Infocast Blockchain Team Interviews Microsoft’s Yorke Rhodes

In this blog, we chat with Yorke Rhodes III, the Global Blockchain Business Strategist at Microsoft. He will be speaking at the Blockchain World Congress this September in NYC.

What is Microsoft’s role in blockchain implementation? Is Microsoft looking to use Blockchain internally as well as externally?

YR:  Yes, Microsoft is looking at multiple ways to leverage blockchain and the qualities that blockchain has that cannot be achieved with other technologies.  Microsoft as a platform provider looks to provide enabling tools such that a rich ecosystem can develop on top of our platform we call Azure.  This is the same practice as we have employed in a long history of supporting ISVs and the developer ecosystem on our platforms and with our tools and tooling.

How is Microsoft enabling businesses across multiple industries to take advantage of blockchain technology? 

YR: Microsoft has strong vertical business across multiple industries and is creating enabling technology and a platform that supports those businesses.  We generally create tools of a horizontal nature based on customer requirements across industries.  Will we focus on particular industries where there is higher demand? Likely as that makes business sense, but generally the tools we provide can be used across industry.  If you look at the rich developer and ISV ecosystem running on Microsoft Azure (our cloud platform) or Windows, it is a rich ecosystem with a plethora of solutions across industries.

What are some of the most recent and most exciting use cases of blockchain?

YR: Identity is emerging as an enabling requirement across industries.  Identity and registration has an important impact across many solution sets including registering documents or deeds, contracts or leases, and loans.  Equally interesting is registering products and tracking provenance from inception to sale or placement in a composite SKU such as a part in an engine. Getting identity right means being able to create verifiably closed systems.

What are some of the lessons learned from the Project Bletchley?

YR: Project Bletchley is at the beginning of its life cycle, but the important learning is that in order to trust external entities or oracles, you need a way to extend the trust envelope to do that.  This means attested hosts, smart contracts and utility contracts can run securely.  For enterprises it means being able to take advantage of familiar and incumbent tools like Active Directory, data visualization tools like PowerBI, machine learning and data analytics.  And to be able to take advantage of these tools in a trusted framework, potentially while keeping the data encrypted.

Where do you see the future of blockchain?

YR: Blockchain technologies will evolve.  Many solutions will be appropriate for public decentralized blockchain systems like ethereum or bitcoin.  Many solutions will be carefully designed to specific scaling requirements and data requirements demanded by specific solution scenarios.  There will be a plethora of blockchain stacks as there are today.  There will be solution components at every level of the development stack from protocols to p2p networking, to consensus, to smart contracts, to oracles or cryptlets.

Take off your Microsoft hat and tell me what you really think of Blockchain? Will it change the world? 

YR: I believe that blockchain is a very interesting and unique combination of technologies that has created new paradigms for technologists to consider much like social media created the need to have a new type of database and language.  This brought in the emergence of stream databases such as mongo and kafka.  The database market is now a plethora of different solutions from JSON database or blobs to strongly structured SQL databases such as Azure SQL.  It is SaaS services such as Azure Data Lake where you don’t care so much what the store is as long as it is large, scalable and fast.

I’ve pivoted my career whenever something new and interesting came along that has carried the technology industry through it’s next evolution: client-server data bases, client server email, mobile internet, digital marketing, ecommerce.  I fully believe that blockchain is the next wave and have committed my future to it for the next 8-10 years.  So as of today, I’m riding this wave for the foreseeable future.  Whether that will change sooner than 8 years I can’t tell you that today.

Do you think there will be one leader in Blockchain that everyone will go to? Like Uber in ride sharing. Google in search. Facebook in social media.

YR: Actually I think your examples are not that valid.  Uber has major competition worldwide, though they paved the way.  Google paved the way in search, but is being disrupted by mobile search (map) and audio search.  Facebook has equal competition worldwide in terms of market size.  So if you look at those examples and some of the things I referenced above, there was no one technology in any of the waves above.  I don’t believe there will be one in blockchain.  There will be some dominant players, but not one, especially given the differences in technology and community between Corda, Ethereum, and Bitcoin.

If you could hear one person speak about Blockchain, who would it be and why?

YR: Such a tough question.  I would like to hear Bill Gates talk about blockchain actually.  The challenge with the question today is that much of the community comes at it from a decentralized movement perspective.  I would like to hear a technology visionary with a long history of experience who really has spent time digging into blockchain speak about it.

I would like to talk about how blockchain has provided humanitarian solutions for refugees, farmers in Rwanda, and exploited peoples worldwide.  Perhaps we should revisit this next year when I’ve had a chance to dig into these areas.

Yorke will be one of our Blockchain Thought Leaders in our final wrap up panel: The Future of Blockchain. Don’t miss your chance to hear more from Yorke and other Blockchain Thought Leaders at Blockchain World Congress! For more information, you can check out our event page.