Blockchain: the most disruptive tech in decades

de Crespigny noted that more vendors are now producing business-specific products, "which is really what's needed."

Blockchain careers are taking flight

Blockchain developers now rank second among the top 20 fastest-growing job skills, and job postings for workers with those skills have more than doubled this year.

Taking second fiddle only to robotics specialists, blockchain technologists are advertising their services for as much as $115 per hour, according to Upwork, an employment site that specializes in freelance workers. Next in the list of fastest-growing job skills is another blockchain-related topic: Bitcoin cryptocurrency developers.

Topcoder, a company that creates computer programming contests, just announced its new Blockchain Community with partner ConsenSys. The community aims to teach programmers and engineers how to build blockchain applications.

The same thing that makes blockchain attractive - its distributed nature - also makes it a potential security threat. In the enterprise, centralized control can translate into security. With blockchain being inherently decentralized, the technology works best when information sharing is a necessity across multiple, often disparate, parties.

Central control, as in a single administrator, can also be a double-edged sword since a single point of control is also a single point of failure, according to Serguei Beloussov, CEO of Acronis, a cloud backup and file synchronization vendor. While Beloussov himself believes blockchain is secure, he has several computer scientists on his staff that believe it's not - and say it can be penetrated.

Questions about blockchain security usually point to Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous programmer who developed the Bitcoin system after releasing a white paper on the technology in 2008. The Bitcoin network, launched in early 2009, uses peer-to-peer software to transfer bitcoins. Satoshi Nakamoto could be one person's name or a pseudonym for a group of developers, no one appears to know for sure. But Nakamoto holds 1 million bitcoins, or the equivalent to $1.1 billion.

That has led some in Beloussov's company to speculate that the whole thing could be a giant Ponzi scheme, without evidence to indicate that.

No hacks, yet

To date, however, a blockchain network has never been hacked, and it's not likely to happen in the future, said Bruce Schneier, a cryptographer and security expert.

"That's not how this sort of thing will get broken. It'll get broken because of some insecurity in the software," Schneier said, referring to the fact that there are already many versions of blockchain. One such version, Ethereum, is a custom-built platform introduced in 2013 by developer Vitalik Buterin, who was 19 at the time.

Harvard's Lakhani, however, is not concerned about the mysteries around blockchain's and bitcoin's beginnings. "Their motivations for inventing it is not clear, but whoever they were who created it gave a great gift to the world by making it available," he said.

Most have yet to fully appreciate the use cases the distributed ledger can unleash simply because of its ability to share verified records across disparate groups, reduce costs and speed up transactions.

How blockchain disrupts

"Blockchain inverts our logic of how and where information resides, who has access to that information and what you can do with that information," Lakhani said. "The reason some of these organizations feel angst - [is because blockchain] goes to the heart of how we organize our information and our records-keeping infrastructure... But it's not going to happen overnight. In the case of TCP/IP - the world that we now take for granted - it took 30 years to develop.

"When we started this in the 1970s, no one anticipated I could be in Boston and FaceTime with my mobile device with someone in Shanghai. That was science fiction," Lakhani said. "My sense is this will again take time. We need both business logic and technical logic to be figured out, the applications to be developed and people to be trained to use it; then we'll adapt our institutions to the new way of sharing information."

Computerworld (US)

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