I was asked to give this lecture twice, once in the morning at a luxury hotel, and once in the afternoon at one of the most prominent Business Clubs.

The audience was an invited one – each participant was a person of some means, there were fewer women than men, involved in fields including technology, manufacturing, real estate, financial services, accountancy, law, and so on.

To my astonishment, hardly anyone was aware of even such ground-breaking announcements (that morning!) of the first-ever Quantum Computer available to purchase for use outside a laboratory, or (many months older) the controversial announcement of Quantum Supremacy by Google, or (still older!) the very first time that a Quantum Computer had been sold.

My greatest surprise was how few people were aware that quantum technologies are already in use – in fact, either they themselves, or someone close to them, had personally experienced the benefit(s) and disadvantage(s) of at least one quantum technology, but were unaware that that was a quantum technology.

The lecture covered also current developments of quantum tech in relation to fields such as: artificial intelligence/ machine learning/ deep learning, computer science, cybersecurity, financial services, chemistry, materials science/ nanotechnology, biochemistry, and life sciences.

I was not entirely surprised, therefore, that hardly anyone had thought about the consequences of quantum technologies for the future of business in general or even for their own field of work, for society as a whole, or for their own descendants or other people in the next generation to whom they were close.

The future of work (i.e. employment) and rather more philosophical questions did come up unprompted as matters for discussion, but the surprising topics that did not come up unprompted were: the future of the middle class, the future of democracy, and the future of civilization.

However, the discussions were rich, and the comments and questions of participants provided me much food for thought.

Thank you to all who participated.

PHOTO BY Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA; CC BY 2.0,


Companies need to have an overview of the implications of the arrival of quantum technologies.

This is my attempt at summing up my work on all this so far:

1. SECURITY: The largest companies as well as governments are working on protecting themselves from quantum disruption of existing security systems – whether they are working as efficiently and effectively as they should is a different question! But it is not clear to me that less-large companies are doing much to prepare for quantum disruption of their existing security systems. Whether your company is large or not-so-large, if you need (free) help with this matter, in terms of an outline of the sorts of things your company can do, drop me an email and I will send it to you for no charge and no obligation:

2. PRODUCTS: The largest telecoms companies and other large providers would have been expected to have got into the field by now, but (so far) there are only a very few companies that are involved – for good reasons, as well as not-so-good reasons. What that means is that less-large companies (if they have the will, and a 5-10 year horizon) can get into the field for a relatively small budget.

3. SERVICES: Very few companies are offering services in the field of quantum technologies, so this is also a field which companies (large and not-so-large) can start eyeing, if they have a 3-5 year horizon.

4. INVESTORS: quantum technologies are a field about which you certainly do *NOT* need to inform yourself if you are a short-term investor. I expect those who are NOT short-term investors to include governments, large companies, pension funds, reinsurance and insurance companies, but also *individual* investment analysts if they expect to work, of if their investment horizon is, beyond the next 3 to 5 years

5. EXECUTIVE DEVELOPMENT: If quantum computing is not already part of your curriculum, then you are programming your organisation for obsolescence in something like 5 years. If you want to avoid such obsolescence, do ensure that you include at least the following: the basics of quantum physics, an update on the current state of development in quantum technologies, and a discussion of the implications for your company.

6. RECRUITMENT INTERVIEWS: Do you already establish whether ALL potential recruits (including those who are intended NOT to work in IT) are at least somewhat up to date on quantum technologies? If not, do ensure that your company trains everyone involved with recruitment for your company both in the minimum they need to know, and for the best ways of checking on the level of knowledge and awareness of potential recruits.

7. TRAINING: Are basic modules on quantum technologies (quantum physics, and an update on the current state of development in quantum technologies) included in your training programmes for every recruit? Let me emphasise that that includes not only everyone working, and expected to work, *in* IT, but also everyone working, and expected to work, *outside* IT.

8. BUSINESS PROCESSES: Though some companies have indeed worked out the security-related implications of quantum technologies for each business process, I am concerned that very few seem to have done thought through the implications for each business process itself. The least your company can do is some scenario-planning in the light of developments in quantum technologies, given that it will probably take your company at least 3-5 years to implement changes in key business processes.

