Blockchain technology – can it really deliver?

The slow progress with blockchain technology has led to doubts about whether it will ever deliver on its promise. Its advocates remain convinced that blockchain will perform valuable roles, but its critics are questioning its value and saying there are better, faster options.

At a glance

  • Blockchain was forecast to revolutionise financial services.
  • Sceptics say it’s not delivering and question why there are so few blockchain projects in commercial use.
  • Advocates say blockchain was at one point overhyped and now some of that is deflating, the technology is being used in areas such as supply chain management.

By David Walker

Blockchain was forecast to revolutionise industries ranging from financial services – currently its biggest claimed use – to shipping and asset logging.

Its biggest cheerleaders use language like technologist Don Tapscott’s declaration that “the internet is entering a second era that’s based on blockchain”; they declare that “there’s a whole new world coming”.

In recent months, however, a backlash has begun against blockchain technology. Critics point out that while uses can be imagined and demonstration solutions built, blockchain technology seems an unlikely answer to most problems. Consulting group McKinsey brought some of this criticism into the open earlier this year when it published a report describing blockchain’s lack of real-world impact.

What’s worth doing, and where blockchain’s shortcomings are

Blockchain technology allows records to be kept in what is often called a “ledger”, or a record of transactions. A blockchain ledger, however, has some unusual features: it is decentralised and distributed across various computers in a peer-to-peer network, with each record in the ledger time-stamped and cryptographically chained with the previous record.

This makes transactions in…

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