Talk of blockchain is everywhere, and it has enormous potential beyond just cryptocurrencies. Blockchain can transform the transparency and security of a broad variety of transactions, from insurance to supply chain auditing to identity management. This blog series will explore the technical features and utility of blockchain.
Why IoT and Blockchain?
"IoT and blockchain" are related like “human cells and DNA.” Both cells and IoT devices are numerous in their respective environments. Both blockchains and DNA strands are chains that hold vital information about attributes needed for survival. DNA reflects the story of our ancestors and the genesis of life. Blockchain mirrors each transaction and points back to a Genesis Block.
Both DNA and blockchain can copy themselves and store a copy locally. Both have instruction sets – RNA and Smart Contracts – to construct building blocks, proteins and transactions, respectively. DNA and blockchain diverge when it comes to roots of truth. Mutations can occur when DNA is exposed to hazardous conditions, but blockchains are immutable – anomalies create inconsistencies that are immediately flagged. And it is this property that makes blockchain so well suited to use in the Internet of Things (IoT). A drastic genetic drift results in the evolution of new species from existing ones. A drastically different protocol adoptions (hard fork) result in the formation of new blockchains from existing ones (for example, Bitcoin vs Bitcoin Cash vs SegWit2x).
(Blockchain images courtesy: https://gcn.com/articles/2017/04/27/illinois-blockchain.aspx)
Blockchain is an abstract concept of a distributed ledger and public key infrastructure (PKI), on top of which different platforms can be built. Bitcoin was the first successful blockchain platform, but it’s important to note that cryptocurrencies are just one instantiation of a blockchain. Equally interesting are smart contracts.
Ethereum is a new and a very popular blockchain smart contact platform that has the potential to be applied to any industry vertical. Distributed in use, just like IoT, Ethereum provides data immutability, peer-to-peer (P2P) communications, distributed storage, smart contracts, and support for public networks.
Ethereum is one of the leading innovative platforms in the blockchain world with respect to IoT, and the second half of this blog will discuss the latest updates from the Ethereum Foundation Developers Conference (Devcon) held 1-4 November 2017. This was the third year of Devcon, and it coincided with the release of Byzantium, which is the third release of Ethereum.
The first version of Ethereum, Frontier, was released in 2015 and constituted more of an experimental release, demonstrating the capabilities of mining, smart contracts and distributed apps (dapps). The Homestead release in 2016 was the first stable release of Ethereum, and was the basis on which many startups began building applications and wallets.
Byzantium, released in October 2017, has a lot of interesting features that lay the technical foundation for massive blockchain-based IoT networks of the future.
Emerging Blockchain Technologies
The most recent Devcon had more than 50 sessions delivered by research scholars, developers, and entrepreneurs. Ten topics of my interest from these sessions, including current and future technologies, with a simplistic description, are below.
- Sharding – Splitting blockchain into parallel universes for scalability
- Plasma – Building many blockchains on a blockchain for faster transactions
- zkSnarks – Zero-knowledge proofs for improving security and capacity
- Swarm – Distributed storage system
- Enterprise-grade Oracle – Guardians of truth for information from the physical world
- Whisper – Achieving perfect secrecy while messaging
- Casper – Energy-efficient consensus mechanism
- Proof of presence
- Primea – Microkernel for parallel message processing
- Devp2p – peer-to-peer communication protocol with Node discovery v5
Over the next several weeks, we will explore interesting developments in the areas of scaling blockchain, innovations in Ethereum, Hyperledger and other Blockchain platforms in detail and see how they can extend the capabilities of IoT networks. Stay tuned!
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