Dr Gideon Greenspan is the founder and CEO of Coin Sciences Ltd, the company behind MultiChain, the popular platform for permissioned blockchains. MultiChain includes features such as permissions management, native assets, data streams and simple configuration and deployment, and has been used successfully for blockchain projects in many of the world’s largest banks, consulting firms, financial technology and IT companies.
Dr Greenspan is also a well-known writer on permissioned blockchains, with a reputation for going beyond the hype to focus on genuine and practical applications of this technology. He has written extensively on the trade-offs between blockchains and regular centralised databases, the challenges of implementing smart contracts, and the criteria one should assess in determining whether to use a blockchain at all.
Prior to founding Coin Sciences, Dr Greenspan conceived and built many profitable web services with a deep algorithmic element, including Copyscape, the leading plagiarism search engine, and Web Sudoku, the web’s most popular sudoku site. Gideon has a BA and PhD in Computer Science (Cambridge and Technion) and an MA in Philosophy (London).
Based in: Tel Aviv, Israel
Company website: https://www.multichain.com/
When was your first encounter with Blockchain technology, Gideon? What about it really caught your attention?
I first heard about bitcoin in 2011, but I did not give it much attention at first. In 2013, when the price reached $50, I decided to it was time to take it more seriously. I spent a full day studying the system and how it works, and by the end was left stunned by its brilliance and simplicity. Two things about it particularly interested me. First, the creation of a new type of money, which was instantaneous and digital, but free of intermediaries. Second, the general idea of a decentralised database, upon which many more complex applications could be built. The sense that this was “green field territory” is what led me to founding Coin Sciences.
The understanding we had then, and the understanding we have now… how do you reckon it has evolved? Would you say the ‘crypto craze’ contributed to this much? Any other factors that helped bring blockchain technology to the limelight except that?
There has been a vast amount of activity and innovation in the past five years. In terms of cryptocurrencies, we’ve learned that (at least for the foreseeable future) they do not appeal to the mainstream as a means of exchange. While “buying coffee” was the use case originally envisaged for bitcoin, as happens so often, the technology ended up being used in unexpected ways. The narrative of bitcoin as “Gold 2.0” appears to have taken hold, with millions of people now holding this peculiar asset as a hedge against financial instability and inflation. Of course we’ve also seen huge public appetite for speculation in a wider array of cryptocurrencies and tokens via ICOs, but I am personally skeptical about how much genuine value this is creating. The behaviour of people and companies reminds me all too much of the dot.com years.
I believe the rise of bitcoin in 2013-5 was a crucial catalyst for broader interest in blockchain technology, particularly in its permissioned or enterprise form. Banks started paying attention to cryptocurrencies as a potential threat, and this lead them to examine their underlying technology in detail. From there the interest has spread to many other sectors and industries, but this was all before the more recent “crypto craze” of 2017. The drivers of interest in cryptocurrencies and enterprise blockchains are becoming increasingly disassociated, and rightly so.
Do most solutions being developed today really need Blockchain technology to support it? What main features of Blockchain technology make it so prevalent or relevant in your opinion?
A year ago, I would have said that the majority of experiments being performed with blockchains do not really require them, and are more about experimentation and education than anything else. But this situation continues to improve, as companies’ IT teams learn about the value that blockchains can provide, and their associated downsides compared to centralised systems. Ultimately, on the enterprise side, blockchains are a relatively niche technology, designed for situations where multiple entities need to share a single database but lack a natural place where that database can be stored and managed. There are undoubtedly many real-world situations in which these conditions hold, but fewer than suggested by the hype.
How has the experience been at MultiChain in guiding various stakeholders to learn more and develop their Blockchain strategies? Which would you say are the most interesting domains to work with?
I do conduct a large number of conversations with companies who want feedback on whether a particular blockchain use case makes sense, and what pitfalls to watch out for. But most of our education of the market has been through content we’ve published on the subject, which has spread very far and wide. For example our piece “Avoiding the pointless blockchain project” has received about 100,000 views, and I’ve been told by several multinational consultancies that they use it as a formal checklist when assessing blockchain projects for their clients.
For now, in terms of moving blockchain projects to production, we’re seeing the greatest activity in the finance and government sectors. However in the long term, we expect to see blockchains used equally across most industries, in the same way as relational databases or messaging platforms are today. Blockchains are very much a general purpose technology.
You are based in London, presently. How’s the local ecosystem like for Blockchain?
Actually I’m personally based in Tel Aviv, although Coin Sciences is a UK company. Out here there is a lot of activity in the cryptocurrency and token space, but less so on the enterprise blockchain side, and I’m only aware of a handful of other companies that we consider our peers. It seems that, for many, the lure of ICO get rich schemes is rather strong compared to the slow and steady work of building and selling good software!
Any important developments that you’ve recently noticed in terms of government support extended to understanding, adopting and regulating the technologies?
Perhaps the most surprising recent development is the attention that central banks are paying to cryptocurrencies and blockchains. I think the notion of a “digital dollar” or “digital Euro”, which is legally and financially equivalent to a paper note in my pocket, is attractive. It may indeed make technical sense to implement this on a blockchain, but it would need to be a permissioned chain which is managed and government by trusted entities rather than the public at large.
What are the main areas of interest for you, Coin Sciences and MultiChain in the next 1 year?
We’re focused on two main areas for the coming year or two: First, completing the development of MultiChain 2.0, both the Community and Enterprise versions – look out for 2.0 Community hitting beta late this summer. This includes a ton of enhancements and new features, driven by the feedback we’ve received from our users. And second, deepening our relationship with the large and growing community of companies who are working with the platform, in particular providing the support they need for their projects to move into full production.