Written by Samson Williams

US Government blockchain adoption is 10 years away and it won’t be blockchain, it will be Permissioned Distributed Ledgers, or “PDLs”, as though the government needed another acronym.

The basic reason that US Government blockchain adoption is a decade (or more) away is fairly simple: infrastructure; in specific, antiquated technology infrastructure. While we can expect to see a variety of blockchain pilots, sandboxes and safe harbors, enterprise-level permissioned distributed ledger applications are nonetheless a decade off. Why?

Legacy Systems, Disaster Recovery & CyberSecurity

  • How long did it take you to be able to pay your taxes via an app?
  • How long did it take for you to be able to text 911 your emergency?
  • When is the last time you updated your digital ID to vote?

When you can do the above, on your phone, then the Government will be ready for enterprise blockchain solutions. The current state of the Government’s technology infrastructure is circa Windows XP / 2004 in human time and about two and half centuries ago in tech time. Hence why so-called “government blockchain solutions”, being designed today, won’t go live until 2028 at the earliest. Implementing an enterprise permissioned distributed ledger solution today, within the Government’s current technology infrastructure, would be like putting an ion engine in the Wright Brothers’ plane. It would work… sorta, until it shredded the plane to pieces. We can expect to see limited pilots that address specific use cases.  Health & Human Services has a great example of an acquisitions blockchain solution that is currently live as of July 2018. However, the story of that successful distributed ledger technology pilot is less of a tale of technology. It is more of a saga of human centered design approach to organizational and cultural change, by an emerging tech leader not afraid to be the matador to bureaucratic bullshit. If you don’t know Jose Arrieta, you should.

In addition to the cultural change required to overcome the historical legacies and incumbent business relationships of the existing Beltway Bandits (new tech tends to disrupt revenue streams and no one wants their slice of cheese to shrink), there are the small matters of disaster recovery (DR) and cybersecurity. It turns out that DR practices for permissioned distributed ledgers aren’t as clear cut, redundant and latency free as advertised or thought. Too, as the 2016 Elections have demonstrated, our existing technology infrastructure is vulnerable to a variety of cyber and online actors. These cybersecurity issues will not be safely and soundly resolved by installing untested blockchain “solutions” that may in fact create more unknown unknowns, risk and vulnerabilities.

Government Leadership & Investment in Blockchain – is a MUST

The above is not to say that all government permissioned distributed ledger technologies should be abandoned. Rather, it is a call for rational thinking. While some governments can leapfrog into distributed ledger technologies, this is often due to a variety of reasons:

  • Smaller populations
  • Few to no legacy systems
  • Their size enables them to become modern day Davids, able to compete with historical Goliaths by culturally and organizationally embracing agile tech/economic implementation strategies

This is a call for Government support for emerging technologies in general. Blockchain is only the current chapter in the book of 21st Century Digital Transformation. It is by no means the end all of new and emerging technologies. In case you’re wondering, the next chapters in the book of 21st Century Digital Transformation are:

Chapter 7: Big Data – YOU are a commodity, not just your data

Chapter 8: IoT – How consumers bought into the Surveillance State

Chapter 9: Privacy Redefined – How we lost privacy to Big Data and IoT. The legal implications from 1st, 4th, 5th, and 10th amendment perspectives

Chapter 10: Machine Learning – Laying the foundation for mass unemployment

Chapter 11: Artificial Intelligence – How AIs stirred up a Human revolution through media manipulation. The ramifications of automation, robots and the rise of jobless futures and the war over Universal Basic Income

Chapter 12: Quantum computers, AIs and how Homo Sapiens engineered their way to being Neanderthals

Note – this is a made up book but you get the idea and maybe I can convince Tim Gilday to co-author it with me.

Yes, the Government should show leadership and an eye towards the future by continuing to invest in research, design and distributed ledger technology education, awareness and adoption campaigns. Yes, private organizations, from the Beltway Bandits to startups and entrepreneurs, should continue to push the envelope to develop minimally-viable products (MVPs) that can be used in real-world settings and stressed tested to flush out the known (scalability/interoperability) issues, as well unknown unknown (cybersecurity/disaster recovery) issues. Without these baby steps, we will not get to mature, enterprise-level permissioned distributed ledger technologies that will provide the basis for US technology dominance into the 22nd century.

Return On Investment

Will the return on investment be worth it? Yes.

Blockchain will be the Internet 3.0. And much like the rollout of the world wide web, we’re closer to 1993 than 1963. However, we still have a decade to go before blockchain technologies are so ubiquitous, accepted, common and standard, that no one cares. As ultimately, for blockchain technologies to be successful, they require mass adoption. Adoption on the scale of Windows, the computer mouse, GUI interfaces (GUI = graphic user interface). GUIs literally revolutionized personal computers and you’ve never heard the term, nor should you give AF about them and Linux. Linux revolutionized the supercomputing world and dominates mobile devices and cell phones. Those amazing, hand held super computers, with exponentially more computing power than all the missions to the Moon had combined. That can access the entirety of known Human history, simply by saying, “Hey Siri…” And you mostly use it to Tweet and swipe left on.

Conclusion

Failing mass adoption, there will be no enterprise government permissioned distributed ledger technologies without the US Government making a clear decision to focus on DLTs. This requires leadership, budget, authority, a mandate and an act of Congress. So ten years may be a bit too optimistic. But don’t stop innovating. We didn’t get to the moon by thinking it wasn’t possible.

 

Author’s note:

Q: “Should we call it “digital” infrastructure or “technology” infrastructure?”

A: “Call it technology infrastructure. Digital implies the government has adopted some sort of digital product and/or strategy.” Maureen Murat, Esq. Follow her technology and legal wit @CrowdieAdvisors on social.

My name is Samson. I’m a human and an anthropologist at Axes and Eggs, a Washington, DC based think tank who answers your questions when Google can’t. If you like what you read, share it! If you hate it, drop some knowledge in the comment section below. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter or Instagram @HustleFundBaby or connect with me on LinkedIn. Finally, I would say thoughts are my own but I probably stole them from a woman. Just ask my mama, I’ve been stealing her brilliance since before we officially met.

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