It’s been a full day of action here at Xerocon Brisbane. We’re sitting here at lunch reflecting on the last keynote speaker of the day, Jamie Skella, and his speech about the benefits of blockchain to our community.
Jamie is the cofounder of Horizon State. The company uses blockchain and secure Internet technology to build a tamper-proof voting system. The subject of blockchain can be an intimidating one, so Jamie offers an explanation that he hopes can be understood by a 7-year-old.
A blockchain is a distributed database, otherwise known as a distributed ledger. To make things really simple and relatable, Jamie suggests thinking of that ledger as a record book instead. Furthermore, he talks in terms of the record book being shared instead of distributed. For even greater context, think about a ‘block’ as a line item in that shared record book.
So think of blockchain as a shared record book. Each addition to this record book is a new line item.
It isn’t just one record book stored in a central location that is shared by many. There are thousands of copies of this record book, stored on computers all around the world, both home computers and business servers – hence the term “decentralised”. This record book can be used to record many kinds of things
“Blockchain is a community enabling technology,” says Jamie. “It means cutting out the middleman.”
Say for example John wants to send money to Sue. A new line item is created detailing that transaction, says Jamie. This line item then gets sent off to hundreds of other computers who have a copy of the record. Those computers confirm that this transaction is authorised.
It’s as if John and Sue had a few hundred mates stand around them and watched John hand Sue the money in question, and they all agreed that he really did hand her the money, as well a other aspects of the transaction, such as it being the right amount.
Blockchain can be developed to fit into many practises. Finance is just the beginning, as the opportunity for blockchain to be used across multiple systems is profound, says Jamie.
For example, two residents on a microgrid with solar panels and a Tesla powerwall on side of house could swap surplus power with neighbors, with blockchain seamless recording the transactions. They could buy and sell not only kilowatt hours but joules and kilojoules themselves.
Or consider Spotify. We subscribe for about $13 a month, most of which goes to the company. Instead, we have the opportunity to create a more direct transaction between the artist and the consumer.
“You would be able to directly send the money from yourself to the artist using blockchain,” says Jamie.
Another example are files that you upload to a cloud-based service like Dropbox. These files are owned by the platform, not yourself. Through blockchain, you can give everyone access to their assets and files. So for someone who wants to store files, they can be spread across different servers and can potentially save people a lot of money with fewer questions about ownership.
Those transactions don’t have to be strictly financial at all, says Jamies. We’re now thinking about how we could retrofit these blockchain transactions to voting, and create tamper-proof elections. While blockchain is still an emerging technology, its promise is nearly boundless.