The Uncertain Future of Blockchain and Cryptocurrency

Updated on February 9, 2019
Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok is skilled at evaluating products and researching their technology. He also has a knack for clearly explaining their features.

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This is a discussion of Bitcoin and Blockchain (the underlying technology of cryptocurrency) with examples of Blockchain's limited usage in many other fields where it offers powerful security features—if only accepted by merchants and customers.

I have a Master of Science Degree in Computer Science, and that helps me study and comprehend new technological developments. I also have a background in writing technical instruction guides in an easy-to-understand manner, and I apply that to this article.

What Is Cryptocurrency?

The main idea of cryptocurrency is to allow for transactions of digital payments between two people with no middleman to oversee its validity. Blockchain is the software infrastructure behind it.

Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency. There are presently over 1,600 cryptocurrencies listed in Wikipedia.1

What Is Blockchain?

You might think of blockchain as a chain of blocks making up a comprehensive ledger of all transactions. This ledger is a shared linear transaction log. Once a block is authenticated and accepted, it can never be altered. Due to that, the blockchain securely holds the recorded history of all transactions.

New blocks can be added to the end of the chain. The acceptance of new blocks is called mining and is done by a complex network of computers that analyze new transactions to verify accuracy. Once verified, the new block is accepted into the chain with a hash value that represents all previous transactions.

If any block were to be modified by a hacker, all the following blocks would become invalid because the hash count would no longer match when the algorithm is applied to the new block. Therefore, no transactions can be falsified.

What Does Mining for Coins Mean?

Note that I referred to the verification process as mining. Miners run that network of computers. They run algorithms to log new transactions and confirm their validity. The algorithm they use is called Hashcash.It confirms Proof of Work by calculating hash values of prior blocks and compares that to the stored hash value in the last block. If a hacker corrupted any block of data, all the following blocks would contain incorrect hash values and fail the Proof of Work test.

In return for this work, miners are paid in Bitcoin for their effort. This is why they are called miners—they mine for Bitcoin.

The result of this constant mining  is that transactions can’t be forged. No one can arbitrarily modify the data without the Hashcash algorithm catching the error.

Thanks to this technology, digital payments can be made without third party intervention because the miners verify the transactions. Once verified, the payments cannot be reversed. This eliminates fraud.

This technology is not only useful for cryptocurrency transactions. It can be used for any type of data sharing. I’ll discuss that later in this article under “Acceptance and Implementation of blockchain."

Who Invented Bitcoin and Blockchain?

Nobody really knows. A person or a group using the pseudonym Satoshi Nakomoto published a Bitcoin whitepaper describing the idea in October 2008. However, based on forensic linguistic analysis, it’s possible a former law professor, Nick Szabo, is the author of the Bitcoin whitepaper. This had been reported in 2014 by a group of forensic linguistics experts at Aston University.2

The whitepaper solved the problem with digital payment transactions without trust by assuring the integrity of the transactions.

Trust is not a problem when making payments with cash. No one can reverse the transaction. However, when making payments online, a third party needs to be involved as a trusted intermediary. This is where blockchain solved the problem.

Bitcoin was simply the first item of value to use the technology. This soon opened the door for other Cryptocurrencies to follow, such as Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, and Litecoin. There are many, and each one has its own blockchain with somewhat different structures.

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What Caused the Rise and Fall of Bitcoin?

Bitcoin reached a value close to $20,000 in 2017, and then fell to hover around $6,000 throughout 2018.

In order to understand this, a little knowledge of “Debt vs. Demand” is necessary.

Fiat currency (such as U.S. dollars) is created from debt. The actual reason is beyond the scope of this article, but if you’re interested, I’ve included a link to a YouTube video about “Money as Debt” in the references.3

The point I want to make is that the value of cryptocurrency is based on supply and demand, not from debt as with fiat currency. The supply of Bitcoin, for example, is fixed at 20 million coins. Only the demand can change.

As demand increases, the value of the Bitcoin goes up. The reason why it dropped to less than half in January of 2018, in my opinion, is because it’s becoming clear that it’s not a good currency for commerce. Verification of transactions by miners is too slow. Therefore demand has leveled off, hence the drop in value. That’s why Bitcoin Cash was developed.

