A new wave of innovation is hitting cyberspace which few of us know about and fewer will probably notice — though the effect on everyday lives will be profound. I write of Blockchain. Blockchain “…concatenates (or chains) cryptographically verified transactions into sequences of lists (or blocks.)” (“Blockchain Mania” by Robert Hackett, Fortune, Sept. 1, 2017, pg. 46.) Okay, now that I’ve dazzled you, I’ll explain. Simply put, Blockchain is a new ledger technology that keeps track of people and things — a bookkeeper’s GPS system, of sorts. The technology began with Bitcoin, (digital tokens), cyberspace money that bypassed banking systems yet needed to be tracked and accounted for. (Ibid pg. 45)
With banks eliminated, the cost of doing business is lower. But there must be a reliable accounting. That’s what Blockchain provides. “Oh?” you say as you yawn. But I say, don’t go to sleep yet. Developers have found ways to adapt Blockchain to a myriad of purposes. The system can speed up home deliveries, track virus epidemics and trace product failures back their sources. Want to know the whereabouts of that glass vase you bought in Venice? Blockchain can tell you the ship it’s being carried on, the crate number and when it will arrive at your door.
“Fine,” you say, stifling a second yawn. But wait, there’s more. Think of the advantage we gain when we need to track epidemics. Finding the source of an E. coli outbreak used to take several days, increasing the risk the infection will spread. With Blockchain, finding the source takes two seconds.
Eventually Blockchain will organize everything from medical records to refugees. (Ibid pg. 48.) Bitcoin started the start revolution but there’s no end to the ways we can track information with the system.
Of course, with the infinite number of Blockchain systems possible, eventually someone will have to organize those systems. J. P. Morgan bankers have already called for a common platform. When and if that occurs, transactions in cyberspace will be super-efficient. Since people can be tracked as well as glass vases, however, the pressing question will be does it make we-the-people more or less free?
(Originally published 10/20/17)