Q&A with Don Tapscott

Photo by Madeline Ambrose | Mercury Staff.

Business executive Don Tapscott is a leader in adapting technology to business and society. With over 40 years of experience, he provides advice to global leaders at the World Economic Forum while also serving as a professor at the University of Toronto. Tapscott spoke at the Emerging Technologies Summit hosted by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on April 18. During his keynote, Tapscott explained blockchain, a technology that tracks online transactions, specifically with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The Mercury sat down with him and discussed the why and how companies should embrace blockchain technology and adapt to a new internet age.

Q: What exactly is blockchain?

A: Blockchain is the second era of the internet. We’ve had an internet of information, now we’re getting an internet of value. Where anything of value, from money to stocks to music to art, intellectual property, votes, our identities can be managed, stored, communicated, transacted in a secure and private way, and where you don’t need a middleman to do that. You don’t need a bank or a government or a credit card company or a social media company, we can all do it peer to peer. This creates a pretty profound opportunity to change the economic power grid and the old order of things. It’s a truly revolutionary technology.

Q: How do you know that blockchain isn’t just another tech fad?

A: I have a pretty good record of over four decades of always nailing it, and I know that this is a really big deal. I’ve never said something is a big deal if it wasn’t, and I’ve never missed a big deal, so I do have a pretty good record, but I could be wrong. I do research, I’m not smart enough to figure out the next big thing just by dreaming about it, so we have 75 projects just underway right now in the Blockchain Research Institute. I’m a researcher fundamentally, and everything I say is based on research.

Q: What advice do you have for students trying to gain experience in the tech industry, specifically with blockchain?

A: Well, the first thing is, show a little curiosity and get to know about this. Get a digital wallet on your mobile device and go and buy $10 worth of something, Bitcoin, and then go buy something with it, then you’re going to learn a lot. Naturally, I think everyone should read Blockchain Revolution as it’s “the book,” watch my Ted talk — 3 million people have. But also, it doesn’t matter what you’re studying because technology is relevant to every single discipline. So get interested in it and it’ll take you to a whole new world. And you don’t need to be a technologist to do that, you could be a historian or an artist or a lover of French language or a commerce student or an anything.

Q: What would you say is blockchain’s biggest limitation?

A: Right now, the technology is still fairly immature, and it’s evolving and getting smarter and better all the time. Just like the internet in 1995, it’s very primitive. It was slow, didn’t do much, but back then I said, ‘This is a big deal,’ and this is a big deal today.

Q: You’re an industry leader with decades of experience, so what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned along the way?

A: You know, when I was a student, I was really curious. I didn’t think about what career I was going to have, I wasn’t even that concerned about my marks. I was interested in learning stuff that was important, and I think it’s unfortunate when all students care about is what’s going to be on the exam, because you have a wonderful opportunity at this historic time in your life to figure out how the world works, what matters, why people are the way they are, about philosophy, about the history of things, about important changes in politics and society and technology. So broaden your education, that would be my main advice.

Q: What can our readers expect from the Blockchain Research Institute in the future?

A: All of this work that we’re doing, each of these 75 projects, after six months, will be published and made available to the world. So you sign up for our newsletter right now to learn about that by going to blockchainresearchinstitute.org.

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