Future of Sharing: Collaboration, Consensus, and Code: Building Trust One Block(chain) at a Time

Alex Tapscott, a blockchain investor, entrepreneur, and author, launched The Blockchain Research Institute with his father Don Tapscott in 2017. The Institute, which is comprised of more than 50 companies and governments—including Tencent, IBM, and the government of Canada—employs more than 40 research associates around the world, all of whom are researching “the way blockchain is going to change everything,” in Tapscott’s words. If there’s one prediction that Tapscott is most confident in, it’s that in the next two years, conversations about blockchain won’t be nearly as common as they are now, because “it’s going to be embedded in everything that we do.” The Blockchain Research Institute focuses on two broad categories of research: first, how blockchain will disrupt industry verticals, and second, how blockchain will change roles within organizations. Blockchain represents an evolution of the Internet in that it is the first native digital medium for value, Tapscott says. It’s revolutionary largely because it is highly secure (though Tapscott points out that nothing, not even blockchain, is completely un-hackable) and decentralized. “On this platform, trust is not established by an intermediary, it’s established through a combination of mass collaboration, consensus, and clever code,” Tapscott says.

Tapscott warns existing value-based industries, like banking, against putting their heads in the sand and pretending like they won’t be affected by blockchain. Even focusing on ways that blockchain can save institutions money now is short-sighted, to Tapscott’s way of thinking. “Rather than focusing on existing use cases,” Tapscott says, “think about how it could enable you to do things that were previously impossible.” These words of wisdom are also highly relevant for the sharing economy. Tapscott raises a familiar concern with categorizing what industry giants like Uber and Airbnb do as “sharing”—these companies aggregate excess capacity and provide a service through a centralized platform, Tapscott says. He points out that Uber’s four main responsibilities: 1) identity 2) reputation 3) contracting and 4) payments could all be upended by blockchain. Tapscott thinks that smart contracts built on blockchain technology, which guarantee enforcement of payments, could drastically improve the identity and reputation components of the sharing economy. That’s not to say there will be no need for these companies, says Tapscott, particularly when it comes to issues related to conflict resolution and insurance claims. By employing blockchain technologies, Airbnb and Uber could reduce friction and complexity within their markets and possibly drive more money to their bottom lines. The alternative, according to Tapscott, is that someone else does it instead.