When I first noticed the line there was maybe a few dozen people in it. The number quickly swelled to 100 and then 200 or more, as the line snaked its way down the aisles of the vendor exhibition at IBM’s Interconnect 2017 conference in Las Vegas.
It’s not that unusual to see show attendees lined up at a vendor’s booth waiting for, well, almost anything. This line, however, carried a certain sense of anticipation and energy, with people engaged in animated conversations and craning their necks to see if the long line was moving forward.
Who or what they could be waiting for? Was it a well-known computer industry or sports celebrity making an appearance, or perhaps a well-known a software giveaway?
Turns out it had nothing to do with anything like that. These people were waiting for a copy of a book with the decidedly unsexy title: Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World.
Really? A book chronicling the rise of blockchain — or as some refer to it, the blockchain — draws this large a crowd? I felt a little like the clueless reporter in Bob Dylan’s Ballad Of A Thin Man with the chorus: Something is happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?
Well alright, maybe I’m not that clueless — I did spent the previous two days at the show listening to a series of executives from IBM and end user companies sing the praises of the technology. Some even suggested that blockchain is the breakthrough technology the Internet has been waiting for.
There certainly is a lot of hype building around this technology. That’s nothing new in this industry, going back to the glitzy, multi-million dollar marketing campaigns for desktop products like Apple’s original Macintosh, or Microsoft’s Windows 95. For the most part these and other heavily hyped products lived up to those promises and/or went on to influence other breakthrough products.
But this one is different. The success of blockchain – and we are still waiting to see how successful it will become – figures to be more through its quiet adoption by large (and some smaller) enterprises. True Believers say it offers rock-solid security in the cloud through what is essentially a distributed database that records transactions in blocks in a way that makes tampering damn near impossible.
IBM is certainly one of those True Believers. Some company executives believe it is one of the company’s two or three most strategically important technologies. Big Blue is betting a good chunk of its future on blockchain along with its Watson’s cognitive technology and an aggressive adoption of open source across its software portfolio.
The latest testimony to that is the raft of announcements the company made at Interconnect involving all three technologies, along with a featured presentation by Leanne Kemp, CEO of Everledger, about how her company uses IBM’s blockchain to prevent fraud in the diamond industry.
IBM is not alone in not just talking the talk but walking the walk about blockchain. Microsoft has stated its commitment to the technology and is working on its Project Bletchley, an open blockchain-as-a-service offering. JP Morgan now has two blockchain offerings aimed at the enterprise called Juno and Quorum. Accenture has introduced an early version of an “editable blockchain” allowing for a blockchain to be edited under what the company calls “extraordinary circumstances” to fix human errors or accommodate certain legal and regulatory requirements. And the Linux Foundation has its Hyperledger Fabric.
And in one last example of blockchain’s growing popularity, not just among fully matured IT geeks in enterprise shops but among aspiring geeks, Wiley this spring will release Blockchain For Dummies.
So if I am having difficulty grasping the finer points of blockchain this year as explained to me by technical industry experts, maybe you’ll find me in a similar line at a trade show looking to pick up a copy.