Tuesday 2 October 2018 4:21 pm

Will Britain Lead the 4th Industrial Revolution?


With the USA in isolationist mode, if not paralysis, who will lead the west, post-Brexit and as we enter the full flood of what the World Economic Forum’s Klaus Schwab dubbed The Fourth Industrial Revolution: “The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited. These possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.”

Add to that the remaking of money and the web itself and it’s plain that the nexus for all these technologies will be not the web as we know it, but the blockchain-enabled decentralised web.

Indeed, with the launch of Inrupt web inventor Prof Sir Tim Berners-Lee is busy reinventing his masterpiece for a new age. He is determined to not just reverse the centralisation, and so domination, of the web, but to re-decentralise it in a way that is permanent, for good and for everyone.

Think of the values that have deep roots in western and especially British culture. Ones we have historically helped contribute to the world not just through a judicial system based on open courts and evidence, and the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ spawning democracies around the world, but also carried along with the way each successive wave of industrialisation that has swept around the globe. Britain has often led the world in innovation – and some think we can again. But what will it take?

Eddie Hughes MP co-author of the “Unlocking Blockchain” report called for setting of government targets and the creation of the iconic role of ‘Chief Blockchain Officer’. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain has similarly called for government recognition and support saying the UK could become a ‘global hub’ for blockchain in just a few years.

The British Blockchain Association (BBA), already a world leading institution with both the first peer-reviewed journal and, in March 2019, the first scientific conference in its field, seeks to support adoption of blockchain technologies in both private and public sectors.

With an enviable global network of some of the world’s most eminent scholars, expert advisers, influencers and thought leaders already in place in 18 countries it is not just an association for Britain but also for the world, in a strong position to help tackle some of the major problems globally – not least of the novel challenges of ‘global governance’.

How can the inevitable patchwork of regulations by jurisdiction – a complete tangle – support, or even cope with, the kind of globalised innovation which knows no borders?

Attempts to reimpose and bolster regimes designed in and for an earlier age may suit some in the short term but already show clear signs of strain – and threaten to limit the scope of innovations that are already bearing on some of the world’s most pressing problems.

This is a crucial area where Britain has led the world in recent years: Introduction of an ‘Innovation Unit’, and culture, within our financial regulator and resultant ‘Sandboxes’, now copied across the globe, resulting from a long debate on regulation seated first in crowdfunding and then fintech more generally. This has put the UK at the forefront, from an initial position not unlike that of the SEC – of a regulator seeking to preserve the status-quo, seemingly at any cost.

We have learned much that can now be put to excellent use. One of the main lessons is that while data really matters, it is transparency, the flow of data, the willingness to engage, embrace transparency and answer questions, that matters even more.

The truth is that regulation does not work very well. It is a costly and a blunt instrument. Plus as many have pointed out it has consistently failed to restrain the banks globally.

Some still seem to see it as a panacea. That to ‘regulate it’ is to wave a wand and everything will be OK. How? This is harder than it seems. Because first you have to thoroughly understand what it is you’re regulating – and that’s not easy while innovation is ongoing and so a moving target.

The reality is that though it is a ‘necessary evil’ in some circumstances it’s very costly, largely ineffective and the hidden costs, in lost innovation, competition and opportunity for society dwarf even the apparent costs.

So why wouldn’t we make the maximum possible use of techniques and technologies that are known to work – especially greater transparency – to limit the need for such costly and ineffective regulation, surfacing and exposing when there is a lack of such transparency?Why not try methods that, rather than breaking down as the challenge and scope gets bigger, naturally strengthen? Especially when combined with the immutable nature of the technology itself.

So it is through open debate, harnessing all we’ve learned over the last decade and more – and the leadership already achieved internationally – as well as through technical achievements and prowess, that Britain can best service the global community and the world.

The British Blockchain Association aims to be at the centre of this – it already is, in fact.