28 Nov What is Blockchain – Graham Cook
It’s been a hotly debated topic within the finance world, but Australia’s most respected experts and economists believe Blockchain will be widely adopted in the near future. So, what is Blockchain? Graham Cook from Finder.com.au explains.
Kevin: It’s certainly been a hotly debated topic within the finance world, but Australia’s most respected experts and economists believe that Blockchain will be widely adopted in the near future. What is blockchain?
I have to admit to you that I know very little about this, and I’m looking forward to finding out a little bit more, especially if it is going to impact us. And I want to know where it’s going to fit in for consumers as well. To help me understand this, I’m joined by Graham Cook, who is Insights Manager for Finder.com.
Graham, thanks for your time.
Graham: Good day, Kevin. How are you doing?
Kevin: Wonderful, mate. I have to confess, I do not understand much about Blockchain, so firstly, you might want to tell me what it is and how it works.
Graham: Blockchain basically is the system behind these cryptocurrencies you may have heard of, the likes of Bitcoin. There are other ones, but Bitcoin is the main one that people talk about. It’s a currency people can exchange from one to the other to pay for goods and transactions.
The system that backs it up is called Blockchain, and Blockchain is basically a way of sending assets securely from one person to another online. Before Blockchain came around, there was this thing called the double sending problem where when the records were stored in one place but consulted somewhere else, you could say you’re sending money to one person, but that record could be altered to say you’re sending money to somebody else, and it wasn’t very secure.
Blockchain solves that problem by basically setting up a system where if you say, “I’m going to send Alice five Bitcoins,” you announce that to the whole world at the same time, basically, and the agreement to send five Bitcoins to Alice is recorded simultaneously on millions of computers all across the world, and all the transactions are recorded continuously.
And then blocks of them, bunches of them are gathered together in these things called blocks, which are encoded, and each block is linked to the previous block in the chain. Basically, the Blockchain is the continuous record of every transaction that has happened between everybody in the Blockchain, all the way back to the very first block.
Kevin: Wind the clock back a little bit, because I am struggling to keep up here. We’re talking about things like cryptocurrency and Bitcoins. I have to tell you that I’ve always seen that as almost like a bubble or a false thing or something that wasn’t real. But I’m hearing more and more about Bitcoins. Are they increasing in value? Are they risky?
Graham: Oh, massively. I had to write a blog piece here about six months ago about Bitcoin, and the commentary at the time was that Bitcoin has increased in five years from $10 or $12 per coin to about $2000 per coin at that time. Since I wrote that blog, it has now gone up. I think last week, it hit $10,000 per Bitcoin. So yes, the value is definitely increasing in that particular currency.
And the reason is the supply of Bitcoin is limited. It’s not like a normal currency where a government can print more. So, there’s a limited supply, and the value is going up. People are seeing it as an increasing way people are going to transact in the future.
Kevin: Why is there control over the amount of Bitcoin there is? Who is behind it?
Graham: This is an interesting thing, because the Blockchain concept, the concept of a distributed record of transactions is just a concept, really, and there are multiple different Blockchains, multiple chains of records.
The one behind Bitcoin was invented by a guy called Satoshi Nakamoto. We don’t know who that person actually is; we just know the name. The theory is that he’s a Japanese computer scientist or cryptologist, and that’s the person who came up with the system and mined the first block.
From there, the Blockchain grew. More computers got on board recording and analyzing transactions to build the Blockchain, because if you become part of the Blockchain community, you get Bitcoins back. So, it’s grown from there.
But there’s not just that one Blockchain; there are other ones as well. For example, there is one called Ethereum, which is a Blockchain designed not to monitor transaction of currencies but to monitor contracts and agreements. There is one, for example, being used in some third-world countries to monitor agreements for land titles and property.
