The Blind Men and the Blockchain

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When I was little, I was told the story about the elephant and the blind men. The story goes like this: There is an elephant in a kingdom. There were some blind men in the kingdom who were curious about what an elephant is. The king allowed each blind man to touch only a part of his elephant and asked them to describe what they think an elephant is. One man, touching the tail of the elephant, says that the elephant is like a rope. Another man places his hand on the side of the elephant and says that the elephant is built strong and sturdy much like a wall. A man touching the elephant’s leg says that the elephant is like a tree trunk. The king tells them that they are all partially correct, since they have only touched a part of the elephant. Putting their images of the elephant together would help them understand what an elephant truly is.

Here’s a modern version of the story: There is a blockchain in a kingdom. Six blind men were curious about what blockchain was, having heard many stories about it. So, the king introduced them to blockchain technology.

After experiencing the wonders of blockchain first-hand, the blind men argued for hours about what blockchain truly is. “The blockchain must be a powerful technology,” said the first blind man. He had heard stories about blockchains being used for many consumer and business applications.

“You must be mistaken,” argued the second blind man who knew about Bitcoin. “A blockchain is a way to store value and make payments.”

“You’re incorrect! I’ve heard that a blockchain can create a world computer that executes smart contracts securely on every person’s computer,” said the third blind man who experienced Ethereum.

“Please,” said the fourth blind man, who was a digital artist. “You are all wrong. A blockchain is nothing more than a tokenization solution. Blockchain can be used to create fungible or non-fungible tokens and help artists earn coins by trading their artwork.”

“I am sure that blockchain is something magical,” said the fifth blind man. “That would explain why everybody in the world can trust the transactions on blockchain-based ledgers, and make payments across international borders without needing a middleman.”

“You guys don’t know what you’re talking about”, said the sixth blind man. “Blockchain can help the environment by creating a trusted carbon-trading market where carbon and greenhouse gas-emitting organizations can offset their carbon footprint. They can do this by purchasing authentic tokens generated by green energy producers.”

The king, having heard the arguments of the blind men, steps in and tells them that they are all correct - but only partially. Having experienced only a part of what blockchain truly is, it did not allow the men to get the full picture. Holistically, blockchain is a combination of what all of the blind men thought it was. It is a single technology that can serve as a store of financial value, a means of payment, a trusted computing platform, a way to help the environment, a decentralized and secure identity, and everything in between all at once.