What blockchain actually is might not even be that important; it’s what it does that is all the more crucial. The 180 attendees at a Dutch Blockchain Hackathon conference held at the Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen last Wednesday believe that it will make the world a better place. Correction: they know it will. “Blockchain is the digital key left in the mailbox. The difference is that it gives you control over who is allowed to use the key.”
“Is this coconut fair trade? Is this apple organic? Is this diploma authentic? Is this doctor really qualified to perform this treatment? This procedure of being able to verify information and trust one another; this is what blockchain does.” Entrepreneur and founder Rutger van Zuidam of the DutchChain organization is the person behind the Dutch Blockchain Hackathon program, and emphasizes what blockchain is about: trust. The position of the third party, such as a bank during a transaction, changes as a result. Thanks to this technology, the bank is no longer necessary as an “intermediary” since blockchain enables everyone to keep an eye on everyone else. It is a technology that stores information on a network of PCs. The information is distributed instead of being stored at a central location. It doesn’t belong to anyone but everyone can help manage it, and it is encrypted.
What the position of banks but also that of organizations and institutions will be is still guesswork. “We know that the current ‘operating system’ is in need of an upgrade, but we keep plodding along and continue to use it anyways. We need to move from MS DOS to a system that is more appropriate for modern times.” What is also needed is more cooperation and more privacy; if you encrypt your data properly, these go hand-in-hand with blockchain, according to Van Zuidam. You manage your personal data at one location, a place only you have access to: you control the keys. You are the one who determines whether or not you give these to organizations, such as a webshop or insurance company. And when you have had enough, you just withdraw the key. The models as we now know them are going to undergo a shift, in Van Zuidam’s view. “I believe that if private citizens have control, they will be more careful about their data. Together we can set the system up to make it safer.”
Van Zuidam refers to Bitcoin, the digital currency run by the blockchain technology. “No one else can access your bitcoins. They are not deposited in a bank; you have them in your possession. It really is your money.” Van Zuidam thinks that elementary schools should start teaching the importance of privacy to children early on, and emphasize this even more; people should be more selective about which information they share with third parties. “Blockchain is not the perfect system, it’s just better than what we have now. It’s just easier to ‘file’ information with people rather than with various organizations that often don’t communicate with one another. Everyone that is working with blockchain envisages a better society. Blockchain is the digital key left in the mailbox. The difference is that it gives you control over who is allowed to use the key.”
At the conference held at the Smart Services Campus in Heerlen (official name: The Next Level Conference), the participants look back on the Dutch Blockchain Hackathon that DutchChain organized earlier. They are also looking ahead, to the event that the organization will be holding at the Ridderzaal (Knight’s Hall) on September 28. The thing the attendees - representatives from government, business, startups and also blockchain fans - share the most at the conference are stories about how the technology has benefited them. They also help each other, because it is primarily the startups that are looking for experts who can step in and help in areas that they don’t know enough about themselves.
Owner of an environmental consulting firm and conference attendee, Wim Aben has the utmost confidence in the technology. “Because blockchain doesn’t belong to anyone. Or it belongs to everyone - it depends on how you look at it. The possibilities are endless, but the application options still seem limited. Everyone here at the conference is still searching.”