Alex Tapscott: “Blockchain Revolution” | Talks at Google


ALEX TAPSCOTT: That
was really cool. I kind of want to try that out. Everybody, give me a big cheer. [CHEERING] Wow. That power is seductive. Thanks for joining me today. Great to see a
standing-room-only crowd here. There must not be a
lot going on this week. I’m delighted to be here. I’ve been reflecting on
this whole Brexit issue and thinking about where to
make sense of the disruption and turmoil that’s going on. And I think that there might
be an answer in technology. Because in addition of this
political revolution that’s kind of going on
right now, we also have a technological revolution
that’s happening as well. And this is by far the
most sophisticated crowd I think I’ve spoken to. So everyone here is
obviously familiar with all these big technological
trends that are going on. But it’s our view
that the technology likely to have the greatest
impact on the world for the next 20
years is actually not the mobility, big data,
cloud computing, machine learning, AI, et cetera. It’s the technology behind
cryptocurrencies, like bitcoin, and it’s called the blockchain. And after a few
years of research and the writing for
this book, we’ve basically become convinced
that this technology represents nothing short of the second
generation of the internet. So when you use
the internet today to send or move or
share information, you’re not actually
sending an original. You’re sending a copy, and
you’re retaining an original. And generally
speaking, that’s OK. In fact, it’s one of the
great benefits of the internet is that we have this
publishing platform for the democratization
of information. So all you need is an internet
connection and some kind of internet-enabled
device, and you can access Google
and Wikipedia and all these wonderful resources. But when it comes
to value, things like money, stocks, bonds,
other financial assets, sending a copy is
actually not a good idea. You see, if I send you $20
in payment for something, it’s really important that you
know that you have that $20, and I don’t. Because if I could
send the same $20 to every single person in
this room, then that $20 becomes worthless, and the
global economy collapses, and I go to jail. And these are all
really bad things. So it’s OK to have a printing
press for information, but it’s not OK to have a
printing press for money. And this is something
that cryptographers have been trying to figure
out for a very long time. It’s called the
double-payment problem or the double-spend problem. And the first iterations
of digital cash were actually developed
20, 22 years ago by Nick Szabo, a cryptographer. There was another
one too, developed by a guy named Adam
[? Chom. ?] And it was very close to being part
of the initial integration into the Netscape
Navigator, but they couldn’t do it because they
couldn’t figure out this issue. So it turns out
that we need help. We need help establishing trust. We need help
verifying the identity of parties in a transaction. We need help with the
clearing and the settling of those transactions,
and we need help with the record keeping. And what we turn to for all
of those important functions of commerce online
are middlemen, basically– Intermediaries. And these intermediaries take
different shapes and forms. People are familiar,
obviously, with banks. But also increasingly, from
the digital revolution, we’ve got big conglomerates,
digital conglomerates, like Google, who act as
arbiters in the middle of a lot of transactions
online– Facebook, Uber, Apple, et cetera, but also
governments too. And generally speaking,
these intermediaries do a pretty good job. But they have
certain limitations. For one, many of them
are very centralized. And anything that’s centralized
is vulnerable to hacking or to attack or to failure. And we see this with
regularity– Twitter, LinkedIn, Home Depot, Target, including
financial services firms like Morgan Stanley, JP
Morgan, and even governments, like the NSA and the
State Department. If the NSA can’t secure
its systems, then who can? They tax the system, especially
in financial services. In the case of sending
money overseas, for example, it can cost anywhere
between 9% and 18% just to make a cross-border
transaction, a cross-border payment, which is
crazy when you think about it, the idea of a
cross-border payment. Nobody ever talks about
a cross-border email. And it’s just data, really,
when you think about value. They exclude a whole bunch of
people from the global economy. There are 2 and /12 billion
people in the world that don’t have access to financial
services of any kind, and there are lots
of reasons for that. And they slow things down. In the case of Google,
not so much, actually. They make things fast. But in the case of the
financial services industry, the technology systems that
we run to manage things like payments and clearing
and settling of transactions are actually like
30, 40 years old– the swift system, the
automated clearinghouse system, and other types of
settlement transaction layers run mainframes from the
’70s and ’80s and are older than most of the
people in this room. So you could argue
that as a result of this issue of establishing
trust and identity online, that intermediaries
still capture an asymmetric amount of the
value of commerce, perhaps even more so than they did
in the pre-digital age. So what if there were a
vast global distributed platform that ran a ledger,
basically like a spreadsheet, that everyone could see, that
didn’t run on one system– one bank system, one
government system– but ran on every single computer
around the world and wasn’t only open to a few,
but was open to everybody? Where not just information, like
emails and PDFs and websites and voice over IP,
but literally anything of value, so of course,
money and stocks and bonds and financial assets,
but also titles and deeds, intellectual property,
scientific discoveries, even votes in an
election could be moved, stored, and managed
privately and securely, and where trust was not
established by an intermediary but rather through mass
collaboration, clever code, and cryptography. And I think that’s what
we’ve gotten with blockchain. So in 2008, the global
financial system was on the brink of collapse. Everybody remembers
that pretty well. Some of you might
been in high school. But somewhat propitiously,
right around that time, an anonymous person or group
of people under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto
outlined in a white paper cash for the internet– digital
cash, which is basically to say a way to make payments
peer to peer without using an intermediary, kind of like
the way you would go down to the coffee shop, and
with a five quid note, pay for coffee and a donut. There’s no intermediary
in that transaction. That didn’t really
exist for the internet. We’ve always had to
rely on intermediaries to make payments. And they launched it
shortly thereafter. And since then,
it’s caught a spark. It’s traveled like wildfire
to the world of computing, financial services, which
is the area that I’ve spent some of formative
years of my career, but also into business
generally, media, and including government. So bitcoin is many things
