By Chris Trew, CEO of Stratis, the enterprise-grade blockchain development platform

Key stages in history are defined by mankind’s great technological leaps that touch all aspects of the way we live.

These technologies, such as steam, electricity and computers, are often classed as a general-purpose technology (GPT) because of their profound impact on economy and society.

Blockchain has only been around for a decade, but it is already clear that its repercussions will be far reaching and it deserves a place among history’s GPTs.

The First Industrial Revolution was built on steam, the second on electricity and the third on computing. We are on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, driven by a combination of GPTs including artificial intelligence, virtual reality, connectivity, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) and – the newest at a decade old – blockchain.

GPTs were typically developed to solve a single problem and then widely adapted as their versatility became apparent. The first commercial steam engine pumped water from coal mines. Later, steam power enabled factory automation and the development of railways. Today’s nuclear power plants still rely on steam to generate electricity.

Blockchain too was initially devised for a single purpose, as the technology underpinning Bitcoin and the thousands of cryptocurrencies that followed.

As a digital ledger that is secure, immutable and has no reliance upon a central entity, its early adopters include companies issuing their own cryptocurrencies or tokens as a means of payment or reward. Many commercial banks are exploring launching cryptocurrencies, as is Facebook. The big change will come when – as some are considering – central banks launch their own cryptocurrencies that will replace traditional printed banknotes.

Cryptocurrencies represent the tip of the iceberg for the underpinning blockchain technology which can also be leveraged to deploy smart contracts. It will allow autonomy between buyers and sellers, act as a tool for track and tracing in the supply chain and provide micro-contracts and micro-payments to commercialise the Internet of Things.

Blockchain’s Potential Beyond Business

Beyond business, it has enormous potential in public services in areas such as the distribution of medicines, healthcare records, citizens’ identity and voting.

As blockchain is becoming increasingly prevalent, we at Stratis are committed to making it easier for organisations to adopt the technology which we believe can greatly benefit large enterprises and financial services companies as well as government organisations.

Those of us working in blockchain feel like the pioneers of steam, electricity and computing who went before us, though we have the advantage of hindsight.

Businesses that ignore breakthrough technologies risk being consigned to the history books, as those addicted to watermills, gas lamps and paperwork discovered in the face of steam, electricity and computers. Companies looking to the future can see that GPTs such as blockchain represent a huge opportunity to be at the cutting edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolding around us.