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Technology Trends: What’s A Blockchain and What Can You Do With It?
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Technology Trends: What’s A Blockchain and What Can You Do With It? - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: What’s A Blockchain and What Can You Do With It?

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: What’s A Blockchain and What Can You Do With It?

If you follow tech news even casually, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the blockchain, often in hushed or hyped tones. The original blockchain (formerly called the block chain) was developed in support of Bitcoin, that cryptocurrency everyone’s talking about. While the excitement for Bitcoin lately has waxed and waned, enthusiasm for the technology on which it’s built, the blockchain, continues to grow. If you’re having diffuculty grasping the concept, you are absolutely not alone, and while this is by no means a definitive explanation, it should serve as a conceptual introduction to help you understand why so many people at so many tech conferences are so thrilled.

In its simplest definition, a block chain is a ledger of transactions, just a record of who gave (something) to whom. But rather than existing in a book on someone’s desk, or in a spreadsheet on someone’s computer, it exists on hundreds or thousands of computers at the same time, like a Google Doc that’s always open and always shared by thousands of people at once. When a transaction is added to the ledger, it’s added on each copy of the record on these thousands of computers.

Unlike a Google Doc, past transactions cannot be edited without the agreement of all holders of the record. Since we’re talking about thousands of holders, it’s a practical impossibility to falsify such a transaction. Also unlike a Google Doc, which is hosted in the cloud on Google infrastructure, it’s hosted at the same time on thousands of computers. A hack of Google’s infrastructure could destroy everyone’s shared Google Doc, but hacking one computer on the blockchain leaves every other copy of the ledger completely untouched. This is what the tech people mean when they say a blockchain is decentralized. When a change is made to a Google Doc, that change goes first to Google, which makes the change and then updates all doc for all other collaborators.

A change to the blockchain, however, doesn’t go first to one central power. It goes to all copies at the same time. Knock a thousand of participants offline at once, and the rest of the network keeps going. Add to this extreme redundancy a couple of layers of encryption, and you have something that’s practically impossible to break AND something that’s super secure. The private encryption is why you may have heard horrible stories of people who own Bitcoin but are unable to spend it or sell it because they’ve lost their passwords. They can’t just ask for a password reset because there’s no central entity keeping track of it.

In the Bitcoin model, all these computers keeping track of the block chain are rewarded in Bitcoin itself. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but the gist of it is that the structure of the blockchain is maintained by computers working to keep it current. Bitcoin is the incentive as well as the object.

Today, there are more than 700 different cryptocurrencies, as we discussed in a recent article. But how the currency is used is where everyone is excited. It’s not merely about getting a pizza, or using this new currency in all the ways we use the old currency.

In one very current example, Kodak is offering a cryptocurrency called Kodakcoin. One cynical way to look at efforts like this is to boost some artificial value of some real-world company. If Kodak creates a new currency, and people are willing to pay real-world cash for it, how much they’re willing to pay can define the value of the company. On the other hand (and this may not be fully accurate), if the blockchain irrevocably records data shared across thousands of computers, the data doesn’t have to be limited to records of financial transactions. Can it be used to prove ownership of intellectual property? This seems to be one of Kodakcoin’s aims: to protect the rights of content creators. Another is to provide a marketplace where photographers can sell their work.

The joke now is that everyone’s trying to think of something to power with a blockchain, but with today’s data concerns permeating every facet of our online lives (and therefore every facet of our lives), a decentralized, inviolate system of recording data seems like more than a novelty, and what we once considered the blessings of enormous functionality on individual platforms suddenly seem as much curse as blessing. Is a blockchain the answer to all our security concerns? Almost certainly not, but it seems like a good step.

 

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Technology Trends: What’s A Blockchain and What Can You Do With It? - Executive Leadership Articles

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