9. GOVERNANCE: There is huge discussion about relatively unimportant things like diversity in Boards, when essential developments such as AI and quantum technologies are being ignored. Adequate attention at Board level means asking at least the following:

9a. Do Board members have regular briefings (at least once a year) on latest developments in what I call “horizon technologies”? These include quantum technology and AI, though of course companies in different fields need to keep other specific business-portfolio-relevant “horizon technologies” on their radar.

9b. Has the Board created a mechanism for ensuring that there is an up to date dashboard of the portfolio of technologies in the company which are fully-integrated, those which are partially-integrated, those which are experimentally-integrated, those which are being evaluated for integration, and those which are being watched on the horizon? Is the key person responsible for each of these named, with at least 3 successors in line for each? Are the budgets for each of these adequate?

9c. How does the Board currently benchmark against key competitors the company’s level as revealed by the dashboard?

9d. Is the dashboard regularly vetted (at least every 6 months) by a qualified external board of experts?

9e. Is “technology-competence” adequately defined for members of the Board, members of the top Executive Committee, other senior executives, mid-level executives, and tech professionals? Are these definitions regularly vetted (at least every 6 months) by a qualified external board of experts? Are Board members and other members of the company regularly assessed in relation to the definitions of competence required at those levels? Are proper incentives in place to encourage company executives to keep up with the increasing levels of competence required? Are appropriate training and development opportunities in place?

I’ve probably missed at least one or two things in my summary and overview above.

Happy to have corrections/ amendments/ additions/ caveats/ questions. Best via an email to me:


It is clear to every intelligent observer that, in the next 12 months, global economic growth is highly uncertain, dependent as growth always is on two factors (investment and  productivity), which can be characeterised at present in the following way:


Right now, the gap between returns-on-cash and returns-on-equity has narrowed to the point that many investors have moved to cash.

In the immediately-foreseeable future:

EUROPE faces financial tightening and raised risks because of talk of an end to quantitative easing from the ECB, along with developments in Italy, and the UK’s Brexit now utterly mindbending “non-drama”.

INDIA is a stumbling horse, mainly because it is unclear how the current ruling party (which has been extraordinarily beneficial to its friends) will fare in the 2019 national elections.

CHINA’s government does seem willing to provide further stimulus … to slow down the deceleration of the economy, but not to enable any acceleration of it – at least, that is the only conclusion one can reach given the smoke puffs that emerge occasionally from Beijing: it is impossible to tell what China will do next or even to know what is really going on in the Chinese economy.

By contrast, the situation in the USA is relatively clear: The fiscal stimulus last year effected a short-term kick in the pants whose effect will dissipate over the next few months, and the outcome of the mid-year elections makes more of that sort of stimulus unlikely in the near future: very few American leaders are likely to supprort the inevitable widening of the deficit that will result.

Sooooo … as far as I can see, a recession in earnings will presage a decline in the real economy – pending (or, rather, when that follows!) productivity growth through the widespread application of new technologies.


if the prospects of growth due to investment appear poor in 2018, what about the prospects of growth due to increased productivity by the deployment of new technologies?

This is certainly a huge potential growth-ally, given most really impressive new technologies (e.g. AI and robotics, with quantum computing further away) remain merely on the threshold in most areas of business.

How then are you and I to have any sense of how fast – and perhaps even more important, how effectively – new technologies are being adopted?!

Well, there isn’t really any way of doing so at all, at present,

All we have are substantively meaningless charts such as the one at the head of this blog.

Why is that one “substantively meaningless” in terms of any useful indication of productivity increase for the economy as a whole?

First because it doesn’t indicate anything for the globe as a whole, or even for global regions, on indeed even for nations as a whole… because its rating of countries is on the basis of the “the share of Fintech users in the digitally active population”!

The “digitally active population” is ill-defined (is a child of 5 “digitally active”? Is a grandmother of 90 who use her computer only to skype her family “digitally active?).

