Book Review: ‘Blockchain Revolution’ Examines Impacts of Bitcoin

AirBNB, Deloitte, IBM among business leaders using blockchain technology

Back Web Only Jul 29, 2016 By Michael Scott

A tidal wave of unprecedented, technological advancement continues to sweep our world with blinding speed. Fueling this next stage of tech innovation is an online transactional network known as “The Blockchain,” which is the subject of the freshly-minted book, Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World.

Authored by Don and Alex Tapscott, a Canadian father-son duo, this 368-page page-turner skillfully captures the blockchain’s arrival as a transformative worldwide platform, offering what is arguably the first comprehensive look at the future of this emerging digital ecosystem.

Don Tapscott’s reputation as a thought leader on the future of technology was solidified in 2006 with the release of his bestseller, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. It offered a detailed look at the internet’s role in facilitating mass collaboration. Now through a joint effort with his son Alex, who is the founder and CEO of a consulting firm for emerging technology companies, Blockchain Revolution delivers an informed look at the transformative influence of this technology on the evolving political, economic and social world order.

The book attempts to strike a delicate balance between what could be described as tech utopianism and the real-world optimism often espoused by those touting blockchains’ immense potential. The first part of the book introduces blockchain technology: an esoteric concept best defined as a highly-secure digital ledger to facilitate currency and other transactions. Known best as the engine that supports the digital currency bitcoin, the blockchain’s potential for recording virtually everything under the sun — artwork, birth certificates, medical records, land titles and much more — is gaining worldwide attention.

The second part of the book dives deep into the reinvention and new business models fostered by the infusion of blockchain solutions in financial services, the Internet of Things, entrepreneurship and the music industry among many others. And in the closing, a sobering tale looks at the 10 major challenges to implementation.

Readers will hone their knowledge of terms like cryptocurrency, blockchain transaction, mining and smart contracts, and will hear names like Roger Ver, Erik Voorhees, Andreas Antonopoulos, Vitalik Buterin — the prominent early pioneers and entrepreneurs in the blockchain world. (Oddly missing from this list is Jesse Powell, founder of Kraken, arguably the world’s largest blockchain-based cryptocurrency exchange headquartered in San Francisco. At age 27, he established the nonprofit Verge Center for the Arts in Sacramento.)

Those enamored with the transformative impact of new technologies like the blockchain will find this book fascinating. At times it takes on a utopian ideal, but it’s equally grounded in exquisitely-researched information. The book has attracted the interest of both revolutionaries and traditionalists across industries. It explores the concept of “smart contracts,” that allows for the execution of agreed-upon transactions and instructions without the need for third-party intermediaries. Blockchain’s overriding philosophy is to transform the hierarchical, highly centralized command-and-control models that have been rendered inefficient by the changing times.

The book offers a peek at who’s actually exploring and using Blockchain technology today — a list that includes AirBNB, Deloitte, USAA and IBM. It also highlights how financial firms like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch have been particularly active in vetting the technology to identify applications that can deliver faster and more secure transactions at a lower cost.

Blockchain Revolution is a “non-technical” read though, and ideally suited for neophytes seeking to understand the basic properties behind what the blockchain is, what it’s not and what it hopes to become.

Praise aside, Blockchain Revolution is not without its detractors, many of which come from a blockchain or cryptocurrency community notoriously harsh in its delivery of constructive feedback. One Amazon reviewer wrote of how the book is “nothing but a collection of arbitrary lists, allusions to things tangentially-related to Blockchain technology and opinions presented as fact.” Another described the book as “a heap of ideas about how bitcoin will change the world, seen through rose-colored glasses.”

When charting new territory, it’s not uncommon for pioneering thought leaders like the Tapscotts to endure some challenging feedback. Nevertheless, the inevitability of blockchains game-changing impact cannot be minimized: Co-author Alex Tapscott says that a new technology like blockchain is something to be achieved, but not necessarily predicted.

“People often overestimate the effect of technology in the short term but drastically underestimate it in the long-term,” Alex Tapscott says. “My hope is that we’ll look back on this first generation of the blockchain revolution as the period where we harnessed a powerful technology for securing a fair, thriving and prosperous future for all.”