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Blockchain Technology and Applications

Stanford _00044
(Stanford University - Hank Ping Han Hsieh)


While FinTech disrupts banks, the blockchain disrupts FinTech. A blockchain is a public ledger of all bitcoin transactions that have ever been executed. Blockchain, the technology underpinning the bitcoin digital currency and the technology to power open finance, is a decentralized public ledger (or distributed ledger) of transactions that is revolutionizing the way people around the world exchange value. A blockchain is, in the simplest of terms, a timestamped series of immutable record of data that is managed by cluster of computers not owned by any single entity. Each of these blocks of data (i.e. block) are secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles (i.e. chain). A blockchain carries no transaction cost.

The blockchain is a simple yet ingenious way of passing information from A to B in a fully automated and safe manner. One party to a transaction initiates the process by creating a block. This block is verified by thousands, perhaps millions of computers distributed around the net. The verified block is added to a chain, which is stored across the net, creating not just a unique record, but a unique record with a unique history. Falsifying a single record would mean falsifying the entire chain in millions of instances. That is virtually impossible. Bitcoin uses this model for monetary transactions, but it can be deployed in many others ways.

To use conventional banking as an analogy, the blockchain is like a full history of banking transactions. Bitcoin transactions are entered chronologically in a blockchain just the way bank transactions are. Meanwhile, blocks, are like individual bank statements. The full copy of the blockchain has records of every bitcoin transaction ever executed. It can thus provide insight about facts like how much value belonged to a particular address at any point in the past.


The Challenges To Blockchain Technology


But, the fame of blockchain has also given rise to several new challenges, including interoperability, flexibility, scaling, and management. There are now many blockchain-based currencies, each optimized for different purposes. And none of these currencies are compatible with others, making it hard for users to transfer money between them. Also, there is a growing tendency to use blockchain in other fields. These fields include IoT, the supply chain, stock exchange and other domains where secure data transactions are important. However, the original blockchain used in bitcoin was not designed to scale to all possible use cases, making it difficult to use it in these domains. Since blockchain is a decentralized system, once it goes wrong, there will be no one to sue and be responsible for, and there is the challenge of management. It will take some time for such problems to be worked out. The industry will have to work with governments to create standard rules and laws to govern transactions. Further, nodes holding copies of the blockchain receive constant updates. These nodes are distributed around the world. Because of this, blockchains have high latency. 

Blockchain needs to undergo changes if it is to meet the requirements of every possible industry. The Hyperledger Project, an effort overseen by the Linux Foundation, is a collaborative effort created to advance blockchain technology by identifying and addressing important features for a cross-industry open standard for distributed ledgers that can transform the way business transactions are conducted globally.



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