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More Skepticism About Blockchains, Bitcoins, and What Not

October 18, 2018, 1:19 PM UTC

This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

On the concluding morning of the Fortune Global Forum in Toronto Wednesday, Fortune’s Jeff John Roberts began a panel on blockchain technology by asking who in the audience was skeptical about blockchain. I raised my hand. Fortune’s Alan Murray, who was sitting next to me, guffawed: “You’re skeptical about everything!”

Guilty as charged. My (sunny) skepticism has served me fairly well so far.

Remarkably, two noted enthusiasts of blockchain technology—Accenture North American CEO Julie Sweet, and Christine Moy, J.P. Morgan Chase’s (JPM) blockchain program lead—betrayed some skepticism in their comments too. Sweet, whose firm helps clients implement the technology, wisely cautioned corporations not to attempt a blockchain project until they have a good and well-understood reason for doing so. Moy noted that the finance industry assumed blockchain would be ideal for payments. But J.P. Morgan quickly learned that wasn’t the case. She made a good argument that the best applications for blockchain are ones no one has imagined yet.

The blockchain, by the way, is a digital way of tracking assets in a trusted fashion that came to fame with the rise of bitcoin. Yet despite listening intently to this panel the reason for needing it continues to elude me.

Changing gears, it was good spending time in Canada this week, often viewing the United States through the prism of our trusted neighbor that is as befuddled by what is going on in the U.S. as many of us in the U.S. are. Canadians feel they got a good deal in the what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the “new NAFTA.” They’re proud to be the one G7 country with trade deals with every other G7 country. And they’re aware they may need to look at their overall approach to regulation, given the changes in the United States.

I’m an unabashed fan of Canada, an impressive liberal democracy with a thriving economy and with people who believe in being courteous to each other. Indeed, all the clichéd talk about how polite Canadians are got a bit tired this week. (I know the Canadians are tired of it.) I’ve always thought of Americans—for clarity, that’s shorthand for citizens of the United States of America—as polite. I’m as frustrated as the rest of the world, including Canada, must be at how impolite and discourteous my country has become.


I was heartbroken to read the obituary of Cindy Lobel, the cultural historian and wife of journalist Peter Kafka. I didn’t know Cindy, but I do know Peter. He’s one of the best in our business. And he’s a good guy, too. I honor Cindy’s blessed memory, and I’m hoping Peter and their two young sons take comfort in her well-lived life, which ended far, far too soon.


Last week, Aaron promised you he’d delve into all the filings for the government’s upcoming 5G airwave license auction and report back. After going through more than 100 bidding applications, he’s back with the tale of a Penn State IT guy, a former mailman, and few other interesting figures who will vie with Verizon, AT&T, and other big carriers to buy the spectrum rights.