Predicting the blockchain future is easy. Knowing when to try is hard.
I’m going to talk about the future of the internet and blockchain technology, but first, let’s talk about noise-cancelling headphones.
In 1933, Paul Lueg submitted a describing the principle of noise cancellation. But it wasn’t until Amar Bose started work on the concept in 1978 that the path to a practical commercial product emerged. It was another two decades before processing power per milliwatt could cancel out the drone of an airplane in an affordable device that ran on batteries.
So imagine if, in 1933, someone asked Lueg what the world would be like in 10 years, and if he thought it would include computers with the ability to grab sound waves from the air and cancel them out. He would probably have asked, “What’s a computer?”
It was possible in 1933 to imagine a device like the Bose headset, but it wasn’t possible to plot any kind of reasonable trajectory toward a real product. But after the silicon lithography process would double the number of transistors you could place in the same amount of space every two years, companies like Bose could do the math and predict when chips might deliver the speed and efficiency needed to detect a sound wave and drive a speaker to cancel out the sound, in a fraction’s fraction of a second.
What will the internet look like in 2030? And specifically, will blockchain technology have a material impact on the way the internet of 2030 enables people to conduct business and live their lives? Whether or not we can answer these questions depends on whether blockchain has arrived at a stage of continuous improvement or whether we’re still waiting for new paradigm shifts.
The most important consideration for any new internet technology is scale. The internet scales because at its core it is largely stateless. Internet routers receive a packet of data and pass it to the next router. They don’t need to remember anything about those packets, and they don’t store the packet or check with other routers on the state of a packet before sending it along.
Decentralized technology, and especially public blockchains like Ethereum, hold the promise of adding value to the internet by introducing state to this stateless system – what I call the stateful internet.
Without shared state there is no shared truth, no way to agree the plane is at 30,100 feet or discover which of us is wrong if we disagree. We’re living the downsides of our failure to achieve shared truth everywhere today, both philosophically and technologically.
However, there is significant overhead involved in remembering things and coordinating between different machines that might have different memories about the same thing. Managing state makes it hard to achieve massive scale.