Three different but complementary definitions of blockchain are technical, enterprise, and legal. Technically, the blockchain is a back-end database that keeps a distributed ledger that may be inspected openly. Business-wise, the blockchain is an exchange network for moving transactions, value, and assets between people, without the help of intermediaries and legally speaking, the blockchain validates transactions, replacing formerly trusted entities (Mougayar & Buterin, 2016).
The blockchain is not a system of currency. It is a platform of trust. Currency is just the primary application. Bitcoin and Alternative coins like Ubricoin introduce a platform on which you can run currency as an application on a network without any central points of control – a system completely decentralised like the internet itself. It is not money for the internet but the internet of money. It is not controlled by any entity.
Bitcoin is the internet of money which was launched on January 3rd 2009. This technology represents an amazing innovation in the technology of money, the most ancient technology of our civilisation. Blockchain used as the intranet of money is not borderless and not open for innovation. It may be used by private or public companies or groups (Antonopoulos, 2016).
Just as the World Wide Web sits on top of the Internet, the blockchain is also a protocol that sits on the Internet. The Web and blockchains could not exist without the Internet. Blockchains can take many forms of implementations. Blockchain applications can bypass the Web, and give us another version that is more decentralized, and perhaps more equitable. That is one of the biggest promises of blockchain technology.
There is more than one way to build blockchain applications. You can build them natively on a blockchain, or you could mix them in an existing Web application. We will have public and private blockchains. Some will be natively bolted to a blockchain, whereas others might be a hybrid implementation that is part of an existing Web or private application.
The blockchain can be understood as a triad of the fields of game theory, cryptography science, and software engineering. Separately, these fields have existed for a long time, but for the first time, they have been amalgamated.
Game theory is ‘the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between smart rational decision-makers.” And this is associated with the blockchain because the Bitcoin blockchain had to solve a known game theory conundrum called the Byzantine Generals Problem thus making it feasible to transfer secure information over an unsecure network for the first time in human history.
In essence, the Byzantine Generals’ Problem is the problem of setting up trust among unrelated parties over a communication network that cannot be trusted. Satoshi Nakamoto furnished a solution to this problem and his elegant solution required consensus. The problem was first proposed by computer scientists Leslie Lamport, Robert Shostak, and Marshall Pease in 1982. It is an extension of the Two Generals Problem proposed in 1975 by A. Akkoyunlu, K. Ekanadham, and R.V. Huber in “Some Constraints and Trade-offs in the Design of Network Communications.”
Implementing a “Byzantine Fault Tolerance” is important as it starts with the assumption that you cannot trust anyone, and yet it delivers assurance that the transaction has travelled and arrived safely based on trusting the network during its journey, while surviving potential attacks.
Cryptography science is used in multiple places to provide security for a blockchain network, and it rests on three basic concepts: hashing, keys, and digital signatures.
- A “hash” is a unique fingerprint that helps to verify that a certain piece of information has not been altered, without the need to actually see it. A hash function is a function on binary data (i.e., bit strings) for which the length of the output is fixed. The input of the hash function is called the “message” and the output is called the “(message) digest” or “hash value”. The digest often serves as the condensed representation of the message. SHA-256 belongs to the SHA-2 family of hash functions. The suffix after the dash indicates the fixed length after the digest, e.g., SHA-384 produces 384-bit digests. SHA-3 hash functions offer alternatives to the SHA-2 functions.
Merkle trees are powerful and indispensable tools for miners and users on the blockchain technology.
A Merkle tree is a structure that allows for efficient and secure verification of content in a large body of data. This structure helps verify the consistency and content of the data. Merkle trees are used by both Bitcoin and Ethereum.
A Merkle tree summarizes all the transactions in a block by producing a digital fingerprint of the entire set of transactions, thereby enabling a user to verify whether or not a transaction is included in a block.
Merkle trees are created by repeatedly hashing pairs of nodes until there is only one hash left (this hash is called the Root Hash, or the Merkle Root). They are constructed from the bottom up, from hashes of individual transactions (known as Transaction IDs).
Each leaf node is a hash of transactional data, and each non-leaf node is a hash of its previous hashes. Merkle trees are binary and therefore require an even number of leaf nodes. If the number of transactions is odd, the last hash will be duplicated once to create an even number of leaf nodes.
