By Michael Solomon, 10x Management Co-Founder
10x Management has access to some of the greatest blockchain developers in the world. It’s a privilege to represent technologists who have made such important contributions to business, tech and philanthropic communities. It can be hard to hire blockchain developers, bitcoin developers, and cryptocurrency experts in today’s fast-changing business environment. I recently had the chance to speak with Bryan Bishop, a core contributor on the Bitcoin development team and master blockchain developer, to get his thoughts on the future of cryptocurrency, blockchain, and where e-commerce is heading in the 21st century.
There’s no doubt that finding talented technologists in emerging fields like blockchain development and cryptocurrency is a challenge for all businesses. As Bryan says in our interview, “there used to be an old joke about companies looking for 15 years of experience in a technology that’s only 10 years old. It’s that kind of situation out there right now.” How do you solve those challenges? Take a look at some of Bryan’s insights below.
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Michael: What are the biggest challenges for companies looking to enter into the blockchain world and find blockchain developers?
Bryan: My observation is that there’s an incredible shortage of talent in the blockchain ecosystem. There’s a lot of hype but there’s not that many blockchain developers with experience in the space, because it’s such a brand new space. The trouble is that the creators of the bitcoin system, for example, take a while to socialize and train new developers. This happens again and again. I think that the Chaincode Labs efforts to train new blockchain developers is hugely important to the future of the ecosystem.
Michael: Where do you think companies should source blockchain developers from?
Bryan: There’s really only one place that I would source blockchain developers from, and that’s from the open source software ecosystem. People often forget that when Satoshi Nakamoto released his bitcoin whitepaper, he next released source code and the actual bitcoin technology. The whitepaper does not completely describe how the system works. The real details were in the software, which continues to be developed by a community of blockchain developers to this day, and that’s where you’re going to find the talent. Since everyone is busy beyond all reason and comprehension, it takes legitimately great projects to elicit any real bites.
Michael: What are the biggest misconceptions regarding blockchain?
Bryan: As with any new technology, there’s a tremendous amount of hype about which problems the blockchain can solve. Companies need to carefully evaluate the opportunities and feel confident enough to move on to other technologies if blockchain isn’t the right fit. It doesn’t solve all conceivable problems, and sometimes it’s going to cost a lot more to make a blockchain project than it would to go a more traditional route.
Michael: What makes blockchain technology different than traditional databases?
Bryan: I like to think of blockchains as offering a way for a group of people to agree on a protocol for value transfer. Often, a database can solve this problem exceedingly well and at extremely high performance. In the blockchain ecosystem, it’s all about peer-to-peer protocols on a network, and accepting large inefficiencies in the blockchain in exchange for the advantages of a peer-to-peer protocol. Ultimately in many cases these p2p protocols are wrappers around a distributed database anyway, of course.
Michael: Blockchain is getting a lot of press lately and seems to be growing in both stature and use. How are you seeing companies starting to embrace blockchain?
Bryan: It’s really interesting how much focus there is on “blockchain,” which in my view can tend to be misguided. In many cases, the interest in blockchain or blockchain developers is really an interest in upgrading software in large dinosaur-scale institutions. There’s usually no way to radically redefine the software that keeps businesses running. With blockchain, a bunch of people early in their careers see a way to potentially upgrade internal business systems. The real value here is that modern software is replacing old processes. The blockchain part is often not as important, as many of the problems can be solved by standard relational databases or key-value stores. However, it’s really interesting from the perspective of a technology creator to see how poorly the industry understood what value databases provide. If there is so much confusion about databases, then I think there’s still a lot of value that can be unlocked simply by proposing modern software architecture and database approaches. A blockchain can get everyone to the table, and that’s still valuable.
Michael: Are there some ways in which companies should be using blockchain that perhaps they’re not yet?
Bryan: One of my favorite use cases for blockchain is timestamping. In particular, my favorite timestamping system is “opentimestamps,” developed by Peter Todd. I’ve been timestamping all of my personal documents for over a year now. The advantage of this system is that it is highly scalable– you can generate thousands or millions of timestamps per second, and they all get into the bitcoin blockchain (and other blockchains) using a single merkle root. The value to a business is immense because this can be used to prove to auditors that certain financial statements, receipts, invoices, transactions or even legal documents existed at a certain point of time, sort of a “proof of existence” approach.
Michael: How will blockchain be monetized in the future?
Bryan: I think a lot of the money in bitcoin is going to be made from smart contracts and payment channels. Atomic cross-chain swaps are something that I would keep an eye on in the near-term. Similar technologies are going to be deployed inside of payment channels, allowing an entire world of financial contracts to be devised between peers on the same network.
Michael: What’s your favorite use of blockchain technology being applied today?
Bryan: One of the interesting ways to use the blockchain is something called a zero-knowledge contingent payment. Basically, it’s possible to use cryptography to prove your knowledge of a solution to a mathematical puzzle or boolean algebraic circuit (e.g. any computer program), without revealing the content of your knowledge. Next, someone can buy this information from you using bitcoin and make it conditional on you revealing the knowledge.
Michael: What’s a blockchain technology company that you believe might become a household name over the coming 5-10 years. We’ve had Google for search, Ebay for marketplaces, Facebook for social networking, Apple for consumer electronics. What blockchain company will be added to this list?
Bryan: There’s one blockchain company that I’ve been watching in particular lately, and that’s Lightning Labs. They are one of the blockchain developer groups focusing on the lightning network, which is a series of payment channels that accelerate the transaction capacity of a blockchain. This can provide more payments per second for orders of magnitude, and consumer wallets are probably going to be integrating with these payment channels in the near future. Even if nobody knows the name of the underlying technologies that their wallets are using, they will have a payment channel hooked up to their phone or digital wallet in the near future. We can already begin to view the deployment and rollout of these payment channels online with maps like https://explorer.acinq.co/. I think that’s exciting.
Michael: As we enter election season soon with the 2018 midterms, the archaic nature of our approach to voting will once again enter the public discourse. Might blockchain be a reasonable technology framework for improving voting accuracy while mitigating fraud?
Bryan: In the past, my recommendation has been to not use the blockchain for voting systems. There are a few reasons for this, mostly having to do with the security of the voting system. In most designs of voting systems using the blockchain, it’s possible for the miners to selectively filter or ignore certain votes and not include them in the final record since they see the transactions before they choose which transactions to include into the blockchain. It would be far better to use software specifically designed for the challenges of elections, such as Helios. Blockchain developers could likely design a system, but I’m not sure how practical it would be.
Michael: We’ve heard bitcoin can only handle 7000 transactions per minute which limits its use. Do you see any solutions on the horizon for that?
Bryan: Ultimately, blockchains are going to be slow and inefficient platforms. High speed transactions are going to occur on secondary layers like the lightning network, which can scale much better. These solutions are being deployed as we speak, so it’s going to be really interesting to watch what happens over the next year. Blockchain developers will certainly look for solutions to the inefficiencies that seem inherent in the technology.
Michael: We’ve seen reports that if quantum computing becomes a thing, it will eliminate all of the security gains that blockchain has brought forth. Is this true?
Bryan: I recommend reading the following paper: On Bitcoin Security in the Presence of Broken Crypto Primitives
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