Bitcoin Core Vs. Bitcoin Cash

Due to its slow transaction process, Bitcoin has become an instrument to hold wealth, while Bitcoin Cash was designed to exchange value. It also provides a safe online payment system for commerce that does not require a middleman to execute the transactions, and its blockchain is designed for faster transactions.

The original Bitcoin is called Bitcoin Core for the sake of clarity. Its symbol is BTC. The symbol for the newer Bitcoin Cash is BCH. Notice the different letters in the symbol (BTC vs. BCH).

The problem with the original Bitcoin (BTC) is that its blockchain size is only 1 MB. That no longer is large enough to handle the volume. Therefore Bitcoin transactions take minutes, and even hours, to verify. As volume increased, that small size couldn’t handle the transactions in a timely manner.

The algorithms that the miners run to verify slowed down the process with a 1MB size limit. This caused transaction fees to increase, making the use of Bitcoin unsuitable for everyday commerce.

Bitcoin Cash (BCH), on the other hand, was created with a dynamic blockchain. It starts with 4MB but can increase in size as needed. This allows for faster confirmations and lower fees.

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Another Reason for the 2018 Crash of Bitcoin

I remember seeing Bitcoin with a value of $100 back in 2012. I wish I had bought it then, since it reached $19,000 in 2017, but I considered it too speculative—and I still do today.

Since it’s highest value, and from that time until late 2018, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have crashed. There is a perfectly logical reason for this. The price had run up prematurely.

The value grew because of all the speculation. Investors were seeing the rapid growth and they wanted to be on the bandwagon without understanding the underlying technology of the blockchain.

The design of the Bitcoin blockchain was too limited as I discussed earlier. It couldn’t handle the high volume, which slowed down the transactions. Buying and selling Bitcoin took way too long to complete. Using it to make commerce purchases was useless. When you buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, you expect the transaction to be completed in seconds, not hours.

The technology needed improvement, no doubt, and the algorithm for blockchain had been redesigned to allow for future growth with other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin Cash and Ethereum.

Bitcoin Cash, for example, had a redesigned dynamic blockchain that can increase in size to allow for growth, as I discussed above.

Besides the underlying technology, there is another aspect of the state of Bitcoin that is the real reason for the present decline in value. That is that the market wasn’t (and still isn’t) ready for cryptocurrency. Widespread usage needs to occur to warrant such a huge increase in value.

As of 2018, there are only a handful of merchants accepting Bitcoin for payment. This needs to be widespread before people feel inclined to use it. The market for using Bitcoin in commerce didn’t grow as fast as it’s increasing value. This may have caused speculators to become worried, leading to a quick selloff.

Another problem for which I don’t see a solution is that the Bitcoin blockchain has proven to be more energy intensive than traditional payment systems. The process of mining to verify transactions takes enormous computing power. For this reason, miners have been known to rent office space in towns where the cost of electricity is very low.4

Bitcoin may still have a future, but I wouldn’t speculate with purchasing any of it right now. We also don’t know which cryptocurrency will survive.

Nevertheless, Coinbase, a trusted platform for buying, selling and holding cryptocurrency, claims that 50,000 users are opening accounts monthly.5 That means there is still a growing interest in the desire to speculate. I consider Coinbase the safest digital wallet to hold cryptocurrencies.

What Is a Digital Wallet?

A digital wallet is where one stores their cryptocurrency. It can be a platform such as Coinbase, an app on a smartphone, or a physical flash memory wallet.

A digital wallet is used to hold cryptocurrencies. I’ve studied many digital currency wallets when I first became interested in researching this technology. There are three types:

  1. Online account
  2. Smart phone app
  3. Flash memory hardware wallet

The only one I felt is the most secure and honest is Coinbase. They also support the buying and selling of the coins in a safe environment.

Some digital wallets have been hacked. There are horror stories that you can find with a Google search. I found Coinbase to be the trustworthiest. They have triple security. You can’t open an account without a driver’s license to prove your identity.

If you log on from an unknown computer or phone, they will email you to your known address and you need to click the link in the email to complete the login. They also use an authenticator app so no one else can log into your account.

I wish all financial institutions would use all that protection.

With over 1,600 cryptocurrencies in existence, some of the less ethical ones are known to use pump & dump schemes to manipulate their prices. Coinbase is very careful to accept only the most credible cryptocurrencies. They presently support only these five:

  1. Bitcoin
  2. Bitcoin Cash
  3. Ethereum
  4. Ethereum Classic
  5. Litecoin

Is Blockchain Trustworthy?

