Here is a really great moment to celebrate. A readable UK government report with a real impact on markets ( It tells us what Honduras and Estonia are doing that we are yet to fully consider. Yet it fingers a new area of creativity that some authorities liken to the dotcom boom – a new configuration that we relaunch B2B inventiveness in the network around commercial workflows in a way that will take us much further than conventional network technologies. So far it has been the instrument of the crypto currency businesses, but this is far more than that, and the U.K. Office of Science paper, prepared by a team reporting to the Government Science Advisor, Sir Mark “Open Access” Walport, deserves the very widest attention, especially in Shoreditch, Tech City and other parts. There is enough here to launch a whole raft of B2B start-ups.

So let’s start a bit closer to the beginning. When Bitcoin was launched in 2008 the thought was that if a shared, encrypted database could be installed and mirrored across the network, then transactions updated to each ledger and validated would form a useful way of circumventing the use of cash by creating a means for secure asset transfer. Data thus added in each instance of the transaction thus created a data “block”, and as transactions grew more numerous and blocks thus chained together more widespread it became even safer – intervention and alteration of data would have to take place on thousands of machines at the same instant, even if the encryption was circumvented. These Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) have seemed like the white hope of interference-free financial transactions, but despite the fame of Bitcoin have been very hard to move into popular focus.

But this too is a characteristic of the Internet age. Technologies arrive, get used on a narrow front, get half-forgotten, and then come sweeping back in to answer questions that were never even thought about when they were invented. This appears to be the fate of DLT. When the Hondurans wanted a new land title system that was not open to third part falsification and could be updated by parties to a land deal or ownership change, then this was obvious. When the Estonians sought a way of leveraging one of their areas of expertise – the use of PKI (public key) encryption technologies – the DLT provided the answers. Amongst the case studies in the report is one after my own heart – an angel investor service network called Funderbeam which uses DLT to allow investors to turn their investments into a trade able currency and move money from investment to investment, preserving investor liquidity while avoiding the lock-in normally experienced by start-up investors.

So DLT has real benefits where asset classes are being exchanged. But we have not been in the data game for the last 30 years without knowing that data itself is an asset. This week, during an eye examination and an annual routine Heart examination, I found myself wishing for DLT in healthcare. What if my records were automatically updated, and any of my health advisors, authorised by me, could see every alteration in drugs or treatment decided by other practitioners treating me? And if I sell my house or trade in my car, can the whole intermediary network please be informed at the same time, including the bank, the insurer, the new owners and the registrars in government who need to know these things?

In the early days of the Web we spoke earnestly about Disinter mediation. Then many of us spoke equally confidently about re-intermediation, as we saw how markets moved fresh digital agents into place in digital marketplaces. It may be harder for the middleman to reinvent himself in the brave new world of DLT technology, however, and taking jobs and increasing productivity will become the focus of inventiveness in this area. Before the last election the UK government made a half-hearted attempt to privatise its own Land Registry. That organisation enters records by hand as well as digitally and employs 5000 people in the business of admits ration and verification. Now imagine it Honduran-style: land transfers are entered by sellers and verified by buyers and their lenders, insurers and other concerned parties, and archived in a block chain where all transactions are archived and held. While we may need an office of Land Transfer Governance we may never again need the current structures. Anyone reading this report in the Shareholder Executive should sell government agencies fast.

All this sounds like redress for the problems of Big Government. But there are other aspects that could affect every business in the land. If we look at business relationships as an asset, then the report suggests that Smart Contracts are likely to become the way in which we action and police business deals:

“Smart contracts are being considered for a wide variety of uses, particularly for regulatory compliance, product traceability and service management, and also to defeat counterfeit products and fraud in the following sectors:
• Food
• Financial Services
• Energy
• Pharmaceuticals
• Health
• Aerospace
• Aviation
• Telecommunications
• IT and communications
• Transport
• Utilities
• Agriculture
• Oil and gas”

So if we are content to sit back and relax, thinking that the technology behind Bitcoin is a “sometime, maybe” phenomenon. This technology is as potentially disruptive as the Web was once perceived to be, it will spark a host of start-ups and within a year every one of us will be thinking about how it applies to what we do – and how we live. And this technology centres on the SmartPhone! Happy New Year!