Not everyone who is “digitally active” is also financially active (and that can mean anything upwards from “occasionally uses a bank or other debit or credit card”!)

In any case, even if 100% of the whole population of a country used fintech, that wouldn’t amount to much if the country concerned were, say, Afghanistan or Zimbabwe.

That is why we urgently need not merely indices such as we currently have, of “fintech adoption”, but a more fully thought-through “Global Index of New Technology Economic Impact” or #IndexOfNewTechGlobalImpact

None of the existing Productivity Indexes (Divisia, Geometric, Malmquist, Solow, Tornqvist, Translog…) do a good enough job of precisely what is needed in the context I have laid out above.

What should an adequate new Index do? It should assess the full impact on the global economy of productivity increases by the adoption of the newest technologies (including but probably not limited to AI, robotics, and quantum computing).  Initially, the Index will need to sector after sector, before moving to become genuinely global.  Perhaps start with Financial Services, then go on to Logistics, then Manufacturing, and so on.

At present, I can’t find a sufficient number of people interested in creating such an Index.

All offers of collaboration are welcome.

Researchers at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School have asked the interesting question:

Has hedge fund activism done in Japan what hedge fund activism seems to have done in the US: driven enduring change in US corporate governance (management effectiveness/ managerial decisions/ labour management) as well as in market perception?

Surprisingly, analysis of financial data by J. Buchanan, D. Chai and S. Deakin, shows *no* enduring changes in the three areas of corporate governance at all … and, moreover, that market perception was consistently UNfavourable – the *opposite* of what has happened in the USA.

They conclude that the same pressures don’t produce the same results in different markets: “country-level differences in corporate governance identified in the varieties of capitalism literature are robust, at least in the short term”.

All that is in the Judge Business School’s Working Paper 494 titled “UNEXPECTED CORPORATE OUTCOMES FROM HEDGE FUND ACTIVISM IN JAPAN” out a few days ago this month, and available on the website


The Economist Intelligence Unit’s report titled “Risks and Rewards: Scenarios around the economic impact of Machine Learning” examines that impact to the year 2030 in a select group of countries: Australia, Japan, South Korea, the UK, the USA and what it calls “Developing Asia” (no explanation is provided of this term).

For these countries, the report looks at four industries, and three scenarios:

In Scenario #1, governments invest more in upskilling (the report doesn’t say how much more). If governments invest, every country or grouping covered does benefit, but some more than others: the rate of growth of GDP in Japan might rise from 1.57% to 1.96%, in South Korea from 1.79% to 2.07%, in Developing Asia from 4.34% to 5.04%, in Australia from 1.03% to 3.11%, in the UK from 0.63% to 1.29% and in the US from 1.84% to 2.04%.  In other words, there is wide spread in the impact.  Australia would gain the most.  That’s primarily because of demographics, and the shift of the economy from being at present based primarily on commodities to becoming based on services. However, for most countries, if governments were to change current policies and make massive investments in education, the economic gains would not be huge, but wouldn’t be marginal either.

Scenario #2:  What if government invested instead in access to open source data, and provided tax credits to spur private sector adoption of machine learning?  In such a case, the rate of growth of GDP in Japan would rise to 2.43%, in South Korea to 3.00%, in Developing Asia to 6.47%, in Australia to 3.74%, in the UK to 1.94% and in the US to 3.00%.  That seems to suggest that it is better for governments to invest in such things than in education.

Scenario #3: On the other hand, what if governments continue their current inaction?  The forecast then would be a drop in the Japanese economy to 0.53%, in South Korea to 0.02%, in Developing Asia to 3.20%, in Australia to MINUS 0.24%, in the UK to MINUS 1.20% and in the US to 0.84%.  If one avoids percentages and instead quantifies the cash impact, the study shows the US and Developing Asia losing about $3 trillion, UK becoming US$420bn smaller, and the Australian economy shrinking by US$50bn.

The EIU points out that “sound analysis and information of the issue (of machine learning) appears to exist on the outside of a broad core of misunderstanding and misinformation, a situation that ultimately benefits no one” and it offers the report as a contribution to “grounding the discussion in reality”.