I just got through explaining how powerful blockchain is and how useful it is to eliminate the need for third party intervention to guarantee the integrity of the transactions. If a transaction on the chain is modified, then the hash counts cause all the future transactions on the chain to be invalid. This makes it tamper-proof.

This is all true, but there is one additional thing to consider. The data!

It still is a requirement that the person or agency entering the data is trustworthy. The only thing blockchain actually does is make the transactions static so they cannot be changed after the fact. Therefore, if you make a purchase and pay for it, and your payment is recorded on a blockchain, then no one can come along later and insist that you never paid.

It has been well publicized that several Bitcoin exchanges have already been hacked. This is due to a security breach where the agency was careless with protecting their email accounts and allowed passwords to be stolen. This will always be the case, in my opinion, until the day comes when personnel exercise more due diligence with their systems.

As for the blockchain, nothing was tampered with. The data was secure. A blockchain cannot be hacked. Only an institution can be hacked, and the attempt gets recorded in the blockchain.

For that matter, the blockchain even shows where in the sequence the hacking took place and the amount of the funds stolen. However, due to the anonymous nature of the technology, the hacker could not be located. This is why it’s so important to safeguard computer logon and password information.

So where does the trust issue occur? Two things:

  1. You need to still trust the vendor you’re dealing with to enter the correct information onto the blockchain.
  2. You need to keep your passwords secure. This means avoiding the installation of malware that can allow access by hackers. Company personnel need to be trained to avoid clicking on unknown links in emails that provide hackers an open door. This is the same story if we’re talking about blockchain or any other computer data security.

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Is Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Just Hype?

The requirement for long-term value growth is with having a marketplace that quickly adapts to the technology and uses the product in commerce. Short of that, it can quickly fade away as a failed experiment.

Adoption of the technology has been slow, at least for use of cryptocurrency for payment systems. I don’t know there is a future for it since transactions are permanent and cannot be changed. This also means that if one needs to dispute a purchase, for example, they can’t.

When you pay with a credit card, and the merchant fails to give you what you paid for, you can dispute the charges and the bank will get involved to decide who is the victim. The bank will then reverse the charges if necessary.

Blockchain simply gives both parties the ability to trust the finality of the transaction, and not the actual business behind it. In my opinion, this is a major flaw in the technology. It does not seem to have a favorable solution—at least not yet.

Having said that, I do see that it is useful in other industries not related to payment systems, especially for data sharing.

Other Industries are Finding Blockchain Useful!

Adoption of Blockchain in Other Industries

I don’t know what’s in the future for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but I do see a developing trend towards the adoption of blockchain in many fields.

It has been discovered that blockchain is useful for providing integrity of all kinds of data sharing without the need for a trusted intermediary.

In the years to come, it will be a powerful foundation for protection and verification of data and transactions in fields such as healthcare, transportation, publishing, accounting, and law enforcement, to name a few.

The following are several examples that I found.

Blockchain in Healthcare

Patients have a problem with sharing health records among their various doctors. Clinics, pharmacies and hospitals all use different data exchanges that are not compatible with one another. Patient records are sometimes entered incorrectly and patients have no way to verify their accuracy.

A single blockchain ledger could solve that problem, avoiding the need for doctors to send information back and forth, and giving them immediate access to updated records and giving them the ability to provide more coordinated care.6

A Blockchain-Driven effort to handle healthcare provider data has been launched by Humana, MultiPlan, Optum, Quest Diagnostics and United Healthcare.7

Blockchain Templates Available from Amazon Web Services

Amazon’s cloud computing division known as Amazon Web Services (AWS) is providing templates for blockchain implementation. Their new division, "AWS Blockchain Templates" was launched in April, 2018.8

Software developers will be able to use these templates to create projects based on the blockchain technology, specifically for cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

Amazon and Starbucks Incorporate Blockchain

There is a growing trend for companies to use blockchain in a productive way to increase efficiency with business applications.

Many corporate enterprises are collaborating on that effort. Among them are Amazon and Starbucks, who are finding ways to lower prices for their consumers by using blockchain to streamline the supply chain and reduce transactions fees.9

IBM Blockchain-Powered Media Transactions Tracker

In partnership with Mediaocean, a software supplier, IBM has created a Transactions Tracker using blockchain technology.