to different people. Some people think of
bitcoin as an asset. It goes up. It goes down. You can buy it. You can sell it. You can make money on it. And that’s certainly true. And actually it’s
increasingly being viewed as sort of an
uncorrelated asset and a safe harbor,
in some respects. So Brexit referendum
vote, bitcoin went up 20%. When the Chinese
People’s Bank of China wants to devalue its currency,
bitcoin usually rallies. And that’s interesting. But more interestingly,
it’s a cryptocurrency, which is to say a currency
that’s not issued or controlled by a nation state or by a
supernational organization, like the European Union. And that’s very interesting if
you’re in a part of the world where the local currency is
very unreliable, where there are strict capital controls, if
you’re part of diasporas living abroad, and you send money
home to your families, and you normally pay 10%. These are all opportunities
for bitcoin as a cryptocurrency But most interestingly is it’s
based on this technology called the blockchain. So for the first time
in human history, two or more parties need not
know nor trust one another to transact or do business. You’ve got trust
rather than being the domain of the intermediary. The controlling role
of the intermediary, it’s actually native
to this technology, which is why we call
blockchain the trust protocol. So people here, doubtless, are
familiar with all of this stuff to some degree. And so you know full well that
there’s the bitcoin blockchain. There are other
types of blockchains. Some are public, like Ethereum
is another public blockchain. And then there are
others that are not– private blockchains
that are being developed by banks and enterprise
and government and these different things. So not every
blockchain looks like. But this is generally
the way they work. So it starts with a
distributed ledger, which is not running on
one computer or one system. It’s running on every single
system that has access to it. Transactions that are constantly
happening on the network are validated by a
community of participants. In the case of the
bitcoin blockchain, they’re called miners, not
like : “minors” miners, but like pick axe miners,
who commit large computing resources to solve
a difficult problem, after which they reach
consensus, essentially, on what has occurred. And in reward for reaching
consensus on what’s occurred, they’re rewarded
with a new bitcoin. And every so often these
transactions on the network, kind of like the heartbeat,
are captured into these things called blocks. And then each block,
once it’s validated, must refer to the
preceding block in the blockchain
and every block all the way back to
the beginning of time. So what that means
effectively is if I wanted to
rewrite a transaction, like send the same $20
twice in the first example that I gave, I would
not only have to go back and just move a number
in a spreadsheet, hack one transaction, I’d
have to go back basically and rewrite the entire history
of commerce on the blockchain all the way back to
the beginning of time on the blockchain, and do
so in a very short window, fighting against one of
the most powerful computing resources in the world. One blockchain
startup CEO, who also was a partner at
Andresen Horowitz, estimates that the
computing power that this network marshals
to validate transactions is about 100 times
as big as Google. So that’s very big, because you
guys know how big Google is. Maybe you don’t. And of course, each
block is time stamped, which means any
attempt to change when a transaction’s occurred,
is sort of identified and stopped. So that’s the way bitcoin works. But it’s open source, so it’s
created this sort of Cambrian explosion of innovation,
which has led to new types of blockchains. So just to show of hands, who
here has heard of Ethereum? So most of the people here. So I’m very proud of
Ethereum because it’s a little Canadian success story,
and I’m from Toronto, Canada. Any Canadians in the room? [CHEERING] Yes! Yeah, we’re now
worried about Quebexit. So Ethereum was started by a
Canadian college dropout named Vitalik Buterin, who was
a big fan of bitcoin, but in it he saw
certain limitations. He wanted to build applications. He wanted to do smart
contracts, complicated tasks that he thought bitcoin was
limited in its ability to do. And so he created this
thing called Ethereum. He wrote a white paper, put it
on Reddit, put it on GitHub, and said, who wants
to fund my project? And he ended up
raising 19 million US dollars in a matter of four
weeks to fund this project. And they basically went
down and got to work. And 12 months later,
Etherium launched. And it’s now worth around a
billion and a half US dollars, and it’s being used by
Microsoft, Deloitte, UPS, and a whole bunch
of other very big firms. One of the things that
it does is, I mentioned, smart contracts, which is
kind of what they sound like. A software program that mimics
the logic of a contract, but where the enforcement
and the execution is done automatically,
and where it also has a payment
mechanism that assures everyone gets
compensated regularly without the need for lawyers
and escrow agents and bankers and all these other
kind of friction points in traditional contracting. And we kind of
suggested in the book that this could create whole new
kinds of business models, where a lot of the roles that we
normally reserved for people, could be automated through these
things called smart contracts. Who here has heard of this
thing the DAO– D-A-O? OK, so everyone. You know that it’s all good. No problems with the DAO. It’s all good. No. So in the book we said
there’s this thing called the distributed
autonomous enterprises is what we call these
companies that wouldn’t have people doing normal roles. And we at the time
we thought, god, this is a little bit far out there. A company without
people– people are going to think that
we drank our own Kool-Aid or that we’re toking up
or something like that. But we said, let’s do it. Let’s put it into the book. And we’ll see where we get. The day the book launched
this thing called the D-A-O. came into existence. And it looked a lot like the
D-A-E that we had suggested could happen with the book. It has no management. It has no staff in
the traditional sense. It has no board of governors. It’s an investment
vehicle that was designed to make investments
into the blockchain industry. And its first task was
to raise some money. And in the first few weeks, it
managed to raise at its peak 165 million US dollars, which,
just for financial services, is a huge breakthrough. So forget of the
DAO works or not. What does it mean when an
entrepreneur or a group of entrepreneurs can
basically gain access to tens of thousands
of individual investors and do a peer-to-peer crowd
sale without the need for VC, without the need for
an investment bank, without the need even for
Kickstarter or an Indiegogo? $162 million is a lot of money. I mean, that’s like the bread
and butter for late stage VC for a lot of IPO
markets around the world. So this is going to have a big
disruptive force on finance. Of course, the DAO, like
any good blockchain startup, has problems, namely
