How the blockchain will radically transform the economy | Bettina Warburg | Summary and Q&A

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December 8, 2016
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TED
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How the blockchain will radically transform the economy | Bettina Warburg

TL;DR

"Blockchain technology has the potential to fundamentally change how we exchange value by lowering uncertainties and transforming our economic systems."

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Key Insights

  • 🔬 Blockchain technology is a new institution that will fundamentally change how we exchange value. It is a continuation of the human story of finding ways to lower uncertainty in order to exchange value.
  • 🧱 Institutions, both formal and informal, are tools to lower uncertainty and allow for economic trade. As societies grew more complex, formal institutions such as banks, governments, and corporations were built to manage trade.
  • 🌐 The internet brought these institutions online, creating platform marketplaces that act as middlemen for economic activity. Blockchain technology takes it a step further by allowing us to lower uncertainty with technology alone.
  • 💡 Blockchain technology is a decentralized database that stores a registry of assets and transactions across a peer-to-peer network. Transactions are secured through cryptography, creating an immutable record of all transactions.
  • 🔑 Blockchains lower uncertainty by providing a user-controlled portable identity that can selectively reveal attributes about a person, facilitating trade and interaction.
  • 🌐 Blockchains create a shared reality across non-trusting entities, allowing for transparency in supply chains and other complex trades.
  • 💼 Blockchains allow for binding contracts between individuals that can be guaranteed without a third-party enforcer, enabling automated and collateralized economic activity.
  • 🌍 Blockchain technology is still in its infancy and requires experimentation and exploration before fully understanding all its use cases. However, it has the potential to revolutionize how we exchange and collaborate in society.

Transcript

Economists have been exploring people's behavior for hundreds of years: how we make decisions, how we act individually and in groups, how we exchange value. They've studied the institutions that facilitate our trade, like legal systems, corporations, marketplaces. But there is a new, technological institution that will fundamentally change how we e... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How do economists study people's behavior and the institutions that facilitate trade?

Economists study how people make decisions, act individually and in groups, and exchange value. They also analyze institutions like legal systems, corporations, and marketplaces that facilitate trade.

Q: What is the new technological institution that will transform how we exchange value?

The new technological institution that will transform how we exchange value is called the blockchain. It is a decentralized database that stores a registry of assets and transactions across a peer-to-peer network.

Q: How does the blockchain work?

The blockchain is a public registry that stores transactions in a network and is replicated on every computer that uses the network. Transactions are secured through cryptography, and they are stored in blocks of data that are linked together. This creates an immutable and unforgeable record of all the transactions.

Q: How do blockchains lower uncertainty and transform economic systems?

Blockchains lower uncertainty by providing solutions to three forms of uncertainty that we face in transactions: not knowing who we're dealing with, not having transparency into transactions, and the possibility of reneging. By allowing for portable identities, creating transparency, and facilitating binding contracts, blockchains transform economic systems by reducing uncertainty and enabling more efficient and secure exchanges.

Q: What is the rate of adoption for blockchain technology?

The rate of adoption for blockchain technology is currently limited, as the technology is complex and not yet widely understood. However, early adopters and enterprises or governments focused on specific use cases, such as identity, asset tracking, or smart contracts, are more likely to adopt blockchain technology. Adoption is expected to increase as the technology evolves and becomes more user-friendly.

Summary

Economists have studied institutions that facilitate trade and lower uncertainty about one another. The blockchain is a new technological institution that can fundamentally change how we exchange value. It is a decentralized database that stores a registry of assets and transactions across a peer-to-peer network. Blockchain technology lowers uncertainty by providing a public registry of ownership and transaction history that is secured through cryptography. It can lower uncertainties about identity, provide transparency in complex trades, and allow for binding contracts without a third-party enforcer.

Questions & Answers

Q: What are institutions according to economist Douglass North?

Institutions, according to Douglass North, are formal rules like a constitution and informal constraints like bribery that lower uncertainties about one another and facilitate trade.

Q: How did trade occur in hunter-gatherer economies?

In hunter-gatherer economies, trade occurred within village structures with some informal constraints in place. However, trade was enforced through violence or social repercussions.

Q: How have institutions evolved with the growth of societies and trade routes?

As societies grew more complex and trade routes grew more distant, more formal institutions were established, such as banks, governments, and corporations, to manage trade and lower uncertainties.

Q: What are some examples of online institutions?

With the advent of the internet, online institutions were created, such as platform marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba, which act as middlemen to facilitate economic activity.

Q: What is the blockchain and how does it work?

The blockchain is a decentralized database that stores a registry of assets and transactions across a peer-to-peer network. Transactions are secured through cryptography and stored in blocks of data that are cryptographically linked together. This creates an immutable and unforgeable record of all transactions.

Q: How is the blockchain similar to Wikipedia?

The blockchain is similar to Wikipedia in that it is an open platform that stores data, but instead of words and images, the blockchain stores many kinds of assets and their history of ownership, custodianship, and location.

Q: How can blockchains lower uncertainty about identity?

Blockchains allow for the creation of an open, global platform to store attestations about any individual from any source. This enables the creation of a user-controlled portable identity where different attributes can be selectively revealed to facilitate trade or interaction.

Q: How can blockchains provide transparency in long-distance and complex trades?

Blockchains can create a shared reality across non-trusting entities by serving as a decentralized database. This allows for transparency in supply chains and other complex trades where different vendors and entities can interact using the same database without trusting one another.

Q: How can blockchains guarantee contracts without a third-party enforcer?

Blockchains allow for the writing of code that creates binding contracts between individuals. These contracts can be verified and enforced without the need for a third-party enforcer. For example, escrow can be used to release funds only when all conditions have been met.

Q: How do blockchains harness collective uncertainty?

Blockchains leverage mutual distrust to create a secure and verified network. Instead of relying on trusted institutions like banks, governments, or corporations, blockchains allow for collaboration and exchange by harnessing collective uncertainty.

Takeaways

Blockchain technology has the potential to transform our economic systems by lowering uncertainties about identity, providing transparency in trades, and enabling binding contracts without third-party enforcers. While still in its infancy, blockchain is being explored by various industries and institutions for its potential to revolutionize the way we exchange value. It is a complex technology that is better suited for early adopters or specific use cases in enterprise or government settings.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Economists have studied human behavior in relation to how we make decisions, act individually and in groups, and exchange value. Institutions such as legal systems, corporations, and marketplaces have been developed to facilitate trade.

  • The blockchain is a new technological institution that will fundamentally change the way we exchange value. It is a decentralized database that stores a registry of assets and transactions across a peer-to-peer network, securing transactions through cryptography.

  • Blockchains lower uncertainties in transactions by providing portable identities, transparency in interactions, and enforceable contracts. They have the potential to transform economic systems by harnessing collective uncertainty and enabling faster and more open collaboration and exchange.

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