Discussing the Future of Blockchain with Pioneer John Wolpert
In today’s world, it’s hard to find innovative voices willing to step outside the traditional mold of thinking despite the backlash of their peers. In the corporate world, ascribing the benefits of public blockchains especially pre 2019, was and still is an opinion regularly dismissed as risky and idealistic. However, all technology revolutions have those pioneers that lead the charge and slowly convert those resistant to change.
John Wolpert is one of those pioneers that’s been pushing the boundaries on what’s possible in the corporate space with blockchain technology. Not only has he proposed many original thoughts like the “stateful Internet”, but he maintains a rare humbleness to learn not always seen by someone with his resume. This rare combination of intelligence and experience, yet lack of ego has endeared him to both corporate leaders and casual blockchain enthusiasts.
I had the pleasure of posing 10 questions to John about his experience in the blockchain industry and where he thinks it’s all heading.
1. Let’s start with a little background for those who don’t know you. Who are you and what lead you into the blockchain space?
I’m John Wolpert. I’ve worked for big companies, government organizations, and I’ve started a few companies. Worked for IBM three separate times. Great place to find something to reinvent. I was working for IBM Watson when my friend and old boss, Jerry Cuomo, called to say that he was heading into the wilderness to figure out what this blockchain thing was all about. I came along, and we got lucky — blockchain became big fast. In 2017, Joe Lubin gave me the chance to create new applications and businesses on blockchain. How do you say no to something like that?
2. From my knowledge, you are the first person to use the term “stateful Internet.” Could you explain what it means and its relation to the Web 3.0 shift occurring?
I like the term because it is so unwieldy that it has no chance of becoming a buzz phrase. Some friends quibble that blockchain isn’t really a “layer 1–7” technology. Ok. I could quibble with the quibbling, but it would take a long time. Devils and angels are in the details. For me, it’s fair to say that one way to look at all this is as an evolution of the Internet from a stateless passer-of-packets between routers (DNS and such notwithstanding) to an always-on, globally maintained system that manages state (memory and the logic — which is also stored in memory — that changes the state of memory locations) in at least as decentralized a way as we pass packets. I guess you could say that this is an important property of an Internet that can support a Web3.
3. I often see you speak out about private blockchains not being the answer. Could you explain your stance on private blockchains and why industry leaders may be mistaken by choosing that path?
I like what Paul Brody says about this at around minute 17 of this talk we did at Ethereal last month. Check it out!
4. Why do you believe companies and large institutions are afraid of the public mainnet?
They won’t be soon. Stand by. Remember when enterprises wouldn’t go near the word blockchain in 2015? Then in under a year they started demanding it. Now that we’ve all spent the last five years learning to spell blockchain, it’s time to go up the maturity model and embrace nuances, like the fact that how you maintain the integrity of a ledger is not the same as whether and how you conduct private business over it or whether you need to only interact with unknown/unknowable parties. In a way, all the stories about people transacting pseudonymously over bitcoin in the early days gave a lot of business execs the idea that that’s the only thing you can do on a public network. But…life is long, and we learn — slowly.
5. From your perspective, what are the two things needed most to bring mass adoption?
Masses and adoption. ;) I dunno. I suspect that when blockchain achieves mass adoption, nobody will know what it is. Like CICS or MQSeries.
6. What use cases, industries, and applications do you think see adoption first?
I don’t know, but I think that the best application of blockchain is when you are rethinking business concepts and changing incentive structures in sophisticated ways. One of my favorite examples is Bootleg: https://github.com/ConsenSys/web3studio-bootleg
“The Shared Royalty Non-Fungible Token (a.k.a Bootleg) is an open source project started by the ConsenSys Web3Studio team. The purpose of the Shared Royalty Non-Fungible Token (SRNFT) is to make any royalty business model, from the oil and gas industry to entertainment, easy to manage with the Ethereum blockchain.”
7. Obviously I’m a big proponent of Chainlink. I wanted to get your thoughts on what you think about Chainlink and its place in the DLT ecosystem?
I’m interested in how Chainlink can promote the notion of using the Ethereum mainnet as the common integration hub (magic message bus) for any kind of system that needs to pass parameters between functions that live on different state machines (whether those are blockchains or not).
8. I know you have a few projects you are working on, like SideJam. Did you expand on any projects and talk about why you’re building them?
SideJam, to me, is all about showing how to approach “Enterprise Mainnet.” Check it out: https://github.com/ConsenSys/web3studio-sidejam
“SideJam is a series of projects designed to develop application-level examples, frameworks, components (and requirements driving protocol and R&D teams) that use the W3S narrative approach to prove the need for and ability to use the Mainnet as a way to make business safe without silos.”
9. What are the burning topics in the DLT space that keep you up most at night thinking?
How long it will take before IBM changes the name of its DLT from “IBM Blockchain” to “IBM Cloud Shared Data Services”. ;)
10. Any last thoughts you want to leave with people as they ponder about the future of DLT?
Some thoughtful folks think that before they can accept using a mainnet like Ethereum for business, it needs to be even more decentralized than it is now. I’ve been thinking about this, and I keep wondering what would be wrong with getting a lot of enterprises to run miners (and later staking) on the mainnet..but not just any miners — deliberately self-identified ones. Imagine, just for simple numbers, that 49% of the maintainers of the integrity of the the mainnet ledger were known parties, with the remainder continuing to be pseudonymous. This, I speculate, has two benefits. 1) Makes it less scary…harder to imagine spooky unknown characters taking over the network. Math aside, this remains a concern for many businesses. 2) If a finite number of known parties are solely in charge of maintaining the integrity of the ledger, then it would be pretty easy for someone that has a claim — say for example, that a perceived mis-ordering of transactions caused them material harm — to sue those companies. But if over half the parties maintaining the system are unknowable, then it would be like suing the Internet. I’d be interested in what folks had to say about this notion.