Before Christmas, a fascinating new phenomenon began to manifest itself. Companies previously not greatly valued by the stock market were finding that the simple addition of a word to their corporate identities could multiply their worth many times over. The word was "blockchain". Soft drinks companies and obscure software firms alike were being transformed into potential tech juggernauts. Or so their share performances would have us believe. However, the most interesting thing about all this is not that the stock market is easily dazzled by industry hype — that has been true for a while. It is the way a word can be detached from its original or literal meaning and transformed by the sheer power of imagination into meaning almost anything one desires that is really fascinating. As a phrase or concept, blockchain is almost meaningless. We are often told that it is the technology that allows crypto-currency systems such as bitcoin to operate independent of intermediaries or bank netwo...

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