Over the past few decades, three key inventions sparked the digital revolution: the computer, the microchip, and the internet.1 More inventions have joined the mix, such as fiber optic cables and cellular service, which helped increase physical-to-digital connections.2 Chart 1 tracks some of the more relatable growth phases of the internet and highlights that global internet usage has grown from 1% in 1995 to nearly 50% today.3 In developed countries, internet-related growth numbers have often been much higher. As an example, 81% of Americans in 2021 actively use a smartphone – the highest of any country.4
It is important to remember that our digital transformation did not happen with the flip of a switch, but it has been a sequence of progressive steps. Each next step up in user growth seen in Chart 1 was driven by a fresh set of big innovations and ideas, often built on the backs of earlier ones. Pinpointing the next big digital step up is not as easy as it may sound. Sometimes the next big thing starts out looking like nothing at all. Technologies can incubate for years, decades even, before they are ready for prime time. Today’s discussion is about one such groundbreaking innovation – cryptocurrencies. This report explores the important role that we expect cryptocurrencies, and their underlying technologies, to play in the next phase of our digital evolution.