Popular myth makes you believe that the entrepreneurs and CEOs in the internet and technology sectors built their businesses from scratch. However, this would overlook the tremendous role government investments have played in providing funding for research and development on the products and services offered by these companies.
The first computers were developed in Bletchley Park, England, during World War II to crack the German Enigma codes. The iPhone depends on the Internet, which originated in ARPANET, a program funded in the 1960s by the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA), part of the US Department of Defense, and later renamed. The Global Positioning System (GPS) began as a US military program in the 1970s called NAVSTAR. Even SIRI, the iPhone’s voice-recognizing personal assistant, can trace its ancestry back to the government: it’s a spin-off of a DARPA artificial intelligence (AI) project.
Luke Stokes is the executive director of the Foundation for Interwallet Operability (FIO). He has been the consensus witness for the Hive blockchain (formerly Steem) since the beginning of 2018 and custodian for eosDAC, a jointly owned EOSIO block producer and DAC enabler, since it was founded.
The role of the state is not limited to the issue of taxpayers’ money. Establishing supportive policies that enable businesses to solve problems and thrive is fundamental to ensuring that we solve climate change and many other pressing issues of our time.
While the impact of government investment in areas like military research is visible to all, its impact on Silicon Valley and modern technology is more opaque. Due to their design, digital currencies such as Bitcoin (BTC) do not fall under the jurisdiction and administration of state and government agencies. So many crypto anarchists and early adopters believed that this should be the case and would love to stay that way.
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However, should this industry ever achieve its goals and prevail, it is unlikely to happen organically. Agreed principles and a collective vision will be fundamental to ensuring that the blockchain industry achieves goals such as greater financial inclusion, competition for the banking industry, and a reduction in costs and frictional losses within supply chains.
The blockchain industry must have a collective policy that is bold, innovative and enables people to work together towards these goals. Currently, projects and teams are isolated, doubling efforts to solve nearly identical problems with no intellectual property or potential revenue to be shared if the mainstream adopts their solutions.
Private companies do not have the resources to realistically compete with public funds.
To do this, the blockchain industry must come together and remove barriers to collaboration between different protocols. This is a perspective that I am very much aware of through my work with the Foundation for Interwallet Operability (FIO), a protocol that is at the heart of interoperability and collaboration between service providers.
FIO remains a group of dedicated, well-meaning people trying to address a problem of standardized, easy-to-read and use cryptocurrency addresses. Although the foundation has received private funding, its situation is similar to that of Tim Berners-Lee, who developed Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), URLs (Uniform Resource Locators), and HTTP (Uniform Hypertext Transfer Protocol) in the late 1980s. This became the global standard for Internet use at CERN.
With the support of government funds, he and his colleague Robert Cailliau completed the first successful HTTP for computers. The manifesto describing the structure of the World Wide Web eventually became the international standard for computers around the world. For blockchain to be successful, the industry needs to develop a similar approach to long-term funding and the type of support that Berners-Lee and Cailliau have enjoyed at CERN, be it financial or human for future development.
Private companies do not have the resources to realistically compete with public funds and develop the technology that we take for granted. It takes decades of research and development efforts spread across various agencies sharing information for the purpose of learning, not profit.
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The blockchain vision goes far beyond simply making a speculative profit when the price of Bitcoin goes up. It has the same potential as the internet, computer science, nuclear energy and railways to transform our infrastructure and unleash economic growth. It remains a very young and fragmented industry without a clear sense of direction. As a sector, we need to ensure that the founding ideals can be applied and that they are open to all who are interested in contributing to the future, and not at the behest of government political auspices.
Partnerships, research institutes and non-governmental organizations will ensure that the promises of the blockchain become a reality over the next decade. The vision is there. It is now time for the international community with shared value systems to come together and build that future.