This will help avoid fraud in the media buying industry. Presently there are middlemen who absorb some of the funds paid by advertisers. A blockchain will capture where the money is going and allow payments to go to the appropriate publishers responsible for ad placement.10

Penske Logistics Blockchain in Transport Alliance

The transportation industry covers a wide range of commerce, such as with the food and beverage supply chain.

Penske, a transport company providing truck leasing, rentals, and logistics, recognizes the benefits to their customers that are provided by the use of blockchain.

Early in 2018, they became a member of the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) so that they can learn about solutions for better transport efficiency.11

The Money Button

Sending money over the Internet is a costly transaction. The fees for credit card charges make the payment of small amounts virtually impossible.

Yours.org, an online content writing platform that pays residuals in Bitcoin Cash, created a feature called The Money Button. It allows users to send micropayments to others.

This is useful for sending small tips to thank an author for their written content. The method uses blockchain technology and the payments are made with Bitcoin Cash.12

Blockchain Can Protect Authors from Plagiarism

Maven, a writer’s platform, has partnered with Po.et, a blockchain technology company, to give content creators protection of their articles.

Po.et blockchain provides a shared ledger of metadata, timestamp, and ownership information of creative content so that search engines will know who published first in case a duplicate content is found.13

Law Enforcement and Public Safety

Police Stations from various neighborhoods can have their data shared. Blockchain can provide a secure system allowing sensitive data to be accessible only by authorized personnel. The log of access dates, and by whom, would become a permanent record within the blockchain.

Blockchain for Public Records

Blockchain can also be used for sharing and verifying public records. The following are several examples:

  • Car Titles
  • Property Titles
  • Government Benefits
  • Death Certificates
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Birth Certificates

The Pro and Con of Blockchain

I find it interesting that blockchain started out as a tool for the creation of digital currency, and progressed to something much more powerful.

As multiple industries are discovering various uses for the technology, I see this as a growing field offering new developments in all fields that require integrity of transactions as well as safe and secure data sharing.

Cryptocurrency has its weaknesses with slow transactions due to the delay with mining for verification. However, Blockchain by itself might turn out to be a very useful data security mechanism. It still needs to be integrated better into the fields being considered. It also needs to be accepted by merchants. Change doesn't come easy.

“The impact of blockchain on the future of humans may be far beyond our imagination.”

— Jack Ma, CEO Alibaba

References

Disclaimer

The discussion in this article is about the development of technology and is not to be considered investment advice. You are solely responsible for your own due diligence with your investment decisions.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Glenn Stok

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    • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

      Glenn Stok 

      7 months ago from Long Island, NY

      Liz, You’re not alone. Many people don’t know the details behind it, which is one reason I believe bitcoin got pumped up so much. Speculators bought into it without researching bitcoin's blockchain software.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      7 months ago from UK

      This article was overdue for me. For a while now I have heard the terms but not been familiar with the detail behind it. Thanks for a great explanation.

    • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

      Glenn Stok 

      7 months ago from Long Island, NY

      I think you’re right Heidi, Blockchain is already involved with many new developments, as the examples I listed at the end of the article. I’m not so sure about cryptocurrencies though. That’s another matter.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 months ago from Chicago Area

      Glenn,

      I've taken a couple of online courses on blockchain and crypto. Not because I'm hyped up to be a crypto millionaire (billionaire?) or anything like that. But because I want to understand how it will impact our world.

      Great review of the fundamentals. But as you and I both know, this is such as profound topic that it could take volumes. :) Thank you for sharing the basics with everyone. I think, in time, this will impact our entire economic and currency system more than we can imagine.

      Have a great weekend!

    • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

      Glenn Stok 

      7 months ago from Long Island, NY

      Thanks Pamela, This sure did take a lot of time to get done, with all the research involved. Thanks for the feedback on how well I did with making it understandable.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Hi Glenn,

      I must admit I have been very ignorant concerning bitcoins or blockchain. Your article was very informative, and I feel I have some understanding now.

      I appreciate the work you put into writing an article about the complications and pitfalls of bitcoins and blockchains. The future of blockchains seems great according the list you included. I think you explained everything in a very understandable fashion.

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