On Bitcoin, Disruptions, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution: A Book Review

Ready or Not'I must admit that it took me a long time to understand what Bitcoin is all about. I read about it in the news almost every day, but I just couldn’t make sense of it. One time, I even attended a lecture on Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies just so I could figure out what it’s all really about. Alas, after sitting through the one-hour talk, I still couldn’t wrap my head around the topic. (Don’t laugh, but I once thought that Bitcoin “mining” involved actual “mining” – that is, the digging of the earth for minerals!). It did not help that I have no background in technology and the lecture was aimed at a technical audience.

Then while channel surfing one day, I chanced upon this short video by Deutsche Welle about blockchain. It was only over two minutes long, but it lit me up like a lightbulb. It did for me what the long lecture on cryptocurrencies wasn’t able to do – that is, it made me understand, in a nutshell, what Bitcoin essentially is.

My understanding was further improved when I read this book called “Ready or Not: The 6 Big Disruptions that Will Change the Way We Do Business” by Winston Damarillo. In it, the author discussed the major disruptions that is now happening in the world of business. Blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, is one of those disruptions. (To put it simply, Bitcoin is just a digital currency. You can buy it online and use it to purchase all kinds of items. Yes, even illegal ones, unfortunately, because transactions are done anonymously. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of cryptocurrencies out there. Bitcoin just happens to be the first and one of the most popular. Blockchain is the technology that makes all these possible. Each transaction that you make using Bitcoin and others like Ethereum are stored as encrypted files called blocks, and these blocks are then copied by millions of computers in a network. They form chains of blocks, hence the name “blockchain”. To complete the transaction, they are then decrypted. This act of decryption is what is called “mining”, and no, it doesn’t involve earth-digging.) As what many of us may already know, we are now in the midst of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0. Tons of innovations are happening in the technology space as we speak. It probably started with the invention of the personal computer in the 1970s and the development of the technology that later became the Internet in the 1980s, and continued with the creation of smartphones and mobile apps in the 1990s and early 2000s. It hasn’t stopped since.

The book is divided into eight chapters. In Chapter 1, Damarillo introduced his readers to his main topic – digital disruptions – which is now taking place in the business world. He said that there are basically six of these disruptions:

  1. E-Commerce;
  2. Big Data;
  3. Cloud Computing, 3D printing, and innovative platforms;
  4. Peer-to-peer technology, cryptocurrencies, and blockchain;
  5. Internet of things; and
  6. Robotics and artificial intelligence.

In Chapter 2, he talked about the first of these disruptions: e-commerce and online marketplaces and platforms like Amazon, Ebay, and Alibaba, which have really shaken the world of retail. For example, the vacancy rates in many shopping centers in the United States are currently increasing. The same trend may be happening in shopping malls here in the Philippines. The author argues that those who don’t adapt to these changes (read: digitally transform their businesses), will eventually suffer and perish in the long run.

In Chapter 3, Damarillo talked about the second disruption: Big Data. The moment we use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Amazon, etc., we leave “digital footprints” behind us. These footprints are data and there are companies out there which collect and analyze these data so that they can predict consumers’ behaviors and thereby develop ads and content that are personalized and designed for specific market segments.

There is a saying that data is the new oil. That is very true, because large companies pay big money for these data.

In Chapter 4, the author talked about tools that enable rapid creation: cloud computing (which are basically remote server spaces), platforms and interfaces like WordPress, Canva, etc. that make the creation of websites and blogs faster, and 3D printing.

Cloud services used to be very expensive. Only big businesses could afford to pay for them. But companies like Amazon, through their Amazon Web Services, made it more affordable for even small businesses to rent on a monthly basis.

Companies like WordPress have made it much faster and cheaper to start your own website or blog. Canva has disrupted the graphic design industry. It has made graphic designers unnecessary, at least for designs that are not overly complex or sophisticated.

3D printing has also disrupted the printing industry. Nowadays, you can print all kinds of things with a 3d printer; from shoes, statues, and tables and chairs, to robots, cakes, and even houses and rockets!

In Chapter 5, Damarillo discussed peer-to-peer technology of which blockchain is a great example. Again, cryptocurrencies are basically just digital currencies. They make it possible for you to transact assets without the need for paper money and a centralized authority (like governments and banks) that records, validates, and verifies transactions for a fee. Banks and other centralized institutions offer the infrastructure of mainframes, servers, and databases to do all the recording, verifying, validating, and monitoring of monetary transactions. With cryptocurrencies, you don’t need all that. There is no centralized authority or institution that does the recording. When the transactions are encrypted into the blocks, they are copied immediately by millions of computers. Therefore, everything is decentralized. The transactions are also nearly impossible to hack, since the hacker would need to tamper with each of those copies of blocks that number in the millions.

Another example of peer-to-peer technology is torrents.

In Chapter 6, the author talked about another kind of disruption: the Internet of Things or IoT. IoT refers to a network of devices such as lights, thermostats, air conditioning units, TV, speakers, and so on that are connected to one another and to the Internet through a smartphone. These devices “communicate” (that is, exchange data, react, and make automatic adjustments) with each other. This technology comprises a “smart home”. It can be extended to power a “smart city”, or one where traffic lights, traffic signs, and so on, are all connected with each other and respond according to the volume of traffic on the streets.

In Chapter 7, he discussed the sixth disruption: robotics, artificial intelligence, and the related topics of machine learning and deep learning. Robots have artificial intelligence. They have a “brain” and they respond to stimuli from the environment. Machine learning refers to the ability of robots or other hardware to improve their own codes and programs. Deep learning and neural networks are subsets of machine learning.

Damarillo concludes his book in Chapter 8 by saying that these digital disruptions bring with them great opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.

It is perhaps a reflection of the author’s geekiness that he included a card game at the end of the book. It’s designed to help you play the game of disruption well in the real world. I haven’t played it yet, but it looks really fun.

On the whole, the book is a good read. I’d probably give it 3 or 3.5 stars out of 5. It doesn’t really go into a lot of details, just a kind of overview of the topic of disruption and technological innovation. It’s very readable because the style is conversational rather than technical.

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