During this period of enforced convalescence I have had to come to grips with the idea that my brain only works effectively when supported by the memory in all the devices around me. And that this state of dependency is now global. Without our membership of a globally networked society we would become slow and inefficient: with it we become dependent. And it is this dependency which seems to me the first stop on a mental route march which we need to make. I am far from the first to try to examine what Internet of Things (IoT) or, as some will say, Internet of Everything (IoE) will mean for social, industrial or commercial aspects of society. But I do not yet hear much examination of this phenomena in terms of the information industry, let alone the businesses we insist on still calling “publishing” or the “media”.

Let’s start at a point of common agreement. We are in the middle of a new industrial revolution. For evidence, check the websites of IEEE or IET: the latter have just published a splendid “Ones to Watch” report (
They see the vanguard industries in this fundamental change in the nature of commerce and society – think what happened in the UK between 1780 and 1830 – as driven by space exploration, robotics. 3D printing (I would rather they had spoken of additive manufacturing), new energy networks, food manufacturing and cyber-security. I buy all of those, but would add drug manufacture driven by individual DNA analysis.

Underlying this social and industrial revolution is the revolution that makes it all possible: the global connectivity of network – attached computing power, and it’s ability to exploit intelligence and data generated in the network. Only this week Professor Steven Hawking has pointed out the dangers of AI outside of man’s control. My feelings run the other way: it amazes me that while we have spoken of machine intelligence for 30 years we have so little to show for it. Only in the past few years has the ability to harvest data more effectively, and the ability to cross- search it without restructuring it, produced real results in terms of the impact of the data analytics advances (“Big Data”) really struck home. While we will always be seduced by thrills and tricks (Google Glasses?), we can now see machine intelligence built into most common workflows and at a variety of levels.

Here is a list, posted by Vincent Granville at DataScienceCentral, of impact areas for data analysis in the next ten years:


Just look at how many of these impact the information industry marketplace. As our world of work changes so the very survival of information market players will depend upon how easily we are able to track change and react to it. But what part of this struggle to survive can we lay at the door of IoT/IoE? And can we picture an IoT world which is less trivial than sports wearables or more useful than a car that turns on the house lights at home when you are still a mile away? Well, obviously we can, but the unacceptable passengers riding on the back of IoT must then be taken into account. Yes, it does mean that we shall move from the age of privacy into the age of transparency – and we are halfway there already. And, yes, it does mean that employment is going to be very different. We will lose millions of jobs, and we are surprisingly far down this track as well. The UK public sector will lose a further Million jobs in the next five years, we learnt this week. Some of those will be outsourced but governments do not give up governing lightly – and many of those jobs will become automated systems roles in the outsourcing process . And it may well mean that, at last, we have to properly rethink what Capitalism means. After all, a zero marginal production cost society will ask questions about how the profit mechanism works.

For a good review of many of these questions see Sue Halpern’s review article in New York Review of Books (vol. LXI, Number 18, 3December 2014). Cisco famously predicts that all of this adds up to a 14.4 trillion dollar boost to the global economy between now and 2022. The 10 million sensors that measured our world in 2007 will number 100 trillion by 2030. In Rotterdam docks all containers will be engineered for auto drive by 2018. Uber, a precursor of the automated driving world, was as valuable as Time Warner this very month. For better or worse, this world is with us now. This is not 1780 in the original British experience, but 1820 and the railway boom is just beginning. And for information companies of every type there is a corresponding possibility of mega growth, as long as we read change accurately. Wherein lies a problem that I want to address later.

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