Hashing is usually conducted using the SHA-2 cryptographic hash function, though other functions can also be used.
The Merkle Root summarizes all of the data in the related transactions, and is stored in the block header. It maintains the integrity of the data. If a single detail in any of the transactions or the order of the transactions changes, so does the Merkle Root. Using a Merkle tree allows for a quick and simple test of whether a specific transaction is included in the set or not. A Merkle tree can reside locally, or on a distributed system.
Ethereum uses three different Merkle Roots in each block: The first root is of the transactions in the block, the second root represents the state, and the third root is for transaction receipts.
Ethereum uses a special type of hash tree called the ‘Merkle Patricia Tree’.
- Keys are used in at least a combination of two: a public and a private one.
For analogy, imagine a door that needs two keys to open it. In this case, the public key is used by the sender to encrypt information that can only be decrypted by the owner of the private key. You never reveal your private key.
- A digital signature is a mathematical computation that is used to prove
the authenticity of a (digital) message or document.
Software engineers are combining the concepts of cryptography with innovations in game theory to produce blockchain constructs where mathematical certainty is almost guaranteed (Mougayar & Buterin, 2016).
The blockchain affects other technologies, and it is made up of several technologies itself. It is many pieces all at once, some of them working together, and others independently. In essence, it is technology that changes other technology.
It simultaneously exhibits the following properties:
- It is a digital cryptocurrency.
The digital currency function is probably the most “visible” element in a blockchain, especially if the blockchain is a public one, for example, Bitcoin (BTC) or Ethereum (ETH).
- It is a decentralised computing infrastructure.
The blockchain can also be seen as a software design approach that binds a number of computers together that commonly obey the same “consensus” process for releasing or recording what information they hold, and where all related interactions are verified by cryptography.
From a physical perspective, networked computer servers are what really powers blockchains. But developers do not need to set up these servers, and that is part of the magic of a blockchain. The network makes a request to the blockchain.
- It is a transaction platform.
A blockchain network can validate a variety of value-related transactions relating to digital money or assets that have been digitized. Every time a consensus is reached, a transaction is recorded on a “block” which is a storage space. The blockchain keeps track of these transactions that can be later verified as having taken place.
The blockchain is therefore this giant transaction processing platform, capable of handling micro transactions and large value transactions alike. Some other blockchains are faster than Bitcoin’s. For example, Ethereum started with 10 transactions per second (TPS) in 2015, edging towards 50–100 TPS in 2017, and targeting 50,000–100,000 TPS by 2019. Private blockchains are even faster because they have less security requirements.
- It is a decentralised database.
The blockchain is the new database, and developers have to rewrite everything.
A blockchain is like a place where you store any data semi-publicly in a linear container space (the block). Anyone can verify that you have placed that information, because the container has your signature on it, but only you (or a program) can unlock what’s inside the container, because only you hold the private keys to that data, securely.
So the blockchain behaves almost like a database, except that part of the information stored, its “header,” is public. It is also not very efficient.
- It is a shared, distributed account ledger.
The blockchain is also a distributed, public, time-stamped asset ledger that keeps track of every transaction ever processed on its network, allowing a user’s computer to verify the validity of each transaction such that there can never be any double-counting. This ledger can be shared across multiple parties, and it can be private, public, or semi-private.
Although being a distributed ledger of transactions is a popular way to describe blockchains, and some see it as the killer application, it is only one of its characteristics.
- It is a software development platform.
For developers, a blockchain is a set of software technologies. The blockchain includes technologies for building a new breed of applications, ones that are decentralized and cryptographically secure. Therefore, blockchains is a new way to build applications. Also, blockchains can have a variety of APIs.
- It is open source software.
Most robust blockchains are open sourced, which not only means that the source of the software is public, it also means that innovation can happen in a collaborative way, on top of the core software.
- It is a financial services marketplace.
When crypto currency is treated like any currency, it can become part of a financial instrument, leading to the development of a variety of new financial products.
Blockchains offer an incredible innovation environment for the next generation of financial services. Traditional instruments will have their cryptocurrency version, therefore creating a new financial services trading marketplace.
- It is a peer-to-peer network.
