There are two kinds of jobs now: those done by artificial intelligence and those assisted by it. AI drives cars and helps doctors detect cancer faster than ever thought possible. People walk out of stores without ever talking to a checkout person and the vision system charges them automatically. AI disrupted whole industries and created new ones people never imagined.
Dan Jeffries is an author, futurist, systems architect and thinker.
Biotech ballooned to one of the biggest businesses on Earth. The mRNA COVID vaccines proved the best-selling drugs in history and got the world off a “Black Mirror” timeline of economic collapse. Billions poured into R&D labs, radically accelerating how we treat everything from cancer to aging.
Outside of AI and biotech, industrial 3D printing revitalized manufacturing everywhere and many countries saw their first homegrown manufacturing boom since the Second World War.But one technology stood out among all the rest: cryptography.
For a technology that started as nothing but a way for militaries to protect their secrets, we’ve come a long way. Cryptography mushroomed into one of the cornerstones of the modern world, powering everything from digital rights management to a vast array of digital collectibles. Money isn’t everything. Money is just the beginning. Crypto stood out from the surge of other technologies because it changed the very nature of one of the most important technologies on the planet: money.Money touches everything and everyone. It slices across every religion and nation-state, every border, every culture and belief. When money changes, society changes with it. It was tiny bits of silk used as international money along the Silk Roads that once opened international trade in the ancient world, and now money is changing the world once more.The golden age of analog money is over. Money made of ink, wood pulp and metal is dying a slow death, replaced by bits of information zipping around the world at lightspeed. In more and more places, physical cash is illegal or on the way out. Governments have deep eyes into every aspect of people’s lives with central bank digital currencies (CBDC), but a parallel economic operating system of private money flourishes alongside it, moving peer-to-peer for everything from loans to buying a used lamp at a tag sale.But money isn’t everything. Money is just the beginning. The applications of crypto and blockchain go way beyond mere money. They have unleashed a surge of new kinds of applications, everything from a distributed internet that replaces much of the cloud to zero-knowledge social networks with unbreakable privacy.How did crypto go from a niche community of true believers to changing the world?
To find out, let’s flash back in time to 2021 to see how the seeds of the revolution were there all along, even if most people couldn’t see them being planted.Back to the futureIn 2021 it’s hard to imagine crypto everywhere, as ubiquitous and easy to use as WhatsApp or Instagram. Even for the crypto community, the technology is hard to use. Imagine your grandmother trying to set up a wallet, getting signed up and KYC’ed [know your customer] on an exchange, wiring money and buying crypto. If you can teach her to get it done in less than two weeks you’re a genius.A great friend of mine passed away recently and he left a USB stick with my name and number on it with his mother. After days of sifting through wallets and exchanges and having someone else read off digits on his old smartphone to deal with two-factor authentication, I realized how ugly and early the technology is right now. How can any normal person deal with this when I can barely deal with it as a 25-year veteran engineer?Today, most people’s coins will die with them. That has got to change. In the next decade, it will. We’re still very much in the early adopter phase on the famous diffusion of innovation curve. When you’re in the early adopter phase, it’s sometimes hard to see what’s coming in the early majority phase.
Now it’s common for us to live totally different lives every decade rather than just a life different from our parents. My phone used to do nothing but make calls. Now a massive chunk of my life goes through that smartphone, from renting places to live with AirBnB to calling cabs with Uber to listening to music with Spotify; 90% of the apps didn’t even exist a decade ago and now they dominate my life.It may seem like a mystery how we get from one era to another, but it’s all connected like beads on a string. Technologies start as early innovations that are clunky, complex and hard to use, and morph over time into something even a child can use.When my friend’s young daughter came across a time limitation on watching children’s videos on YouTube, she danced around it with ease. The video prompted her with a math problem to keep watching, one she couldn’t solve. But she figured out she could just ask Google to solve it for her and keep right on watching.Let’s take a deep look at how the ugly and rough edges of today’s crypto tech will get smoothed out, setting the stage for the Cambrian explosion of universal crypto tech tomorrow.
Moving up the stackBlockchain interoperability and the explosion of new appsOne of the biggest changes will come from interoperability. Today’s blockchains are totally unique technologies. They don’t interoperate easily or at all. Every coin and chain is its own siloed standard. We have some atomic swaps and some ability to transfer assets from one to another but not much else. Even now, it’s clunky. If you’ve ever tried to get some bitcoin or ethereum into CAKE, the PancakeSwap protocol, you’ve seen the problem. I had to install a new wallet, transfer coins to it, swap some BTC for BNB and then switch from BNB to Binance Smart Chain just to do the conversion to CAKE. If it takes watching three YouTube videos and pouring through a few broken tutorials on half-maintained websites just to do something that won’t work for most people just yet.That will change in the next decade. As Cardano founder Charles Hoskinson said, we’ll have a “Wi-Fi moment” in blockchain. Everything just works with Wi-Fi. You don’t need to think about it and we won’t need to think about whether we use Ethereum or Solana. We’ll also see the decoupling of the function of the chains from the protocolThat will make the integration points between different standards much cleaner. It will also drive people to use the cheapest and fastest chain. At some point we reach a moment where blockchains stop being the chokepoint. Tomorrow’s blockchains will make Visa’s 65,000 transactions per second look paltry by comparison. As speed and scale fall to engineering ingenuity, that will let developers move up the stack to solve much more interesting problems. We’ll stop seeing new kinds of chains because we’ll converge on a solution that just works and everyone will adopt it. Nobody wastes time designing a protocol to replace TCP/IP or HTTPs anymore. They just use it and do more interesting things like building apps and games. We’ll also see the decoupling of the function of the chains from the protocol. TCP/IP doesn’t care what kind of information is moving over the top of it, whether that’s streaming video on Netflix or a monero transfer or you reading this article. In the next decade, it won’t matter if you’re sending money, minting money, selling CryptoKitties or running decentralized identity transactions. It will all look the same to the chains underneath it.All of this will make it easier and easier to build apps, and before you know it we’ll have moved from early adopter to early majority. Crypto will come out of the hands of people who know how to use MetaMask to people who have never heard of MetaMask.
They’ll install, click, run and buy. They’ll download an app and start happily buying stuff with nothing but a QR code and their phone. As developers move up the stack, catering to end users rather than early adopter masochists, it will lead to a Cambrian explosion of apps. We’ll have multi-factor wallets with role-based access control so Mom can easily grant access to her kid to buy a few things without having the little rugrat drain the whole wallet and run up a thousand bucks in charges on gems in a game. We’ll have smart contracts that embed in real-world legal contracts like wills. The escrowed money won’t need a custodian to disperse the money. It will automatically pay out after consulting an oracle to verify the person actually passed away. Money will zip along on encrypted messengers. Your messenger will have an entire emporium of incredible things to buy, from digital stickers to concert passes to chocolate and books, all of it running like a decentralized Amazon of micro-entrepreneurs.