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Blockchain technology

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The Internet has completely changed the world, people’s culture and customs. After a first phase characterized by the free transfer of information, concerns have arisen about the security of online communications and the confidentiality of users. Blockchain technology (BT) ensures both these goals. BT, relatively new, has the chance to produce a new revolution, fully justifying a philosophical investigation.

The first blockchain was conceptualized by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, using a method that excludes an authorized third party. (Narayanan et al., 2016) In 2009, Nakamoto developed Bitcoin, used as a public register for network transactions. (The Economist 2015)

Starting with 2014, new technology applications (Nian and Chuen 2015) known as blockchain 2.0 have been developed for more sophisticated smart contracts that share documents or automatically send owners’ dividends if profits reach a certain level. In Philosophical Engineering: Toward a Philosophy of the Web, Halpin and Monnin discussed some philosophical aspects of this emerging technology (Halpin and Monnin 2014), such as the relationship between the physical world and the virtual world, the individual and society, the concepts of materiality, temporality, space and possibility. (Institute for Blockchain Studies 2016) We can ask ourselves, ontologically, what this technology is, how it can be characterized, how it is created, implemented and adopted, and how it works; definitions, classifications, possibilities and limitations. From an epistemological point of view, we are concerned about what knowledge can be gained through BT, how it is in relation to reality, what knowledge involves the use of technology, etc. We are also interested in how BT can be exploited, which aspects allow an assessment, what behavioral norms involve, aesthetic and moral aspects involved in the use of this technology. The philosophy of BT can be seen as a conceptual resource for understanding these developments in our modern world. (Swan and Filippi 2017) Conceptual metaphors can help us approach and understand new ideas. (Lakoff and Johnson 2003)

Blockchain technologyFig. 1. Forming the block chain in the form of the Merkle tree. The main chain (B0 … B8) consists of the longest series of blocks starting from the initial block (B0) to the current block (B8). All other blocks are orphan blocks that are outside the main chain.

Blockchain, (The Economist 2015) (DZ Morris 2016) (Popper 2017) initially called chain of blocks (Britt and Castillo 2016) (Trottier [2013] 2018) is a growing list of records called blocks, communicating with each other by cryptographic messages. (The Economist 2015) Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, (Narayanan et al., 2016) a time stamp and transaction data.

By design, a blockchain is “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way” (Iansiti and Lakhani 2017), usually managed by a peer-to-peer network adhering to a protocol for node communication and validation of new blocks. After recording, the data in a given block it cannot be modified retrospectively without changing all subsequent blocks, which requires network consensus. Blockchain can be considered a secure design system, distributed, with high error tolerance. (Raval 2016) Block cryptography uses public keys. (Brito and Castillo 2016, 5) Private keys allow owners to access their digital assets or the ability to interact within the blockchain. (The Economist 2015)

Each node in a system has a copy of the blockchain. (Raval 2016) There is no central “official” copy, and no “trustworthy” user more than any other. (Brito and Castillo 2016) Mining nodes validate transactions, (Tapscott and Tapscott 2016) adds them to the block they are building and then spreads the block to other nodes. (Bhaskar and Chuen 2015, chap. 3) Blockchain uses various timestamp schemes, such as proof-of-work, to serialize the changes. (Gervais, Karame, and Capkun 2015)

Other emerging blockchain applications include e-government, such as Bitnation, (Allison 2015) initiatives for citizens involvement and new forms of democratic participation such as D-Cent (D-Cent 2015) and digital platforms for creating diverse decentralized applications, such as Ethereum platform. (Wood 2014) Blockchain technology is considered to have a particularly important contribution to the future transformation of organizations, democratic governance and human culture as a whole. (Tapscott, Tapscott, and Cummings 2017)

According to statistics synthesized by the World Economic Forum, interest in the blockchain has expanded globally (WEF Financial Services 2016), nearly 30 countries are currently investing in blockchain projects.

There are three types of blockchains – public (no access restriction), private (access based on invitation by network administrators, participants and validators are restricted), and consortium (semi-decentralized, with limited chain access) .

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