John Oliver’s Twist: Blockchain as a Transformative Technology

A little over a week ago, the topic of choice for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was cryptocurrency. And as always, Oliver was stellar. The episode was particularly surprising because of the extent of research in getting to the nitty-gritty of cryptocurrency and blockchain – and explaining it to the audience in the easiest terms possible. It’s no easy task since, and this is what Oliver also pointed out, not many know exactly what cryptocurrency is, what it does, how it’s come about and technologies that are involved in its distribution, authentication and transaction. Simply because there are no real lay terms that can grasp the jargon, advanced concepts and complex technologies particular to cryptocurrencies and blockchain.
It’s no coincidence that this particular episode comes out at the time that it does. The world is still reeling from the tremendous collapse of the Bitcoin bubble after nearly a year or so of crazy speculation, soaring cryptocurrency values and increasing stories about folks that went from rags to riches within days. The world was swept up in a craze that just kept fueling the hype. And of course, there were plenty of villains that twirled their mustaches as they concocted one scam after the next, duping people that wanted a share of the pie out of their money.

We don’t exaggerate – and neither does Oliver. Bitcoin does have an incredible spotty history, mainly owing to the fact that that it is untraceable makes it the currency of choice for criminal activity over the darkweb. So when it comes to the point where people who know very little about cryptocurrency buy into the hype and are prepared to pour in a lot of money, there will always be shifty jackals about.
It’s no surprise that there are yet still enough people out there advising caution. Then there are others still that hold steadfast to the belief that cryptocurrency has always been an elaborate scam. After all, it was that very thought that played a huge part in popping the bitcoin bubble: China’s recent ban on initial coin offerings (ICO) immediately shut down perhaps the second biggest cryptocurrency market in the world. With one leg less to stand up on, the following crash was inevitable. Rags to riches stories went back to rags (those who didn’t sell before the crash, anyway, startups poised to transform the industry crumbled to the ground, and all the while scammers made a killing from other people’s hopes and dreams.
It’s a bleak picture we paint here, as does John Oliver. Of course, we’re only summarizing the reasons Oliver presented for why America should practice caution with regards to new technology that can “transform” the future as we know it. So yes, caution is the right way to go about it when it comes to cryptocurrency. There’s little doubt that cryptocurrency and ICOs are fertile breeding grounds for nefarious money traps (although that’s not always the case). But it’s incredibly unfair when shade is thrown on technology that indeed has the potential to transform our future, but is popularized in relation to one problematic industry where it facilitates a plethora of other important industries and institutions. Case in point: blockchain.
Of course, we’re not claiming that Oliver conflated blockchain technology with the demerits of bitcoin. In fact, he seemed to share some of the excitement that others who are actually familiar with the tech. Our issue lies with Oliver’s rather cursory explanation of blockchain technology, more specifically the lack of explanation on the potential of blockchain in industries and institutions that are concerned with identity, trust, security and supply chain validity. It’s a technology that assures incredible security through decentralization and powerful protocols. As Oliver pointed out, industry-wide shifts toward digital means of recording, storing, operating and distributing data brought with it increasing attempts at illegally accessing this data and using it for nefarious means.
Anti-ransomware and hacker-proof protocols can only work so far when there is a single lock and key in every centralized system. But blockchain technology solves the struggle for better security by providing the best form of it. Multiple locks and keys unique to every new strain of information stored on a blockchain make it impossible for ransomware to infect a network and compromise data stores. That’s just the very thing about decentralization that makes it such a justifiably attractive and transformative technology!
Healthcare,IT, banking, property and even governance are just a handful of the multitude of institutions, organisations and businesses that are currently exploring blockchain technology as a permanent tool in their various operations and security. Because, as it rapidly becoming apparent, decentralization is the future of the internet. And while Oliver has warned us about throwing the word “future” about carelessly, we know exactly why we’re confident when we use it here. We all understand why the internet came about. It’s a virtual landscape that started out and has continued to champion the democratization of information, and blockchain with its revolutionizing technology is only the next logical step in the evolution of the internet.