Is Blockchain Technology about to Revolutionize Engineering?
The blockchain is one of today’s most polarizing technological innovations. Basically, it is an immutable public record designed to enable parties who don’t necessarily trust each other to safely interact and transact without having to give up control to or pay rents to a third-party such as a traditional bank, social network or online marketplace. The world was introduced to blockchain technology by the success of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, which uses the blockchain to enable the currency to be transferred between parties without an intermediary. Here is an in-depth explanation of blockchain technology, and you can find more information here.
Proponents of blockchain technology claim that over time it might be able to replace companies and other organizations that today serve as intermediaries between parties that would normally have difficulty transacting with each other because they lack trust. For example, an online marketplace such as Amazon brings buyers together where they can easily be reached by sellers and provides buyers with assurance that sellers will deliver the merchandize as advertised. The drawbacks of this arrangement are the fees charged by Amazon to sellers as well as the fact that the marketplace is operated by Amazon for its own benefit. For example, Amazon frequently uses the information gained from the marketplace to introduce products that compete with independent sellers.
On the other hand, blockchain skeptics point to the fact that, despite many glowing pronouncements from technology luminaries and excluding applications that involve transferring Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, working blockchain applications have been few and far between. In particular, the slow speed and high transactions costs of existing blockchain networks have been blamed for the slow emergence of practical applications. Solutions to these and other limitations of current blockchain technology either are on the horizon or unlikely to ever appear, depending on whether you are a blockchain partisan or detractor. This blog post won’t try to resolve that issue but rather will look at the potential impact of blockchain on engineering, focusing on what appears to be the application that is the closest to launching.
Dan Robles is the founder of CoEngineers.io, which he bills as “the first blockchain developed by engineers for engineers.” Robles said the blockchain will incentivize engineers to create what he calls “a trustworthy knowledge inventory of who knows what in the engineering community.” He says this knowledge inventory will be highly valued by companies looking for expertise in a particular area, venture capitalists and bankers seeking to evaluate the technical prowess of a startup, insurance companies insuring the risks of a particular product or project, and companies that wish to market products to engineers, among many others. While the money that third parties pay to access conventional engineering directories goes to the directory publisher, with CoEngineers.io these payments will flow directly to the engineers themselves.
Robles explains that the anonymity of every engineer in the knowledge inventory is protected by the blockchain, in the same way that the anonymity of bitcoin transactions are protected, unless the engineer chooses to reveal it to a specific third party. He adds that the two new cryptocurrencies that will be created along with the knowledge inventory will incentivize engineers to participate. Engineers will participate in the knowledge inventory by making claims about their own education, certifications, technical skills, projects completed, and other benchmarks. For these claims to be validated, another engineer must verify each claim.
When an engineer’s claim is validated, both claimant and validator receive tokens in two new cryptocurrencies called Gravity and Mass. Gravity tokens cannot be sold or traded, rather they are held by the engineer and the amount of Gravity tokens serves as a measure of the player’s professional expertise, which increases their reputation in the knowledge inventory. Mass tokens will be tradeable for conventional currencies and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Validators need to be careful about whom they validate because their own reputation is bound to the reputation of the engineers they validate.
Companies or individuals that want to access the expertise in the knowledge inventory purchase Mass tokens and trade them for access to the knowledge inventory. For example, an engineer would receive a payment in Mass for consenting to anonymously receive a job offer, the offer of a consulting engagement, a marketing email, or a request for information. Engineers would also receive payments when their profile was anonymously viewed, such as by a venture capital firm wondering if it should invest in a particular project.
This is just a very high-level overview of CoEngineers.io. A more detailed explanation will be provided in a white paper that Robles will make available soon at CoEngineers.io. Robles expects to have a rough version of the project up and running early in the third quarter of 2018 at the same site. What are your thoughts? Do you think the blockchain is going to have a major impact on the engineering field or is it just another fad that will fade into oblivion?