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December 12, 2019
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What is blockchain? For starters, it’s more than cryptocurrency – Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Let’s be clear. Blockchain is not Bitcoin and Bitcoin is not blockchain.

While blockchain, or distributed ledger, know-how was first put to make use of because the platform for cryptocurrency again in 2009 when Bitcoin burst into the general public area, the potential makes use of for the system are a lot broader reaching. And some business watchers imagine blockchain-primarily based purposes, as soon as perfected and broadly deployed, may very well be as recreation-altering because the invention of the web itself.

Numerous personal sector corporations are already placing blockchain to work in non-cryptocurrency purposes. They embrace Walmart, which makes use of a blockchain platform to trace produce from grower to retailer cabinets; Accenture, which is constructing blockchain options for insurance coverage suppliers; transport big Maersk, which tracks its virtually 800 cargo vessels utilizing blockchain; and MedicalChain, a U.Ok.-based effort that is utilizing blockchain to retailer, safe and handle affected person medical recordsdata.

And three locations throughout the nation — together with Utah County — are testing the waters with the know-how to see if it might assist safe American elections.

So, what is blockchain?

Even a nontechnical accounting of the way it works can change into thoughts-numbingly difficult in pretty brief order, however there are some easier analogies.

First, notice there are three central pillars upon which blockchain is constructed: Decentralization, transparency and immutability.

To additional decipher, no single particular person or entity controls it; everybody can see it; and no information throughout the chain might be added, eliminated or altered with out the consent of everybody on the community, i.e., it’s very, very safe.

The sturdy nature of blockchain know-how has fashioned the premise for a cryptocurrency market that now has one thing within the neighborhood of three,000 completely different iterations. Much of the talk and commentary on these digital currencies has been targeted on the speculative nature of the currencies’ valuations and fewer so on the blockchain platforms on which they exist. However, the platform is a distinctly completely different and separate factor from the currencies it may be used to assist.

Meg Alderman, a senior guide with multinational accounting agency Deloitte, used electronic mail as a solution to illustrate how the blockchain, or distributed ledger, know-how works.

You (a node) have a file of transactions in your laptop (a ledger.) Two authorities accountants (verifiers) have the identical file on their computer systems (aka, distributed.) As you make a brand new transaction, your laptop sends an e-mail to the accountants to tell them.

Each accountant rushes to be the primary to test whether or not you may afford it. The first to test and validate the transaction hits “reply all,” attaching their logic for verifying the transaction. If the opposite accountant agrees, everybody updates their file, which on this analogy would change into a brand new block on the chain.

What’s lacking from this analogy for the blockchain is an accounting of the very excessive degree of encryption that takes place, one which secures and timestamps the transactional info in a means that will be extraordinarily tough to compromise, each as a consequence of its complexity and the character of the community. Because, on the blockchain, everybody is watching.

Utah County exams the blockchain waters

That degree of safety satisfied Utah County Clerk/Auditor Amelia Powers Gardner blockchain-primarily based digital voting platform may vastly enhance how her workplace was accommodating abroad voters.

“Things went very well,” Gardner stated. “Previously, overseas voters used snail mail, which can be very unreliable depending on where you are, or email, which requires waiving rights to a secret ballot and lacks a way to verify security and voter identity.”

Gardner defined the digital system permits voters to make use of their smartphones to solid a distant poll, which is secured through the blockchain community and leads to a printed poll that is counted together with different, historically submitted ballots. The system leverages biometric safety on the voters’ telephones and permits people to each confirm their very own ballots and even carry out an audit of the whole thing of the votes solid through the platform. While the pattern was small within the final major election — about 60 folks registered to make use of the Voatz system — the participation outpaced the remainder of the county’s turnout numbers.

Utah County utilized Voatz, a blockchain-primarily based on-line voting system to course of ballots from abroad voters within the final major election.

The system labored so properly — incomes a 38% voter participation charge in opposition to the 24% that voted through the present vote-by-mail system — that Gardner anticipates it will likely be more broadly deployed within the upcoming common election in order that, along with out-of-nation voters, it will likely be an choice for these with disabilities that make finishing and mailing a paper poll or coming to a polling station tough.

For the second, Gardner doesn’t imagine the blockchain platform is a tenable methodology for the whole voting system and famous present Utah statute doesn’t permit for on-line voting, besides in very restricted and outlined circumstances. But, she stated she will be able to envision a time when it may change into a more broadly obtainable choice.

“I think the technology is still a little premature for broad use,” Gardner stated. “But, with modifications to state regulation and continued clear audits, I can see it changing into more potential.

