After all, if it’s a mass adopted product, hard forking for the benefit of a few users will not be possible and forcing one to live with the consequences of a regrettable/misinformed action forever may lead to unintended results.

There is no “Middle man” to help you out

One of the core benefits blockchain technologists point out is that there will no longer be middlemen and that trust will be fully decentralized. However, as we often realize, we only realize the value of things once we lose it. And as such, the loss of trusted centralized authority will be missed when we make certain mistakes.

For example, let’s take the loss of private keys. Blockchain technology utilizes public and private keys to ensure full encryption of messages. In short, public key is your address that others use to send you messages to, while your private key is what you use to open those messages that were sent to your public key. However, the moment your private key is gone, so is your access to everything.

If you have no private key, you can never decrypt! (source)

This will not be a problem if private keys are never lost. However, this is where the trouble begins, as Chainalysis, a digital forensics firm, released a study that around 2.78~3.79 million bitcoins were lost as of November of 2017. This hit people even harder in 2019 when the founder of QuadrigaCX, the largest cryptocurrency exchange in Canada, died without sharing his private key to anyone. This lead to a lockout of $145M that the investors could not retrieve.

According to the Wired’s previous Head of Engineering, there are, “three times more possible combinations than there are atoms in the observable universe,” so that, “if you lost your private keys… it’s game over.” If mass adoption is to occur, there must be some form of assistance to ensure that some of the late adopters can retrieve their private key if they are to lose it.

It’s important for us to remember that human psychology works irrationally where one bad event could nullify ten previous good events. Furthermore, having no middleman for support means that the user experience better also live up to a higher standard, especially as the product scales and runs solely based on a specific protocol.

Blockchain technology is getting closer to reaching its goal of being a mass adopted technology, but we need to be careful in being proactive of how it may impact our users. There are still some tradeoffs that make blockchain technology not worth the switch for the users, but I am sure that even that will one day change.

However, when that day comes, my hope is that the problems I have addressed are properly thought through by blockchain developers. There’s plenty to be excited for, but let’s celebrate the impact of blockchain technology once all the late adopters make a smooth transition to the blockchain.

Let’s deliver on the promises that internet has originally set, while ensuring that everyone is protected from any harm when using blockchain products. When people with minimal understanding of the blockchain technology can successfully onboard, we will know that blockchain technology is finally suited for mass adoption.


What the public must know before the mass adoption of blockchain technology was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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