Blockchain: Revolutionary or Buzzword?

May 21, 2019 | Angjelin

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As Digital Literacy Week approaches, the Business, Science & Technology department are excited to promote our program Blockchain 101, taking place on Tuesday, May 28, at the Hinton Learning Theatre from 6:30-8:00 pm. Unless you’ve somehow purposefully shielded yourself from the social media ether and the internet altogether, chances are you’ve heard of blockchain. It's also likely that you’ve heard the term together with Bitcoin, Ethereum and other popular cryptocurrencies. Yes, blockchain refers to the technology behind cryptocurrencies, but what is it really and does it promise to revolutionize finance, business, and public institutions like many business and tech experts prophesy? 

Bitcoin

In a nutshell, blockchain refers to a digital ledger with a verification protocol that makes it difficult to tamper with or falsify. The ledger consists of blocks of code with a unique identifier, and transactional information, say the identity of the sender, receiver, and the amount of coins deposited. Each new block will also contain the unique identifier of the previous block, forming a chain of blocks, hence the term blockchain. The innovative aspect lies in the mechanisms that the blockchain uses to ensure that each new block maintains integrity.

First, it uses a cryptographic function called a hash function to generate the unique identifying code. The hash function takes as input the transaction, say Mary sending coins to Lisa, and generates an alphanumeric code as output. The hash cannot be replicated with any other input, and cannot be reversed.

Next, the blockchain uses a proof of work mechanism that requires a proportionally greater amount of computational power for more amount of work, which slows down the creation of each block. This inserts an amount of randomness as to who will generate the next block and ensures that blocks are only generated on average every ten minutes, depending on the function.

Finally, instead of being stored in a single location, each user has a copy of the ledger. Besides the hash function and proof of work mechanisms, each new addition of a block has to agree with all the other copies out there, achieving a digital consensus. 

Blockchain

The combination of these protocols form the basis for cryptocurrencies and make the ledger a powerful method of transacting with others because it sidesteps the need for a trusted middle person, like a financial institution or company, in order to secure transactions between two parties. For example, instead of using Patreon to support a favourite artist, the blockchain allows you to transfer money directly to the artist in a secure way.

As we speak, the banking industry is experimenting with blockchain to expedite back office functions, start-ups are developing blockchain operating systems for financial markets and others are attempting to create platforms that enable inter-operable web-identities that allow you to carry your data wherever you go without handing it over to apps first. As blockchain becomes viable in these industries, the investment potential also increases.

The public has much to benefit from garnering a general understanding of blockchain and its applications for business and other institutions. That’s why Blockchain 101 presents a great opportunity to learn from and engage in thoughtful discussion with research experts in the field. The talk will be presented by the Toronto-based Blockchain Research Institute and will focus on the revolutionary potential of blockchain across industries, followed by a Q&A. 

In addition, TPL has a great array of resources that make blockchain accessible to a general audience, from books to video tutorials and technical manuals.

Blockchain Revolution (2016) by Don & Alex Tapscott enthusiastically explores the potential for blockchain to revolutionize the finance industry and democratic institutions.

Cover image of Blockchain revolution : how the technology behind bitcoin is changing money, business and the world

Blockchain: The Next Everything (2019) by Stephen Williams makes the complexities of blockchain digestible to a lay audience while also examining its democratizing potential.

Cover image of Blockchain : the next everything

Blockchain: a blueprint for a new economy (2015) by Melanie Swan systematically explores the applicability of blockchain from data mining, open-access publishing, and censorship to the health industry.

Cover image of Blockchain : blueprint for a new economy

Blockchain: A practical guide to developing business, law, and technology solutions (2018), Beginning Blockchain: a  beginner’s guide to building Blockchain solutions(2018), and IoT, AI, and blockchain for .NET : building a next-generation application from the ground up (2018) address budding entrepreneurs and developers who want to utilize blockchain for business, and tech. Blockchain Babel: the crypto craze and the challenge to business(2019) takes a more sober perspective on the challenges blockchain faces to infiltrate established management methods from a competitive dynamics perspective. 

Cover image of Blockchain : a practical guide to developing business, law, and technology solutions      Cover image of Beginning Blockchain : a beginner's guide to building Blockchain solutions

Cover image of IoT, AI, and blockchain for .NET : building a next-generation application from the ground up      Cover image of Blockchain Babel : the crypto craze and the challenge to business

For more technical resources, our eLearning resources Safari Tech and Lynda.com host a good deal of ebooks such as Learn Bitcoin and blockchain : understanding blockchain and Bitcoin architecture to build decentralized applications (2018) and video tutorials, which can be found here and here, respectively.

Even if the soothsayers are premature in their pronouncements of the revolutionary potential of blockchain, maintaining awareness of ongoing developments can have many benefits, from investment opportunities to incorporating distributed platforms in business models, and we here at TPL are happy to usher these opportunities to our public. 

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