The Positive Side-Effects of Blockchain

Blockchain is a relatively niche technology at the moment, and even thought there’s a lot of hype, its applicability is limited. I’ve been skeptical about its ability to solve all the world’s problems, as many claim, and would rather focus it on solving particular business issues related to trust.

But I’ve been thinking about the positive side-effects and it might actually be one of the best things that have happened to software recently. I don’t like big claims and this sound like one, but bear with me.

Maybe it won’t find its place in much of the business software out there. Maybe in many cases you don’t need a distributed solution because the business case does not lend itself to one. And certainly you won’t be trading virtual coins in unregulated exchanges.

But because of the hype, now everyone knows the basic concepts and building blocks of blockchain. And they are cryptographic – they are hashes, digital signatures, timestamps, merkle trees, hash chains. Every technical and non-technical person in IT has by now at least read a little bit about blockchain to understand what it is.

So as a side effect, most developers and managers are now trust-conscious, and by extension – security conscious. I know it may sound far-fetched, but before blockchain how many developers and managers knew what a digital signature is? Hashes were somewhat more prevalent mostly because of their (sometimes incorrect) use to store passwords, but the PKI was mostly arcane knowledge.

And yes, we all know how TLS certificates work (although, do we?) and that a private key has to be created and used with them, and probably some had a theoretical understanding of digital signatures. And we knew encryption was kind of a good idea at rest and in transit. But putting that in the context of “trust”, “verifiability” and “non-repudiation” was, in my view, something that few people have done mentally.

And now, even by not using blockchain, developers and managers would have the trust concept lurking somewhere in the back of their mind. And my guess would be that more signatures, more hashes and more trusted timestamps will be used just because someone thought “hey, we can make this less prone to manipulation through this cool cryptography that I was reminded about because of blockchain”.

Blockchain won’t be the new internet, but it already has impact on the mode of thinking of people in the software industry. Or at least I hope so.

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