Blockchain is not just for Bitcoin – it is a digital ledger of transactions

Blockchain is not just for Bitcoin – it is a digital ledger of transactions

Blockchain sounds like a solution to a 19th-century railway problem, but lately it’s on the lips of every executive who wants to solve the problem of 21st-century digital transactions. As innovator Tim Lea, of Veredictum, says: “It’s a great space we’re in — but getting hotter by the day.”

Lea is building a blockchain for identifying videos and he’s running hard to keep up with the express train.

The evolution of blockchain is exponential. It may have begun as a system for dealing with (often dodgy) digital transactions six years ago and it may have captured the imagination and budgets of banks last year, but in the months since it began entering dictionary searches, it has become a possibility for almost every sort of business.

Blockchain is still new enough to be greeted with “block what?” at business functions. It needs an explanation and so far no one has found one as catchy as “information superhighway” was in the early days of the internet. But let’s give it a go.

Blockchain technology is a way of recording and storing digital transactions. It’s a distributed ledger that allows transactions from one verifiable party to another on a network that everyone can “see” but no one can change, defraud or clip the ticket along the way. Some people have called it “the internet of value”, others refer to it as a “trust network” but everyone agrees it’s the best way of wheeling and dealing on the net.

It has been best known as the system for exchanging Bitcoin and it has been a public network. Focus is shifting to private networks that give various parties permission to participate, and this is becoming the preferred model for finance businesses. But a new model is emerging that will be a hybrid of public and private networks that would best suit areas such as copyright.

The idea is that blockchain will become the infrastructure for the digital age as people realise that its characteristics — identification, frictionless transfer, tamper-proof storage and trust between parties — can be used for any asset.

The list of uses is already large — banking transactions, share trading, unsecured loans, recording property titles, trading in diamonds, artworks and currencies, managing insurance and tracking mining equipment.

“Anyone who’s not working on it is off the pace,” says lawyer Mark Toohey, who has been using the technology since Bitcoin days and now lectures on it. “People mocked us for being interested in Bitcoin. Now they’re saying, ‘Hang on, you know about blockchain?’”

Toohey says the technology is in that interesting moment when most people haven’t heard about it; those who have realise they need to know more; and the few who do know about it are secretly working to claim its benefits.

Gauging how much work is being done on the new technology is almost impossible, but looking at just one application gives an idea. Blockchain is made for copyright. All the music, books, videos, news stories and photographs that became digital and lost their rights can be managed more equitably on blockchain.

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