Cryptographer David Chaum first proposed a blockchain-like protocol in his 1982 dissertation “Computer Systems Established, Maintained, and Trusted by Mutually Suspicious Groups.” Further work on a cryptographically secured chain of blocks was described in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta. They wanted to implement a system wherein document timestamps could not be tampered with. In 1992, Haber, Stornetta, and Dave Bayer incorporated Merkle trees into the design, which improved its efficiency by allowing several document certificates to be collected into one block. Under their company Surety, their document certificate hashes have been published in The New York Times every week since 1995.
The first decentralized blockchain was conceptualized by a person (or group of people) known as Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008. Nakamoto improved the design in an important way using a Hashcash-like method to timestamp blocks without requiring them to be signed by a trusted party and introducing a difficulty parameter to stabilize the rate with which blocks are added to the chain. The design was implemented the following year by Nakamoto as a core component of the cryptocurrency bitcoin, where it serves as the public ledger for all transactions on the network.
In August 2014, the bitcoin blockchain file size, containing records of all transactions that have occurred on the network, reached 20 GB (gigabytes). In January 2015, the size had grown to almost 30 GB, and from January 2016 to January 2017, the bitcoin blockchain grew from 50 GB to 100 GB in size. The ledger size had exceeded 200 GB by early 2020.
The words block and chain were used separately in Satoshi Nakamoto’s original paper but were eventually popularized as a single word, blockchain, by 2016.
Key Elements of a Blockchain
Distributed ledger technology: All network participants have access to the distributed ledger and its immutable record of transactions. With this shared ledger, transactions are recorded only once, eliminating the duplication of effort that’s typical of traditional business networks.
Immutable records: No participant can change or tamper with a transaction after it’s been recorded to the shared ledger. If a transaction record includes an error, a new transaction must be added to reverse the error, and both transactions are then visible.
Smart contracts: To speed transactions, a set of rules — called a smart contract — is stored on the blockchain and executed automatically. A smart contract can define conditions for corporate bond transfers, including terms for travel insurance to be paid and much more.
According to Accenture, an application of the diffusion of innovations theory suggests that blockchains attained a 13.5% adoption rate within financial services in 2016, therefore reaching the early adopter’s phase. Industry trade groups joined to create the Global Blockchain Forum in 2016, an initiative of the Chamber of Digital Commerce.
In May 2018, Gartner found that only 1% of CIOs indicated any kind of blockchain adoption within their organizations, and only 8% of CIOs were in the short-term “planning or [looking at] active experimentation with blockchain”. For the year 2019 Gartner reported 5% of CIOs believed blockchain technology was a game-changer for their business.
How Blockchain Works?
As each transaction occurs, it is recorded as a “block” of data. Those transactions show the movement of an asset that can be tangible (a product) or intangible (intellectual). The data block can record the information of your choice: who, what, when, where, how much and even the condition — such as the temperature of a food shipment.
Each block is connected to the ones before and after it. These blocks form a chain of data as an asset moves from place to place or ownership changes hands. The blocks confirm the exact time and sequence of transactions, and the blocks link securely together to prevent any block from being altered or a block being inserted between two existing blocks.
Transactions are blocked together in an irreversible chain: a blockchain. Each additional block strengthens the verification of the previous block and hence the entire blockchain. This renders the blockchain tamper-evident, delivering the key strength of immutability. This removes the possibility of tampering by a malicious actor — and builds a ledger of transactions you and other network members can trust.
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