As the frenzy over a bitcoin crash last year fades, evidence of the cryptocurrency’s resilience is emerging. The price has risen steadily this year, showing that a strong core of people still believe in the technology and that it is here to stay.
Taiwan never lost hope: Its blockchain and cryptocurrency environment is booming, with regular meetups for every major community, cryptocurrencies available for purchase at convenience stores and the founding on May 31 of the Taiwan Blockchain Academia.
Such initiatives should be encouraged, as blockchain provides one of Taiwan’s best chances to position itself as a frontrunner in an emerging technology.
The nation’s infrastructure is strong, with the December 2017 amendment to the Act on Financial Technology Innovations and Experiments (金融科技創新實驗條例) allowing financial technology sandbox experiments. The Financial Exchange Commission this month announced regulations on initial and security coin offerings, with commission Chairman Wellington Koo (顧立雄) saying the aim is to make tokens as easy to invest in as stocks.
Taiwan has the added benefit of being a small economy with a strong technology sector, as well as a population that is willing to try new technologies, which could help it test and enact changes quickly.
The nation’s chip expertise could also play a role, as more hardware is integrated with blockchain, with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co the leading provider of mining chips and HTC Corp in April announcing that a follow-up to Exodus 1, its first blockchain phone, would arrive this year.
Taiwan would find it harder to take a leading role in other major emerging technologies, given their nature. The most pertinent example is artificial intelligence (AI), which is already transforming industries.
The government has not ignored this challenge, promising to invest NT$16 billion (US$509 million) into research and development over five years.
However, the best engineering alone does not guarantee the best product. Engineers write algorithms that must learn from vast data sets — the more data an algorithm can process, the better it will become.
Therefore, to create a successful AI, the engineers must either be part of a large organization that already possesses vast amounts of data, or they must cooperate with those that do, which would make it difficult for small Taiwanese start-ups to compete with those in the US and China.
Blockchain, on the other hand, has a role to play in helping with such research. It provides a way to decentralize information while preserving privacy. Organizations could share and access large amounts of anonymous data on a blockchain, providing companies of all sizes a fighting chance.
Blockchain by nature is democratic, decentralized, transparent and private. It removes the need for a mediator to conduct transactions and therefore has the potential to create more equitable systems.
Who better to create such a technology than Taiwanese, who hold these ideals in high regard?
The alternative is playing out across the Taiwan Strait. Although China has listed blockchain as a national priority, the Cyberspace Administration of China in January issued guidelines instructing blockchain companies to give authorities access to data, requiring users to provide real identities and mandating censorship of illegal content.
One official in a panel discussion on China Central Television even changed a core ideal of blockchain — decentralization — into “deintermediarization,” meaning “there is no way to get rid of the center.”
While Taiwan must not be afraid to provide an environment for innovation to flourish, it must also be cautious. Developers should focus on the infrastructure to ensure that the basis for the economy is equitable, transparent and private — something Taiwan has the ability to realize.
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