Every technology has its moment a particular time or event where the technology, hitherto unknown to anyone but its early adopters, suddenly reaches that tipping point where it becomes mainstream. Social media did not become a mainstay of society until, arguably, the arrival of Facebook. Contactless payments went mainstream in the UK in 2015, when £7.75 billion was spent using contactless cards. Blockchain technology has been steadily creeping into every aspect of society, with 2017 being the year it finally became mainstream.
How and why did 2017 see blockchain propelled from the fringes of the cryptography community to centre stage among the world’s largest countries and organisations?
We live in an era where people expect and demand transparency from the organisations and businesses they have dealings with. Moreover, data security and protecting customers data has become a major talking point across nearly every industry that engages with consumers. The 2007-2008 financial crash left a bitter taste in mouths of the populace. Banks no longer command the same trust. Blockchain technology brings a decentralised ecosystem, in the form of a digital ledger, and promises a future of a dependable, robust and trustworthy transactions. Although cryptocurrencies have dominated the narrative of blockchain technology up to now, many other sectors have begun to realise the potential of the technology to radically shake-up their industries and bring back that crucial element of trust.
Financial institutions, from banks to investment firms, have been weary of blockchain technology and its most prominent application – cryptocurrencies. Prolific individuals in the financial sector, such as JPMorgan Chase’s CEO Jamie Dimon, dismissed cryptocurrency as “a fraud” that would eventually close down.
However, the fact cryptocurrencies gained significant attention from global financial firms in 2017, even if it was not always positive, demonstrates how blockchain-powered currencies became significant enough players in the financial sector to warrant recognition. However, not all the focus from financial organisations has been challenging. In fact, a few well-known financial firms actually invested in blockchain. MasterCard piloted its business-to-business blockchain this year.
EY Switzerland became the first advisory firm to accept Bitcoins for its services. In October, Deloitte published its report outlining the positive effects blockchain technology will have on the financial sector.
All through 2017, we have seen blockchain technology, specifically its use within cryptocurrencies, receive its fair share of notoriety from the international community.
China banned mainland residents from trading in cryptocurrencies on exchanges and even made it illegal for Chinese start-ups to raise funds via Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). Vietnam soon followed suit. Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticised Bitcoin, calling for a ban. Conversely, the popularity of Bitcoin in 2017 has also seen some countries accept, albeit reluctantly, the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies. While South Korea regulators initially planned to ban ICOs, its central bank opted to instead regulate Bitcoin as acommodity rather than a currency. The US Treasury is considering licensing Bitcoin and cryptocurrency exchanges.
Due to the popularity of Bitcoins and Ethereum, blockchain technology had become synonymous with cryptocurrencies. However, 2017 has seen other sectors, outside of finance, explore how blockchain technology could disrupt their sectors. IBM partnered with Samsung to unveil a blockchain-powered internet-of-things systems earlier this year. Blockchain start-up JAAK is bringing the technology into the music industry. Sony Global Education teamed up with IBM to create a blockchain-based system to secure and share student records. There are many more examples of how 2017 has seen blockchain technology deployed in other sectors. If 2017 is the year blockchain went mainstream, 2018 could very well be the year it finally takes over the world.
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