A recent report by Cointelegraph suggests that blockchain technology, the decentralized ledger system that supports the cryptocurrency world, may be the most important invention since the Internet.1 While it's no surprise that a pro-cryptocurrency site would try to upsell distributed ledgers, the blockchain does have some things in common with groundbreaking innovations like the radio, electricity, and the Internet. Below, we'll explore some of these similarities and discuss what the implications of this distinction might be for blockchain technology.
Although there are many contenders for the most important inventions, a report by The Atlantic found that history's most innovative and influential products and ideas share common characteristics. While it's impossible to come up with a truly objective list, The Atlantic developed its ranking by compiling the opinions of several experts.
Based on these combined expert opinions, the most important inventions were those that could expand human intellect through new creative and expressive possibilities. World-changing inventions like the printing press, paper, and the Internet all opened up new ways for individuals to communicate and share knowledge. According to proponents, blockchain technology holds the same promise by facilitating a secure, reliable way to transmit information and value without an intermediary.
Blockchains as Infrastructure
Some of the most important inventions are now so commonplace that we don't even notice them. Most people don't think about cement and sanitation systems, but according to The Atlantic's experts, these are among the most important infrastructural technologies.
Blockchain technology has certainly not yet reached this point of adoption. However, many in the digital currency community believe that fiat currency will someday be replaced with cryptocurrency. Given that blockchain undergirds all cryptocurrency transactions, such a shift would mean that blockchain would play a role in essentially every monetary interaction that takes place.
How Blockchain Tech Could Affect Health
Another important group of inventions includes those that improve human health and lifespans, such as penicillin and vaccines.
Blockchain technology cannot directly improve human health, but it can improve the systems used to share medical information and supplies. If blockchain could be integrated into the healthcare system, as some projects are aiming to accomplish, the technology could help improve the lives and treatment plans for patients of all kinds.
Moving Goods on the Blockchain
Blockchain technology can also be used to track the movement of goods. Several companies are using distributed ledgers to track perishable goods, while keeping track of important variables like moisture and temperature. In this way, blockchain could come to rank alongside radical inventions like the steam engine and the railroad, by cutting the cost of freight transportation.
Concerns About Blockchain Technology
However, enthusiasm for distributed ledger technology is still far from universal. After over ten years, very few people use cryptocurrencies or other blockchain technologies in their daily lives. This shows an extremely slow rate of adoption, compared to electricity or radios. By comparison, within ten years of the launch of the World Wide Web, hundreds of millions of people were using it on a daily basis.
There are also serious concerns about the efficiency of blockchain technology, compared with other types of databases. Blockchains like Bitcoin and Ethereum are notoriously inefficient and power-hungry, and even blockchains without mining are slower than centralized systems. In order to rank among the most useful inventions, blockchain would need to find a convincing use case.
The Bottom Line
Many of the most influential inventions of all time have such a broad range of applications that it's difficult to properly categorize them. The Internet has impacted virtually every area of business and personal life since it came into common use in the 1990s.4 While blockchain is newer to the scene, many supporters feel that its applications are limitless.