Blockchain: Beware of Pitfalls, warns Berners-Lee

Blockchain: Beware of Pitfalls, warns Berners-Lee

The inventor of the World Wide Web believes that the Blockchain has opened up a Pandora’s Box, and he’s not the only one… 

Berners-Lee Background

Tim Berners-Lee was knighted in 2004 for his achievements in relation to developing HTTP and HTML, the communication protocol and mark-up language respectively which drive today’s internet. A Londoner who graduated with a first-class degree in physics from Oxford University in 1976, Berners-Lee was to eventually end up at CERN where he performed his pioneering work on a set of innovations which would go on to change the world. 

We have, then, a man who knows a thing or two about inventions and their unintended consequences. 

Whilst working as an engineer with various employers over the years, Berners-Lee learned about computer networks and how to transfer hypertext across the wires. After refining his skills and ideas in Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) which linked to domain names, Berners-Lee built the World’s first ever website and piloted it online on 6 August 1991; the rest is history.

Since 2012, he has been serving as director and advisor on several tech boards including the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Open Data Institute.

A Note of Caution

During his keynote address at a tech conference in Canada last week, Berners-Lee urged simply, “Be careful. Think”. He recounted his journey of creating the Web and reflected on such a process as being a time of extreme creativity.

But there are unintended consequences to everything that we do“, he reminded the attendees. Referring specifically to current blockchain developments around the World, he urged us not to see the Blockchain as the magic bullet which some purport it to be, particularly in relation to the issues of hacking, security and privacy.

We will be giving ourselves “a false sense of security” in believing that technology is an instant solution to all of our challenges, Berners-Lee added.

Citing two prominent examples – Bitcoin and Facebook – which, he outlined, were not specifically designed to facilitate illicit illegal drug dealing or to be leveraged as platforms for swaying influence within the political arena, they were nevertheless clearly connected to such events, he pointed out.

We can never foresee exactly how technology will be used and we have to think about those consequences“, he added. 

Although generally known to have a positive outlook on balance with regards to the Blockchain –his W3C is already doing some work with it- his key message appeared to be that technology, far from being a blanket answer to everything can often give rise to just as many as problems as it sets out to solve.


Others also Expressing Concern

Risk management should form an active part of our blockchain strategies, says Deloitte, the largest professional services network in the world.

They acknowledge the countless benefits of Blockchain tech – lowering costs, enhancing trust, providing near-watertight guarantees of security among others – but also underlined the myriad of risks that it may also bring, falling in line with the Berners-Lee outlook. 

Businesses are now relying on algorithms –instead of humans – for trust dynamics, and the implications are profound“, a Deloitte spokesman attending the same conference said, “particularly for scenarios where smart contracts execute operations that have been found to be manipulated before their deployment“.

The legal and practical fallout of such scenarios present unexplored territory for both businesses and individuals of the future who will find much of their affairs tied to the Blockchain. Food for thought.

So forget ICOs, this might be where the real HODL’ing takes place…!