Blockchain: Long Thoughts
It has always been said that “the book is better than the movie.” This blog post gives a behind-the-scenes look at the writing that inspired the Friday 5 video.
Due to the Mediacurrent Friday 5 being a series that lasts 5 minutes, and the unfortunate absence of a suitable ”Friday half hour to 45 minutes” show, the content would be again, reimagined.
This script stands as the predecessor to the current Friday 5 script.
What is the Blockchain?
Back when I was at Dinosaur JS in Denver this past June, I first heard mention of the Blockchain. During the talks, twice I think, there was mention of this [visible air quotes] “Blockchain”, and how it was secure. I did not pay it much attention at the time, aside from writing it down in my notes with a few question marks, but it seemed like a topic worthy of looking up later.
Fast forward a week or so later, when I finally got the opportunity to review my notes, I finally came to understand what the Blockchain was. I did not realize it was so … elegant.
Now I like code, in all it’s forms, nuances, and undertones. So when I say that it is elegant, it’s because it’s code, open-source code, and it has solved great problems in the digital world.
More than anything, it has solved ownership and identity in the digital landscape. No middle-men; just undeniable proof of ownership via the Blockchain.
By definition, the Blockchain is:
An incorruptible, distributed digital ledger of transactions; one that is “secure by design”.
A ledger that is broadcast openly to all, so that the network as a whole can validate.
Now even though the word transactions was used, this does not insinuate that the Blockchain is financial. Transactions can include any data, an individual’s identity, and pretty much anything that you would note in a ledger.
It is a cool concept once you understand how it all works.
Before we discuss how this all works, I wanted to take a moment and express that we are not diving into the different applications built using the Blockchain.
The majority of Blockchain topics center on Bitcoin, and there are a few things worth noting here:
- Bitcoin is NOT the Blockchain.
- Bitcoin is a financial application built using Blockchain technology.
- This is not a discussion on BitCoin.
- This is a discussion on the technology that is the Blockchain.
The Block chain is a technology that could be the next innovation to shake the world up.
Applications can range from file storage to fully secure voting systems.
During all my research on the topic, I came across some content that really put this into perspective for me.
Throughout our history, there have been various innovations that changed the world as it was known.
- The printing press powered the spread of knowledge across the globe.
- The combustion engine, and its direct effect on manufacturing and travel.
- Even the Internet stands as a technology that defined the landscape of life after its creation.
Each of those had an insurmountable impact on the world and everything in it. They touched every aspect of life.
There is a resource out there on the web, my apologies for not having the citation, that made an interesting point. Each and every business and organization is officially in competition with a Blockchain version of themselves. Now I can't speak to the validity of that statement; but if it is true, then you can start to understand the full scope of possibilities.
How does the Blockchain work?
So let’s get into this! Imagine if you will…
We start with a single ledger of data, or a block. This block exists as a listing of transactions and changes within the data model. We take this block, run some cool cryptology on it, then string it along with all the blocks that came before it in a “chain”. Hence the Blockchain; a chain of blocks!
Righteously original name though.
Oh; and about that cryptology. See, using the normal private/public key methodology that we use in programming for encrypting data, a hash ID is created for each individual block. This hash is created from 4 things:
- The owner’s private key
- The owner’s public key
- The data in the block.
- The hash id of the block in the chain before it.
Yeah ... #4 ..That is where it gets kinky. If each block’s hash id includes the hash id of the parent block before it, it creates a dependency. As such, you cannot alter a block higher up the chain without directly affecting each block that follows in the cascade.
You would be rewriting history.
This is where the security aspect of the Blockchain start to appear. The older the block is in the chain, the more the chain’s hash IDs collectively meld together; the more secure it becomes.
This, of course, assumes that the entire chain could not be re-written/replaced with a different version. This is the “double-spending” paradigm. The ability to assign ownership of something to two individual parties; defrauding one. An issue that only the Blockchain has been able to solve in the digital world.
Normally, addressing the “double-spending” paradigm requires the use of 3rd party intermediaries; like banks or the DMV. They bridge the gap between validating various transactions.
Something that is only possible if the security of the chain was not an issue.
So how do we ensure that the chain is secure and unaltered?
Easy … Open source, baby!
Yeah man. Just like our beloved Drupal, everything you need to start, maintain, and whatever, is open source and available on the web. You could go get it right now.
Grab the software, power up and machine, and (typically) join a mining pool; a subsection of the entire network. A giant network of computers, “nodes”, sharing the weight of the required computational power to validate new blocks on a chain.
This is a great strength of Blockchain technology. Because the Blockchain is a decentralized network, there is no centralized point of weakness. Each node on the network holds the same Blockchain, and the same tools for decrypting and validating new blocks for inclusion in the blockchain.
So we take that ledger and all the blocks that lead up to it and replicate it across a vast network. Each node, or computer, on the network would receive the broadcasted the blocks as they are generated.
Each node then begins the computational processing needed to validate the block. Valid blocks that pass all rules are added to the chain; invalid blocks are given da boot.
Therefore, in order for a block to make it into the chain, all of the nodes must agree that it is valid; not just one.
So going back to the “double-spending” paradigm. it does not matter if you can rewrite the entire Blockchain; you cannot rewrite the entire network. Especially not fast enough to thwart every other node in the network before it is noticed and kicked out as invalid.
All of these nodes are playing a critical role in the system. They are the “miners” that provide the computational power necessary to keep the chain flowing.
Remember that long chain of blocks, you can imagined the amount of electrical power that is required to validate a block. This requirement is then distributed across the network.
And the network works together to maintain the integrity of the Blockchain.
Secure by Design...
The Blockchain provides a solution to many problems. Likely more than we even know exists.
Just think of where we are today vs when the Internet was created. There is no way to truly know the full scope.
Perhaps it leads to great success; perhaps to great pain. It is really in the hands of creative people at this point.
But the potential is there. Could you imagine a world where digital security was inherent? Or even imagine a world where voter fraud was just not possible. Regardless the context of the election, having the means to 100% legitimize each and every vote in the ballot box is huge. In the digital landscape, where you cannot trust the identity of the person on the other side, the Blockchain steps into the equation to provide a solution.
All from a pseudonym known as Satoshi Nakamoto. As an innovation, the Blockchain is powerful. And yet, the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto remains unknown.
During my research, I saw mention that the creator still maintains an amount of unspent Bitcoin valuing over $2 billion dollars. All with a technology that was given to the world freely.
I dare say it again…
The Blockchain is elegant.