Architecturally, the base layer of the blockchain is a peer-to-peer network. A blockchain pushes for decentralization via peer processing at its node locations. The network is really the computer. You verify each other transaction at the peer-to-peer level. In essence, a blockchain could be regarded as a thin computing cloud that is truly decentralized.
Any user can reach and transact with another user instantly. No intermediary is needed. Any node on the network is allowed to offer services based on their knowledge of transactions everywhere else in that network. In addition to creating a technical P2P network, blockchains also create a marketplace of users.
- It is a trust services layer.
All blockchains commonly hold trust as an atomic unit of service. Trust applies to almost anything that can be digitized as a (smart) asset with an inherent or related value attached to it.
These 10 powerful features will make possible a lot of innovation. By combining them together, one can imagine the enabling power of blockchains.
The blockchain is a “state machine”. In technical terms, a state means “stored information” at a specific point in time.
A state machine is a computer or device that remembers the status of something at a given instant in time. Based on some inputs, that status might change, and it provides a resulting output for these implemented changes. Keeping track of transitions of these states is important and that’s what the blockchain does well, and in a way that is immutable.
In the Ethereum blockchain, a distinct “state tree” is stored, representing the current balance of each address, and a “transaction list” representing the transactions between the current block and previous blocks in each block.
State machines are well suited for implementing distributed systems that have to be fault tolerant (Mougayar & Buterin, 2016).
THE CONSENSUS ALGORITHMS
The concept of “decentralized consensus,” is a key principle of the cryptography based computing revolution. Decentralized consensus breaks the old paradigm of centralized consensus, that is, when one central database used to rule transaction validity.
A decentralized scheme (which blockchain protocols are primarily based on), transfers authority and trust to a decentralized virtual network, and enables its nodes to continuously and sequentially record transactions on a public “block,” creating a unique “chain,” the blockchain.
Each successive block incorporates a “hash” (a unique fingerprint) of the previous code; therefore cryptography (via hash codes) is used to secure the authentication of the transaction source and removes the need for a central intermediary. The aggregate of cryptography and blockchain technology ensures there is never a duplicate recording of the same transaction. What’s important here is that with this degree of uncoupling, the consensus logic is separate from the application itself, therefore applications can be written to be organically decentralized, and that is the spark for a variety of system-changing innovations in the software architecture of applications, whether they are money or non-money related.
You could think of consensus as the first layer of a decentralized architecture. It is the basis for the underlying protocol governing a blockchain’s operation.
A consensus algorithm is the nucleus of a blockchain representing the method or protocol that commits the transaction.
Bitcoin initiated the Proof-of-Work (POW) consensus method, and it can be regarded as the Grand daddy of these algorithms. POW rests on the popular Practical Byzantine Fault Tolerant (“Byzantine fault tolerance”, n.d.) algorithm that allows transactions to be safely committed according to a given state. There are other consensus protocols such as RAFT, DPOS, and Paxos. One of the drawbacks of the Proof-of-Work algorithm is that it is not environmentally friendly, because it requires large amounts of processing power from specialized machines that generate excessive energy.
A strong contender to POW will be the Proof-of-Stake (POS) (“Proof-Of-Stake”, n.d.) algorithm which relies on the concept of virtual mining and token-based voting, a process that does not require the intensity of computer processing as the POW, and one that promises to reach security in a more cost-effective manner.
Finally, when discussing consensus algorithms, you need to consider the “permissioning” method, which determines who gets to control and participate in the consensus process. The three popular choices for the type of permissioning are:
- Public (e.g., POW, POS, Delegated POS).
- Private (uses secret keys to establish authority within a confined blockchain).
- Semi-private (e.g., consortium-based, uses traditional Byzantine Fault Tolerance in a federated manner).
MICRONESIAN COMMUNITY INVENTED THE BLOCKCHAIN BEFORE ANYONE ELSE
Digital currencies and the blockchain technologies used to record digital transactions on a public ledger may not be so revolutionary.
At least several hundred years ago, islanders on Yap in western Micronesia used principles at the heart of crypto currencies to conduct business. The natives from this nation are credited with inventing the concept of a public ledger.
Archaeologists think that, before European contact in 1783, inhabitants of Yap sailed with stone carvers about 400 kilometres to other islands in Micronesia (the Palauan archipelago) to quarry limestone from caves and rock-shelters.
