Wednesday, May 10, 2017 / Perth Australia / By Niekie Jooste
In this edition of "The WelderDestiny Compass":
Today we revisit one of the technologies that we discussed previously. This is the subject of blockchain technology. We only discussed this in The WelderDestiny Compass of 01 February 2017, but the speed with which this technology is now moving into the mainstream makes it imperative that we discuss it again.
It is important for us to revisit technology we have previously discussed, as it unfolds. This is so, because the final impact of this technology on our lives becomes clearer, the further down the road we go.
If you would like to add your ideas to this week’s discussion, then please send me an e-mail with your ideas, (Send your e-mails to: firstname.lastname@example.org) or complete the comment form on the page below.
Now let's get stuck into this week’s topics...
To sum up, we discussed bitcoin as a cryptocurrency, and the enabling technology underpinning this cryptocurrency. This enabling technology is called blockchain technology, or simply "the blockchain".
In simple terms, the blockchain is a distributed ledger that records all the transactions and encodes it on a whole lot of different servers around the world. This ledger is totally open and freely available to all, so it would be evident if anybody tampers with it in any single location.
We speculated that the "open" cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin would probably be declared illegal at some point in the future. This has not happened yet, but we do notice some reports in the media about how bitcoins are being used in illegal transactions such as receiving payments for blackmail and ransom. This is typically part of the process for declaring something illegal. Watch this space...
Regardless of the future of the cryptocurrency, the blockchain technology is now out of "Pandora's box" and free in the world. The speed with which it is being embraced is breathtaking.
A platform for utilising the inherent advantages of blockchain technology, and allowing it to be used as the basis for all kinds of formalised systems and applications has reached the point where it is commercially viable. It is called Ethereum. There may be other platforms in development, but the Ethereum platform has all the bells and whistles needed for the blockchain technology to explode, so we will use it for our discussion.
While there are quite a few things that Ethereum does differently to the bitcoin blockchain, the main addition is that the Ethereum blockchain allows code to be embedded into the blockchain, which is associated with that particular "transaction" in the blockchain.
In Ethereum speak, it is called a "contract". If certain conditions are met, then the code runs, which then makes something else happen. As an example, the code may state that if there is a transaction created that "approves" some kind of action or happening in the real world, then a certain amount of the currency is transferred to somebody else's account. This is obviously very handy for transactions where people don't know each other, and only want to pay for some goods or service once they have received the good or service.
Theoretically the code can do anything, so it does not have to only be associated with payments. Imagine that you can now write an "App" that does something once the right conditions have been met. Something like issuing a "certificate" or "release note". If you embed this app in the blockchain, then you can do just about anything when the code is "triggered" by the right conditions.
Suddenly it becomes possible to have an entirely distributed QA/QC system for manufacturing critical high value equipment. The system would allow certain parts of the code to run in a private location, so not everything will be visible to everyone, but the parts that we would want to make sure are not "tampered" with, can be made public so that nobody can "fudge the facts".
Are you starting to see where this is going...
Already there are businesses out there that have managed to code useful applications that can be the basis for a service to be sold commercially. One such company brings together people that need a lot of computing power, with people that have spare computing power.
Imagine your computer is only used for a couple of hours a day to access newsletters or social media. The rest of the time it is pretty much idle. You can make that idle time available to somebody that needs it. Say a researcher that needs a lot of computer power to run a complex computer model. Instead of buying a supercomputer to run the model, the researcher can purchase the computer power from hundreds of people like you that have made their computers available.
That's cool, but not necessarily directly applicable to welding. There is however another application that is very much in our field.
There is a company that has developed a logistics platform for tracking goods as they are sent around the world. Now it would become entirely apparent in a "tamper proof" environment, when your material order has been sent, and you would be able to track it all the way from source to you.
Imagine how this impacts safety critical materials like plates, pipes, flanges and welding consumables used in pressure equipment or the aerospace industry. We can start seeing how a final Manufacturing Data Record (MDR) can be "self assembled" with total tamper proof transparency.
I doubt that the present system allows for this level of functionality, but it is only a matter of time. Maybe you are the one to add that functionality?
Looks like an opportunity to me!
Yours in welding
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What are your thoughts on the speed of technology adoption, and blockchain adoption in particular? Can you think of other applications within the welding and fabrication industry that blockchain platforms can be used for? Please share your stories, opinions, insights and even fears or wishes regarding today's topics.