The blockchain is a database or a form of digital ledger. It includes a continuous growing list of data records that are chained together against revision and tampering. Records are arranged in data batches called “blocks” and each block is connected to the previous one by hashing function, forming a chain of blocks that cannot be changed.
Leveraging the Blockchain
What is the Blockchain?
The blockchain is often described as a distributed digital ledger. To be more descriptive, here is a more lengthy definition. The blockchain is a distributed database that provides an unalterable, (semi-) public record of digital transactions. Each block aggregates a time-stamped batch of transactions to be included in the ledger – or rather, in the blockchain. Each block is identified by a cryptographic signature. These blocks are all back-linked; that is, they refer to the signature of the previous block in the chain, and that chain can be traced all the way back to the very first block created. As such, the blockchain contains an un-alterable record of all the transactions made.
The Value of Blockchain
The significance of blockchain stretches far beyond cryptocurrency. Blockchain technology could transform how the economy works. The blockchain lets people who have no particular confidence in each other collaborate without having to go through a neutral control authority. Simply put, it is a machine for creating trust.
Blockchain lets people who do not know or trust each other build a dependable ledger. It offers a way for people to create a record of who owns what that will compel the assent of everyone concerned. The blockchain provides proof of who owns what at any juncture. It is a way of making and preserving truths.
The blockchain is a potent technology. In essence it is a shared, trusted public ledger that everyone can inspect but which no single user controls. The participants in a blockchain system collectively keep the ledger up to date. It can be amended only according to strict rules and by general agreement. It is an “open platform” – a distributed system the working of which are open to examination and elaboration. The paragon of such platforms is the Internet itself. Other examples include operating systems like Android or Windows. Apps that depend on basic features of the blockchain can thus be developed without asking for permission or paying for the privilege. It is a public database.
But for all of its openness it is also trustworthy and secure. This is guaranteed by the mixture of mathematical subtlety and computational brute force built into its “consensus mechanism” – the process by which the nodes agree on how to update the blockchain in light of transactions from one person to another. Mathematical scrambling is used to boil down an original piece of information into a code known as a hash. Any attempt to tamper with any part of the blockchain is apparent immediately because the new hash will not match the old ones. In this way a science that keeps information secret (vital for encrypting messages and online shopping and banking) is, paradoxically, also a tool for open dealing.
Blockchains are more reliable databases than what we already have, databases that enable key stakeholders – buyers, sellers, custodians and regulators – to keep shared, indelible records, thereby reducing cost, mitigating settlement risk, and eliminating central points of failure.
Unlike a bank’s ledger which is centralized and private, the blockchain is public and distributed widely. Anyone can download a copy of it. Identities are protected by clever cryptography; beyond that the system is entirely transparent. It is beyond tampering by any one party. The blockchain cannot be changed without simultaneously underwriting all of the thousands of copies used at any one time. None of its participating computers are connected to a centralized organization.
Blockchains have the potential to change how people and business cooperate. It is the blockchain that replaces the trusted third party. With the blockchain people can not only become connected, but more important included in financial activity, able to purchase, borrow, sell and otherwise have a chance at building a prosperous life. With blockchain technology a world of new possibilities opens up. With the MindWalk blockchain we will have a true peer-to-peer platform that enables many exciting things:
- We can each own our identities and our personal data.
- We can do transactions, creating and exchanging value without powerful intermediaries acting as arbiters of money and information.
- Billions of excluded people can soon enter the global economy.
- We can protect our privacy and monetize our own information.
- We can ensure that creators are compensated for their intellectual property.
- We can start to change the way wealth is distributed and how it is created in the first place.
- With the new protocol we can enable trusted collaboration to occur in a world that needs it.
Distributed ledger technology can liberate many services from the confines of old institutions, fostering competition and innovation. That’s good for the end user. Blockchain can help supercharge entrepreneurship and therefore prosperity. For the average person living in the developing world to have a reliable store of value and a way to conduct business beyond his community. All he needs now is an Internet-enabled device. Access to the global economy means greater access to new sources of credit, funding, supplies, partners and investment opportunities. No talent or resource is too small to monetize in the blockchain.
It could help us usher in a new era of prosperity. The economy works best when it works for everyone, and this new platform is an engine of inclusion for the lasting benefit of the many. It drastically lowers the cost of transmitting such funds as remittances. It significantly lowers the barrier to having a bank account, obtaining credit and investing. And it supports entrepreneurship and participation in global trade. It catalyzes distributed capitalism.
If business, government and civil society innovators get this right we will move from an Internet driven primarily by the falling cost of search, coordination, data collection and decision making – where the name of the game will be integrity, security, collaboration, the privacy of all transactions, and the creation and distribution of value.
Proponents envisage an “Internet of Value” that can make money flow as freely as data are flowing already. Ridding the world of credit card fees and foreign exchange charges would be merely the first step of a much broader revolution. In the same way that email did much more than replace letters sent in stamped envelopes the Internet of Value would be a platform for the myriad as-yet-unthought-of innovations.
The Blockchain and Education
The following vision is taken from a promotional video about learning and the blockchain entitled “Learning is Earning.” It was created by the Institute for the Future, a Palo Alto-based think tank, and introduced by Jane McGonigal, an IFTE research aﬃliate. It expresses a future where learning outcomes are directly linked to the blockchain:
Welcome to the year 2026, when learning is earning. Your ledger account tracks everything you’ve ever learned in units called Edu-blocks. Each Edu- block represents one hour of learning in a particular subject. But you can also earn them from individuals or informal groups like a community center or an app. Anyone can grant Edu-blocks to anyone else. You can earn Edu-blocks from a formal institution like a school or your workplace. The Ledger makes it possible for you to get credit for learning that happens anywhere, even when you are just doing things you love. Your profile displays all the Edu-blocks you’ve earned. Employers can use this information to offer you a job or a gig that matches your skills. We’ll keep track of all the income your skills generate, and use that data to provide feedback on your courses.
When choosing a subject to study in the future, you may wish to choose the subject whose students are earning the most income. You can also use the Ledger to find investors in your education. Since the Ledger is already tracking income earned from each Edu-block, you can offer investors a percentage of your future income in exchange for free learning hours. Our smart contracts make these agreements easy to manage and administer. The Ledger is built on blockchain, the same technology that powers bitcoin and other digital currencies. That means every Edu-block that has every been earned is a permanent part of the growing public record of our collective learning.
The “Learning is Earning” video addresses a key argument of education-related blockchain discussions – that the blockchain should be used to better manage assessments, credentials and transcripts. This claim dovetails neatly with those made regarding the future of the blockchain – that it will be used for identity management and to document “smart contracts.” It also dovetails nicely with areas in education already backed by funding and by policy.