Sea voyagers negotiated with local leaders for access to limestone deposits. Stone carvers formed stone disks on site. A central hole was cut into each circular chunk of rock so men could run a wooden pole through the opening to hoist the rock. Some stone disks, weighed more than a Honda Accord and stood taller than a man. These weighty pieces of currency, called rai, were transported to Yap on rafts.
Arriving back home, travellers presented newly acquired rai to their fellow community members at a public gathering. Everyone heard which individuals or clan groups took ownership of particular disks. Each rai was assigned a value based on size, evenness of shape, stone quality and risks taken on the journey. After being inspected and verified by a local chief, rai were displayed at communal spots, such as ritual dancing grounds.
They kept track of who owns what disk. They all collectively knew who owns what.
At a fundamental level this currency system functioned just like blockchain technology. With this information at everyone’s fingertips, users don’t need a middleman to run things because everyone knows who owns what and exactly when a certain transaction was made.
Yap islanders pioneered a public, oral system for securely tracking and exchanging rai. Ownership of a disk could be transferred when making deals. These deals also occurred in front of the whole community. No matter who acquired a rai, it stayed in its original location. Yapese people simply agreed that the ownership of a Rai, or part of a Rai, had changed. The only difference is instead of writing this transaction onto the blockchain, they used oral contracts.
Some people argue that Rai can’t be divided into smaller parts to make purchases or easily carried from place to place and thus cannot be compared to blockchain. Although rarely exchanged for anything these days and often abandoned in the jungle, rai are now being rescued and renovated by islanders interested in their past (Paez, 2018).
THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY
Bitcoin may be a creation of the National Security Agency (NSA) and was rolled out as a “normalization” experiment to get the public familiar with digital currency.
Looking at the document (Law, Sabett & Solinas, 1997) released in 1997 detailing the overall structure and function of Bitcoin crypto currency, we can see that it was authored by “mathematical cryptographers at the National Security Agency’s Office of Information Security Research and Technology.”
The NSA detailed key elements of Bitcoin long before Bitcoin ever came into existence. Much of the Bitcoin protocol is detailed in this document.
The document describes “secure hashing” to be both “one-way” (that is, one cannot derive the originating message from the cryptographic hash) and “collision-resistant” (that is, it is unlikely that two different inputs will produce the same hash value).Bitcoin adds mining and a shared, peer-to-peer blockchain transaction authentication system to this structure.
The person credited with founding Bitcoin is Satoshi Nakamoto, who is reputed to have reserved one million Bitcoins for himself may be the NSA, which means he is either working for the NSA or is a character created by the NSA for the purpose of this whole grand experiment.
The agency is also the creator of the SHA-256 hash upon which every Bitcoin transaction in the world depends. As “The Hacker News” (Kumar, 2013) explains. “The integrity of Bitcoin depends on a hash function called SHA-256, which was designed by the NSA and published by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST).”
If the SHA-256 hash, which was created by the NSA, actually has a backdoor method for cracking the encryption, it would mean the NSA could steal everybody’s Bitcoins whenever it wants.
In fact, every crypto currency becomes obsolete with the invention of large-scale quantum computing. If it were possible to build a working quantum computer, all coins and national secrets could be stolen (Adams, 2017).
Ethereum has been in the works since late 2013, when Vitalik Buterin released the Ethereum White Paper. About a year later, after fellow hackers joined the venture, Ethereum launched a public crowd sale. In 42 days, Ethereum collected almost 32,000 bitcoin — equivalent to about $18.5 million US Dollars. Ethereum supports applications that run on its custom-built blockchain.
George Hallam, Ethereum’s external relations director, states that “Ethereum is essentially a programmable blockchain that puts the user in control. Rather than lock users to a set of pre-defined applications within the protocol, Ethereum allows them to create their own applications in the form of Smart Contracts (dApps), which can be as complex as required.”
Smart Contracts are best thought of as simple instructions that can move the “ether” cryptocurrency around. It’s a bit like an instruction to the bank, except it is instant and handled by computers. They are essentially blockchain-based computer codes whose primary function is to facilitate the exchange of content, property, shares, or anything of value.
