There is technology in infancy right now that I believe holds the potential to transform our lives as dramatically as the World Wide Web has done over the past two decades. Ethereum (pronounced e-theory-um) is a technology that offers an easier, better way to do things like legal contracts, trading, and governance. It’s built on an existing technology called ‘blockchain’ that can be considered an absolutely secure and unalterable ledger. Ethereum adds to this secure foundation the concept of smart contracts, which are decentralised computer programs able to make transactions based on specific conditions being met.


Basically, what Ethereum offers is recordkeeping and communication that can be trusted. Money, trading, law, voting and governance can exist in a pure way that has never been possible before; results require community consensus, they cannot be changed once determined, and processes are transparent, although it’s still possible to work anonymously with this technology.  


Consider legal contracts that are not open to contention: for example, a will. Keeping the will in the Ethereum blockchain could remove any doubts about the final version of the will, as well as any confusion as to how it was to be interpreted. A smart contract would execute a will immediately once an appropriate authority had verified the death, and would transfer the ownership of assets and wealth automatically, based on the rules that are defined in the will. No human executor would be required.


Another application provides a digital power of attorney. Social or commercially based communities could band together by placing their legal authority to act on a specific issue into the hands of a chosen representative. For example, if 100,000 people want to own an electric car, they could digitally mobilise and pool their shared consumer wishes into a single legal instrument to create a real market that would not be ignored by car manufacturers. In fact, the balance of power would shift to the consumer group that could now force manufacturers to compete for this huge sales contract. The manufacturer could be guaranteed sales, removing some risk from the process for them.


Ethereum also has the potential to greatly increase awareness and political engagement in the population by empowering people. Everyone could have the ability to directly control their own civil and legal rights. We would see an Internet that allowed sharing of knowledge that was not monitored by government agencies, and without bombardments of advertising. The Internet would be what it was once intended to be; providing the free ability for all mankind to share ideas and communicate with each other, as well as allowing unrestricted and ethical global trade.


If these ideas sound a little grandiose, try to remember what life was like before you were first introduced to the Internet, or, if you have grown up with the Internet, ask your parents. Many of the things that we take for granted today were unimaginable 10 years ago, including social changes enabled by technological advances. As monitored as the Internet is, we’re still able to communicate openly and have access to multiple news sources for free. This has immense social value when almost all traditional media are controlled by a very small group and used almost exclusively for promoting political and financial agendas. Try to imagine what the world might be like if the only news source available to people was the Murdoch press.

It’s still early days for Ethereum, but there is a lot happening. Here on the Sunshine Coast there are entrepreneurs working with the technology. ‘Sicoor’, based in the Innovation Centre at the University of the Sunshine coast, are creating a health care records platform to allow doctors and patients to interact globally. I am certain that we will see big changes in our lives, and that they’ll be more exciting than the football scores in England.


Apologies to English football fans.

Originally Published October 2016



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