If you search for “Blockchain Summit” on Google, you will find more than 100 conferences organised to take place in the remaining two months of the year. Why has the world suddenly become so animated by this emerging technology?
Along with Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain has become one the foundational technologies of future competitiveness. Blockchain is characterized by blocks of records that are linked using cryptography.
Each block holds an encrypted record of the previous block to provide an immutable timestamp and transaction data. It is becoming clearer how blockchain gives power to individuals engaged in a common activity.
For example, if you deploy blockchain in a co-operative movement, each individual will have access to records and knowledge of every transaction that is taking place. And since no transaction is reversable, it provides a robust auditable system.
Other, more common use cases include tracking and tracing product supply chains such as medicines and food as well as in logistics.
At the World Blockchain Summit in Dubai last week, several cutting-edge presentations largely attempting to challenge the status quo of Internet and mobile technological waves were made by different organizations.
The common theme was that blockchain will shift the balance of power in data from large multinational organisations to individual users.
That means the individual will be privy to who has used their data and for what purpose. In spite of volatility in cryptocurrency, which is an application on blockchain, newer currencies are under way and whose utility targets finite resources like diamond which gains in value as it becomes scarcer.
New concepts like fractional ownership of assets in crypto dominated the discussions.
I gathered from the discussions that despite the cautious reception of cryptocurrency, the world is beginning to warm up to these emerging alternative currencies and it is only a matter of time before they rebound.
As usual, I repackage such information to explain to others but one question I encounter most on blockchain is what exactly makes the technology to be trusted.
In my view, it is perhaps the aspect of consensus, provenance, immutability and finality that allow its transactions to be quick and secure.
The technology is also used in combination with other emerging technologies like AI and Internet of Things (IoT) to provide a wide range of disruptive solutions.
What is the state of blockchain today? A recent PwC’s 2018 survey of 600 executives from 15 territories established that 84 per cent of them have some involvement with blockchain technology.
Some have built proofs of concept and noted that everyone is talking about blockchain, and no one wants to be left behind.
The report further noted that in “a distributed, tamperproof ledger, a well-designed blockchain doesn’t just cut out intermediaries, reduce costs, and increase speed and reach.
It also offers greater transparency and traceability for many business processes. Gartner forecasts that blockchain will generate an annual business value of more than $3 trillion by 2030.
It’s possible to imagine that 10 percent to 20 percent of global economic infrastructure will be running on blockchain-based systems by that same year.” With so many problems in Africa that blockchain could solve, there is no doubt that these emerging technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution favour Africa.
The question that Africa must respond to is how much of the slice from the estimated $3 trillion will come to t he continent? Without massive capacity building and taking the fast mover advantage to exploit the emerging opportunity, someone will eat Africa’s lunch.
In the absence of legacy systems, Africa has the best opportunity to leapfrog from past industrial revolution to show the world that innovation is not resident in developed economies but an enabler for those who work hard to change their status. Africa has the chance to move millions of people out of poverty before the mid 21st century.
Let’s begin by streamlining food supply chains, add value to our produce, make Africa competitive in the global food chains and leverage emerging concepts of distributed manufacturing to create local jobs.
The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.