Blockchain Technology: Future or Fad? An Interview with Rahul Kothari of University of Liverpool
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Fayaz Ahmed : First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and a little about your educational background.
Rahul: Hey! I am Rahul Kothari, and thanks for allowing me to give out my thoughts to your blog! I am a millennial in the sense that I have lived in 4 countries in 20 years! While India and Dubai developed my brain as I sowed seeds on the typical school-then university lifestyle, I am now pursuing a computer science degree at the University of Liverpool, UK. I loved the idea of getting myself involved with a new upcoming technology as that would always pick my head and would teach me a lot of things (apart from the CS thanks to the philosophy behind revolutionary technologies). My growing interest in finances led me to research about the science behind blockchain and after that, I never looked back – be it in researching about interesting protocols like Zero Knowledge Proofs that are being merged with blockchain or developing dApps on Ethereum and Hyperledger.
Fayaz Ahmed : Please help us understand Blockchain Technology with the easiest definition you could come up with and also explain why it is being touted as the technology of Future?
Rahul: So blockchain and blockchain technology are two different things. Blockchain is just a data structure, where every block is linked to the previous using immense amounts of cryptography. Blockchain technology, on the other hand, is adding interesting protocols onto this data structure to allow for interesting things like tokenization (representing every physical asset digitally and breaking it up into small segments) etc. Stealing this idea from Kris Benett - Blockchain technology can be represented using an onion model. The outer layer is 2 or more parties coming together doing a transaction with the exchange of monetary value. Peeling this layer gives the next layer where 2 or more parties come together to do a transaction, without involving an exchange of monetary value (such as handling medical records onto a blockchain). And the final inner layer is a single party making an announcement – an immutable announcement seen and verified by everyone (such as showing your vote, showing the lifecycle of an agricultural product) etc. Basically, blockchain can encompass the whole world into it in a reliable manner, and thus it is being touted as the technology of Future.
Fayaz Ahmed : Blockchain has been both praised and misunderstood in equal magnitude, why is that so?
Rahul: Every person living today has grown up living in a centralized world, where someone always gets unparalleled power, where decisions are made ambiguously, without us knowing what is actually happening. Blockchain is actually allowing us to question things that we have learnt to be fundamentally true – like the value of dollars coming from debt – something that can be unlimited!
We, humans, are always resilient to change. That’s why people tend to misunderstand things, and it’s not their fault. Questioning things that have been placed firmly into one’s minds has always been difficult. However, some have successfully broken away from such shackles and it's blowing their minds to think about what blockchain can enable. Philosophically, it allows for restructuring our societies, Monetarily, it allows for a currency that doesn’t drop down based on things that our governments do to get votes. In the industrial world, it allows for more transparency, and more importantly, it provides for a way for humans to finally trust each other!
Fayaz Ahmed : Some experts are saying that blockchain is even a bigger deal than the Internet, how accurate do you think that statement is?
Rahul: I personally think that statements like this are what makes people push themselves in making blockchain happen! Everyone knows how the internet changed every bit of our lives (pun not intended). When someone says “hey I know of something, that has the potential like the internet”, people want to try it. And when they try and experiment with it, they create things – some interesting, some not so. But regardless, they advance blockchain. And if you keep advancing blockchain, it will outperform what we think of it.
According to history, the current number 1 is always replaced by something even better than itself. And if that is the case, blockchain can perhaps be more life-changing than the internet. But here is the caveat – Let’s not go too crazy on blockchain. Maybe it is a bigger deal, maybe it’s not. Regardless, let’s not use blockchain in everything simply because the internet is being used for a lot of things.
Fayaz Ahmed : Blockchain technology has already disrupted finance industry. In your opinion, which other industries could undergo similar disruption?
Rahul: If you ever hear TED talks on introducing blockchain, they say blockchains will disrupt two industries – finance and supply-chains (since we can cut the middle-men, have more transparency, and keep cleaner records of paper-trail). The notion of digital identity (or merging ourselves with the IoT devices, smartphones) has been increasing. Blockchains play a major role in digital identity management. It allows for more security, gives the power back to the users since they own their own data (a trend heightened thanks to Facebook’s scandal).
Interestingly, blockchains can be used in genetics to take control of our genetic data (in the world where soon enough we can modify our own DNA, this would be needed). In education, blockchain allows for verified, authentic certification. Healthcare is a big one too. If quantum computing interests you, there is a field called quantum blockchains too. Imagine creating blockchains using quantum particles too. Then blockchains can be a part of the quantum computing revolution too!
Fayaz Ahmed : What are the key challenges faced by Blockchain Technology obstructing its widespread adoption and how those challenges could be overcome?
Rahul: People say that the major challenge is scalability. While that is a problem, it’s not the biggest. What will you do with a blockchain with 50,000 tps (transactions per second) capability, if no one uses it? The biggest hurdle is creating decentralized applications that work with just one button! Interacting with blockchains is a tedious process. Sometimes, I as a developer feel overwhelmed by certain blockchain processes. I can’t imagine what my 60-year-old grandmother would feel then!
One another challenge is that entrepreneurs are making blockchain products that have barely any market! When you see people making products that no one will use, they tend to think it’s the fault of the technology. This makes some think that blockchains are useless. Everyone is talking or too busy making ICOs. Who is busy listening to consumers and thinking from their point of view?
You created a beautiful, fast Merkle tree. Great. So what? Why does that bother me? Why should I care if a blockchain is fast or slow if there are no reasons (no useful products) for me to use it? People use the “young age” of blockchain as an excuse. But that’s not completely true. You can do many cool things even on current blockchain ecosystems.
Fayaz Ahmed : Where do we stand today with the legal and regulatory frameworks relating to blockchain technology?
Rahul: That’s a very hard question! The USA has effectively blocked everyone from doing things the legal way with cryptocurrency. Their regulations have been so confusing that people end up using illegal ways even if they don’t want to. On the other hand, if you look at Singapore or Switzerland, the landscape is very much different. Everyone wants to flock to these countries because they are allowing for open experimentation. The reason why the USA had so much success was that they allowed for experimentation and failure. Singapore seems to be exactly doing that!
Fayaz Ahmed : Where do you see the Blockchain Technology heading in the near future, say over the next five to ten years or so?
Rahul: Quoting Robert Greene’s Mastery – “The future belongs to those who can integrate new technologies in creative ways.” The blockchain future lies in the marriage of blockchain with AR, quantum computing, machine learning, IoT and other ground-breaking technologies. We will see IoT devices sending data to blockchains. Machine Learning algorithms will be understanding user behaviour on blockchain apps. Imagine a system where AI and quantum blockchains work together to create magic! The next decade will be an interesting point in human history. But the most interesting thing will be to see how we handle decentralization. Will there be an element of MVC (Minimum Viable Centralization)? Or will we actually have currencies without government control? We see decentralization as a problem solver to the centralized models. What about the problems of decentralization?
Student at University of Liverpool,
MENG Computer Science .