Sadly, the grounding is in an inadequate reality:

– though the report acknowledges concerns around privacy, it doesn’t quantify the impact of hacks;

– while the report decries the “unshakeable confidence” of the tech-utopians, it doesn’t say whether the report takes into account the impact of social security payments on GDP; and

– it doesn’t examine the question of how much, over these next 12 years, will be the rise in unemployment.


A friend draws my attention to the “real belief system behind bitcoin” which becomes apparent when one asks questions such as the following:

1. Why should you allow yourself to be profiled on the basis of what you eat/ wear/ say on the internet?
A Bitcoinist believes that buying things from an encrypted wallet shields one from this kind of profiling, in a way that is impossible when one uses a credit card.

Well, that is true. But you don’t need to go to the bother of shopping in Bitcoin if that is your purpose. Simply buy in cash from real shops, preferably independents.

2. Why should anyone looking for funds be subject to banks/ VCs for loans?
Bitcoinists believe that the crowdfunding potential of bitcoin makes such “subjection” unnecessary.

Well, yes, crowdfunding can be in Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency. But it could instead be in dollars or other fiat currencies. Or, of course, in cash.
BTW, I have come across some real shark-like behaviour on the part of Bitcoinists, while I have also come across very humanitarian behaviour on the part of non-Bitcoinists. And vice versa of course. There is no correlation between use or non-use of Bitcoin and “subjection”.

3. Should you and I face “a lifetime of servitude, taxes and depreciation of hard-earned money?”
This raises 3 separate issues, related by attitude. A Bitcoinist believes that s/he can, by using Bitcoin:
(a) escape “servitude”
(b) escape taxes, and
(c) escape the depreciation of financial value by holding Bitcoin rather than fiat currencies such as US dollars.

Are those beliefs reasonable? Not really.
(a) “servitude” arises from other factors, unrelated to whether or not one holds Bitcoin;
(b) there is no indication anywhere that Bitcoin will avoid taxation if it becomes more widely used. In fact, the contrary is the case: the more widely Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies come to be used, the more likely they are to be banned or taxed;
(c) rather than Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies being a store of value, the fact is that the risk involved in holding them is absolute, while the risk of holding fiat currencies such as the US dollar is relative. That is to say, the volatility in the value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrenices is far greater than the volatility in the value of fiat currencies such as the US dollar.
That’s apart from considerations such as: cryptocurrency exchanges have been hacked; and cryptocurrencies can be banned or regulated by governments at any moment.

it is fun to gamble on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

But it is a gamble, not an investment.

If you like to gamble, and can afford to gamble, go right ahead.

But don’t fool yourself into believing that it is an investment.

It could be that believing “Bitcoin is an investment” constitutes the new religion of the 2010s.

Mainstreamed or dead?

Posted by Prabhu Guptara | Uncategorised

2018 is the critical year when Bitcoin and associated technologies, will either mainstream or die.

Last year (2017) was significant because of the mega-bubble in the financial value of Fintech and, more broadly, the continuing efforts to apply blockchain or DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology).

I do not mean that such technologies will necessarily rise or die together (though the fortunes of e.g. Bitcoin will undoubtedly have an impact on the fortunes e.g. of Ethereum). It is totally possible for Bitcoin and other currencies to take a nosedive, while blockhain/ DLT marches on unhindered.

There have been many efforts to mainstream fintech in 2017. In my view, the most significant was the decision by the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) to ditch its existing CHESS system for recording changes in shareholdings. ASX is replacing CHESS with a blockchain technology, Digital Asset, brought in from Digital Asset Holdings (DAH).

Intriguingly, ASX invested A$14.9 million in DAH in January 2016 (presumably in order to at least partly finance the development and testing of the technology) and further subscribed US$3.5 million in convertible notes only a month ago (presumably on the technology passing the tests required to make it eligible for public deployment).

The DAH system will operate for ASX, as might be expected, on a secure private network.  Further, it will be open only to participants who are all known to each other in the network.  And even these participants will have to access the system only the basis of legal contracts which commit them to enforceable obligations.

