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Monday, November 25, 2013

The Blockchain and the "All for One, One for All" Demise of the Centralized Server

It's amazing how history repeats itself. Internet history began with the conception of room-filled mainframe computers and "nodes" that would connect directly to the mainframes relying solely on the power of the central mainframe to get their signal and perform various tasks sent to the mainframe. Then came the PC era - an era where every person could have their own computer, and the processing power occurred on the same machine as the display and input device. Following that came the Internet, or World Wide Web, which combined mainframes and servers with personal computers. With the internet, mainframes and servers could be used to connect PCs, all over the world, in a distributed network of various servers all communicating with each other, and relaying information back to the client, the PC.

With the Cloud, we're back to relying on servers, and we're relying more on central data storage and processing more than ever before, just like the days of the mainframe. The only difference is our current "dumb terminals" can also cache pieces of information and perform mini processes to reduce the need for internet bandwidth in the process. All of that is about to change though with "The Chain" era as I call it, cryptocurrencies, and blockchain type infrastructure. In this era, we're moving from lots and lots of servers all over the world, to one single server, distributed across multiple clients (or terminals) all doing their fair share of the processing.

With Bitcoin, I've talked previously about the power of "The Blockchain", a global, worldwide accounting ledger that gets audited over and over again by a massive network of peer-to-peer computers, or "miners" to verify the chain has not been corrupted in any way. This network, as I stated earlier, when put together as a whole, is more powerful than the top 500 supercomputers in the world, combined. The network was designed this way.

In Satoshi's whitepaper where he proposed the Bitcoin protocol, he suggests "as
long as a majority of CPU power is controlled by nodes that are not cooperating to
attack the network, they'll generate the longest chain and outpace attackers". As a result, it's to Bitcoin's benefit to have a very large pool of honest miners, preventing the possibility of another majority outnumbering the honest miners and providing a false version of the blockchain. This makes for a very, very large public "server", with lots and lots of computing power, that anyone, and anybody can rely on without the need for central companies, corporations, and even governments in many cases to provide that service with their own powerful servers. In many ways it means it's near impossible to "lie" or "spoof" inside this type of network!

Imagine the opportunities this opens up. Server resources, DNS, hosting, and even storage servers are no longer a necessity. Instead we can all rely on "The Chain" to access this information. If I own a domain, that record exists on the Chain and the Chain can verify I own it, and any IP information that comes with it when a browser makes a request for that domain. Perhaps IP addresses will no longer be needed at all with the Chain - after all, servers won't be necessary and I really believe this massive network could be used for storage as well. So maybe your browser also gets knowledge of another key on the chain that contains the content of the webpage.

Of course, all this is theory, but the implications are evident. I'm still weeding out how a lot of this could work in my mind, and so are many, many others. The potential is there though, and we already have the largest supercomputer on the planet that we could be using - the Blockchain used by Bitcoin - we just need to come up with new ways of using it (and many are), and identify the flaws so that we can either fix them, or come up with a new protocol without those flaws. One thing's for sure in my mind - centrally-controlled servers, in the future, will no longer be necessary. Instead, we will all rely on a massive, P2P network of some sort - be it Bitcoin and the Blockchain itself, or some other open and distributed cryptocurrency model adapted to allow this stuff.

The collaborative economy doesn't apply just to goods and services. It also applies to technology.  The future will be less of a "one-to-one" or "one-to-many", and more of an "all-for-one", "one-for-all" model where everyone benefits that participates, and there is no fraud in the process. In the coming weeks and days I'll share some potential use-cases for this Chain to further show some of its potential. What other use-cases can you come up with using the Chain?

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