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Digital assets continue the rate of progress

Game changer: aided by the prodigious comedic talents of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, You’ve Got Mail spirited the surge of the internet. Twenty years later, blockchain and distribution ledgers can have the same effect in moving technology forward

It can be easy to forget how revolutionary e-mail was. Go back 25 or more years ago and think about how different things were then. To send a letter, it usually meant printing it, putting it in an envelope, putting a stamp on it, dropping it off at a mailbox and then waiting a few days for it to be delivered. E-mail was a game changer; so much so that we had entire movies dedicated to the novelty of standing around a computer logged into AOL and having it announce “you’ve got mail”. Today is radically different.

The beauty of e-mail is that it is just a digital or electronic wrapper around the process of sending a message. The overall process itself didn’t fundamentally change; it just had many of the steps removed or automated. There’s no need to print it out or put it in an envelope. Instead, you hit “send” and the computer takes care of the rest for you. As a result, the cost of communication has gone from something that was expensive and complex to something that is incredibly cheap. This is what digitisation, when done right, accomplishes. It takes an existing cumbersome process and makes it more efficient.

Take cryptocurrencies, for example. In a similar way, they are a digital wrapper around the concept of money. They take the existing forms of paper and electronic money and make them more accessible, transferable and standardised. Much like e-mail, there are people looking to leverage this new medium for nefarious purposes, but there are also real world-changing opportunities that will eventually come of it. It will take time.

Digital assets are similar in that they represent a digital wrapper around shared knowledge or truths. The sheer power of being able to digitise these concepts is hard to imagine. It is like trying to explain what it would be like to use Twitter or Instagram on your phone to someone in the days of “you’ve got mail”. Back then, it was a struggle to understand how to send an e-mail and take and share a digital photo on your computer, let alone play Snake on your Nokia candy bar phone.

Consider the advancements since those early days. Twitter and Instagram exist because of technologies such as the iPhone and its iOS operating system. iOS is a platform, it provides a foundation upon which applications can be built. iOS has made it possible for non-Apple developers to create apps to make your phone more useful. These days it seems like there’s an app for almost everything and we have seen an incredible rise in capabilities since those early “you’ve got mail” days.

iOS makes it possible to build apps that you can run on your phone. However, your phone and the information on it are different from someone else’s phone. To share information, you have to send it to that person, in an e-mail, perhaps, usually relying on apps and third-party services. Sharing information can be easy, but ensuring that you have the same copy and version of that information as someone else can be challenging and complex.

Blockchain and distributed ledgers are a platform that runs on computers that can be spread around the globe. They enable global apps to be built that can make sharing information more efficient. In a similar way that e-mail made it easier and faster to communicate than sending a letter, blockchain and distributed ledger technology make it easier and faster to share truth. It makes it more possible to be certain that when you see “A” that others also see “A” and not “B”. You can know that everyone accepts “A” to be true almost instantaneously without having to rely on a trusted third party to confirm it as so. The technology itself makes it possible for that shared truth to be known.

At its most basic, this capability provides a means to digitise processes that previously were very difficult to do. Whether it is money, ownership, identity, compliance, authority, agreements, you name it. The key factor being that before we lacked the means to make it possible without relying on a trusted party having control. Control that introduces inefficiencies and bureaucracy, which can delay the speed of interactions and business.

We simply don’t need a postal system to be able to send a message to someone any more. E-mail has changed the way we communicate, and the digitisation of communication has come a long way since the days of sending a letter. In a similar way, we will see digitisation of other concepts and processes gradually change the world to bring new capabilities that we can’t even imagine.

It will change how we share information, how we own things, how we interact and how we live.

Denis Pitcher is a software and technology solutions consultant with an interest in exploring the potential of blockchain and distributed-ledger technologies. He is also tech co-founder and chief architect of resQwest.com, a global tourism technology solutions provider. He can be reached at mail@denispitcher.com