Blockchain distributed ledgers work by linking together a chain of electronic records, each inextricably tied to the one before it; each new set of entries or "blocks" is completed and time-stamped with a hashtag only after passing through a consensus process. The two most popular mechanisms or protocols for authenticating new entries on a blockchain and governing changes to the networks are Proof of Work (PoW) and Proof of Stake (PoS). As the name suggests, PoS consensus models enable those with the most digital coins (the greatest stake) to govern a cryptocurrency or business blockchain ledger. To date, however, the most popular blockchain-based cryptocurrencies – Bitcoin, Ethereum (Ether) and Litecoin – have used PoW as their consensus mechanism. But that may soon change.
Blockchain has the potential to create upheaval in the way lots of day-to-day processes and transactions are conducted--and banking is one of them. You can read this executive guide as a PDF (free registration required). For example, blockchain -- defined as a "single version of the truth" made possible by an immutable and secure time-stamped ledger, copies of which are held by multiple parties -- could provide people with access to funds without the need for banks. While it's too early to say if blockchain will revolutionize the banking industry, it most certainly is having an impact. Experts say blockchain will have a transformational impact on the banking industry.
These days, bitcoin is front-page news, as its price's vertiginous ups and downs elicit glee and despondency by turns among investors. It was not always this way: the now-definitely-in-a-bubble cryptocurrency is making a comeback following years in which its association with crime and darknet drug markets kept it away from the spotlight. During that period, technologists and corporate evangelists had stopped touting the qualities of bitcoin, turning instead to a technology that underpinned the cryptocurrency without being tainted by dodgy connections: blockchain. The blockchain was born as the digital scaffolding for cryptocurrency transactions. When devising bitcoin, pseudonymous inventor Satoshi Nakamoto's aim was to create a stateless virtual currency, not controlled by any bank or government.
There's a reason Venezuela's oil-backed cryptocurrency, the Petro, hasn't been heralded by most experts as the solution to the country's rampant inflation and political crisis. The Petro, by most accounts, isn't backed by oil reserves – in actuality it's backed only by a discredited government's promise, launched in a region that has an unfortunate history of political corruption and currency manipulation. But there's also a reason why news about the Petro was met with a certain degree of intrigue, and even an amount of (extremely) cautious optimism. What if, some experts dared to imagine, such a cryptocurrency were introduced and implemented honestly and transparently? For a government facing hyperinflation and a total loss of public trust, what potential might a currency guaranteed by blockchain – with its unalterable, decentralized public ledger – have to restore consumers' purchasing power, their ability to protect their savings, and their faith in the honesty of government institutions?
Voting in West Virginia just got a lot more high-tech--and experts focused on election security aren't happy about it. This fall, the state will become the first in the US to allow some voters to submit their federal general election ballots using a smartphone app, part of a pilot project primarily involving members of the military serving overseas. The decision seems to fly in the face of years of dire warnings about the risks of online voting issued by cybersecurity researchers and advocacy groups focused on election integrity. But even more surprising is how West Virginia officials say they plan to address those risks: by using a blockchain. The project has drawn harsh criticism from election security experts, who argue that as designed, the system does little to fix the problems inherent in online voting.