Truth be told, the rise of any new technology has always sparked fears about job losses, but to be fair there needs to be more robust discussions around the new opportunities that come up with the arrival of the said technology.
Take automation and artificial intelligence, robots have replaced - to some extent - human workers on the manufacturing floor but new jobs have also emerged. A Deloitte report on the impact of technology on jobs in the UK found that while it contributed to the loss of over 800,000 lower-skilled jobs, technology has helped to create about 3.5 million new higher-skilled ones in their place.

Blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies, will likely chart a similar path. Less efficient jobs will be made redundant but new roles will also be created. What is unclear at this stage is the extent to which the emerging blockchain technology will shake-up the labour market.

One thing is certain, it has already transformed the financial services sector and looks set to disrupt other industries including commercial real estate in the coming years. Blockchain is an enabler that will allow businesses to improve productivity and transparency, offering greater efficiency and more consistent outcomes.

Dr. Heiko Aydt, Research Scenario Coordinator from the Future Cities Laboratory at Singapore-ETH Centre, shares his views about the advantages of blockchain and its impact on the workforce

Q1. What are the top three advantages of blockchain?

Heiko: One of the biggest advantages of blockchain is that you are addressing the trust issue. At the moment there are a lot of business cases or applications or use cases that require you to trust a third party. Take escrow, for example, all these processes could potentially be put into a smart contract and be executed on a blockchain. So, you would not have to trust a third party, which could potentially runaway with your money or do something else. Smart contract - which is essentially a piece of code running on the blockchain – helps to enhance trust because no one can interfere with the processes.

Efficiency is another advantage, especially when it comes to any sort of asset ownership transfer. Currently, this entails a little bit of red tape, there is a lot of paper work that needs to be done, and that takes time. If all these ownership titles were managed on the blockchain, transferring them would be very easy.

A third one is that blockchain could perhaps enable business cases which are at the moment not possible. This is related to the efficiency point, because if you can do transactions in a much more efficient way, in a much faster and much cheaper way, this may allow new business ideas to emerge. You can think about new business cases surfacing such as fractional home ownership, for example, or any sort of fractional ownership of property or assets which could then be easily traded. Another idea is that instead of just trading assets, you could also develop derivatives which could be implemented in a form of smart contract on the blockchain.

Q2. How far will blockchain impact human resources needs leading to job losses?

Heiko: I think certain industries and certain jobs will definitely be impacted depending on how blockchain develops. Nobody really knows as it is still an emerging trend. I would imagine that certain professions that are fairly common today may become entirely obsolete in the future.

Yes, it will have an impact on the workforce but I also think new possibilities may emerge. For instance, at the moment, the blockchain is all digital. It is a digital world where you have these smart contracts, they somehow need to interact with the physical world, the real world if you like, and that requires some interface.

I think it is this interface where a lot of opportunities for new jobs may emerge. For example, conflict resolution. Smart contract can regulate or implement certain kinds of rules - if you pay the rent, you can keep on using my flat - but what if there is a conflict? The smart contract is essentially a piece of code and not necessarily be able to resolve these conflicts. I think there are opportunities for new jobs, new professions to develop, to bridge the real world and the blockchain world.

Q3. What are some potential industries that could experience major disruption in the next three to five years due to the rise of blockchain?

Heiko: Any industry that does some form of public record keeping – records of ownership or identity - could potentially be affected. There is a lot of effort at the moment to have identities represented on the blockchain. That would allow other applications to emerge.

Colliers International launched a new research report assessing the impacts of blockchain technology in the context of commercial real estate (CRE) in Asia. Blockchain has become part of the basic vocabulary of many industries over the past decade. The authentication and security possibilities opened by blockchain are of particular relevance for the property sector, and across Asia examples of the technology being applied in the field are already emerging.