Blockchain and the new Internet (of things)

You’ve probably heard blockchain mentioned a lot lately. This is how it goes: a seminal technology comes along and years later we’re drip-fed awareness by the mainstream media. For those in-the-know, blockchain is viewed with half-tempered hysteria, baked in the cautious awareness that we’re on the cusp of the next Internet, with the same mix of doubt, uncertainty and hope that was ripe in 1996. Most of us won’t realise it’s going to change our lives until they’re already changed, when we’re paying for our groceries with cryptocurrency cards.

Blockchain is set to revolutionise the Internet. It’s a disruptive technology, and not just in the meaningless marketing sense where a multi-coloured toaster is considered disruptive. As a decentralized peer-to-peer distributed network, blockchain is the architecture to a new Internet – the Internet 3.0.

Currently, the primary application of blockchain technology is in cryptocurrencies (and especially Bitcoin). That’s why we’re now hearing more about it; people get excited when they consider Bitcoin’s 2009 value against its current value (the first valuation – recorded in 2010 – priced Bitcoin at $0.0025 per coin. It’s now at over $10,000 per coin). Those numbers tantalise the optimists, who hope to be part of the next ‘big thing’, and fuel the self-loathing of the masochists, who take to self-flagellation over the missed opportunity.

Blockchain is designed to be secure. Each chain is formed of a continuously growing list of records (blocks) secured using cryptography. Collusion can only occur across an entire chain or network, as individual blocks cannot be retroactively altered without also altering connected blocks. To put it another way, blockchain guarantees trust in digital communications – whether as literal messages, data or transactions – between two parties. Familiarity is a mute issue; the chain ensures data integrity.

In this new Internet, the power is returned to the people. Email messages can be sent through protocols without relying on Google’s centralised server infrastructure, for example. Many believe we’ve yielded too much control to the tech giants over the years, and that we conduct our lives under a sky populated by sandal-wearing overlords. Blockchain is their antidote – the spear we throw to rend the clouds and see the current paradigm upturned. 

The Internet is already changing, and blockchain is heralded as the final piece to the puzzle. With the rise in IoT-enabled devices, blockchain helps to address the underlying anxiety around data security. As we produce more data (and we’re not just talking a little bit more data, as we’ll transition from one or two household devices to twenty or more) vulnerabilities grow. A centralized data model, where data is secured elsewhere, typically by large corporations, will struggle to scale to this new demand.

Blockchain and its accompanying cryptographic processes, meanwhile, will decrease or eliminate the possibility of data tampering by helping to prevent the installation of rogue devices. Blockchain ensures the legitimacy and integrity of data, which includes processes for the introduction of new data – so you won’t have anybody clinging to the wall of your house with their iPhone, seeing what your other devices are up to.

By making data impervious to human whims, which includes the desire to tamper, steal and otherwise molest, blockchain will help the Internet transition to its better self. We can’t be trusted to trust, but we can trust blockchains to instil unassailable confidence in the integrity of transactions, at home or at work, with our friends, banks or would-be enemies.