Disruptive and foundational technology
Elements of what is now called blockchain were described by researchers decades ago, e.g., in a 1991 paper on a cryptographically secured chain of blocks by Stuart Haber and Scott Stornetta. In essence, blockchain is a growing list of records, called blocks, that are linked and secured cryptographically, with each block containing a hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data. A “ledger” created with blockchain is resistant to unauthorized modifications, creating a permanent record of transactions. The prevailing model of use today is distributed, with the ledger stored by multiple parties. This model requires additional computing power, but reduces risks by eliminating the single point of failure present in highly centralized systems.
Blockchain gained visibility for its use in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, capturing the imagination of many stakeholders. But technologists, industry leaders, and regulators also noticed the potential of blockchain as a foundational technology supporting a permanent, unmodifiable, and distributed record of transactions.
Intel is an active participant in the blockchain ecosystem. Our goals are to ensure that we enable blockchain applications to be more scalable, secure and with improved privacy through the use of our technologies, and to accelerate adoption through collaboration with industry and our partners in academia. Together with other technology companies, Intel is looking at enterprise usages of blockchain, including payments, smart contracts, identity management, IoT control, and healthcare. Blockchain’s ability to improve operational models is relevant to numerous use cases for supply chain, customer onboarding or data provenance. Blockchain can enhance solutions for data integrity, information exchange and IT interoperability. Used strategically, this technology could be instrumental for improving the safety and integrity of the computing environment.
Privacy preserving and safer computing environment
Data has become the foundation of the modern digital economy. Thought leaders in privacy and data protection have always stressed how important it is for end users to be able to control their data as well as their privacy and security settings.
Research approaches to user controlled privacy and security have been developed, but commercialization of these approaches has been slow. Blockchain has the potential to offer a viable technique for creating decentralized data management systems where the users can own and control their data, and make applications aware of the settings and use authorization selected. Modern electronic processes require the use of electronic identity for a variety of activities, from enterprise operations to consumer, financial, and educational endeavours, and healthcare and travel. However, recent exploits demonstrate that special-issue identifiers can be stolen, and biometric indicators hijacked. Using provable and privacy preserving electronic identity can reduce risks and improve the user experience. An immutable record of transactions supported by blockchain could strengthen trust in electronic identity, but only if privacy is safeguarded.
The immutable nature of blockchain ledgers has inspired research and technology development as well as startup activity all over the world. But developing new use cases for blockchain is only part of the story. As a foundational technology, blockchain relies on the security and privacy capabilities and the computing power of devices, applications, and networks needed to support secure distributed systems.
Overall, the introduction of blockchain to an increasing number of use cases and computing environments promises to improve security and privacy in the ecosystem.
Intel and blockchain
Adoption of blockchain technologies is not without challenges. To this complex environment, Intel brings cutting edge technologies, like Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel® SGX) and Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. Native capabilities in Intel hardware can help improve the security, scalability and privacy of distributed ledger networks. Blockchain solutions based on Intel technologies have been adopted or tested in a wide range of areas, including banking, healthcare, enterprise solutions, supply chain, or content distributions.
Large scale adoption of blockchain benefits from broad availability of the building blocks and robust international collaboration. Intel is a leading contributor to Open Source initiatives such as the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Sawtooth Project. In Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, Intel helps guide the requirements for enterprise blockchain solutions; Intel is also an active participant in standards development in blockchain.
Opportunity for technologists and policymakers
A broadly applicable technology like blockchain can support greater efficiency and new business models that are inspirational for large communities of practice. Blockchain can also be used as a test case for technologists and regulators to work together on current and future approaches to complex security and privacy problems, and to shape the technology and regulatory landscape. The improved ability of users to control their data and define their requirements for privacy and security can revolutionize the fields of privacy and data protection. Access to provable identity can enhance individual participation in educational and training opportunities as well as simplifying access to credit and employment without jeopardizing privacy.
Like all emerging fields, blockchain is not immune to hype, but even a healthy dose of skepticism can’t take away from blockchain’s enormous potential.