NIST Blockchain Technology Overview

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) hast published a draft report on blockchain. This report is an excellent summary and overview of the technology, its key characteristics and use cases.

“Blockchains are immutable digital ledger systems implemented in a distributed fashion (i.e., without a central repository) and usually without a central authority. At their most basic level, they enable a community of users to record transactions in a ledger that is public to that community, such that no transaction can be changed once published.”

This has the following implications on organizations:

“However, on a blockchain, it is much more difficult to change data or update the ‘database’ software. Organizations need to understand the extreme difficulty in changing anything that is already on the blockchain, and that changes to the blockchain software may cause forking of the blockchain. Another critical aspect of blockchain technology is how the participants agree that a transaction is valid. This is called “reaching consensus”, and there are many models for doing so, each with positives and negatives for a specific business case.”<

Indeed – this highlights a few foundational aspects – blockchain realizes high data integrity and immutability based on a certain level of transparency required to reach a consensus on the validity of transactions. The report outlines the most important consensus algorithms – each with its drawbacks and advantages.

  • “In the proof of work model, a user gets the right to publish the next block by solving a computationally intensive puzzle.”
  • “The proof of stake model is based on the idea that the more stake a user has in the system, the more likely it will want the system to succeed, and the less likely it will want to subvert it.”
  • “In some blockchain systems there does exist some level of trust between mining nodes. In this case, there is no need for a complicated consensus mechanisms to determine which participant adds the next block to the chain.”

The report also explores the most important types of blockchains :

  • If anyone can read and write to a blockchain, it is permissionless.
  • If only particular users can read and write to it, it is permissioned.

The permissioned blockchains are similar to an intranet only visible to the nodes on this network while a permissionless blockchain mimics the characteristics of the Internet.

“The use of blockchain technology is not a silver bullet, and there are issues that must be considered such as how to deal with malicious users, how controls are applied, and the limitations of any blockchain implementation. That said, blockchain technology is an important concept that will be a basis for many new solutions.”

The technology is indeed no silver bullet but is has huge potential for all applications which require a shared agreement and a high level of security.

“Blockchain technologies have the power to disrupt many industries. To avoid missed opportunities and undesirable surprises, organizations should start investigating whether or not a blockchain can help them.”

NIST asks for comments and feedback until February 23, 2018.

 

Towards a digital barter economy?

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Barter is a system, used since many centuries ago, of exchange where goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange, such as money.<

Thus a barter economy is one where money does not exist or has ceased to be functional. It means consumers have to gain goods or services through exchange. Limitations introduced are:

  • Difficulty to produce or find the demand of specialised goods only wanted by a proportion of the population
  • Indivisibility of some goods/services
  • Seasonal; perishable
  • Subjective means to judge how much good and services actually are

Then came the development of using commodity money whose value comes from a commodity of which it is made (e.g. cigarettes, gasoline, precious metal, etc). The system of commodity money eventually evolved into a system of representative money as gold/silver merchants or banks would issue receipts to their depositors – redeemable for the commodity money deposited. Eventually these receipts became generally accepted as a means of payment and were used as money. To date most countries adopted fiat currencies that were initially fixed to the U.S. dollar as it was fixed to gold. However in 1971, the U.S. government suspended the client convertibility of the U.S. dollar to gold and many countries have thus de-pegged their currencies from the U.S. dollar. In our current state most of the world’s currencies became unbacked by anything except the government’s fiat or legal tender and the ability to convert the money into goods via payment.

Can the use of fiat currencies continue to sustain in the forthcoming digital ecosystems? Would money evolve to become cryotofiatcurrencies? There is the notion of “private money” set out by the noted Maltese “lateral thinker” Dr Edward de Bono which he argues that companies could raise money just as governments now do – by creating it from thin air. The idea of private currency was treated as a claim on products or services producers by the issuer. An example is company x can issue “ Company x currency” that would be redeemable for its products and services but also tradable for other companies’ currency or for other assets in a liquid market. According to Dr de Bono, to make such a scheme work, the company needs to learn to manage the supply of money to ensure that the monetary base and its capacity to deliver are matched and that inflation does not destroy the value of their creations.

This will introduce a new financial market where companies instead of issuing equities, it issues money that is redeemable against future services. In the case of startups, this money would trade at significant discount to take into consideration the risks inherent in the venture. But once it passes this state, the value of the money will rise provided products/services are available and more importantly used and preferred by consumers. With potential tens of millions of such currencies in circulation either being traded on futures, options, foreign exchange markets this leads to the question of usability and extremely complex transactions that people can not comprehend. The notion is that an individual’s “digital me” will be conducting these transactions with other digital representation of the physical individuals.

“Digital me” (see Be your digital self …) will be entirely capable of handling complex transactions and/or negotiations with other such as matching demands and supplies of financial assets, determine prices, or make settlements. Communications will be in real time and activities take place instantenously.

Will digital tokens be the form of “private money” described above to be the defacto in the marketplace? There will not be any centralisation to manage new forms of money. Tokens won’t only be issued by companies and tokens that implement on the values of communities will become prominent in the transactional space.

“Every day, in every way, the future of money looks very much more like its past” – Dave Birch