“Elections are a sensitive issue, and any time you are moving into new technology, it’s appropriate to move slowly and with assurity throughout the process.”

Utah County is one in every of simply three jurisdictions throughout the nation which have deployed a blockchain voting choice, although quite a few U.S. election authorities are contemplating making blockchain voting an choice below sure circumstance.

Security, surety and belief on the subject of elections

The firm behind the Utah County distant voting, Voatz, is additionally one which has attracted the funding consideration of Overstock.com subsidiary, Medici Ventures. Last yr, Julie Smith, Medici’s director of analysis and enterprise improvement, informed the Deseret News that Voatz’s enterprise targets jibe completely together with her firm’s curiosity in efforts that embrace “both a social mission as much as an economic potential.”

“The voting space is an area we are very passionate about,” Smith stated. “It’s perfect for (blockchain) technology to be able to create a more secure, auditable and trustworthy means to operate our democracy.”

Voatz CEO Nimit Sawhney stated that whereas Voatz and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum share the attribute of performing from a distributed ledger platform, there are notable variations that had been engineered particularly to work with election methods.

“We had to build a network that was open and also addresses the concerns of election officials,” Sawhney stated. “While access to the network is permissioned, it’s also open in the sense you can see what is happening, but to participate (as a verifier) you have to go through a vetting process. Potentially, every voter could be their own auditor in the background.”

Sawhney additionally highlighted that the Voatz system creates a paper poll along with its digital information. The system creates three ranges of verifiable redundancy with a receipt that goes to the voter, a printed poll and the secured knowledge within the blockchain. It truly establishes a better degree of accountability and transparency than methods at the moment in use throughout many of the nation.

On Tuesday, the FBI launched an announcement about its investigation into an try made final fall to hack the Voatz app being utilized in a West Virginia election. The tried intrusion was noticed by Voatz directors who referred the matter to regulation enforcement authorities.

According to the FBI, “there was no intrusion and the integrity of votes and the election system was not compromised.” A CNN story indicated the try might have been made by University of Michigan college students who had been a part of an election safety class.

“The Voatz system worked as designed and intended,” Sawhney stated. “The try was detected, thwarted on the gate and reported to the authorities. We absolutely assist the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office and the regulation enforcement businesses of their investigations below the purview of the regulation.

“Given that our elections infrastructure is classified as critical infrastructure under the Department of Homeland Security, we will continue to report any such attempts in the future.”

If it has worth, it might stay on the blockchain

Voting is simply one in every of quite a few potential makes use of for leveraging the safety and decentralized authority of blockchain platforms. Personal id safety, land/car title administration, insurance coverage, meals security, contracts, medical information and far more are all potential pathways the place blockchain may create efficiencies and heighten safety.

Dave Fletcher, Utah’s chief know-how officer, is the purpose particular person for, amongst different issues, the state’s exploration of whether or not and methods to finest put blockchain know-how to make use of. That work grew to become more targeted just lately following the passage of HJR19 within the 2019 session. The decision formally acknowledged “the potential benefits and applications of blockchain technology” and directed a legislative committee “to study and make recommendations regarding the potential benefits and value of blockchain technology, including potential uses in state government.”

Fletcher, whose division additionally oversees cybersecurity for the state’s digital methods, stated there are quite a few potential makes use of for blockchain know-how, and Utah is among the many leaders within the U.S. for exploring the way it may very well be deployed. However, he famous that making wholesale modifications might be difficult as a consequence of each time and value related to revamping legacy methods and strategies. And he stated there continues to be unfavourable associations amongst those that don’t see the excellence that divides blockchain know-how from cryptocurrencies.

“We see lots of possible applications,” Fletcher stated. “But people continue to confuse (blockchain) with cryptocurrency. Once we can get past that, there are some big potential benefits.”

One of these may very well be changing the system of auto title monitoring to a blockchain platform, Fletcher stated. Currently, these certificates that validate the possession of a car are dealt with by quite a few entities, together with the state, banks and lending establishments, insurance coverage corporations, fleet homeowners, companies and people. It’s difficult, messy and precisely the form of system that may very well be a lot improved through a blockchain resolution.

Fletcher additionally famous methods that require a verifiable chain of custody, just like the dealing with of proof in regulation enforcement instances and monitoring product quickly to be produced by Utah’s licensed marijuana growers, may be managed and secured with a blockchain program.

However, Fletcher, like Gardner, believes the time arc to potential adoption of the brand new know-how will seemingly not be a brief one.

“It’s still a little bit on the horizon,” Fletcher stated. “I think in the state of Utah you’re probably not going to see deployments for two to five years for significant applications.”

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