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Ben's Book of the Month: Review of "The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything"

The hype cycle is a branded graphical presentation developed and used by Gartner to represent the maturity, adoption and social application of specific technologies. The five phases of the hype cycle are:

  1. Technology Trigger
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations
  3. Trough of Disillusionment
  4. Slope of Enlightenment
  5. Plateau of Productivity

The 2017 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies has blockchain in the Peak of Inflated Expectations. In The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything (St. Martin's Press 978-1250114570), authors Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey present an interesting overview of what blockchain is capable of. The authors admit that there is still a lot to do in reference to blockchain before it can be seen as fully enterprise-ready solution. As it’s in the peak of inflated expectations, there are still a lot more questions than answers around this technology.

In a nutshell, a blockchain is simply a list of records, and are securely linked. It is simply an extension (and much more secure version) of the double-entry bookkeeping accounting method created by Luca Pacioli in the 15th-century. To that, the authors provide a compelling case for the use of blockchain. The devil is always in the details, and when it comes to blockchain, those details still need to be worked out.

Vigna and Casey lay out the problems with the old economy and commerce and paint of a picture of how blockchain can revolutionize many parts of that. The authors go to great lengths to separate Bitcoin from blockchain. While Bitcoin uses blockchain technology, it is but one use of the technology. It’s worth noting that the original Bitcoin white paper by Satoshi Nakamoto does not even use the term blockchain.

The book is a high-level overview of the potential of blockchain and a synopsis of many blockchain success stories and case studies. The book does not detail any blockchain failures. This is a high-level book about the potential of blockchain technology, but does not provide a deep technical detail of how blockchain actually works, the underlying cryptography that provides security, and other technical topics.

From a security perspective, the authors write that one of the biggest successes of Bitcoin is that after almost a decade, the core Bitcoin blockchain security has not been hacked. But as Ron Rivest did note at RSA Conference 2018 USA, he is taken aback by the lack of advanced security controls in blockchain. While the underlying cryptography is quite resilient, there is a lot more to security than just the crypto.

Most of the success stories the authors highlight are smaller initiatives, and none that have a truly global reach. How blockchain would actually work in the enterprise is something many of the world’s largest and most technologically advanced firms are working on, but it is at this point not a ready for prime time technology.

The book does a great job of showing some of the successes of blockchain to date. As a technology and solution, it has tremendous potential as the book shows. But it is still definitely a work in progress.

For those looking to a book about the future potential of blockchain by two people intimately involved with it, The Truth Machine makes for an interesting read.

Can blockchain live up to its hype and potential? We’ll only know when it leaves the peak of inflated expectations, and if it ever makes it to the plateau of productivity.

Posted on July 31, 2018

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