Ethereum’s Brave New World

When you say the word ‘blockchain’ the first thing that comes to mind is Bitcoin, as this distributed data structure is intimately connected to the first large scale cryptocurrency. Today’s column in the Telegraph from Jamie Barlett notes that the internet will , in ways that the public and policy makers are only just beginning to understand.

Ethereum‘s next generation blockchain will very likely be the vehicle for much of this intentionally decentralized future. A cryptographically secured public record can facilitate so much more than just financial transactions. When that public record also offers its own integrated programming environment it will be possible to code up the proverbial “idea whose time has come”, set it lose in the blockchain, and no amount of political pressure from the entity it will replace can stop it.

How will things change when the next generation block chain that corrects the defects in original becomes available? The three key changes are:

  • Rapid Transactions – Bitcoin transactions are measured in minutes; point of sale transactions must take place in seconds.
  • Anonymous Transactions – Bitcoin’s blockchain reveals quite a bit of information, while Ethereum’s would be entirely opaque if participants chose.
  • Decentralized Autonomous Entities – A corporation can define a set of rules, release the code to implement them into the Ethereum blockchain, and so long as they are effective in their intended purpose, the corporation will be a going concern.

The first two advances are fairly simple to understand, but the third, which may be used by a range of entities from corporations to organizations, is a bit more subtle. Bitcoin’s blockchain supports the exchange of not just data, but instructions on what to do with the data. The instruction set is simple; the blockchain is not “Turing complete”. Ethereum’s effort corrects that deficit, providing the ability to publish decentralized programs that will implement the rules required by an autonomous entity.

That is all a bit abstract, but the real world implications can be a bit shocking. The admittedly feral Cryptostorm has just released an integrated gateway to the darknet called Torstorm, they expect their business process innovations to be cloned by others, and one or more of those clones will be Decentralized Autonomous Entities that purchase hosting and sell VPN services. If the code defining these interactions lacks the provision for responding to a subpoena, then there won’t be any response, since no nation state would be able to enforce its will against a broadly distributed blockchain.