In other words, all the costs for participation in the system are up-front and are relatively minimal to participants, while the potentially massive financial savings from the system will be shared by everyone – though of course the lion’s share of the benefit will go to ASX, primarily because it owns the system but partly through the returns it will make because of the increased credibility, marketability and profitability of DAH, in which it now has a considerable stake.

ASX’s CEO, Dominic Stevens, has therefore bet his own future, as well as the future of ASX, on this new technology, even though the technology will at present provide “only” post-trade records (technically called “clearing and settlement”) for buyers and sellers of equities or shares.

Most enthusiasts of particular technologies operate on the belief that the newest technology is going to win. Such a belief often turns out to be the case but the belief is worryingly often not borne out in reality.

Naturally, enthusiasts have to operate on the basis of their beliefs, even if those beliefs are not necessarily true, usually because such enthusiasts have committed their financial futures to the success of particular technologies or tech solutions.

This also applies to CEOs who sometimes “bet the farm” on a particular reorganisation or a particular strategic direction or even a particular product, as Dominic Stevens has done.

If the Digital Asset technology succeeds, that will indeed make ASX a technological and financial leader among Stock Exchanges. And it will make Stevens a very rich man.

However, the Achilles Heel of Stevens’s entire project is whether the DAH technology will be hacked. In theory, DLT is unhackable. In practice, DLT-based projects have often been hacked.

My best wishes to Stevens and to ASX for the success of their bet.

So Bitcoin’s been a bit of a wild ride recently.

Not surprising, you may say, since high-profile investors such as Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne and Mike Novogratz have predicted something like $1 million for the price of a single Bitcoin by the end of 2020 – and, despite the recent gyrations in the price, John McAfee tweeted on 26 December that he still stood firmly by such a prediction.

On the other hand, “Bitcoin is an implausible currency; it’s not competitive as a payment system, so maybe its value is as money, but it makes terrible money” was the view expressed on 27 December by Bloomberg View Columnist, Megan McArdle, who is also the author of “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success”.

So perhaps Bitcoin is simply learning to “fail well”?

Interesting question.

What might it mean for a currency to “fail well”?

I guess you could argue that it would “fail well” if it failed without a crash.

In the case of Bitcoin and related currencies, we are talking about a market cap (depending of which second of which hour of which day it is!) of something like $600 billion.

That would be a pretty major crash in itself. About the size of Lehman Brothers, which transformed the merely financial crisis which started in 2007 into the full-blown banking crisis which started in 2008 – and from which the global economy is not yet recovered.

So the question is: will any Bitcoin-sized crash then also spread to other stocks, since many players are apparently unduly exposed and will therefore become bankrupt?

Anything like that would undoubtedly impact the “animal spirits” of today’s market, spreading to commodities and currencies and perhaps even real estate. I accept that it is impossible to say which will spring how much in which direction.

However, I’m afraid I’m not with the Nobel laureates and national governments who have warned that this bubble will lead to a crash simply because nothing underpins the value of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. I disagree with them because, in fact, nothing like value now underpins the WHOLE of the global financial market.

In other words, we are headed into a crash because the entire global financial market is (a) wildly over-liquid and (b) therefore driven primarily by sentiment, confidence, mood, and momentum.

Such a market is by its very nature going to swing from boom to bust as individuals and institutions rush, at any and every hint or rumour, first herd-like in one direction, and then in another.

That’s why the global financial market urgently needs reforms such as those which I and others have discussed elsewhere, with the aim of returning financial markets to at least some sort of alignment with the world of real business and real profits.

Meanwhile, the best way for Bitcoin and related currencies to “fail well” would be to decline gently. All institutions and individuals have a role to play in ensuring that happens.

If it doesn’t, then we are in for a much worse crisis than that which started in 2007.

The real worry is that global governments and other institutions were far better equipped to deal with the 2007 crisis. Today, they are hardly equipped at all to deal with a crisis the size of Bitcoin.



Deloitte has just released “Fintech by the numbers”, the first of a series of three reports examining the history and prospects of Fintech.  The subsequent parts will explore the perspectives of incumbent financial institutions, of Fintech incubators, and of Fintech companies.

