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Think the Internet’s disruptive? Hold tight for blockchain!

Think the Internet’s disruptive? Hold tight for blockchain!

Wonder what all the fuss is about Bitcoin? A growing number of
technology watchers are becoming increasingly excited about the
peer-to-peer system on which the digital currency is built.
(Diginomica)  The blockchain, this is the distributed,
encrypted record that Bitcoin uses to record every transaction. An
article in the Telegraph last week by Matthew Sparkes explained how the blockchain works:

The idea is that each and every transaction is broadcast
by the person initiating it. Rather than telling the bank we want to
spend [$5], we tell the world. That transaction is bundled up with
thousands of others and cryptographically bound into a ‘block’ by
‘miners’ …
To quote the wiki dictionary maintained by ‘the Bitcoin community’ —
perhaps the nearest you can get to an official explanation — ‘mining is
intentionally designed to be resource-intensive and difficult so that
the number of blocks found each day by miners remains steady … The
primary purpose of mining is to allow Bitcoin nodes to reach a secure,
tamper-resistant consensus.’

This matters because, as Sparkes sets out under his provocative headline of The coming digital anarchy,
this is a system that can be applied not just to money but to any kind
of transaction, from domain name registration to legal arbitration or
public elections. In between those two extremes, it could completely
overturn the way enterprises organize themselves and tout for business.

The fifth protocol
To better understand the impact on business, it’s worth going back to
a longform blog post from April by Angellist CEO and co-founder Naval
Ravikant, in which he states that cryptocurrencies will create a fifth protocol layer powering the next generation of the Internet:

The Four Layers of the Internet Protocol Suite are
constantly communicating. The Link Layer puts packets on a wire. The
Internet Layer routes them across networks. The Transport Layer persists
communication across a given conversation. And the Application Layer
delivers entire documents and applications.
This chatty, anonymous network treats resources as ‘too cheap to
meter.’ It’s a giant grid that transfers data but doesn’t transfer
value. DDoS attacks, email spam, and flooded VPNs result. Names and
identities are controlled by overlords — ICANN, DNS Servers, Facebook,
Twitter, and Certificate ‘Authorities’.
Where’s the protocol layer for exchanging value, not just data?
Where’s the distributed, anonymous, permission-less system for chatty
machines to allocate their scarce resources? Where is the ‘virtual
money’ to create this ‘virtual economy?’ …
Cryptocurrencies are an emergent property of the Internet — almost a
fifth protocol in the Internet suite. If [Bitcoin creator] Satoshi
Nakomoto did not exist, it would still be necessary to invent them.
Someday, they will be used by the machines in our network, on our desk,
in our garage, and in our pocket to exchange value and achieve consensus
at blinding speeds, anonymously, and at minimal cost.

What Ravikant is really describing here is not Bitcoin per se but the
work of the blockchain, providing a trusted, shared transaction record
that allows machines to own and exchange value without human
intervention. Although in strict engineering terms it’s not really a
protocol, its impact is potentially as huge as any of these other
building blocks of the Internet.

Effectively, Ravikant is arguing the blockchain is how the Internet
of Things will exchange value — not just monetary value, but also many
of those other components of business transactions that we currently
find much harder to quantify, such as trust and reputation.

Autonomous things

Now back to Sparkes, who recounts a scenario imagined by Mike Hearn, an ex-Googler who now works on Bitcoin:

Jen wants a taxi. She tells her smartphone where she’s
heading and it immediately starts gathering bids from nearby taxis and
ranking them based on price and user reviews. This system on which
requests and offers bounce around is called TradeNet, and it would be
based on blockchain technology.
The strange thing about these vehicles is not that nobody drives
them, as self-driving cars will have become commonplace decades before,
but that nobody even owns them. They are what Hearn calls ‘autonomous
agents’, independent machines which earn their own money through fares,
pays for their own fuel and repair and operates utterly without outside
control.

Far-fetched it may be, but this is the kind of scenario that is
getting venture investors excited about blockchain right now — and you
can understand why.

Open your free digital wallet here to store your cryptocurrencies in a safe place.

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