that there was a flaw in this contract
that enabled someone to exploit it momentarily
to siphon off some money into a separate account. And that’s an issue that’s
being resolved right now. We’ll get back to that. So going back to
financial services, does everybody know
what this thing is? It’s called a Rube
Goldberg machine. It’s the kind of thing I’d
expect to find in a Google lobby, actually. Guests wear like a boxing glove
and hit something, and hilarity ensues. This is kind of how
the financial services industry works,
actually, which is that a whole bunch of
complicated things happen. And in the end, a
very simple task is solved, like an egg is
cracked or a door is closed. London just introduced the
TAP cards in the taxis, right? And you tap your
card, and you feel like that’s a
seamless transaction, that the value might
be going directly from you to the cabdriver. But it’s not. It’s going through a
series of intermediaries– your bank, his bank,
cab company’s bank, a processing firm,
the Visa network, if you’re using Visa,
the AMEX network if you’re using
AMEX, and usually, some kind of a clearinghouse
or some kind of systems. So you’re talking about half a
dozen different intermediaries. And the money doesn’t
land immediately. It actually takes
five to seven days. And it’s not free. It costs usually anywhere
between 2% and 10%, which is why cab drivers hate
taking credit cards, right? And that’s actually an
efficient example of the way the financial services
industry works. In the book we
identified sort of what are the eight things that this
industry does in the economy to try and better understand
how blockchain would impact it. And it turns out in each of
these different functions, there’s a big opportunity
to fundamentally transform the nature of the industry. So everything from how
we fund and invest, which would be, say, the DAO,
how we connect entrepreneurs with investors who are prepared
to give growth capital, how we access credit, how we
just store and move value, et cetera. So given the potential
of this technology, it’s no small wonder
why a lot of media outlets and big stakeholders
are waking up to this. So “The Economist” ran this
cover story on blockchain in October of 2015, last year. And they said
blockchain is not one of the most important
developments of the past 20 years. They said it’s one of the
most important innovations of the past 200 years, along
with double-entry bookkeeping and the joint-stock corporation,
which admittedly are not the sexiest things in
the world– double entry, no, so boring. But kind of important,
because without double-entry bookkeeping and
the joint-stock corporation, there’d be no Google. There’d be no skyscraper. There’d be no electricity. There’d be none of these things. There the basis of
the economic order. So given all that, this
is the conversation that’s happening a lot
of times in companies, increasingly, from
financial services, but also in
government, et cetera. By the way, Dilbert is usually a
pretty good harbinger of things to come. And in 1993, they ran
a cartoon about Unix, where the boss confused Unix
with eunuchs, but anyway. So what does this mean
for you and for us, and why should you care? So in the book we
identified sort of a half a dozen ways
in which blockchain will be transformative. And the one I’d like
to share with you today is this idea of
prosperity, which is that the internet
has been a great tool, and it’s changed
the way we live. But on certain metrics it has
a bit of a mixed track record. On the report card
for prosperity, this idea that the
rising tide of technology lifts all boats, that some can
succeed much more than others– you know, Larry Page, Sergey
Brin, and all of you– but that generally
everyone gets ahead. Well, if you look at
the big social issues in a lot of parts of the world,
social inequality and income inequality is kind of number
one in almost every OECD country, with the exception
of the UK, where it’s Brexit. But actually, if you look
at the origins of Brexit, you could argue
that big social ills have exacerbated the tension
which may have led to the vote. And it could also be the reason
why you see this populist surge in places like France–
Marie Le Pen– and in the US with Donald Trump, et cetera. So could blockchain
help us to build a more prosperous economy,
more inclusive economy? We think so. So in the book we identify
eight transformations. The first couple are really
low-hanging fruit– inclusion. 2 and 1/2 billion
people the world don’t have a bank
account or any way to make payments or store money. And without that, their economic
mobility is severely limited. They really have no way
to participate fully in the global economy. And it turns out that the
reason that banks can’t really offer services to these
people, in addition to them not really having a
balance that would justify it, is that they don’t
have an identity. If you don’t have an identity,
you can’t prove who you are. Then a bank’s never
going to service you. So they don’t have a driver’s
license, birth certificate, et cetera. Blockchain startups are
trying to solve this problem by not looking at it
as a banking question but looking at it as
basic financial services. So when you think about what
retail banks actually do, they basically give people
way to move money, which is to make payments and transfer
funds, a way to store money, a way to reliably capture your
savings somewhere, where it’s not stored in a pig or a
cow or something like that, and a way to get
access to credit– so to get a loan to buy a
house or get an education or to start a business. And the barriers to entry for
new startups in this space are dropping significantly. There’s a company in
Kenya called M-Pesa, which I’m sure many of
you are familiar with, which doesn’t use blockchain. It just leverages
a telecom network, which everyone’s got a phone. Nobody has a bank account. Everyone has a phone. And it’s been able to push 40%
of the GDP through this system. Now, unfortunately, you want
to talk too big to fail. If 40% of the GDP is
moving through one company, that’s a problem. And also because it’s localized
to whatever their coverage is, it’s inherently limited. It’s a Kenya-based thing. So what if we could do
that on a global scale? There’s a very famous
Peruvian economist named Hernando de Soto,
who says the biggest barrier to upward
mobility is not actually financial inclusion. It’s land titles. 70% of people in the world who
think they own land, actually have a very unforeseeable
claim to it. And this plays out
all over the world. The Rio Olymics– they basically
evicted tens of thousands of people from favelas
to build stadiums. Some of them were squatters,
who’d been there for 50 years. Others actually had a title
that said they owned the land. It didn’t matter. They said actually
our government system says that we own the land,
and we’re evicting you from this piece of property. It happens in places
like Honduras, where the most recent
president was actually ousted in a bloodless coup for
doing this exact same thing. He expropriated
land from peasants and said that his
friends in government and his other cronies owned it. Well, now the
government of Honduras is working with a blockchain