As for this first report, it concludes that Fintech development has reached what I might call Stage 3.

Let’s take the stages one by one.

Though ‘Fintechs’ in marketplace lending and payments have been around for 15-20 years, the report says that it is only since early 2015 that the term ‘Fintech’ has taken off. So Stage 1 might be considered the period up to 2015.  In that stage, financial industry executives either ignored Fintechs entirely or were worried by the threat posed by Fintech companies since they are more nimble and less constrained by regulation.  The feeling was that Fintech companies were “disruptive competitors that could overturn the industry’s existing business models and grab significant market share, perhaps even driving some well-known players into irrelevance”.

However, we are now fully in the middle of Stage 2, in which “many traditional financial services companies (have) dramatically ramped up their own investments and transformation initiatives”.  In other words, Stage 2 has large financial institutions, Fintechs and investors teaming up in pursuit of new markets, products, customers, profits.

So what is Stage 3?  Well, Deloitte’s examination of the figures leads it to suggest that Fintech “has entered a stage of shakeout and consolidation”.  I discuss the implications of such consolidation right at the end of this piece.

Let me start by observing that though the report mentions regulatory changes, the implication is that these will all benefit the industry – which may or may not turn out to be the case.  For example, the report does not mention the Fintech-related bans in some countries, not the court cases in others.

Neither does the report take seriously the hacking of Fintech and Fintech-related companies.  If Mark Hughes, the President of Security at BT is to be believed, the whole world of AI is now a war, or an arms race, between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ – and there is a horrifying chance that the ‘bad guys’ might win (see

So, as often with consultancy companies, this “report” is something of a puff, focusing as it does entirely on the positive in order to attract potential customers.

However, even puff pieces have their uses.

Its findings can be summed up as, the following, only the first of which will be anything of a surprise to anyone at all aware of the industry:

–        New company formations are in decline over the past two years.

–        Funding in many categories is still on the rise, especially in certain banking and commercial real estate categories.

–        New and much larger sources of funding are emerging.

–        Fintech acquisitions and initial public offerings (IPOs) are ramping up.

–        There continues to be “meaningful regional variability” in Fintech creation and investor interest.

On the last point, the report observes that the USA and the UK are among the most Fintech-friendly countries, and that the US far outstrips any other country in terms of the total number of Fintechs in operation as well as total investments, particularly in deposits and lending, payments, financial management, and investment management.

However, the US seems to be on a divergent path from another great investor in Fintech – China. The US world of Fintech is made up of thousands of companies, large and small (e.g. 264 fintech companies have raised $7.71 billion in funding); but, in China, the focus is on a few large companies such as Tencent and Ping An (e.g. 7 fintech companies have raised $6.92 billion).

In the payments sector, India has been a favourable market for startups, with a few companies but large investments.

On the other hand, in the commercial insurance sector, while the US does have the largest number of Fintech companies, it is Bermuda where the most investment dollars have been allocated, driven by the large and influential reinsurance business in Bermuda.

Overall, the current position is that Fintechs have driven technology innovation, resulting in operational efficiencies, new product development, and changing customer expectations; however, Fintechs “have not meaningfully disintermediated existing providers”, nor does it look likely that they will overturn “longstanding financial services infrastructures, such as exchanges or payment networks”.

And what are the implications for the future?

For Fintechs: investors have heightened expectations as companies move from “startup to scale-up.” That means engaging with these investors in new ways that may be beyond the current comfort zone of most Fintech companies.  Fintechs also need to consider: how will their company valuations change in a climate of consolidation as distinct from expansion? How will they need to be governed and how comply with regulations and rapid regulatory changes?  Most important: how will Fintechs be regarded in terms of leadership, reputation, culture, and values?

For large incumbents, whether seeking to partner with Fintechs or acquire them, the key issue is that of ramping up their abilities to manage working relationships with new companies while being agile enough to adjust to rapid shifts in the business landscape from additional potential disruptions and new tech developments and solutions.  Current evidence indicates to Deloitte that “many incumbents are challenged to execute pilot programs and proofs of concept. These difficulties could stem from, among other things, a lack of technical skills and resources, as well as access to relevant fintechs that may have applicable capabilities”.

