The Black Hat USA conference in Las Vegas has kicked off with some pretty punchy comments from Google’s director of engineering, Parisa Tabriz. Perhaps the most eye-catching of those comments was the statement that, “blockchain is not going to solve security problems”.
Now of course I take the point that no one technology is ever going to solve the mass of cybersecurity threats the world now faces. Not only do massive hacks abound the world over, but increasingly, there are reports that the long-standing skills shortage in the cybersecurity sector is impacting the wellbeing of those already working at the coal face. Other events at the Black Hat conference this week highlight the increased reporting of stress and mental health issues by cybersecurity professionals – increasing the risk for mistakes.
Blockchain, like any other technology, is not the silver bullet that is going to fix all of these issues overnight. However, I think to dismiss blockchain in such a sweeping manner is perhaps disingenuous at best. In fact, given that Tabriz’s keynote effectively implied that the solution to cybersecurity threats is simply to trust Google and their fellow tech titans to fix it, it might be worth taking the headline statement on blockchain with at least a little smidgen of salt.
Of course, the elephant in the room here is AI – often hyped in similar terms to blockchain when it comes to cybersecurity. However, for all the impact that AI will undoubtedly have – particularly when it comes to honing security processes and reducing the likelihood of human error causing huge breaches – I don’t see it having the same, truly transformational, impact that blockchain could have.
The reason I say that is because I think the key thing is that blockchain isn’t just a new approach to securing digital information – as valuable and welcome as that may be. No, the real value is that it represents both a new approach to security in general, and a shake-up of what The Economist astutely labelled ‘the trust business’.
As The Economist points out, the trust business is “one of the world’s biggest and least noticed industries”. It is also vital to almost every aspect of our daily lives – maintaining the integrity of our civil institutions while also securing our identities, our contracts and our investments. This is where blockchain could be extremely powerful: offering the potential for ‘smart contracts’; creating new methods for issuing and maintaining official documentation; enabling citizens to take closer control of their personal data; and ultimately bolstering the integrity that we rely on for daily life and freedom to function.
What’s not to like, right? What’s more, we don’t have to wait for our digital overlords to fix it for us – blockchain is inherently decentralised, meaning we don’t have to continue to go cap in hand to Google et al when it comes to managing and securing our digital lives. (Of course, I wouldn’t be so cynical as to suggest that this fact might be the reason for a senior Googler to rubbish blockchain so readily. That would be ridiculous…).
There is no doubt that the technology is nowhere near being able to deliver on this promise right now. But I also don’t think it is a massive leap to say that the world needs blockchain tech to work. The next few years will be very interesting to watch – whatever Google says.