company called Factum to try and solve these problems. And it’s happening in other
places too– in Georgia, in Europe, they’re working
with a company called Bitfury. | has also announced a pilot. The idea is pretty simple. You need good data, to
start, of who owns what. Because if you put garbage
in, you’ll get garbage out. But if everyone can agree on who
owns what property and it goes into the system, that
means that no single entity can unilaterally
change who owns what. No dictator or tyrant
can mess with it. And it also means that the
security of that information is much stronger. I was at a blockchain conference
with the former prime minister of Haiti. And he said that
after the earthquake they lost all of their records
because everything was stored either in paper or in a
central computer system in one single building in Port
Au Prince, which collapsed. And the entire government’s
history of people and buildings were wiped out in
one single blow. Could we use blockchain to
create a true sharing economy? Companies like Uber
and Lyft and TaskRabbit are called part of this
so-called sharing economy. But we actually think
they don’t really have that much to
do with sharing. In fact, we think they’re
actually successful precisely because they don’t share. Uber is a $65 billion
service aggregator. That is it acts as a
centralized intermediary, aggregating drivers
and cars through a centralized
aggregator, and then pushing it out to
an open market. In the process, they capture
a big chunk of the fee– 20%, 25%. But they also capture all
of the value. $65 billion’s the big prize, not
the 20%, right? So there are new ways
to distribute ownership across companies, kind
of similar to the DAO, where anybody with as little
as $1 can become a shareholder. And instead of
having a corporation, you could have a
drive-around cooperative. Where many of the functions
of what Uber does– identity, reputation, contracting,
and payments basically, that’s about 80%
of what they do– can be automated using
blockchain technology and smart contracting
technology. And we could actually create
a true sharing economy, where the creators of value
get to participate more fully. $600 billion a year moves
from developed countries into developing countries. It’s the biggest flow of funds
into the developing world, more so than direct foreign
investment or foreign aid. And it costs around 10%,
according to the World Bank. And it’s something that directly
affects some of the poorest people the world. So in Haiti, 25% of the GDP, the
whole country, is remittances. In the Philippines,
which is a big country with a diverse economy,
it’s still 13% of the GDP is remittances. So there’s a
housekeeper in Toronto. Her name’s Annalee Domingo. And for 25 years, she’s
been sending money dutifully home to her mother in Manila. And I joined her in
one of these trips. So she gets her paycheck–
physical paycheck– from her boss. Goes to the bank, deposits
it, withdraws cash. Gets on a bus, goes to
the other side of town from where she lives to a
Filipino supermarket, which also is a Western Union counter. It’s payday, so 50 other
people have the same idea. We wait in line for an hour. She gets to the front of the
line, fills out a paper form– the same form she’s filled
out every month for 25 years– and hands over physical cash. The money doesn’t
arrive the next day or even two days later. It arrives five to
seven days later, and it costs anywhere
between 9% and 10%. Her mother, who’s
70, in Manila, never knows when it’s going to arrive,
and this is a point of stress. Will she go and pick it up? When does she have
to go and pick it up? And there’s a cottage industry
in places like the Philippines, where stickup artists just hang
around Western Union locations, waiting for people to get
cash, and then they rob them. So this is a very inefficient
system and one that’s unfair to vulnerable people. Now Annalee uses an
application called Abra, which is based out of Silicon Valley. And what it does is allows
her boss or her employer to pay her directly through
her bank– she’s banked. She’s not unbanked– through her
bank account into the Abra app. She’s able from
there to send money to her mother in
the Philippines. What they do is they use the
bitcoin blockchain, basically, as a payment rail to move the
value from her to her mother. But her mother’s 70, and she’s
50, and they’re not tech savvy. So what Abra’s done
to make it easier is that Annalee only
sees Canadian dollars, and her mom only
sees Filipino pesos. There’s no bitcoin
in this transaction, and it doesn’t cost 10%. It cost 1/4 of 1%. Now, Mum’s in the Philippines. She wants cash. She goes to the market in cash. She pays her rent in cash. So what Abra’s has done
is put on top of it a teller network, sort
of like Uber drivers, where someone will meet
you in exchange for a fee, and swap for your virtual
for your physical pesos. And they set the price. So 2%, they get a five
out of five-star rating. Her mom meets this person,
and they swap the cash. The whole thing takes half an
hour and costs 1 and 1/2% 2%, rather than taking seven
days and costing 10%. They didn’t quite get
the proportions right on this image. I have a big head,
but it’s not that big. One of the interesting things
about the first generation of the internet is that the
asset class, the most important asset class of this
economy, is data, kind of like industrial
plant in the industrial age, and land in the agrarian age. But individuals don’t own it. It’s actually owned
and controlled by powerful intermediaries–
Google, Facebook, Apple, Uber, your banks, your governments. And there are some
issues with that, namely, that it prevents
individuals, a lot of times, from using it to
manage their affairs or to monetize that value
and that data in some way, but also, in the
most extreme cases, can lead to people’s
privacy being undermined. So there are now companies
that use blockchain to create a virtual you, like
a personal black box, where in it, you’ve got different
shades of your identity– me the citizen, me the
employee, me the consumer, me the user of social media,
me the customer of a bank. And you decide
how that data gets used in each
individual situation, and you only relinquish
what you need to relinquish to gain
access to a certain service. So you want to make a payment? You want buy something? Nobody really needs to know
who you are, necessarily. If you go buy a hot
dog downstairs– do they sell hot dogs in the UK? Yeah, you go down
to get like a scone from the scone stand,
the guy running the scone stands doesn’t ask
for your driver’s license. He just wants to know you’ve
got the money for the scone and the jam and
the clotted cream. So there’s an opportunity here
to change the relationship that people have with
who they interact with. Now, it’s actually not
necessarily a negative for companies like Google. You guys love data, big data. But maybe you could
get even more data if you ensure that consumers
kind of got a cut of the value. Instead of being just passive
recipients of your services, they were “prosumers,”
they were giving you information that was valuable
to you, and in exchange getting some kind of value, other than