For other companies, government bodies, and NGOs: in addition to the considerations mentioned above, in such a rapidly changing and highly volatile landscape, how do you identify the right Fintech partners with which to engage?

It isn’t long since my last blog was posted, and my attention is already drawn to a very active and first-rate leader in the FinTech industry who writes to the effect that open sourcing will give us far better knowledge about how historically closed structures operate (who’s involved, what they are doing, why, and so on).

He goes on to say that digitalisation “not only creates a record of activity but, if it is combined with distributed ledger technology, a record of truth. Every action can be recorded on the ledger, with immutability.”

Further, that interoperation through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) “means that everyone can have access. Everyone can build smarter, better, more intelligent apps and services by combining the best of the world’s code with their code. This will make the world a better place, as companies will keep developing iterations of services, each one leveraging a new API that improves the customer experience”.


That’s several arguments, so let’s take them one by one.

First, will open sourcing will give us far better knowledge about how historically closed structures operate (who’s involved, what they are doing, why, and so on)?  Possibly, yes. But not necessarily. Because open sourcing doesn’t prevent anyone from using open-sourced code to do business in private.  There are, for example, several Linux-based companies, and it is difficult to demonstrate that the internal goings-on of these companies are more public than those in companies which do not use open source code.

So how about his statement that digitalisation “not only creates a record of activity but, if it is combined with distributed ledger technology, a record of truth. Every action can be recorded on the ledger, with immutability.”  Well, the immutability bit is nearly 100% true (all codes and systems can and will be cracked sometime… but “the record of truth” bit is true for the present).  Though that doesn’t mean that the immutable record has necessarily to be open to the public. The immutable record could remain visible only to as few as three individuals.  In practice, at present, it is usually visible to many more, but that need not be the case; “private distributed ledgers” can exist as well as “public distributed ledgers”.

OK, so how about the statement: interoperation through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) “means that everyone can have access”?  Hmm, as with everything else in the tech world, that depends entirely on whether the specific API *allows* everyone access, or only some people.

Ah, but is it not true that “everyone can build smarter, better, more intelligent apps and services by combining the best of the world’s code with their code”. Well, let’s say that – yes, it is. However, that doesn’t mean that the world will necessarily be “a better place”.

Why not, if “companies keep developing iterations of services, each one leveraging a new API that improves the customer experience”? Because improved customer experience doesn’t mean the world is a better place, it only means that the world is a better place for customers.  It might be a worse place for non-customers, and there might be more non-consumers than consumers.

How about if everyone in the world could be a customer? Then of course it would mean better customer experience for that many more people.  But would even that mean that the world, as a whole, would be better?

To answer that, let’s imagine that the whole world could join a new gold rush in California tomorrow. Unlike the California Gold Rush in the 1840s, which brought brought in merely some 300,000 people, let us say that our 2017 gold rush brings in 300 million people.  Let’s also imagine that picks and shovels and other equipment needed for the gold mining are now “open sourced”.  Naturally, each iteration of the equipment will indeed be better than the last, and this will undoubtedly lead to great customer satisfaction on the part of the 300 million people involved in the new gold rush.

But who would be making more money than the miners?  Those who were manufacturing the equipment that was being sold repeatedly to the 300 million miners.

In the tech world, as in every other world, some people are more equal than others.

Those who are after good experience as customers might want to give some fleeting thought to the quality of the experience of those who’re making money from the selling 🙂

Much better to be a shareholder than a customer.

Ha, you say, what about “prosumers”?  That’s another story.  We’ll come to that another time.

Meanwhile, remember: it is better for you to be a shareholder in the equipment company than a customer of the equipment company.

“Unless I strike gold!”, you say.


So: best of luck. Your world might indeed be better then.

But if you want technology to contribute to a more open and democratic world, we’ll all need to be much more active in politics, in citizen groups, in civil society – not only to make sure that the right policies and the right regulation exist, but also that they are applied.