Gavin Serkin, OnFrontiers’ Editorial Director, gathered five leading experts from across frontier and emerging markets in our recent #ExpertChat to assess the impact cryptocurrencies and blockchain will make in our lifetimes, and our childrens’.
When will Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies reach the masses?
A lot of the mythology around cryptocurrencies is because the average person doesn’t get to see it. They hear about it on tech blogs or on Twitter, but they don’t really get to confront it or interact with it. But uptake is happening in retail: you see ATMs coming, for example, in Japan; you can see point of sale applications like BitPay being developed. But it’s slow.
One of the obstacles is volatility. Bitcoin just dropped 25% on the China ICO ban. About a month ago, Ethereum plunged on a rumor that one of the founders had died in a car crash. Bitcoin could either crash and burn or hit $100,000 per coin in the next ten years. It’s not a game for the faint-hearted. One day you can go shopping for a Lamborghini with your Bitcoin and at the next jump a loaf of bread. For consumers and retailers, that’s a rather huge problem. Right now, the values are rising so significantly with cryptocurrency, nobody wants to spend them! And if nobody wants to spend, how can they be useful for retail? Buying fungibles with appreciating assets makes very little sense, so this is one of the issues.
When will blockchain reach the masses?
Blockchain is really a shared source of truths. It’s a unique database where everyone can tap into, whereas before you had several databases. If one database is attacked, the others remain, so there is no single point of failure and therefore, it can be distributed everywhere. And that’s really the beauty of blockchain – you can share your information selectively – and you can do it in a really secure and robust way.
It’s anticipated that 15% of the world’s banks will adopt blockchain, which is a huge amount of adoption. We run, with the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, the largest blockchain consortia in the world. We have over 150 members. Hyperledger and R3 also have very large numbers of Fortune 500 companies that work together to find blockchain solutions. All told, you have around 500 to 600 of the largest companies in the world working together to deploy blockchain solutions, and that impacts millions and millions of lives through their customers and their supply chains and their day-to-day operations. Companies like Expedia and Amazon are already accepting cryptocurrencies.
What’s the future of cryptocurrency in frontier and emerging markets?
Luno has its origins in emerging markets. Very early on, we realized that digital currencies – and in particular Bitcoin – have a lot of potential in emerging markets. Arguably more, in the long run, even than in established markets. You often hear about “leapfrogging”, in the context of technology adoption in Africa. For example: it’s a continent that didn’t have landline telephone penetration as found in many other places in the world, mostly due to high cost of infrastru
cture. Then, suddenly, in a very short time span, just about everybody has a cell phone, by completely skipping the step of having fixed landlines. Along the same lines, it’s very cost-ineffective to use traditional banking systems to transfer small amounts of money, so certain digital currencies hold great potential. Kenya has already led the way, with the majority of the population using M-Pesa. Although it’s not a decentralised cryptocurrency, it is a digital currency (or mobile money) primarily used on phones. Kenyans annually transact around half the country’s GDP using M-Pesa.
The strongest use case of cryptocurrencies, other than as a means of payment, is as a store of value. In the nine odd years since Bitcoin was started, the currencies of a lot of emerging markets have been declining significantly – countries like Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, my native South Africa, a lot of countries in Latin America and so on. These are some of the countries where we see the biggest uptake in digital currency’s organic growth, because it may prove better – in some limited instances – to put some of your money in a different store of value than keeping it in the local currency.
In terms of regulation, Russia initially, and hurriedly, deemed Bitcoin illegal. They soon realised that a decentralised technology isn’t something you can ever completely outlaw. Then, over the past two years, they have slowly backtracked and today Russia is actually quite pro-Bitcoin and pro-digital currencies. We’ve been talking to regulators since our very first days. Every bank and every regulator around the world is aware of cryptocurrencies and they’re monitoring them. They’re basically trying to see what it’s going to become and how to regulate it in the future.
Bitcoin and blockchain in frontier markets: Argentina
I am from Argentina. This is a country that has had a lot of monetary problems. In the 1980s, we had a thousand percent inflation a month. Then in the 1990s, we had deflation, and the banks kept confiscating the money of the people. All of this has made people be very aware of what bad currency can do to the economy. So when Bitcoin started in Argentina and in particular in Buenos Aires, a very important community of developers was formed. There are many, many thriving companies here in Buenos Aires. One of the founders of Xapo, a leading Bitcoin bank, is from Argentina.
Crowdjury is an example of an application of blockchain beyond global currencies. The economy today is very globalized, and many interactions and contracts are across borders. I’m in Argentina right now. Imagine I want to hire a developer from Guatemala. We create a contract, and he says what is expected of him. If something goes wrong, I’m not going to Guatemala to hire a lawyer and sue him; it’s too expensive for a $500 or $1,000 problem. So, imagine if we have agreed at the beginning that in case of any issue on his contract, we should press a button and send it to a platform to adjudicate. That’s Crowdjury. This platform is going to be built on blockchain because it needs to secure and store all of the evidence, and then, it’s going to choose a number of jurors, who are going to analyze the evidence, and they are going to see who’s in the right, and they are going to vote. There is one winner, one loser.
What skills should children learn to prepare for a blockchain and artificial intelligence driven future?
Anish Mohammed, former lead security architect for Blockchain initiatives at HSBC and Chief Science Officer for Blockchainsmokers, which connects startups with blockchain technology. Mohammed is also an advisor to Ripple Labs and Hyperloop Transport Technologies.
Learn math. The whole of cryptocurrency and AI is based on linear algebra and other variances of math.