Every day, the media bombards us with reports of companies, organizations, and even governments considering the use of Blockchain technology to enhance the security, integrity, and consistency of data. And if you've heard of Bitcoin, you probably know that it owes its popularity to Blockchain technology, and vice versa.
So, what exactly is Blockchain, and what are the advantages and challenges of using it in applications, whether they are privately-owned data stores or publicly-managed databases? In simple terms, Blockchain is a Distributed Ledger or a Distributed Database where multiple copies of data records are stored in different locations, accessible only through Cryptographic codes.
Now, you might wonder what's so special about having multiple copies of databases, which is already the case with Distributed Systems. The answer lies in how these databases can be accessed using a combination of encrypted Private and Public Keys. The Public Key is accessible to all users, while the Private Key serves as the specific passcode for each database instance.
Ensuring data integrity, accuracy, and reliability requires anyone wishing to update the database to possess both keys, and every update is reflected in the other copies through a consensus update. However, you might think that each user would need to continuously update and access their data copies. This is where the brilliant minds behind this technology devised coding and software that make the database seamless and transparent across the network nodes.
Speaking of network nodes, the beauty of Blockchain is its lack of a centralized authority or controlling node that commands others. In other words, a Blockchain-enabled application is entirely decentralized and democratic, allowing anyone with the right keys and consensus among other users or nodes to participate.
Real-world applications of Blockchain technology can be seen in scenarios like a bank storing user and personal information in its database, controlling and approving any data updates. On the other hand, a Blockchain system enables real-time updates using a consensus algorithm based on democratic principles and decentralization. This way, a truly peer-to-peer network forms, eliminating intermediaries.
If you recall the birth of the Internet, you'd remember that disintermediation and decentralization were the fundamental premises on which it was built. Blockchain currently embodies the same excitement that the Internet once generated, and only time will tell if it sustains the momentum or becomes another tech trend that fizzles out.
The potential of Blockchain extends beyond the hype. For example, the government of Andhra Pradesh in India is exploring the use of Blockchain for various systems, from driving licenses to DNA sequencing. The goal is to establish real-time, distributed, decentralized, and empowered engagement and governance as the new norm.
However, challenges exist alongside the hype. Some experts highlight how data integrity can be compromised in Blockchain databases, where hackers capturing a majority of network nodes can corrupt the data and take over the Distributed Ledger. Moreover, McKinsey, a leading management consulting firm, mentions the possibility of an "exert" node emerging, where certain users act as custodians of information, creating a form of centralization despite the decentralization ideal.
This goes against the purpose of a truly transformative technological innovation and a potential game-changer for all.
In conclusion, no discussion on Blockchain is complete without mentioning Bitcoin. This cryptocurrency, based on Blockchain technology, has risen from obscurity to being considered a genuine alternative to fiat currencies issued by central banks. As Blockchain embodies decentralization, Bitcoin is often seen as a currency of the people, with the revolutionary potential to change the way we perceive and use money.