Blockchain: An Introduction
What is Blockchain and what is it for? It is true… the Internet is able to send cat videos across the ether at the speed of light, yet many more important things still move quite slowly. It can take days to send money across borders as an example, and banks must rely on intermediaries to check that transactions are valid. Enter Blockchain. Blockchain gets important things moving faster by helping organizations work together more efficiently. A blockchain is a digital record – like a database (the growing list of records are called ”blocks”), and it can securely store and verify key data (like who owns money or property). It has built-in state-of-the-art cryptography (i.e.: merging words with images, microdots, and other ways to obscure information in storage or transit), ensuring that only authorized people can make changes to said data. As Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott write in Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business, and the World: “The Internet as we know it is great for collaboration and communication, but deeply flawed when it comes to commerce and privacy… blockchain technology facilitates peer-to-peer transactions without any intermediary such as a bank or governing body.” Blockchains can be operated by many people or organizations – they provide shared secure systems making it easier for companies to collaborate than when data is stuck inside walled-off private databases.
The digital currency Bitcoin is built on a blockchain and is powered by thousands of computers around the world. Anyone can use Bitcoin software to send or receive payments with no bank required. Companies are now adopting blockchain style systems to make transferring real money around the world faster, and blockchains can help move more than just money. Researchers at MIT say that currently, “Bitcoin is not as fast as conventional payment systems like Visa, but because Bitcoin is built on a blockchain platform, its underlying software can be updated to handle more transactions and higher speeds – not unlike the evolution of physical currencies that have evolved in the past.”
Blockchain might also make electronic health records more portable, and this has huge implications. If health providers jointly operated a blockchain, it would be easy for patients to transfer their files from place to place with blockchain’s security features able to detect errors or discrepancies. Governments and organizations like the United Nations are also investigating how blockchains can have humanitarian applications – such as providing financial infrastructure for people that are not served by banks (a.k.a. the “unbanked”). As blockchains can hold any legal document (think deeds, marriage licenses, educational degrees, birth certificates…), Don Tapscott calls it “the World Wide Ledger.” Don says, “think of it as an immutable, unhackable distributed database of digital assets – a platform for truth and a platform for trust. The implications are staggering, not just for the financial-services industry but also right across virtually every aspect of society.” Now you’re talking blockchain.
Michael Chase, CMO
St. Joseph Communications
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