November 1, 2017

Blockchain: Yes or No

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Does it concern me?

Bitcoins. Blockchain. Digital currency. It is not uncommon you have probably heard of these terms the last couple of years. And it’s importance keeps on rising. Especially blockchain. The tech community is finding potential new ways of using the technology – which was originally devised for digital currency. But let’s take a step back. What is Blockchain?

What is it?

Back in 2009, a group or person by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto was responsible for the creation of Blockchain. Blockchain allows digital information to be distributed but not copied. This allows for the foundation of a new type of Internet. Simply put – imagine a spreadsheet that is duplicated hundreds and thousands of times across a vast network of computers. Then, this network is designed in such a way that it’s checked every time a change is made. No more manual work or outdated information. If a change can’t be confirmed, it won’t be made.

The traditional way of how the Internet works can be something of the past. Right now – for most parts – let’s say you create a Word document. You send that to a recipient. That person makes revisions and has to send the file back to you. Two owners can’t be messing with the same record at once. (There are exceptions such as Google Docs of course). But this is also how banks maintain money balances and transfers; they briefly lock access, then update the other side, and then re-open the access.

Imagine if all legal documents work exactly like Google Docs – both parties having access to the same document at the same time, and the single version of said document is always visible to both parties, on top of that the thousands of other copies verify that a ‘legal’ change is made.

Why use it?

A blockchain network constantly checks itself. It is a self auditing ecosystem of digital value. This means it is transparent; the data is embedded within a network as a whole. Second, it cannot be corrupted. Because if you would alter any piece of information, the entire network would need to be updated and that would require a vast and enormous amount of computing power to override the entire network. The whole upside is that no single entity or organisation holds the power or control over all data – it is no longer in the hands of one big tech giant (such as Facebook, Google or Apple). Think about how much actually is, right now.

Downsides?

With every new technology or idea – there is always something that could go wrong. Imagine immutability, un-hackable data sounds good if the data is correct and just. But what if qualities are wrongfully assigned? Or data which is not factual? Or how about when financial firms set up private blockchains to tackle the whole idea of an open and transparent network? Companies who would still have control?

Does is concern me?

The answer to this is simple: is not a matter of “will it someday”? It’s a matter of “how soon”, due to the highly secure nature – and openness – of blockchain. There is no better and more open solution available, for now… Thinks about this for a moment: If education changes towards skills and knowledge obtained trough activities, learning and assignments, where you will receive not one diploma for a fixed curriculum that you’ve passed? But imagine a system where you receive a ‘certificate’ for each knowledge, skill or fulfilled assignment. Wouldn’t the best and safest place for these ‘transactions’ of certificates be a blockchain? Where you will never loose it, and where the ‘originality’ (making it official) is 100% guaranteed (through the way thousands of ledgers keep track of your certificates and where it came from -educational institution, or company, etc). Food for thought right? Not actually: It’s already happening! Take a look at these links:

www.blockcerts.org
www.bcined2017.nl
gdn.uma.es/img/LearningMachine.pdf

Simply explaining the ups and downs, possibilities and challenges of such an incredible complicated and new technology cannot be done in a mere 650 words – but hopefully this introduces the simple basic fundamentals of the concept and provides some food for thought. Next time, more details and specifics regarding Bitcoin will be highlighted.

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