the brilliant amazing, free, utility that is Google. Could we ensure that
artists get compensated fairly for the content
that they create? Who know Imogen Heap here? She’s English. I’m very disappointed
in the rest of you. So artists have
always had a bad deal, ever since the days
of Medici, really. And during the record
label era, they fought for a few percent
royalties on every single song that they released. And through the
internet era, which was supposed to solve
this to a certain degree, to put more power in
the individual’s hands and less reliance
on intermediaries, it actually made things
worse, because music, which was an asset turned
into a free commodity which could be duplicated and
shared with everyone. And so a new set
of intermediaries stepped in to try and
solve this– Apple with digital downloads and
now Spotify with streaming. But it’s only gotten
worse for artists. So if you were a songwriter
on a hit single in the ’80s, and it sold a million copies,
you would get about $45,000. The same song today, if it’s
streamed a million times on Spotify, the
songwriter can expect $36. So $45,000 to $36,
which in London doesn’t get you very far. I’ve tried over the
past couple of days. So there’s something’s
gotta give kind of feeling to it, right? So now artists are
looking for a way to put more control into
the hands of creators. So Imogen Heap has a startup
in London called Mycelia, which takes the song, which
is normally just music, and gives it intelligence. So within the song are
licensing rights and royalty rights built in. So whatever the song’s consumed,
let’s say it’s streamed, and it’s half of a cent. That half of a cent will
get split immediately amongst whoever has the
royalties on that song– the artists,
producers, et cetera. But if it’s downloaded
for $1, the royalty regime might be the same, but the
licensing is different. So it’s $1. And if it’s played
in a TV commercial, it’s a different
licensing regime. If it’s sampled for a ring
tone, it’s a different one. But every time it’s consumed,
however it’s consumed, the value moves directly from
whoever’s paying directly to the artist, rather than
going through this system of intermediaries. So that assures that
artists get paid first. It doesn’t solve the
you-can-duplicate-music issue. But if the pie is
shrinking, it just makes sure that more
of the smaller pie is going to people who
actually deserve it. So in the book that’s
an example of what we call the metering
economy, which is that we have all this value–
our data, maybe an autonomous vehicle not too
far down the road, which we should be able
to meter out to the world and receive value for it. Maybe it’s a solar panel
on the roof of your house. This is an example of
what NASDAQ is doing. NASDAQ, we think of as a market
maker or a technology provider to the markets and
stocks and bonds and other financial assets. They view themselves as a
technology firm whose core competency is markets. So what could blockchain do
to expand the idea of markets to other types of asset classes? One of them is electricity. So they’re working right
now with a distributed power company in Silicon
Valley, where if you’ve got a panel on your roof
and you generate power in excess of what
you need, you can sell it not into the grid at a
wholesale rate to the utility, but rather peer to peer,
to your neighbor or someone on the other side of town at
a market rate, a retail rate. And you can create much
more value for yourselves. What NASDAQ’s doing
is allowing you to basically bundle
kilowatt hours into assets that can
be traded like stocks across a marketplace
peer to peer, which I think is fascinating. This is a guy
named Ronald Coase. Among other things,
I’d like to know what he ate for breakfast
every day because he lived till he was 103. But he basically asked
a very simple question. He said, why do we have firms? Why are there corporations? If the best way to allocate
resources and organize capability is using a
market– you know Adam Smith, free market– then
why isn’t everyone an independent contractor? How come all of
you work for Google and you’re not all transacting
with each other peer to peer in your
respective roles? And he pointed to
one specific thing. He said, transaction costs. And he won a Nobel
Prize for saying this. So long as it’s
cheaper to do things inside the boundaries of
the firm than outside, then firms will continue to grow. And he pointed
specifically to the cost of search, coordination,
contracting, and establishing trust. So Henry Ford knew this,
which is why the Ford Motor Company had not
just a car plant, but it had a rubber plantation,
a timber mill, a steel plant, because he knew that keeping
everything inside the firm would be cheaper through
economies of scale. The internet changed that
somewhat– unbundling certain things from the firm. So we can rely increasingly
on offshoring and outsourcing because we have communication
tools that allow us to connect over long distances. You know the motto
“focus on what you do best, outsource the
rest” came out the ’90s, right around the internet era. But now we think there
are new models, where you can have
radically distributed modes of production,
where, as I mentioned, you can kind of begin to
unbundle the vertically integrated firms. Because everyone doesn’t need to
know each other to build value, because we’ve got a technology
that establishes trust. People don’t need to do
everything inside of firm, organize capabilities,
we can contract pretty seamlessly for
relatively little cost through smart
contracts, And things like search, if you have
a record of everything, and you know it’s true
because it’s immutable, then you’re able to find
valuable information that you know is valid much more easily. And in the book we talk
about new business models, specifically the distributed
autonomous enterprise, which is highly automated and complex
and uses this technology. So to conclude on
the transformations, let’s talk about
government, because I think this is a very
topical thing right now. These two books came
out when I was a kid, in ’92 and ’93,
“Reinventing Government” and “The Gore Report on
Reinventing Government.” And in it they said we can
bring the tonic of the market to bear on government. We can do government
better, faster, cheaper. We can use digital
technology to transform the relationship between
government and citizens. You look back on government,
how it’s changed, or how it is not change
over the past 25 years, and I think at best, what we’ve
done is just pave the cow path. We’ve taken stuff that we
did in the pre-digital age and made it digital,
without actually changing the underlying
nature of government. And that, among other things,
is causing a real rift, I think, between
governments and citizens, where I think a
lot of people don’t feel like their government
acts in their best interests, and where they feel like
they’re being left behind. And this is playing
out all over the world in various different forms. So what could
blockchain do to A, restore legitimacy in
government institutions, and B, just improve the way the
government deliver services to people? Well, on the first point, right
now, especially in the US, politicians are not
