Blockchain technology is one of the greatest innovations of the 21st century, yet so little of the world actually benefits from it right now.
One of the reasons for this is the lack of government adoption, with only a handful of forward thinking nations adopting it in production so far. I believe that, were more governments to adopt this powerful technology, the mass adoption by large swathes of the global population would follow.
However, for this to happen, blockchain technology needs to change. At present, the decentralised networks that are most established simply aren’t designed for governments. They advocate anonymity and a lack of centralised control above all else. The reality of the world we live in though is that people recognise the role of a centralised government as their elected representatives.
For blockchain technology to really benefit the average citizen, it needs to adapt to the societal structures we recognise today. To do this, it needs to understand the needs of the governments we elect to represent us and adapt to the requirements of these increasingly important users.
Existing blockchain isn’t designed for government
The history of blockchain technology is mostly one that focuses on the rejection of control by the state. Bitcoin was developed as a peer-to-peer electronic cash system over a decade ago precisely because the group of cypher punks at the heart of its early development wanted to build a value exchange mechanism outside of government control.
The system they build has grown into one that sections of traditional finance have gradually increased their exposure to but the regulatory status of Bitcoin is still fluid rather than set in stone. Of course, blockchain technology now exists outside Bitcoin in various different guises. Also, there are governments that have chosen to embrace the underlying technology in order to improve their services for citizens.
Estonia, the small Baltic state, is probably the best example of this. The country embarked on its drive to digitise its government at roughly the same time that blockchain emerged, in response to a series of cyber attacks that crippled the state. As part of the 99% of government services that are now available as e-services, Estonia has blockchain-based government registries for courts, property and healthcare.
It is not alone either. Sweden and Georgia are other examples of states that have deployed blockchain in production to power government services. However, for all of these encouraging examples, the reality is that most governments – and the most powerful ones in particular – have not embraced blockchain in the way some early advocates of the technology had predicted.
Furthermore, even where governments have embraced the technology, they have mostly chosen permissioned, private blockchain in favour of the well-established public blockchain that many technology enthusiasts prefer. That’s because public blockchain isn’t designed for governments to use. It usually embraces anonymity and rejects the idea of a controlling authority, even if that is an elected representative government.
Central Bank Digital Currencies are coming
The thing that could totally change this dynamic though is Central Bank Digital Currencies or CBDC. Almost every leading nation is now weighing up the possibility of issuing a CBDC and using blockchain technology to do so.
This trend has come about for a few reasons. Firstly, there is the fact that citizens are gradually but increasingly choosing to make digital payments over cash payments. This is good for governments because digital payments are more efficient and easier to deal with than cash, particularly in terms of taxation and compliance.
Then there is the fact that the move towards CBDCs is undoubtedly a response to the rise of other digital assets. Firstly, there was Bitcoin, which governments generally don’t agree with but can at least see the benefits of, especially as a transparent and auditable record of transactions and quick, efficient value transfers. Then, came ‘private money’ in the form of initiatives like Facebook’s Libra, which could potentially remove a large chunk of the control governments have over the monetary system.
Therefore CBDCs just make sense to governments from both a benefits and a risks perspective. This is why we’re seeing so many nations and central banks getting involved. We know that the People’s Bank of China is well on the way to developing its own blockchain-based CBDC, even though the details are unclear. We also know that major leading central banks such as the US Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, Bank of France and Bank of Japan are weighing up how to issue a CBDC.
Earlier this year, the Bank of England issued a discussion paper called ‘Central Bank Digital Currency: opportunities, challenges and design’, which my company L3COS responded to. We know that existing blockchain technology will not meet the needs of CBDC initiatives. What is needed is a totally different type of regulated, permissioned and decentralised blockchain.
How blockchain must adapt for governments
To fully understand what governments need from blockchain technology, we need to first understand what they want to achieve. CBDCs are very important right now but the reason they are exploring these initiatives is so they can use them to underpin regulated digital economies.
The great benefit of blockchain technology is that it allows individuals to interact in a decentralised and peer-to-peer manner. They can interact in a totally automated way that utilises smart contract technology to exchange value quickly and easily. Governments want to embrace this type of efficient market innovation but they want it to occur in a digital economy where compliant activity is enabled and criminal activity is eliminated.
To do this, they need to regulate blockchain and this is why I have designed L3COS as the world’s first regulated, blockchain-based operating system. It operates a triple layer consensus mechanism that allows governments to regulate digital economies in which businesses and individuals can operate in a totally decentralised way.
Governments sit in the top layer, controlling super nodes that communicate with one another via a unique Proof of Government protocol and managing onboarding of other entities into the system. Businesses operate in the second layer and individuals the third, although all layers can interact with each other via smart contract-based decentralised applications, which power government and commercial services.
Such a system not only reflects the societal structures we all recognise but also enables representative governments to embrace blockchain technology for their needs. As more governments embrace the technology, so will more of their citizens and then we will see the true power of blockchain to transform society for the better.