The new global revolution is here. And yes, it is yet again about information technologies. This time I call it – the Blockchain Era. One might ask what it has to do with democracy? The answer is, quite a lot.
The invention of blockchain opened a new door to providing solutions to fight bureaucratic madness, complex data transactions, and insecurity – all of which how now been handed over to the people. Technology empowers citizens by giving them ownership of their own data and gives them the potential to change their thinking.
I believe in learning by experience. My first interaction with blockchain ecosystem was back in 2013 when I bought my first bitcoins to see how the technology actually works. I also encourage my colleagues at the European Parliament to buy some cryptocurrencies and experience how the technology evolves and it can change economies.
A few years ago, when blockchain decentralised ledger technologies, cryptocurrencies were still vague and complex definitions for most of us. What happened last year, however, to Bitcoin and the entire digital currency market is astonishing. There was enough buzz around cryptocurrencies, but not enough emphasis was placed on blockchain – which is odd in that it is the actual technology that props up the entire cryptocurrency market.
Trust, transparency, and power to the people
While analysing the blockchain, I understood that the technology has much more to offer than just bitcoin. Apart from its main features of being efficient, transparent, secure, and, most importantly, societal – its democratic aspects should be emphasised.
Blockchain brings to people the power to control their data without the middleman and cuts their service costs. Blockchain can also be a solution for secure and transparent e-voting, hence reducing the risk of (ballot) tampering or political persecution. This is the way that I believe the public’s trust in governments and electoral systems can be restored.
Because of my experience in the digital business, I often get invitations to be an advisor for ICOs, however, due to the hype and the vast number of ICOs, my priority is to work with start-ups that directly address and solve societal problems. An example of this is Lympo, a blockchain-based platform that empowers individuals and results in better health care and a more connected sports and wellness market.
One must admit, however, that along with the benefits, we also face threats, deficiencies, and exaggerated doubts about blockchain.
The question of regulation
One of the most popular discussion topics in Europe is the question of regulation – or lack of it, to be more precise, particularly related to ICOs and cryptocurrencies.
Regulatory measures can already be seen in China, South Korea, the US, and by some European governments and central banks – all of whom are taking a cautious approach towards the technology. On one hand, we cannot reject the idea of regulation, but instead first learn and understand the full potential of what the technology is capable of. Only after that can the groundwork be laid for proper research initiate and a framework of proposals can be developed analyse the market and check standardisation options.
On the other hand, blockchain’s development would be maximised if governments limit regulations and allow it to be tested under real-life circumstances. One option would be to propose a regulation that would deem blockchain as technology-neutral and to let it fully reach its potential under these auspices.
This would give blockchain a chance to boost democracy by embracing more people into the technology and allowing them to develop.
Blockchain hubs fostering development and education
Another concern for blockchain is the complexity of the technology and lack of understanding about its use and full potential, which easily can result in sceptical views and slower governmental actions towards the development of a regulatory, innovation-friendly approach. That means a stronger emphasis on education is, therefore, needed. Significant actions are already being taken with the first international Blockchain hub in Europe – Blockchain Centre Vilnius – in January. The new centre is a non-profit knowledge and education hub, essentially an incubator for blockchain technology companies. The centre´s goal is to build a truly global network by bringing in universities, NGOs, top blockchain talent, investors, and regulators together to create value for both the private and public sectors.
Lithuania is a great place to invest and there is a growing recognition in Europe that the country has gained an edge in terms of financial and digital innovation, as well as regulatory climate.
The European Commission taking a leading role, which encourages the Member States to introduce regulatory sandboxes, by offering funds for the research of technology development and gathering stakeholders under the European Blockchain Observatory Forum umbrella. These initiatives will pay significant dividends for all involved, including the general public, businesses, and governments. It will connect the world and bring them closer to meeting the common goal of embracing the potential that blockchain is offering.
Blockchain technology is much more than just Bitcoin. Its potential to solve real-world problems and create new types of organisational structures that have the potential to change the economic and power dynamics of traditional centralised bodies is immense.
The technology will give freedom to people’s data and, therefore, stimulate new forms of democratic collective actions, security, trust, and transparency in daily activities.
How far that potential and implementation goes is up to us and our ability to operate what the technology provides.
2018 can be a year of new vision and innovation for blockchain, but it also should be profitable and provide advancements in the technology’s field that will eventually change people’s lives and even their minds.