beholden to citizens. They’re beholden to
powerful interests that help to get them elected, basically. 92% of people in the US believe
there should be a background check on firearms,
according to a poll that came out a week ago. Congress cannot pass a law that
reflects the will of the people because they are captured
by these powerful forces. So why would you have
any faith in government when it can’t do anything to
reflect the will of the people? Well, imagine if a
politician got elected with a smart contract that
stipulated that they actually had to abide by
their commitments, otherwise they
wouldn’t get paid? Or maybe a little
less severe, they don’t get the
appropriations to pay for their projects they want
to pay for unless they actually hit milestones that have
been pre-determined based on the view of the electorate. The goal is not to
create direct democracy. The referendum last week sure
told us that that’s a bad idea. But it is to help
empower individuals to have more active role
in government, which I think is healthy,
within the context of democratic institutions. In terms of delivering
services, well, gee, it would be a lot easier if you
could procure taxes and pay out benefits peer to
peer, without having to rely on all the
paper and intermediaries that we traditionally rely on. That’s kind of
low-hanging fruit. And a lot of
governments have said that– the Bank of England. The Canadian Senate
came out with a report saying that just the
pure delivery of services could be done a lot easier. So there’s an opportunity
for government as well. So I’m bullish, obviously,
on all this stuff. But I don’t believe that it’s
going to happen on its own. Technology is not a solution
to the world’s problems, and blockchain is
certainly not a panacea. In fact, in the book we
identify there are so many things that have
to go right for this to actually reach its potential. We dedicated a whole
chapter to the things that could go wrong– “The
Showstoppers” chapter- everything from can this
technology really meet the demands that
we expect of it? Can it animate the
internet of things or be the backbone of financial
services or digital rights management? That’s a big question. Is the energy consumed
unsustainable? It takes a lot energy to
secure a network of that size. Could that be its
ultimate downfall? There are social
issues, like what happens if vast automation
causes structural unemployment and puts people out of work? What happens if governments
try to control it or stifle it? That can happen anywhere
really, but especially in places like China
and Russia, and Iran. Could powerful forces end up
just usurping it, controlling it, and preventing this
peer-to-peer promise that we expect? And they’re all
significant challenges. But in the book we
asked ourselves, is it a reason that
blockchain’s a bad idea, or is it an
implementation challenge that deserves to be
addressed and overcome, because the opportunity
is significant? And for each of these,
we went with the latter. It’s an implementation
challenge. So it’s one of
those things where we’re at the brink of
a new era, we think. The technology genie has been
unleashed from the bottle. At our disposal, once again,
to transform the economic power grid, the old order
of human affairs and maybe if we get
this right to build a more fair and inclusive
and prosperous world, but it won’t happen on its own. We need leadership. I don’t need to tell
you about leadership. You know everyone’s
self-selected by being here. You’re all rock stars. You work at Google. Leadership usually
doesn’t come from the CEO level or the president level
or the prime minister level. It comes from just
about anywhere. So I encourage you
to read the book, to treat this is the first
step on a long journey. This technology,
I think, will come to play a big part in
a lot of your lives. So join the
revolution, as we say. So thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] SPEAKER 2: So we have
some time for questions. What do you think
will be the killer application that breaks through
in kind of the Western world, do you think? Because we don’t do the money
transfer in the same way. Do you think there’s
an application where my mom and dad will
start using it, for example, even if
it’s in the background? ALEX TAPSCOTT: Well, I think
the second point of the question is great, which is
that in a lot of ways, I think people will use this
technology without actually realizing that they’re
using the technology. So maybe your mom and
dad listen to music or they read the
newspaper online, right? And they might not
know this, but what’s happening in the background is
that the articles that they’re reading are creating
microtransactions that directly compensate the journalist. Rather than having to pay
a subscriptioin model, they might pay a microfee model. Same thing could
apply for music. When they go to the
bank, maybe they use internet banking, for
example, or mobile banking. When they go to
make a payment, they won’t have to take a
photograph of a check in order to send the money in. which they might
do– the might not- because there’s a way to do
that transaction peer to peer. Right now you take a
picture of a check. It has 130 touch points
before it actually settles. It goes through 130
different sort of systems. | Within the government
democracy, maybe they’re deliberative polling. Maybe your mom and dad,
prior to the Brexit vote, wanted to participate in a
poll where the results were not just tabulated by
some polling company, but rather accrued to a
blockchain, which gave everyone a very accurate representation
of what everyone thought, which could have maybe swayed
the vote one way or the other. So that’s just a few
of the top of my head. SPEAKER 2: And you
see a time scale when we might see
that happening, two, five years, sooner? ALEX TAPSCOTT: Yeah. Well, I view the
future as not something to be predicted rather
something to be achieved, which might sound like a
cop out of the question. But I think we’ll start
seeing big changes in the deep architecture
of financial services within a year or two
and then more broadly within the next five years. AUDIENCE: So I worked
for a bank for 14 years. And I always work like
10 years in the past. How do you think this
kind of revolution will come to banks,
to big banks? Do you think they will
lose to the small guy that will become bigger using this? And then when they see, oh,
we don’t have Chase anymore. Then they break, and
there’s a new guy that came from this technology. Do you think there
is a chance that they start using this somehow? ALEX TAPSCOTT: It’s
a great question. When I started the research on
this about 2 and 1/2 years ago, no bank had expressed any
real interest in this. And even big consulting
firms, when I asked them, like what are your big
bank clients saying, they’re like, well, it’s
kind of interesting. We’re not really keen on it. Now today, every single
bank in the world has either made a pronouncement
that they’re doing stuff, or they’re actually like heavily
invested in this technology. But not all banks are equal. And I think generally
speaking they fit into three different categories. So category one are the
ones who don’t really understand what it is
