Finding a job or saving democracy: Blockchain to the rescue?

Blockchain is the storage technology behind Bitcoin and many of the other non-sovereign currencies. But its applications are much broader. Here are two that may provide your next gig - or save democracy.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Video: Uncomplicating blockchain

Looking for a cutting edge 21st century career? Training machine learning (ML) models is going to be a big part of the burgeoning AI industry.

But how do you find the jobs, do the work, and then get paid for it? Blockchain has the answer.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain, introduced in 2008, is a cryptographically-secured, distributed consensus system that enables untrusted parties to engage in, for example, financial transactions. As each transaction is concluded, the details are placed in the blockchain and locked down cryptographically, creating an immutable record.

Also: Trump bans Venezuela's cryptocurrency Petro in the US | 9 reasons to be cautious with blockchain | Blockchain and bitcoin in the spotlight as government launches digital currencies inquiry | TechRepublic: Why blockchain technology isn't just a fad

Bitcoin introduced a non-Turing complete scripting language for simple tasks to use blockchain. Ethereum added such a language, which enables much more sophisticated uses. Others are working on improving the distributed ledger's scalability, such as the folks behind Hashgraph.

The self-liquidating contract

One such use is the self-liquidating contract. A party puts out a blockchain-based request for some work to be done - such as a trained ML model - that includes the contract and a software test of the ML model.

If you submit a model that passes the test embedded in the contract, the contract is completed and the funds are transferred to your account.

No human intervention needed. You don't even have to tell them who you are IRL.

Saving democracy

Blockchain is also a candidate for securing voting systems from meddling, whether partisan or foreign. Significant research has been done to think through how blockchain could be used to create verifiable end-to-end voting infrastructure.

Designs such as the Open Vote Network and Votebook seek to ensure that votes are securely and correctly tallied as well as allowing voters to verify that their votes were counted. With unhinged politicians falsely claiming widespread voter fraud, this feature could go a long way towards restoring trust in our political institutions.

Of course, we could simply use paper ballots again instead of easily hacked voting machines. From a security perspective, paper is tough to hack, but it takes time to count, and in today's frenzied political environment, people don't want to wait for results. So maybe there's a place for a truly unhackable electronic system.

SEE: How blockchain will disrupt business (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The Storage Bits take

While these examples point to blockchain's enormous potential, there are still major issues that need to be addressed before it can fulfill its promise. In addition to the expected problems with any new technology seeking wide adoption, blockchain has a key technical issue: scalability.

In its purest form, blockchain is decentralized across hundreds, possibly even thousands of servers. A transaction can't complete until every server has been updated, which means that completion times are at the mercy of the slowest server in the network.

It also means that as the number of transactions grows the slowest servers will get overwhelmed, bringing the entire blockchain network to a halt. The obvious workaround is to limit the number of servers - to reduce network latency - and to use only high-end scale-up servers to ensure maximum processing capacity. But this reduces the decentralization that makes blockchain difficult to hack.

Engineering - and life - is full out such trade offs. Blockchain's aren't so different from other clustered storage systems, and those have achieved high scalability with acceptable trade offs. I'm sure blockchain will as well.

Courteous comments welcome, of course.

How Blockchain technologies are transforming our societies

Editorial standards