Blockchain: One of History's Greatest Inventions?

A recent report by Cointelegraph suggests that blockchain technology, the decentralized ledger system that supports the cryptocurrency world, may be the most important invention since the Internet. While it's no surprise that a pro-cryptocurrency site would try to upsell distributed ledgers, the blockchain does have some things in common with groundbreaking innovations like the radio, electricity, and the Internet. Below, we'll explore some of these similarities and discuss what the implications of this distinction might be for blockchain technology.

Although there are many contenders for the most important inventions, a report by The Atlantic found that history's most innovative and influential products and ideas share common characteristics. While it's impossible to come up with a truly objective list, The Atlantic developed its ranking by compiling the opinions of several experts.

Key Takeaways

  • Many proponents of blockchain technology believe that it could one day rank among electricity and the Internet as one of the most important inventions.
  • Although such claims are inherently subjective, expert assessments of the "greatest inventions" generally fall into several categories.
  • Blockchain technology falls into several of these categories, with the potential to reinvent supply chains, healthcare, and IT infrastructure.
  • Although there are still doubts about blockchain's potential, supporters say that it could become one of the most important technologies.

Based on these combined expert opinions, the most important inventions were those that could expand human intellect through new creative and expressive possibilities. World-changing inventions like the printing press, paper, and the internet all opened up new ways for individuals to communicate and share knowledge. According to proponents, blockchain technology holds the same promise by facilitating a secure, reliable way to transmit information and value without an intermediary.

Blockchains as Infrastructure

Some of the most important inventions are now so commonplace that we don't even notice them. Most people don't think about cement and sanitation systems, but according to The Atlantic's experts, these are among the most important infrastructural technologies.

Blockchain technology has certainly not yet reached this point of adoption. However, many in the digital currency community believe that fiat currency will someday be replaced with cryptocurrency. Given that blockchain undergirds all cryptocurrency transactions, such a shift would mean that blockchain would play a role in essentially every monetary interaction that takes place.

How Blockchain Tech Could Affect Health

Another important group of inventions includes those that improve human health and lifespans, such as penicillin and vaccines.

Blockchain technology cannot directly improve human health, but it can improve the systems used to share medical information and supplies. If blockchain could be integrated into the healthcare system, as some projects are aiming to accomplish, the technology could help improve the lives and treatment plans for patients of all kinds.

Moving Goods on the Blockchain

Blockchain technology can also be used to track the movement of goods. Several companies are using distributed ledgers to track perishable goods, while keeping track of important variables like moisture and temperature. In this way, blockchain could come to rank alongside radical inventions like the steam engine and the railroad, by cutting the cost of freight transportation.

Concerns About Blockchain Technology

Enthusiasm for distributed ledger technology is still far from universal. After more than ten years, very few people use cryptocurrencies or other blockchain technologies in their daily lives. This shows a very slow rate of adoption, compared to electricity or radios. By comparison, within ten years of the launch of the World Wide Web, hundreds of millions of people were using it on a daily basis.

There are also serious concerns about the efficiency of blockchain technology, compared with other types of databases. Proof-of-work blockchains like Bitcoin are notoriously inefficient and power-hungry, and many blockchains that don't use mining are slower than centralized systems. To rank among the most useful inventions, blockchain would need to find a convincing use case.

What Is the Greatest Thing Ever Invented?

What might qualify as the greatest invention ever is a subjective argument, but many consider the wheel-and-axle the invention that changed the world the most.

What Are the 5 Greatest Inventions of All Time?

The list of greatest inventions is long, but five of the most important for modern life are the wheel, agriculture, harnessing electricity, the semiconductor, crude oil refining, and batteries.

What Is the Greatest Discovery of All Time?

The discovery that sounds can have meaning (language) and fire might top the list of the greatest discoveries; humans wouldn't have gotten far without them.

The Bottom Line

Many of the most influential inventions of all time have such a broad range of applications that it's difficult to properly categorize them. The internet has impacted virtually every area of business and personal life since it came into common use in the 1990s. While blockchain is newer to the scene, many supporters feel that its applications are limitless.

In the case of blockchain technology, it's likely that it will take some time before anyone can convincingly argue that it has earned a place among the most important innovations in history. As time goes on, though, more people have come to believe in its potential.

Article Sources
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  1. Cointelegraph. "Crypto and Blockchain — Following in the Footsteps of Man’s Greatest Inventions?"

  2. The Atlantic. "The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel."

  3. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. "Blockchain in Healthcare: A Patient-Centered Model."

  4. Computer History Museum. "Internet History of 1990's."

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