or what it could mean. But they know that
it’s a big deal. And so they’re kind
of afraid of what it means to their business, and
they’re trying to learn more. Increasingly, more
banks fit into category tow, which is they’re viewing
this as a huge opportunity namely to cut costs out
of the existing business. Because if you’re a market
maker in a kind of stock or a bond whatever it is and
you can assure that settlement clearing happens
instantly, you don’t have to pay for clearinghouses
and transfer agents and escrow agents and all these
different intermediaries that add friction to your business. So Santander, which
is a big bank, said that just from public
equity clearing and settling, banks could cut $20
billion of costs. And obviously, banks
to a lot more than just public equity,
clearing, and settling. So that’s a logical
perspective for a bank to have. If you’re a bank
today, you’re thinking global growth is slowing down. The regulatory cost of
business is increasing, and there’s more competition
from fin-tech companies. All of that combined basically
means my revenue’s probably not going to grow very much. So how do I drive
return on equity? How do I drive my share price? The only way is to cut costs. So if they can cut costs
from their business by using this technology,
then they’re happy. And we’re seeing lots
of implementations that try and do that. R3 is a big consortium of 50
banks based out of the US. Hyperledger a project
being run by IBM that has a dozen or
so banks as signed up. There’s a company
Digital Asset Holdings, which was started by the former
head of JP Morgan’s investment bank, Blythe Masters,
which is servicing stock exchanges and big banks. and they’re trying to capture
that side of the market. However, there is
a third category. And this is where I think most
banks and incumbents generally, whatever industry
you’re in, should be more focused on, which is
to look at it strategically. Because what good is
cutting $20 billion from public equity trading
when the process by which value moves and gets
exchanged no longer becomes something
that banks do at all? What if that market disappears? You can’t have $20 billion from
a market that doesn’t exist, right? So to think about
it strategically is to say maybe I might
lose out in areas where I’ve traditionally acted as this
intermediary, an arbiter, but could this technology
create new opportunities? So like NASDAQ’s move with
this distributed power grid, I think is a good
example of that. Someone’s got to go after
2 and 1/2 billion people in the world that don’t
have access to banking. Someone’s got to figure out
this remittance rip off. And right now the
only companies really that I think are
focused on big growth are actually, as you mentioned,
startups– new companies that are trying to solve of
these intractable problems that have nothing to do
with cutting costs. They have everything to do
with transforming the industry. AUDIENCE: Hi there. My name is Alfred. Thanks very much. It’s really informative,
and you’ve sold me. You You’ve sold it to me. I’m happy with this. I want to go to
join the bandwagon. ALEX TAPSCOTT: You’re
already wearing a red shirt, so join the revolution. AUDIENCE: That’s it. So the question is,
me as a mere mortal, how do I contribute to this? How do I get involved? ALEX TAPSCOTT: Do
you work at Google? AUDIENCE: I do, yes. ALEX TAPSCOTT: You
are not a mere mortal. You’re a superhero, right? How do you get involved in this? Well, I think the one
thing that everybody can do is to go to the App
Store, download a wallet, buy some bitcoin, and just start
fiddling around with paying with bitcoin, moving bitcoin. Because we can talk about
how the technology works till the cows come home,
but you just use it, do it. You’ll instantly get it, right? And that’ll just help you
with your understanding. More broadly, I would think
about how this technology could apply to whatever business
that you might be in, right? So Google, I don’t want
to get out of my depth because you guys
are all experts. But if you could
target consumers better with advertising,
that’s something that you would explore, right? Maybe you can mine data
that people volunteer, and you can sign people up as
co-producers of Google content. And you could solve some
big issues in that way. Another way, the one specific
Google example that I actually think about is YouTube. So the digital rights
management for people who post content to YouTube
is a total nightmare. There are accounts at
Google where money just accrues because you run ads
in front of a show or a song, but nobody knows who owns it. And eventually, I think you
just keep it for yourself. So maybe don’t want
to change that. But people who create content
would be a lot happier with YouTube if they were able
to get paid directly every time someone [INAUDIBLE] content,
and if you had a DRM system that used this technology. Now, a lot of labels and tech
firms are working on this. But the place where
people consume music the most in the world,
it’s not Spotify or Apple. It’s YouTube, right? So why not be a leader
in figuring that out– something like that. AUDIENCE: Thanks very much. This is really interesting. This is an
old-world-meets-new-world question, and
excuse my ignorance. But what is the impact on
privacy and confidentiality as it relates to the original
asset, or the original value of the asset or service
and also as it relates to margin that’s applied on that
through added-value services? Like you mentioned
the cash payment of 2% margin or the 0.25%. So what’s the impact
if that is clear to us the whole chain of
the transaction? ALEX TAPSCOTT: So
the systems are transparent in that you can
see that money is moving and that value is moving. But you can’t see who’s
moving that value. So you can see with
clarity whether or not a transaction occurred
and whether or not someone got paid. But you don’t necessarily
know who that person is or who the sender is. So that obfuscates the
individual’s identity, which in a lot of situations,
is a very good thing. The other question though
that’s really interesting that you mentioned is the
origination right of the asset and how do you secure privacy
for whatever that asset is. And this is an interesting
point for the financial services industry. We have bitcoin. We have ether. These are public blockchains. But if all financial assets,
like stocks and bonds, are going to move
onto this platform, someone’s got to issue them. Maybe it’s the Bank of England
issues a digital pound, or Apple issues a
digital share certificate using this technology. But someone’s got to issue them. So the interesting thing there
is that intermediaries are not going away. Maybe intermediaries just
change their name to originators because someone’s got to
start building this platform– or rather moving assets into
a native digital format. And actually I think
that’s a big opportunity for big financial firms
to do, essentially So they’re not going away. Banks are not going away. SPEAKER 2: It just want to
get two, three quick ones in. Maybe from the back. ALEX TAPSCOTT: Yeah, so
I’ll do a lightning round. AUDIENCE: You recently
touched on the event that happened at the DAO– D-A-O.
