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Meet blockchain’s co-inventor

W. Scott Stornetta

W. Scott Stornetta

W. Scott Stornetta is widely recognised as one of the founding fathers of Blockchain technology. Dennis Avorin picked the tech luminary’s brain ahead of his appearance at the Malta Blockchain Summit.

What did you envisage would come out of the first paper you and Stuart Haber wrote outlining blockchain back in 1990, and to what degree does the outcome correspond to your initial expectations?

We both knew that we were on to something important. But for us, it was much more about creating a universal immutable ledger, a sort of definitive record of mankind, so that there could be no doubt about the authenticity and integrity of all digital documents. It certainly exceeded our expectations that it would include the creation of various attempts at currencies.

Not that we hadn’t actively thought about digital money, as others such as David Chaum had. We just didn’t see the connection at the time. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been wrong about something, of course.

If you could choose only one industry or field to revolutionise with blockchain technology, which one would that be?

The financial services industry is going to see huge change, but it will take many years to play out. I suppose that is as good an area as any, if I had to pick just one.

Are you generally in favour or against regulation for DLT?

I’m definitely in favour. The promise of the blockchain has nothing to hide, and little to fear from regulation.

Many concentrations of capital and power that in the past were necessary to facilitate social and economic interaction are no longer seen as needful

Yes, it is true to some extent that excessive and inappropriate regulation can slow innovation, but the benefits of buy-in and legitimisation far outweigh the concerns.

And the better informed governments are about blockchain, the better the chance for well-informed legislation. 

With your eyes set on the future, what is the most exciting change for society that blockchain will bring about in the upcoming five years?

This is my favourite question, because to me the real undercurrent is the decentralisation of verification. It means that many concentrations of capital and power that in the past were necessary to facilitate social and economic interaction are no longer seen as needful. It is a democratisation of trust, the peer-to-peering of integrity.

What is the single biggest factor that will determine how fast blockchain technology reaches a critical tipping point in adoption?

The real answer is more nuanced than this, because tipping points are reached in different industries at different times. Anthropologists have long understood that the future, in terms of technological innovation, arrived at different times in different places.

This is a notion that William Gibson popularised. So it is with the blockchain and tipping points. I think the case of Steemit.com is an example of something that has already reached a tipping point, in the stack exchange, Quora and Reddit space. Why would anyone not want to get paid for adding value to a conversation?

Malta has risen quickly in the ranks and is pitching itself as ‘Blockchain Island’. In your view, what are the three most important ingredients for a strong blockchain community?

Three? I’d consider myself lucky to get just one of these right. But let’s try. How about a stable, well-defined legal framework, for one? And an enviable living environment that allows for attracting a talented workforce. And for three? I don’t know, maybe your readers can launch a write-in campaign for the third. I would love to know.

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