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Flip a Bit

A coin has two faces and which one shows up when it is flipped depends on probability. In a normal, unbiased coin, each side has a 50% probability of showing up. However, if we shift our attention to the coins that are in vogue and live only in computers, that is, bitcoins - we would observe that here, the probability of seeing the other side of the underlying technology used in bitcoins is substantially less than half.

The main technology used and talked about is the block chain. The goal of this technology, simply put, is to remove, as much as feasible, the people, their influence, and their interference from the methods of transferring money, contracts, data, and all such information where ownership knowledge is important.

So does this mean the technology, which is considered to be faster, cheaper, and more secure than other transaction methods, be only restricted to bitcoins? That has never been the case with anything of such importance, and it is not going to be this time either; new and more interesting uses of this technology are not only being ideated, but put to use as well. Take a guess what a Goldman Sachs-funded start-up working on block chain, would be used for? If you thought bitcoins, you thought wrong. The start-up tracks and protects the U.S. dollar using block chain technology.

Likewise, from music streaming, currency tracking, to a failsafe voting system, block chain is finding use in a legion of ways, in almost every industrial landscape. In fact, a mini-industry has started taking shape around this technology. In the first half of this year, $375 million has been raised by start-ups whose business model is based on the use of bitcoins and its underlying technology. The amount of $375 million is in half a year is actually 10% more than what was raised by starts-up with similar models in whole of last year.

But road to glory is never strewn with flowers, on the contrary it is usually filled with thorns. Keeping true to this rule, not all is rosy with blockchain technology, as it is still being considered a risky bet at best. There are technology and perceptional issues that are preventing block chains from becoming ubiquitous. One must also consider the vested interests, such as those of the retail banks that stand to gain from the processing delays and other inherent inefficiencies of current system. Blockchains are likely to wipe out the delays in processing as well as the profits banks gain from differences in fees and interest and other such lacunae but it would be arduous fight before industry as a whole and banks in particular concede to real-time processing technology.

In spite of such impediments, the march to popularity has started and over time, blockchain is sure to find more adopters, and this, in all likelihood, would start a virtuous cycle of more adopter, more technology, and more convenience, leading back to more adopter. It would be interesting to see if the underlying technology, i.e. blockchain, become more popular than overlying service i.e. bitcoins. My guess is as good as yours, so till the clarity is reached flipping the bitcoin to bring in more and interesting use to what underlies it should continue.

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