Mark Sham is an entrepreneur, a public speaker, runs a social enterprise called Suits & Sneakers and is working on a new, free system of education because he believes everybody deserves a chance at being somebody. He is fascinated by technology and suggests everyone ought to be, too, as that is the future.
Sham tells how the developers of the Siri function on Apple iPhones came up with the idea before the supporting technology existed, but were convinced that in three or four years, it would reach a level where Siri could exist. They proceeded to develop it despite being thought crazy, and sank a large amount of capital into the venture. When technology had reached the right stage, they sold the idea to Apple for a great deal of money. They saw a possibility in the future and did not wait for it to land at their feet but went to meet it instead. In 2018, should we wait for a technology to be perfectly ripe, which would already make it technologically old, before buying into it, or should we see it as a means to create incredible change, then rise to intersect with it at some point in the future?
The world is changing faster all the time. There has been an immense amount of innovation in the last 50 to 100 years which is more than any preceding generation has had to face. Anyone alive today is living in two different worlds. We are in this old, stagnant world of the past while moving exponentially into the rapidly-moving world of the technological future. One generation ago things happened in a predictable, steady sequence. Now the sequence is faster and goes ahead in leaps and bounds. Today’s children will experience this rapid, new world while we are still half trapped in the old one. The gap between generations is widening at an incremental speed. There is no comparing the lives of people living 60 years ago with the present day. But 50 000 years ago, very little would have been different in their lives.
Why should this be? It seems that the rate at which the world is speeding up and also the frequency of innovations, are in direct correlation to the speed at which humans are able to share information with each other. “Fifty thousand years ago life was local and linear, moving at the speed of the campfire,” Sham remarks. The discovery of fire in one village might not become known to another village 200 kilometres away for many years. “Consider fire as a technology or an idea upon which we can build. Can you build upon it if you don’t know about it,” he asks? But looking at changes which have happened over the past 500 years there is an obvious increase in speed every time human beings invented some new way of information-sharing. Before the printing press, books were copied by hand and few people could read or write. The printing press drastically reduced the cost and increased the speed with which books could be reproduced. Each time some new technology for communication was created, such as telegraph, telephone, fax etc., the world seemed to speed up a little and developed quicker.
In 2018 information has become digitised causing massive disruption to the status quo. When things are moved from analogue to a digital state they double and redouble their speed of improvement. Look at the iPhone10; it is the 10th generation iPhone in 10 years yet it is 1000 times faster than the original. Thus when something digitises, it increases the speed at which the world changes. It also starts to converge on other digital technologies. Again looking at the iPhone, 30 years ago you would have needed a table full of devices to do what it can; a phone, camera, calculator, map book, record player, torch and many more, all separate and all analogue. Slowly as each became digitised, they began improving at a rapidly increasing rate until they all converged on top of one another and into this thing we call a phone. Information-sharing now moves at the speed of the internet, a speed never seen before. But it also happens at zero marginal cost. Are we concerned how many characters we use in a text message, or whether we take one or ten pictures? We have never experienced zero marginal cost before.
In the past 10 years we have seen enormous opportunity and growth for change, if people are willing to retrain their brains to understand this new world. We can either become an architect of the future or become a victim of it. In 1996 Sham’s father tried to tell him about a new innovation, the internet. It didn’t make sense to most people at that time, yet fast forward to 2018, and there few parts of the world have not been impacted by it. It wasn’t that great then but in time it enabled great innovations. Now it is an everyday, information sharing tool. Blockchain is in a similar league.
What is Blockchain? Sham explains: “It is a type of distributed ledger or decentralised database that continually keeps updated digital records of who owns what. Rather than having a central administrator like a traditional database, think banks, governments and accountants, a distributed ledger has a network of replicated databases synchronised via the internet and visible to anyone within its network.” Does it matter how it works? Do you know in detail how your phone or electricity works? Electricity is a technology; plugging in the socket allows a number of other technologies or devices to work on top of it. To explain further, a bank has a centralised database and we all understand the concept. If we have R1 000 000 invested but someone in the bank decides to change the figures to show there is a deficit of –R50 000, then that is what we have, if we don’t complain and have the person locked up. Or if you own a house and possess the title deeds to prove it, but someone in the Deeds Office decides to alter the record to show someone else owns that property, how do you prove ownership?
If we have 100 million computers around the world, each keeping a record of what was in your bank account or of the property you own, then for anything to change in that account, at least 51% of all those computers online would have to agree. So, for someone to change or hack it correctly they would have to hack the system of millions of computers, all in under 10 minutes. That is the simple explanation of how Blockchain works. In turn this creates trust with people you have never met. It gives absolute transparency. An important fact is that once a record is put into Blockchain it can never be deleted. This system cuts out the middleman to ensure complete trust. Trust and transparency go hand in hand. A South American country tried Blockchain for two minutes in its Deeds Office, but corruption was rife there and after two minutes they cut the Blockchain as it was exposing the many wrong-doings of the officials.
Blockchain is fuelling a huge amount of interest as it empowers Bitcoin and all other crypto currencies, for which trust and transparency are vital. Sending money across borders, it may surprise you when you realise how much is deducted for fees at this bank and charges at that one. Blockchain will democratise the process by taking about .000001% of the value in fees, making the sending of cash or drawing money at an ATM in a foreign land a far less expensive exercise. We have experienced this concept before in Whatsapp. Sham suggests everyone should watch the 18-minute TED Talk, ‘How the Blockchain is Changing Money and Business’.
Instead of waiting for the future to land at our feet we should all be going to meet it head-on. We need to understand the way the world is changing and how the speed and scale are rushing us forward into the future. Will we be architects of the future, or victims? We have come together to create change. “If you wanted to affect a million lives a century ago you had to be an emperor; today you can do it alone in your garage. Technology brings about democracy and empowers the person on the other end,” Sham remarks.
“In order to create change using technology, if we layer trust and transparency on top of speed and scale when sharing info, we can turn this into an entirely different world,” Sham concluded.