I just wanted to kind of say I’m pro blockchain,
and I just wondered how you think that
event is going to change people’s perceptions,
especially when you refer to the technology
that establishes trust? Is there an element that people
are being a little bit too Utopian at this stage about
what the blockchain is and how it works? ALEX TAPSCOTT: Yeah, so
on the Utopian side, yes. In terms of the
hype cycle, we’re starting to heat up
quite a bit here. And now people are
saying blockchain’s the solution to all
of whatever ails you. And that’s not a good
thing, generally. People eventually
realize that it’s not, and that causes disillusionment. But on the question of
the DAO specifically, this is a question of
communication and perception. Because Ethereum, which is the
blockchain on which the DAO is built, was not hacked. So there’s nothing about
the immutability or security of the platform that’s
been put into question. Basically, a company,
an organization that uses the
technology, was breached. And new information is
coming out on this every day, so we may actually
find out that it was one of the
original developers who built a loophole into this
thing so that he could hack it. We don’t know. But I think the DAO
will be a great use case on how do you
govern an asset that doesn’t own by a company or
controlled by a government. How do you resolve
these issues when you’re kind of outside of
the court system and outside of the corporate world? And that’ll be
really interesting. My view on whether
or not it will impact growth and
development in the industry is that it probably will not. Things will continue
to move along. Stuff happens. Lots of startups fail,
let alone startups that have radically new business
models, let alone startups that don’t have people. So I think that in five years
time, the mysterious case of the DAO will be a
Harvard Business School case study on just how the hell you
deal with something like this. But I don’t think it’ll impact
the growth of the industry. AUDIENCE: So if I can come
back to the privacy question from a different angle,
I think might have different backgrounds on this. An awful lot of sort
of investigative work, in terms of the criminality,
which you alluded to earlier, is following the money. Are we just going to accept
that we can’t follow the money anymore in the new world? ALEX TAPSCOTT: Well,
actually I think that it helps you to follow
the money much better. $2 and 1/2 trillion a year
of crime is done with cash. And cash is the ultimate
bear instrument. You know, it’s a paper bill. You can’t trace back cash. It’s harder to track payments
made in bitcoin than it is to, say, Visa
payments or something. But it’s a lot easier
than it is with cash. And because you have this
unbroken record of where money is moved, generally
speaking, you combine that with
other policing, and you can actually stop
crime much easier than you can with cash, which is why like
Mark Carney in his mansion house speech last two
weeks ago said that this could help to reduce crime. Because the less cash
there is in the system, the less opportunities
there are for criminals. But also after the Mt. Gox and the Silk Road issues,
law enforcement agents in the US began to call
bitcoin prosecution futures because you could actually
kind of identify down the road when you could
catch someone based on when the transaction occurred. So not to say that
criminals won’t use it. Malware happens now
increasingly with bitcoin more so than any
other payment method. And that’ll be an
issue, but it’s actually a superior alternative. And I think if law
enforcement’s engaged and intelligent on the issue,
it could be a tool for them as well. SPEAKER 2: So I was
emailed a question ahead of time, which I
promised I would ask, perhaps a more technical one. Can I ask about how bitcoin
is decentralized versus distributed? My reading of it seems to show
that it may be decentralized but isn’t distributed
in any meaningful way, and that that makes it a
less scalable technology. So how is bitcoin distributed
versus decentralized, and what are the implications for that? ALEX TAPSCOTT: It’s
a great question, and it’s at the heart of
the governance issue that’s happening in the bitcoin
world right now, which is that there’s a fight about
how big the block size should be. So that basically, the bigger
the block size, the more transactions you can put
in it, the more scalable the network is. But the bigger the block size,
the bigger the computer systems you need to manage
the blockchain, which means increasingly power will
concentrate into the hands of huge mining pools. And it is a good question
because I don’t view bitcoin specifically as
fully distributed because most of the compute
power that helps to support this network are in the hands
of a dozen or so big mining pools that control a lot of
the validation on the network. There are all sorts of really
interesting technical solutions that are being proposed
and implemented that could try and resolve this. There’s a company in Silicon
Valley called 21, Inc., which basically
says if everybody’s a node on this network, like
your Android cell phone has a chip in it that
also acts as a miner, then we can help to redistribute
the computing power away from these mining pools. Others are saying you can have
a routing network in the bitcoin network that allows transactions
to only use a few nodes rather than having to use every one. And that could help
with this issue as well. But they are questions that
to this day remain unsolved. And they go into the
implementation challenge bucket. SPEAKER 2: Please join me in
a massive round of applause. Thank you, Alex Tapscott. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: Thank you.

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