How blockchain is reshaping the world of business

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IBM Blockchain edited final

By Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice President, Global Industries, Platforms, and Blockchain for IBM

In recent weeks, the chorus of crypto naysayers, led by analysts, banks, regulators, and governments, has grown louder. But while the future of cryptocurrencies may be cloudy, one thing is crystal clear: The blockchain technology that underlies these new forms of currency is here to stay.

Digital currencies are just the first application of blockchain to go mainstream. Blockchain networks can record and manage any transferable digital asset representing goods or information — whether a share of stock, a streamed song, your healthcare records, or an international cargo shipment — as our work with clients has shown.

I believe blockchain, and the new business models that are being shaped by the technology, could democratize access to data and help improve trust and accountability across our digital economy.  

As this happens, major positive benefits for business and society will take hold.

Beauty in blockchain

While the blockchain technology used to power new cryptos may not be as sexy as the digital tokens that seem to triple in value in the blink of an eye, blockchain is serving as the backbone to explore dynamic new business models far beyond finance, from healthcare and food safety to government and global trade.

The beauty of blockchain rests on its ability to create a single, shared version of a trusted ecosystem. A distributed ledger, blockchain networks enable the verification and storage of transactional records to be divvied up among a network of computers. There is no central authority or middleman that transactions must pass through. Each node on the network has an exact copy of the record, making it near impossible for anyone to tamper with or change it.

Think about a collector buying a work of art, or a fine wine. These transactions may often rely on incomplete records and personal assurances. On a blockchain network, the buyer would be able to see the product’s origin and history of ownership, as well as the conditions it was stored in — a digital record of its provenance.

That’s the true power of decentralized, peer-to-peer systems. No single party controls the data. Knowledge and value are distributed among a network’s participants, harkening back to the early, idealistic days of the internet before a handful of companies gained control of our data and commercialized it for their own benefit.

An OS for trust

I like to think of blockchain as a new operating system for building trust. That’s why we are so excited about its potential to enable new models of collaboration and value creation for businesses, governments, and individuals.

However, for that to happen, important obstacles need to be addressed because not all blockchains are created equal.

For example, blockchain networks, such as those underlying popular cryptocurrencies, require a computationally intensive system of mining. That can slow down transactions and consume enormous amounts of energy, making it hard to scale. Also, the anonymous nature of these networks makes them inhospitable to broader use in business where a greater degree of transparency is required.

Another key attribute for broad blockchain adoption is the ability to create networks where members are known to one another and can define the level of sharing they are comfortable extending. In this permissioned environment, only relevant parties in a workflow may see the information, allowing businesses to conduct transactions while minimizing the risk of revealing confidential or competitive information and building trust and greater collaboration.

At IBM, we’re advancing blockchain networks that meet the real-world needs of business. Networks that include these four fundamental requirements: accountability, privacy, scalability, and security.

This is why the work by The Linux Foundation to advance Hyperledger is so vitally important. Their approach — enterprise-grade software built on open standards — has already attracted more than 200 organizations, including IBM, to advance cross-industry, interoperable blockchain software.

By sharing a foundational software layer we envision a world of multiple blockchains, public, private, or a mix of both. Participants can build applications to suit their specific needs, while being assured that their applications can work seamlessly with other blockchain systems as they evolve.

IBM has worked on hundreds of blockchain projects around the world that demonstrate the potential of this revolutionary technology and we’re now seeing a new blockchain-based economy take shape.

They range from supply chain applications that can track the provenance of goods from diamonds to mangoes, enhancing food safety and fair trade, to streamlining global shipping and cross-border payments. Some of the most encouraging uses of blockchain could potentially benefit the world’s poorest citizens by providing a bridge to the banking and financial system and validating property rights and ownership.

But reducing inefficiencies and friction in commerce is the low-hanging fruit. I believe blockchain technology will spark brand new applications and innovations yet to be dreamed up. On that, you can put your trust.

This post is sponsor content from IBM and was created by IBM and Insider Studios.

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The entrepreneur who spent 11 years working on the first private manned space flight explains what he learned from ‘overnight success’

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peter diamandis

  • XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis first had the idea for what became the X Prize Foundation in 1993 — it would provide a cash prize for any team who could pilot a manned private flight into space.
  • It came to fruition in Oct. 2004, with the flight of SpaceShipOne.
  • It taught Diamandis to be motivated by purpose rather than an imagined goal, and to respect the work behind the failures as well as the wins.

As a boy growing up in the 1970s, Peter Diamandis dreamed of a world where there would be regular trips to space, even for civilians.

In an interview for Business Insider’s podcast "Success! How I Did It," Diamandis said that by the early ’90s he was frustrated that there was no progress on this front. During a visit to his parents’ home for Christmas in 1993, he read Charles Lindbergh’s autobiography, "The Spirit of St. Louis."

He learned that Lindbergh’s pioneering flight across the Atlantic was motivated by a cash prize, and it suddenly seemed like the solution to his space flight problem.

He founded the X Prize Foundation, which offered $10 million to the team that could successfully send a manned spaceship up 100 kilometers and return safely, fully intact and able to fly again. "Eleven years later, it finally happens," Diamandis said.

And when it did finally happen, on Oct. 4, 2004, Diamandis reconsidered his notion of what it means to be successful.

You can subscribe to the podcast and listen to the episode below:

With the help of Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s funding, engineer Burt Rutan put pilot Brian Binnie into the SpaceShipOne.

"And I remember that moment," Diamandis said.

"The ship had just gone to space successfully, against all the odds, and landed."

He continued: "I felt like I was at the top of a mountain I had just climbed for 11 years. I remember, when I looked around, all I saw were higher mountain peaks. So it’s this interesting realization that it is the journey, not the destination."

Diamandis said that he gave himself that night to celebrate, but that the feeling of accomplishment was fleeting. He could tell that his life would be a series of these moments, and it gave him a deeper appreciation both for his own path as well as the accomplishments of others. He realized he needed to be motivated by an overarching purpose rather than the imagined experience of a particular moment.

The SpaceShipOne ended up in the National Air and Space Museum next to the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane that ultimately inspired it. It’s a fitting display for Diamandis.

"Oh, if I let myself, the 9-year-old becomes very proud," he said. "But when I look at all of those amazing vehicles, I think about all of the hardship, divorces, the lost jobs, centuries of work, the crazy risks that we’re taking, and realizing that all of these amazing success stories have had their own ‘overnight success’ story after 11 years, or 10 years, of hard work."

After that successful flight, he began experiencing the path to achievement more fully, including the failures.

"You have to give credit to the thousand projects that almost got there that didn’t, as well," he said.

SEE ALSO: One of tech’s most prolific entrepreneurs reveals how he and Elon Musk are trying to eliminate illiteracy, and why he thinks human placentas may hold a key toward ‘an indefinite human life span’

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