What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a digital scaffolding for transactions.  We’ve heard a lot about it recently in relation to Bitcoin. Blockchain was developed about 10 years ago to scaffold cryptocurrency transactions.  Investopedia explains blockchain (referring to cryptocurrencies) as ‘a digitized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions. Constantly growing as “completed” blocks (the most recent transactions) are recorded and added to it in chronological order, it allows market participants to keep track of digital currency transactions without central recordkeeping. Each node (a computer connected to the network) gets a copy of the blockchain, which is downloaded automatically.’

Watch these two videos to find out more about what blockchain is and how it works:


Besides cryptocurrencies, where else might blockchain be used?

Watch the excellent video podcast on Computerworld News Analysis:  ‘What is blockchain? The most disruptive tech in decades The distributed ledger technology, better known as blockchain, has the potential to eliminate huge amounts of record-keeping, save money and disrupt  IT in ways not seen since the internet arrived.’ Several uses of blockchain in industry are described on the page:

‘In shipping, for example, a bill of lading for cargo shipments has traditionally been paper based, which requires multiple sign-offs by inspectors and receivers before goods can be delivered. Even when the system is electronic, it still requires multiple parties to sign off on cargo shipments, creating a lengthy administrative process. To try and streamline that cumbersome process, the world’s largest container shipment operator, Maersk, in March 2017 announced it is using a blockchain-based ledger to manage and track the paper trail of tens of millions of shipping containers by digitizing the supply chain. And earlier this week, Maersk teamed up with IBM on a new blockchain-based electronic shipping platform. It’s expected to be up and running later in 2018.’

(There are c. 90 videos on IBMBlockchain’s YouTube channel, many of which illustrate how other industries are using blockchain, including energy trading, healthcare, insurance, food safety, etc.)

If you want to learn how to program blockchains take the IBM Blockchain Foundation for Developers course at Coursera: ‘If you’re a software developer and new to blockchain, this is the course for you. Several experienced IBM blockchain developer advocates will lead you through a series of videos that describe high-level concepts, components, and strategies on building blockchain business networks. You’ll also get hands-on experience modeling and building blockchain networks as well as create your first blockchain application.’

This post at Quora describes five  blockchain ideas that are in work in progress stage: distributed cloud storage, digital identity, smart contracts, digital voting, and decentralized Notary.

On VentureBeat.com, ‘How blockchain could kill both cable and Netflix’ describes how ‘blockchain has the power to fundamentally disrupt the entertainment industry because it brings out a completely new, decentralized model for content distribution,’ and how decentralized blockchain based entertainment network might work.

On the BBC Radio program Food Chain episode ‘Eating Blockchain’ you can listen  (or download the file) to how ‘Blockchain technology has been heralded as the answer to a safer, fairer and more transparent food system. Many companies, from global food giants to start-ups, have begun to experiment with it. But can blockchain really disrupt the global food industry or is it just a gimmick? Emily Thomas meets some pioneers of this new technology, who explain why they think it will change the way we eat.’

On the CoinTelegraph webpage, the post EC Releases Report on Possible Blockchain Applications in Education summarises the European Commission’s recent report intended for policymakers on the possible applications of blockchain technology in the education sector. A download link for the report is on the at The European Commission’s science and knowledge service page.

‘This report introduces the fundamental principles of the Blockchain focusing on its potential for the education sector. It explains how this technology may both disrupt institutional norms and empower learners. It proposes eight scenarios for the application of the Blockchain in an education context, based on the current state of technology development and deployment.’

Grech, A. and Camilleri, A. F. (2017) Blockchain in Education. Inamorato dos Santos, A.
(ed.) EUR 28778 EN; doi:10.2760/60649, p. 12

The CoinTelegraph page describes the growing adoption by educational institutions of blockchain: ‘Despite its infancy, a growing number of educational institutions are showing interest in Blockchain. Among them is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which recently awarded digital certificates or diplomas to more than 100 graduates under a pilot project involving Blockchain. Moreover, the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) has also launched a Blockchain pilot program that is focused on the digital certifications of medical students. Under the program, the board tested the open-source standard called Blockcerts, which was developed by Learning Machine Technologies and the MIT Media Lab.’

‘This year, the Registrar’s Office contacted 85 master of finance and 26 master of science in media arts and sciences June graduates to let them know their secure digital diplomas were available via the Blockcerts Wallet app. For students, the benefits go beyond mere novelty. They can share their diplomas almost immediately with whomever they please, free of charge, without involving an intermediary. This is particularly important for students who need to prove to an employer or another university that they have an MIT diploma. And thanks to the blockchain, the third party can easily verify that the diploma is legitimate without having to contact the Registrar’s Office. Using a portal, employers or schools can paste a link or upload a student’s digital diploma file and receive a verification immediately. The portal essentially uses the blockchain as a notary, locating the transaction ID (which identifies when the digital record was added to the blockchain), verifying the keys, and confirming that nothing has been altered since the record was added.’

Would Blockcerts be an interesting idea for the IB to explore?