tl;dr: What do gene editing, 5G, and blockchains all have a common? Potentially a lot and the combination could lead to radical new business models and the confidence for people to pursue innovation at different levels of scale with greater confidence.
Recently, I had a chance to talk with two friends about technologies that, on the surface, seem far afield from blockchain and crypto.
One of them is an expert in 5G wireless technology and the other is one of the leaders in the field of CRISPR gene editing.
5G in a super-Nutshell
Like many of you, I have heard a lot of the marketing hype about 5G, but unlike my desire to rush into buying the first 4G phone on the market (the Sprint EVO), I am not feeling the need to push on this one.
Still, it’s a fascinating development, but I didn’t really appreciate it until recently.
Apparently, with 5G, a carrier can create “data type specific” lanes along the same bandwidth. Think of a highway where one lane is reserved for bikes, one for cars, one for motor cycles, one for RVs, one for electric cars, or whatever. You get the picture.
For 5G, however, the choices range from low-latency to high-latency. For example…you don’t care if your email comes in a few seconds later, but if you are playing Call of Duty in a competition, the network needs to be mega-responsive.
The carriers, then, have the opportunity to charge not just by total data consumed but by TYPE of data consumed.
It’s a la carte for data, depending on your usage, down to the bit and type of bit (video vs. audio vs. email, etc.)
Micro-pricing for data consumption.
5G uses both cell towers (like current cellular systems) at the current cellular frequencies AND much smaller cells at higher millimeter wave (mmw) frequencies.
The bandwidth, data rates and ranges at the lower frequencies are about the same as they are now for 4G.
It is at the mmw frequencies where we could see a 10x improvement on 4G speeds.
A mmw ‘cell’ has a similar range to WiFi, so it is kind of like a ‘supercharged wifi.’ Eventually, we will have thousands/millions of WiFi-like routers in urban areas etc. with very fast data rates.
This opens up an entirely new discussion in the rural vs. urban divide as well, but that’s a topic for another day.
CRISPR in an even more super-Nutshell
While the explanation of 5G made sense to me, the explanation I got from my other friend on CRISPR gene editing, did not land as naturally.
It took a while, and I am sure I will botch it, but basically, here’s what I’ve got.
Most of us remember DNA from our high school biology class and the A, C, D, G (Adenosine, Cytocine, etc.)
So each gene has a unique sequence of these letters (like software code or, better, a private key).
While there is much still to be discovered, the issue is that when a disease or error in the code occurs, it means there is an abnormality in a gene. Autism, for example, is one of them.
What I think the gene editing tool allows scientists to do (or eventually do) is to do for genes what word processing did for documents.
In a grand oversimplification, you can WYSIWYG the gene and try and correct it or, maybe better, “copy/paste” the correct sequence in there. You can also insert new sequences to create modified genes (e.g. bacteria resistant crops).
So, if you are the discoverer of a new sequence for a gene that will allow for modified crops or humans or animals, you can patent that and others can use it to copy/paste into the desired location.
The Economics of 5G and CRISPR
One of my favorite thought leaders in all of blockchain/crypto is Trenty McConaghy, who introduced me a few years back to the idea of “blockchain as a substrate.”
I’ve thought about this many times over the years, even though the term “substrate” is not one that I use in daily discourse.
It made sense to me as a cost-effective coordination layer for economic activity that would enable micro-transactions to occur at global scale.
On another day, we’ll dive into Mario Laul’s post Blockchains are Bureaucracies par Excellence, but for now, let’s focus on the concept of a “protocol.”
In bureaucracies, a protocol is the set of guidelines by which the organization must behave. The same is true for blockchains. It is just (or will be) orders of magnitude cheaper to execute and easier to verify/authenticate.
The reason why this is important is, I think, as follows:
When 5G networks want to charge by the kilobit or the owner of a new gene sequence is going to get compensated for helping a type of rice become drought-resistant in a certain part of Asia, how do we expect those micro-transactions to get billed?
Yep, by blockchain protocols that can cost-effectively maintain the administration of billing, reconciliation, property rights, and transaction history in a safe, secure, and transparent way that incentivize and reward innovation and collaboration.
Much like SingularityNet (disclosure: advisor) is doing to democratize AI, other networks will democratize gene-editing and 5G and other types of services (e.g. FOAM is trying it for location).
When you think outside of “crypto-native” and think about “crypto-economic enabler” of things like AI, 5G, and CRISPR, you (or at least I) start to understand the concept of “blockchains as a substrate.”
Disclaimer: I still have MUCH to learn about the tech mentioned here, so pardon any incorrect statements. Feel free to enlighten me.
What do 5G and CRISPR have to do with blockchains? was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.