10 years of blockchain

Blockchain is just over 10 years’ old, but already it boasts a quarter of Jesus’ online popularity. Typing the name of the distributed ledger that underpins bitcoin – the first mainstream cryptocurrency that was launched in January 2009 – into a Google search produces some 236 million results in less than a second, compared to Jesus’ 989 million. Bitcoin generates 430,000 results, but that is way below the 6.6 billion hits gold receives – for the time being, at least.

This test is just a bit of fun, and in no way scientific. However, it does signal how blockchain and bitcoin rank in early 2019 in terms of their popularity on the internet, which is currently accessed by around four billion people, or half the number of humans on the planet. Considering it was just over a decade since the genesis block of bitcoin was mined, it may not be all that long before so-called “digital gold” surpasses the physical version – in Google search numbers as well as reality.

Indeed, despite being more than 10 years’ old, bitcoin remains the world’s dominant crypto. It is now accepted by a vast variety of organisations in a wide range of industries – such as Microsoft, Expedia, bloomberg.com, Save the Children, Wikipedia, Virgin Galactic, Subway, and Whole Foods.

Even though the cryptoasset craze spawned by bitcoin – there are now thousands of cryptocurrencies, as well as a quickly growing number of offshoots (security tokens, utility tokens, platform tokens, and brand tokens) – is in its relative infancy, it has developed at an exponential rate.

Equally Blockchain, which many experts believe has the potential to be more transformative than the internet – cryptocurrency is merely its first use case, much in the same way email launched the internet – is just getting started.

In this digital epoch, where nascent technologies are converging in a thrilling way, blockchain – and the incredible spirit of innovation it has generated – stands out as the global game-changing technology. Already, it is difficult to list all the ways in which it has altered our lives, for the better.

With bitcoin and blockchain’s 10-year anniversary having been reached in January 2019, it is topical to compare and contrast the speed that other world-enhancing and disruptive technologies took to take off.


Smartphones – quicker than blockchain development?

Apple’s first iPhone, launched in 2007, sparked the mass explosion of smartphone adoption. In 2019 the number of mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion. While that uptake has been alarmingly quick, it could be argued that the first smartphone was introduced in the mid-1990s. BellSouth’s Simon Personal Communicator, which offered a touchscreen and could send and receive faxes and emails, was marketed to consumers in 1994 and began life as a prototype called “Angler”, having been developed by IBM’s Frank Canova in 1992. Further, smartphone sales fell in 2018 – as Apple found to their cost – so blockchain is likely to have more staying power.


Email – slower than blockchain progress

Much in the same way bitcoin (and therefore cryptoassets) is the first use case of blockchain technology, email was the primary use case of the internet. The email – essentially transferring messages between two electronic devices – can be traced back to the 1960s, and was invented by American computer programmer Ray Tomlinson. The world’s first user-friendly email platform, Hotmail, was introduced in 1996, and one study predicts that before the start of 2019 there were 3.8 billion email users, some 100 million than 12 months earlier.


Steam engine – much slower than blockchain development

The stationary steam engine, invented by Scottish engineer James Watt in 1781, produced continuous rotary motion that enabled a wide range of manufacturing machinery to be powered. It was a key component and symbol of the Industrial Revolution, which stretched from around the 1760s through to the 1840s. Not only did it disrupt factories across the world, the steam engine transformed transport. The Middleton Railway was the first to use steam locomotives in 1812, though the steam engine ran out of puff when electricity began to spark new ideas.

Electric power – even slower than blockchain progress

Without electricity modern life would pretty much be impossible. Alessandro Volta is hailed as the godfather of electricity (hence the derived unit of electric potential, volts, and voltage), having developed the voltaic pile, which produced electricity through a chemical reaction, in 1800. Thirty-one years later Michael Faraday introduced a machine that generated electricity, this time from rotary motion. However, it took almost half a century longer for the tech to be developed to the point of being commercially viable. It wasn’t until 1878 when Thomas Edison had a light-bulb moment and famously offered an alternative to gas lighting and heating, by using direct current electricity.


GPS – people gravitated to it slow than to blockchain

Smartphone users around the world have become dependant upon GPS – or Global Positioning System, to give it the full name. The satellite-based radionavigation system is necessary for thousands of applications to work properly on our devices, and we would be lost without it, literally. It may be an essential tool for navigation in 2018, but it has taken a surprising length of time for it to become a transformative technology. That is mostly because the United States government – whose military first launched a GPS satellite into orbit over 40 years ago, in February 1978 – kept it under wraps for many years. President Ronald Reagan opened the GPS system to the public in September 1983, after realising it would be of universal use, though there was a catch with the free-to-use system: civilians were granted an accuracy of about 100 metres, thus ensuring only the US military had the best available data. It has become more accurate for us all since. Now over 30 GPS satellites currently orbit the earth helping to guide our way and track our locations and movements.