This interview is the long-form version of a conversation with blockchain critic Steve Wilson, Digital Identity Innovator & Analyst.


Clips from the interview

Ones and zeros and nothing else
“Bitcoin was very political. Nakamoto tried to solve the problem of electronic cash for people who want to use ones and zeros and nothing else.”

Interpreting bitcoin the wrong way around
“People think bitcoin created decentralization, but it’s actually the wrong way around. It’s like saying the railways created the railway network.”

Explaining the bitcoin enthusiasm
“Nakamoto was a mystery character, very sexy right from the start. It seems to come out of nowhere and beat a lot of clever people at their own game. Nakamoto was a single, perhaps tragic character. Very clever and clearly anti-establishment. The paper was well written and compelling. He solved an unsolvable problem (electronic cash without an umpire). This created amazing energy, like the Wright brothers’ flier. They flier created innovation, but in the first 5-10 years most airplanes were jokes. The same happens with blockchain, people copy it left and right, making a terrible mess of it.”

Ten years to long-term impact
“Bill Gates said people underestimate what happens in 10 years and overestimate what happens in 1 year. People want to change the world now with the original prototype, but it’s not fit for purpose.”

Next gen blockchain
“Look out for blockchain 4. Bitcoin blockchain was blockchain 1. Ethereum was 1.5. Ripple was 2. R3, Hashgraph, Hyperledger, these are blockchain 3. They are not even blockchain anymore, you have to use the term distributed ledger. You won’t do electronic voting or healthcare on any of these. Maybe V4 will be interesting, and it’s something we haven’t seen yet.”

The silverlining of the hype
“If this was a book, we’re just finishing chapter 2. We conclude that this is interesting, but the mad rush into blockchain is going to fall in a heap. The silverlining of the hype is that it created a lot of investment and R&D. But this is a generous interpretation, a lot of money is wasted. The good thing that came out of the original innovation is that it inspires innovation. With airplanes, the first ones were just farcical. In the future, we’ll look back at the early blockchain applications like early vintage vehicles. I’m optimistic about the future. You need to be patient and more modest about the problems you want to solve.”

Darwin and the blockchain
“If you’re Darwinian, you could say we have a Cambrian explosion. Some creatures survive and others die, and at the end of the Cambrian explosion we had stable life on the planet. But we need more critical thinking instead of letting these things burst out all over the place.”

Changing the world
“Blockchain is not going to do electronic voting, change democracy, solve the identity problem. Cell phones with cryptographic keys we put in the hands of refugees, that will change the world. But blockchain on its own doesn’t do any of that stuff. I stand a bit corrected, but I don’t think it’s gonna change the world in the way the futurists say. It’s gonna be a long journey and multiple technologies will be inspired by this thing.”

Magical but not magic
“People treat it as a tabula rasa to introduce their own schemes. It’s very specialized and doesn’t even do this very well. Electricity consumption is a problem. It is magical but not magic. Just applied cryptography. No engineer should pick up a tool that was crafted for one job and use it for something else. Think about how you can copy it. That’s what digital transformation is all about.”

Rushed thinking
“Bullshit is good fertilizer. I do call out some of these things are nonsensical. In ten years’ time we’ll have a more mellow view. My view is not negativ to this thing, it’s negativ to the bullshit. We must be more critical. Some technologist should know better.”