Like the first generation of the internet, this second generation promises to disrupt business models and transform industries. Blockchain (also called distributed ledger), the technology enabling cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and Ethereum, is pulling us into a new era of openness, decentralization and global inclusion. It leverages the resources of a global peer-to-peer network to ensure the integrity of the value exchanged among billions of devices without going through a trusted third party. Unlike the internet alone, blockchains are distributed, not centralized; open, not hidden; inclusive, not exclusive; immutable, not alterable; and secure. Blockchain gives us unprecedented capabilities to create and trade value in society. As the foundational platform of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it enables such innovations as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, the internet of things (IoT), robotics and even technology in our bodies, so that more people can participate in the economy, create wealth and improve the state of the world.
However, this extraordinary technology may be stalled, sidetracked, captured or otherwise suboptimized depending on how all the stakeholders behave in stewarding this set of resources – i.e. how it is governed.
Like the first era of the internet, this blockchain era should not be governed by nation states, statebased institutions or corporations. How we govern the internet of information as a global resource serves as a model for how to govern this new resource: through a multistakeholder approach using what we call “global governance networks”– a concept developed in our previous multimillion-dollar programme investigating multistakeholder networks for global problem-solving. We discuss seven types of networks: standards networks, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force; knowledge networks, such as the Internet Research Task Force; delivery networks, such as the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers; policy networks, such as the Internet Policy Research Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); advocacy networks, such as the Alliance for Affordable Internet; watchdog networks, such as the Electronic Freedom Forum; and networked institutions, such as the World Economic Forum.