Dubai: Leader of the Block(chain)?
Dubai wants to be the Blockchain capital of the world by 2021
By Mary Ames
Within ten years, the blockchain marketplace will be worth nearly $7.74 billion. The average person will never interact with Blockchain, yet soon, the Blockchain could underwrite every transaction we make.
In early 2016, a group of information and financial technologists and public officials convened on the sidelines of the World Government Summit to discuss a new technology that had the potential to disrupt the digital landscape of the city – blockchain.
With momentum behind the software platform having reached a tipping point, the Global Blockchain Council was formed and, with it, the nation’s chance to seize upon the chain.
Dubai’s Blockchain Strategy
The council soon launched Dubai Blockchain Strategy with an aim of developing a local blockchain industry with global reach. But that was not enough. The Smart Dubai Office, the government entity charged with overseeing Dubai’s Blockchain ambitions, set itself the goal of making Dubai the Blockchain capital of the world by 2020. A goal it reached 13 months later.
In November 2017, Dubai was named the “First Smart City on the Blockchain” by the Smart City Expo and World Congress in Barcelona, and a world leader in the software was born.
Now, in order to maintain its position as the leader of the pack, the UAE must continue improving the strength and sustainability of its knowledge economy. As of 2016, knowledge workers in the UAE accounted for roughly 25% of the workforce, with the federal government expecting the knowledge economy to contribute 5% of overall GDP by 2021. A diverse knowledge force equipped to leverage emerging technologies including the Blockchain will be a crucial component for the city’s sustained growth.
But for a technology such as blockchain, government support and a skilled workforce are not the only factors required for success. Blockchain is by nature decentralised. Because transactions can take place instantly anywhere in the world, a single team working on the technology can collaborate in real time from across continents. When it is time to get serious, the UAE’s geographic centrality becomes a boon for these teams: More than 60% of the world’s population lives within an eight-hour flight of Dubai.
What is more, Dubai has already proven successful at attracting global startups to pioneer blockchain solutions. The Blockchain Challenge, hosted in 2017 by Smart Dubai in collaboration with the Washington, D.C.-based startup accelerator 1776, attracted 20 teams from all over the world, while the government’s Dubai Future Accelerators programme has hosted 13 startups for the purpose of exploring blockchain solutions for government entities.
Led by these two initiatives, Dubai has positioned itself as the testbed for global blockchain solutions: designed in Dubai, made for the world.
The Road to 2020
As Dubai seeks to sustain its position as a global hub for blockchain and other cutting-edge technology, being the first is no longer enough.
With this in mind, Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed has issued a challenge to Smart Dubai to move all government transactions to blockchain by 2020, effectively turning the government paperless.
Meanwhile, Dubai Blockchain Strategy aims to establish more than 1,000 new businesses or business solutions using the technology, thereby cementing Dubai’s position as the global hub.
In addition, all eyes will be on the emirate when it hosts the World Expo in 2020, with more than 20 million visitors expected. Here, Dubai is looking to radically streamline the experience for Expo visitors by collaborating with international partners to move much of the immigration and arrival process onto blockchain.
But a number of key challenges remain.
Dubai still struggles with connectivity speeds and a spattering of dead zones where it can sometimes be faster to upload documents using your mobile network than through a local WiFi connection. Wide-scale adoption of blockchain will require the latest innovations in wireless connectivity. Efforts by the country’s two telecom providers du and Etisalat to introduce 5G and LiFi networks are underway and will need to be fully functional in order for city – and nationwide – adoption of blockchain.
Life in the Blockchain Capital of the World
If Dubai does achieve its blockchain ambitions, the savings – estimates several years ago from the Dubai Government suggested the emirate would save $5.5 billion a year from document processing alone – will be the icing on the cake.
Like the World Wide Web did for information, blockchain will soon radically alter both our approach and our thinking about exchanging value.
The HTML of the 21st Century
Blockchain’s transformations on the world have already begun. But unless a new, user-friendly experience emerges, it is unlikely the technology will ever reach the heady heights of the web.
For all its acclaim, we believe blockchain is like HTML. Most people recognise it, some use it, and a few know its potential. For blockchain, that is probably fine.
Whereas the value of the web is understood through the opportunities it has created, the value of blockchain will be most strongly felt through what it saves its users in time, effort, and resources.
The question is no longer what we do with blockchain. Rather, it is what we do with everything we stand to save in a post-blockchain world.