Blockchain has a notable importance for many networked electronic systems including IoT devices
EEJournal readers should now be very familiar with Bitcoin. All the fruits of semiconductor technology, including microprocessors, GPUs, FPGAs and, ultimately, ASICs, have been exploited in the frantic search for solutions to a mathematical problem that acts as a "work proof" that authorizes the bearer to Bitcoin, using the rules originally created by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto and published in a document titled "Bitcoin: a peer-to-peer electronic payment system" a decade ago.
Nakamoto's work gave the world the concept of cryptocurrency. He also introduced the idea of the blockchain, a distributed, project-safe ledgering system tailored to a world populated by millions of servers interconnected by the Internet. Bitcoin can survive or not, but blockchain-based registry systems are already well established. Note: Bitcoin and blockchain are not the same thing, even if both have been overwritten.
That was one of the underlying messages provided by Fellow Dr. C. Mohan of IBM during his tutorial on Hot Chips 30. Mohan started by saying that there was too much commotion in the blockchain space. In particular that part on the solution of hunger in the world. Oh, and that meme drives Bitcoin on how there are no government agencies or banks that control Bitcoin? What do you think the Bitcoin exchanges are? "There is no possibility to the devil" that a currency, crypto or real, will be adopted worldwide. (See the Wikipedia entry for " Esperanto .")
"Ah, but blockchain – now is a technology that can be used to solve real-world problems," said Mohan, who is interested to the private use for blockchain technology. However, there are some challenges in the way.
"First," said Mohan, "there are no blockchain standards, so the world around the use of the blockchain is somewhat chaotic at the moment." Mohan described blockchain technology as being relational, database technology was 40 years ago. It is in the first phase of commercial development. An effort to develop a certain standardization for open source blockchain technology is Hyperledger a Linux Foundation project with over 250 members already registered.
What is the blockchain good for? Mohan suggests that it can be used to handle any real resource whether it be diamonds, spare parts, pharmaceuticals, food, etc. Blockchain is useful whenever different business organizations are involved in the workflow for resources and transport / logistics is certainly included in the workflow. Although it is still in the beginning, blockchain services are now being offered by brand sellers, including IBM, Oracle and Huawei. These companies and others to come are offering blockchain as a service (Baas).
There is a significant difference between public uses for blockchain (think of Bitcoin and Etherium) and private uses. When public use is involved, anyone can access the master blockchain and see every transaction on the network. This should be part of the attraction for these crypto-currencies. There is also a negative side. Because these public uses are based on public / private key cryptography technology, if you lose your private key, you lose access to all your crypto-currency. It's an anonymous network, so no one can recover your key for you. Imagine managing your bank account this way.
For private use of blockchain, entities must be invited to participate in the network. Others are excluded from strong cryptography and cryptographic technology. Everyone who participates in a private blockchain network is known, at least to the entity that manages the network. So the use of the distributed blockchain ledger is more like today's accounting systems, but with distributed registry systems that are highly networked.
A blockchain register is nothing more than a historical record of all transactions related to a resource. Take diamonds for example. A diamond is extracted, sorted, cut, polished, recessed, mounted in an environment, sold and resold. There are transport events that take place between many of these events. Diamonds are precious enough and unique enough to track down. In a private blockchain network to trace the diamonds, each part of the network will have the same blockchain ledger that represents the diamonds in each phase.
Another example is food. Whether it is beef or lettuce, there have been scare and food calls. Instead of mass calls, a system of blockchain ledger to trace meat or vegetables from the grower to the transformer, to the distributor, to the retailer, to the restaurant or to the final customer would allow a quick targeted recall. Blockchain technology would also allow investigators to determine why food was ruined. For example, does the truck transporting food from one point to another keep food at the right temperature during the entire trip? A blockchain ledger system creates a master database that can be easily interrogated to access that type of information. It is a short-hop from this blockchain scenario to one in which the blockchain ledger is partially or fully informed by a swarm of IoT devices distributed worldwide.
Now, consider shipping containers. Someone, somewhere, fills a container of metals, sliced granite, toys, car parts, tools or electronic components. The container then goes on a truck to a port where it is loaded on a ship, sent to an intermediate port where it could be loaded on another ship and then sent to a final destination port where the container is unloaded, stacked for a while, loaded on a truck, sent to its final destination and finally unloaded. There is a lot of tracking involved in these operations conducted by multiple entities and, as a result, there are many opportunities for shrinkage, damage, spillage or deterioration. This is precisely why the carrier carrier Pacific International Lines (PIL), terminal operator PSA International (PSA, based in Singapore) and IBM have recently conducted a pilot exercise based on the Blockchain platform of IBM to investigate how such a system could to work also at this initial phase of the development of the blockchain.
Here is a McKinsey chart of all the commercial, corporate and government sectors that will be affected by the blockchain, taken from one of Mohan's slides:
Based on this chart, the effects will be pervasive.
Finally, the blockchain ledgering simply does not work without the cloud and, in the case of IBM, it runs on a mainframe. ("Yes," said Mohan, "mainframes are still feasible.") According to Mohan, mainframe computers offer the highest level of security for blockchain transactions.
At the other end of the scale, IBM has developed something that calls the "Crypto Anchor Verifier." (Yet another reminder of why we do not allow engineers to do marketing.) The Crypto Anchor Verifier uses a special lens attached to a cell phone to capture microscopic details of the surface of an object, including optical characteristics such as shape, viscosity, saturation and spectral values. These images go into the master blockchain book with everything else and can be used to verify that the object that has entered a container is the same object that came out of the container. Now there is a technology that is ripe for development. I call dibs on the phrase "Blockchain Tricorder."
Mohan prefers private blockchain networks because the chances of someone behaving in such a network are much less than for public networks dealing with cryptocurrency. Considering its scope, it is highly unlikely that something you are doing is not touched by blockchain technology. It solves the problems of multiuser databases that Mohan has been trying to solve for decades, which explains why he is now evangelizing technology and why he has posted a large page of blockchain resources including articles, articles and videos on Facebook. Click here to view it.