The Future of Blockchain
Nine years ago this October, a mysterious figure named Satoshi Nakamoto published a white paper entitiled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” on a cryptography mailing list. The subsequent years have made for an electrifying ride. Once valued at a rate of 10,000 Bitcoins for a pizza, this September the price of Bitcoin reached a peak of nearly $5,000 per coin.
From a technological point of view, the success of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin has produced an explosion of new ideas. The “Nakamoto consensus” protocol and it’s blockchain data structure have powered a slew of new technologies, ranging from Ethereum’s “smart contracts” — distributed programs that can spend and receive money according to precise rules — to privacy-preserving currencies such as ZCash (the technology for which was invented here at Johns Hopkins).
But the future of blockchain technology may have more to do with computing than with currency. Blockchains may in fact be useful to secure arbitrary forms of computation. In recent work at Johns Hopkins, we show how blockchain technology can be used to build arbiters for complicated computation protocols, ensuring that all parties learn the output in a timely fashion — without requiring a centralized coordinator. Blockchains may become a decentralized infrastructure that synchronizes computation between many different computers, helping to ensure that modern cloud-based computing systems can’t be tampered with.
While at this point we can’t see where Bitcoin will go, whether it will boom or bust again in 2018, it’s clear that the technology behind cryptocurrencies will see wide adoption. Satoshi Nakamoto has fundamentally changed the way that computer scientists build distributed security systems.