Current Events: 2021

Blockchain Bunk

Seth Godin on NFTs. Thank you, Seth.

I cannot think of a technology with more nerdy complexity that has been popularized as brainlessly as blockchain. Even the best technology communicators remain challenged to concisely and adequately explain blockchain and its attendant dynamics to the average person. It might actually be easier to explain relativity than it is to explain blockchain.

In a world where soundbites rule, this is a problem.

In the industry I serve as a technology professional, people routinely opine that blockchain is a solution to food supply chain traceability. It’s not. Here’s an interaction I had with a university professor last year, who had written a major scholarly article supporting blockchain in the food supply chain:

Dear Dr. {name withheld},

Happy new year! During the holidays, I got caught up on a bunch of journal reading that had been piling up over the fall, and I happened upon your thoughtful article in {journal withheld}.

I’m very much in the middle of the food supply chain, and my feelings about the use of blockchain are perhaps a bit different from others’. The idea of blockchain for the food supply chain has baffled me. In my estimation, blockchain can only truly safeguard digital products and transactions, not physical ones, which are subject to human tampering that is difficult to prevent in many product categories. I honor and respect blockchain’s ability to provide a ledger, but since the digital metadata for physical product can so easily be severed from that product in a variety of ways, I am not sure that blockchain’s robustness is as meaningful as it is with fully digital assets. Surely a less resource-intensive ledger method can provide a level of assuredness that is on par with what blockchain could provide, without wrongly implying that there is a 0% chance that product could have been tampered with by interstitial handlers.

Do you have any thoughts on this matter, and what I might be missing?

Thank you for your thoughts!


His response?

Hi Drew: You are right — there is no 100% certainty that food products are not tampered. Blockchain deployment in food supply chain may increase the costs of engaging in fraudulent activities. Combining with other technologies such as AI, robust QR codes might help . . . . Other benefits of blockchain may include brand reputation (consumers’ better perception of the brand), efficiency, speed, reliability and reduction in paperwork with digitization.

Who cares if the food is tampered with? Blockchain is good for consumer brand perception. Makes sense.

This stuff is all over the place:

“…the ledger is considered immune to tampering.”

But what about those boxes?

Blockchain is useful for a few things, but its true and original value proposition is in the protection of digital things that need to pass from entity to entity. Bitcoin? Of course. Food? Not so much.

None of this even takes into account people’s misunderstanding of how much power blockchain takes to do what it does.

Thankfully, Seth did that.

Do you have stories about people employing blockchain in senseless ways, guided by their misunderstanding of it all? Join the discussion at the links below.

April 5, 2021 update: More bunk.

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