European Business: Mr. Hecker, everyone is talking about block chains, but many people just mean bitcoins. Shouldn’t we actually clarify the content of the terminology first before we can have a meaningful discussion about a completely new technology?
Bernhard Hecker: Bitcoin is an application of block chain technology – like how the Web is an application of the internet. And not only here is there blurring between what the experts say and the vernacular. I think we can actually live pretty well with that. But I also expect that the topic will inch its way to a more objective level and we’ll read and talk about block chains as a technology much more after the current hype surrounding bitcoins. New, productively useful cases of application will become known and gain acceptance, and the topic of cryptocurrencies soon won’t be the central issue of this technology anymore.
European Business: You describe yourself as a block chain enthusiast. Where does this enthusiasm stem from? After all, there are other exciting digital topic areas.
Bernhard Hecker: It might be because I have always been easily thrilled by exciting new technologies.
I believe that block chains can have a similarly large impact on our lives like email or the Internet itself. Bernhard Hecker
About 30 years ago I improved the world (at least the working world) for the long term when I was one of the first people to sell email as a technology and a system to companies. Prior to email, data were mostly exchanged on disk – and that took days. It’s a different world thanks to email. I believe that block chains can have a similarly large impact on our lives like email or the Internet itself. That is simply because we can process transactions differently with block chains than we do today, and many people don’t even have a concept of what lies ahead.
I really enjoy changing the world again a little, and with block chains the opportunity is presenting itself to me even if there are many more colleagues and comrades-in-arms than back then with email. The nice thing about the current block chain scene is also that everyone working on it is working together zealously and not competing.
European Business: You were recently a speaker at the CeBIT in Hannover. The audience applauded your clear statements along the lines of: I’m aware that block chains in their application don’t make sense for 90% of people (yet). To what extent do new technologies perhaps need precisely this approach?
Bernhard Hecker: That’s actually a completely normal situation in the early stage of researching a technology. The first cars by Mr. Ford or Mr. Daimler were also less useful for 90% of the population than the carriages or donkey carts that were commonplace back then, but I don’t have to tell you about the results of further development. Block chains are a very new technology that is in the early stage of testing. There are many proof of concept projects and very little productive application. By experimenting and through the current projects, we’re all learning very fast and very much about the technology. We are still in the discussion about what all we could do with it and not about how we can improve our business models. This second discussion will first come up when we have enough experience. I truly appreciate the dedicated love of experimentation in the block chain environment. It’s exciting to watch how much money and how many resources are being put into the ideas. Through these investments, the successful and lasting applications will be found sooner rather than later.
We are still in the discussion about what all we could do with it and not about how we can improve our business models. Bernhard Hecker
European Business: Nonetheless block chain is already generating new fields of business. What exactly does your company Cryptowerk offer, and are the solutions interesting for medium-sized companies, as well?
Bernhard Hecker: With our products and technology, we focus on a very small but very quickly viable case of application for block chains, namely establishing the indisputable integrity of data. Everything stored in a block chain cannot not be changed or deleted there anymore. We’re using this phenomenon to make data indisputable, auditable and verifiable. That finds application in companies of all sizes. Just imagine we can make research data, for example in medicine, unforgeable; we can prove that certain news reports have not been modified; we can guarantee that products are real or what code on what system was being executed at what time. Companies can disclose data to consumers, and it’s tamper-proof. Customers can trust the companies. Business transactions can be tracked and checked very quickly.
Our technology and products make data verifiable, like a digital notary service – at costs that are interesting especially also for medium-sized companies. Bernhard Hecker
We make APIs (interfaces) available that can be connected to existing processes and products, and protect these processes more or less automatically at a good price and make them verifiable. Our technology and products make data verifiable, like a digital notary service – at costs that are interesting especially also for medium-sized companies. At this point, I’d like to refer to my CeBIT presentation, where I outline a few current examples from several industries.
European Business: What opportunities of the block chain do you personally already make use of today?
Bernhard Hecker: For one, of course, our own products with which I make emails and documents, for instance, tamper-resistant. Then I have a few digital currencies, but that’s purely for experimental purposes, and I use an identity service based on block chains – in an early beta phase. I do such things to satisfy my curiosity and to get a better feeling for the technology. By reading exciting white papers, you indeed get theoretical knowledge, but smelling the rose is simply a completely different thing than looking at a picture of that same flower.
Interview: Markus Büssecker, Photos: Cryptowerk