Ethereum is a shared computing platform, and its base unit is ether, the “cryptofuel” that powers the network: “a token whose purpose is to pay for computation, and is not intended to be used as or considered a currency, asset, share or anything else.”
At the heart of Ethereum is the Ethereum Virtual Machine (“EVM”), which can execute code of arbitrary algorithmic complexity. In computer science terms, Ethereum is “Turing complete”. Each and every node of the network runs the EVM and executes the same instructions. For this reason, Ethereum is sometimes described evocatively as a “world computer”. Every Ethereum node runs the EVM in order to maintain consensus across the blockchain.
So ether pays for computation. This computation takes place within the EVM; the EVM makes it possible for smart contracts to run on Ethereum’s blockchain. The EVM is the runtime environment for smart contracts in ethereum. Contracts live on the blockchain in an Ethereum-specific binary format (EVM byte code). However, contracts are typically written in an Ethereum high level language, compiled into byte code using an EVM compiler, and finally uploaded on the blockchain using an Ethereum client.
Hallam says, “Ethereum solves the Halting Problem, where users could potentially write infinite loops into their smart contracts, thus using up all of the platforms available resources (similar to a traditional Denial-of-service attack on a website). By putting a price on computation, infinite loops would require an infinite amount of Ether, making such an attack impossible.”
But these tokens — ether — are still both exchangeable and valuable, so are, in a sense, a currency. You can own ether, you can spend ether. (“Ether” is both singular and plural.) Ether can be “mined,” like bitcoin, using a network of powerful computers. Ethereum’s creators have unveiled the monolith. It’s up to developers to figure out how best to put it to work (Carmichael, 2016).
Ubricoin is a blockchain built on the Ethereum protocol. It is a peer-to-peer utility token that will give incentives to anyone in the world to facilitate global health delivery. It was implemented using the language Solidity.
Ubricoin will be the gateway to the biomedical world which comprises Soko Janja, health services delivery, science and technology parks and biomedical industrial city. Ubricoin will expand Ubrica’s capability to host future worthy life science and health blockchain projects and spinoffs.
Ten billion Ubricoins (UBNs) have been created. UBN refers to one Ubricoin. The smallest unit of UBN is a Brevis. As an ERC20 token, a UBN is configured to be used globally by all individuals.
A UBN derives value from the exchange with Ether. 10 billion UBNs are to be sold on Ethereum blockchain. The UBN will be transferable on Ethereum platform. It is a utility token that represent future access to Ubrica ecosystem.
Ubricoin is not designed as investment instrument. If a person is a holder of Ubricoin that does not mean that they own Ubrica or are entitled to shares in Ubrica.
There are two types of utility tokens:
- digital coupons, and
- tokens that provide users with access to its decentralized forum
(i.e., Soko Janja). Ubrica will issue tokens for development of its projects and this allows the token holders to buy different Ubrica products or services in future. Participants in the Ubrican community can buy the token and use them to access Ubrica services, products and produce. The main purpose is to get access to the Ubrica ecosystem, but not to gain profits or dividends. Token holders will be enrolled on Soko Janja at no cost and get medical services at a Ubrica Retail Clinical Centre (URCC) near them.
The main value of the token is access to Ubrica’s Proof- Of- Stake (POS)4 protocol tokenization platform.
Ubricoin will help gather intelligent data about health, nutrition information and diseases. Artificial intelligence will facilitate the presence of global health. Data gathered will help develop, smart community health decision support system, smart public health decision support system and smart clinical decision support systems.
Cash incentive tokens will be created with blockchain technology for supporting development of scientific products and the commercialization of the products in the online marketing and retail platform called Soko Janja. Ubricoin will be used to create incentives for research and development and commercialization of complete research products. This involves building world-class capacity for health and clinical research in African countries. It also involves research reporting through peer-to-peer reviewed papers by creating incentive token to the authors. This will lead to more people taking part in developing scientific work in Africa.
- Mougayar, W., & Buterin, V. (2016-04-26).
The business blockchain: promise, practice, and application of the next
NJ: John Wiley & Sons Incorporated.
- Byzantine fault tolerance, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantine_fault_tolerance.
- Proof-of-stake, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof-of-stake.
- https://www.inverse.com/article/42370-sxsw-2018-micronesians-invented- blockchain