So, if I sell my house to David, for example, there’s not just one printed record of that transaction; the transaction is recorded in a Blockchains, so everybody knows and has a permanent record that I sold the house to David. And if somebody comes and disputes that in future or if a dictator comes in, for example, and decides that all land now suddenly belongs to him, there’s a record that everybody has that’s unhackable that everybody agrees that David now owns that land.
So, there are multiple applications beyond just finance.
Kevin: I guess as we get more and more online, it seems like all of this is going online, becoming totally paperless. Should we be concerned about cybersecurity?
Graham: The Blockchain will actually make the traditional cybersecurity whereby you’re worried people are going to hack into your account and fraudulent transactions and stuff less likely, because the Blockchain is unhackable.
Essentially, if you want to go into a block, a record of transactions, and change it and say, “Dave didn’t give me 5 Bitcoins; Dave gave me 5000 Bitcoins,” you’ll need to hack into that block not on one computer but on all the computers that it’s recorded on – so millions of them – all at the same time, and you won’t be able to get into it without also hacking into the previous block and the previous block. So, as it continues on, it becomes more secure. So, the Blockchain is secure.
What we will need to worry about ongoing, though, is more identity theft. Your Blockchain is just like your bank account in a way. If you have a name and an ID to log into it, if somebody can gather that information, they can theoretically get into your Bitcoin account, just as they can your bank account.
So, identity theft is the real worry going forward. You really need to monitor your passwords, your Facebook passwords, your e-mail passwords, and such, and change them regularly to make sure nobody else can get into your account.
Kevin: As I understand it, Blockchain really isn’t a business where you have a structure, someone owns it, someone is making money out of it. Blockchain is something that was invented, it’s now publicly used, so it’s more like a tool. Am I understanding that?
Graham: Yes, it’s basically a distributed ledger of assets. That could be financial assets, that could be contracts, that could be paying people directly.
One of the other ways the Blockchain as a system is becoming useful is with these things called remittances. If you look at third-world countries and countries like India for example, more money is flowing into those countries from people who have left those countries to move overseas to – for want of a better word – richer countries or countries where they can earn more money, and they’re sending money back to their family. More money flows into third world via these remittances than via all of government aid across the world.
And at the moment, the only asset these people have to send money home is money transfer agencies that you see in post and offices, banks. The problem with those is they’re very expensive. They can charge 10% to send the money home. It could take five days to get there. Your family who’s at home doesn’t know when it’s going to arrive.
There’s another Blockchain app called Abra that exists at the moment where people can send currencies to any country in the world. Say their parents don’t have a computer. They can send to a dealer where the parents are. They can go collect the money from that person. It’s instantaneous, and it charges about 2%. So, it’s going to stop people being ripped off sending money overseas.
Blockchain is the concept of this ubiquitous record of transactions, which is unhackable.
Kevin: You mentioned about Bitcoin or it might have been Blockchain being used – I could be getting confused here – for property transactions or land transactions. Do you see a day when things like Bitcoins or cryptocurrency or whatever could be fully responsible for how we transact in property?
Graham: Yes, absolutely. Something governments are already trying to develop is changing the whole record of property ownership and property transactions into a Blockchain. So, every single property transaction – you give a property to someone and they sell it to somebody else – that whole chain of interaction is recorded, as is every other property sale and resale simultaneously. So, everybody knows that this house is owned by X person and nobody can disagree with it.
Yes, there definitely is movement, especially in countries where previously, records wouldn’t have been as well kept – some third-world countries, for example – to move all these property transactions to a Blockchain so that everybody can agree who owns what at any given point in time.
Kevin: I think I’m beginning to understand, Graham, thank you. Maybe it’s my age, I don’t know, but I’m struggling to keep up with what’s happening with things like Blockchain. Thank you for giving us your time and that insight.
Graham Cook is the Insights Manager for Finder.com, probably one of the hardest jobs in Australia, having to understand things like this.
Graham, thank you so much for your time.
Graham: Thank you, Kevin. Cheers.