Blockchain technology is widely considered to have the potential to change the world. A World Economic Forum survey recently forecast that 10% of global GDP could be on Blockchain-based applications by 2025. The technology is also being tipped to revolutionize a wide range of industries and processes from banking and finance, intellectual property, medical records, and supply chain management, to name but a few. Many believe widespread implementation of Blockchain-based systems and applications in public records globally could even go a long way to eradicating the corruption and institutionalized theft that is holding back the development of large swathes of the world.
But where did this revolutionary technology appear from, who invented it and who, if anyone, owns the rights to Blockchain?
Where Did Blockchain Come From
Blockchain arrived as the underlying technology that made Bitcoin, the world’s first cryptocurrency, a feasible digital currency. Its decentralized peer-to-peer quality and use of cutting-edge cryptography provided an answer to the fundamental technology issues Bitcoin had to address to be viable as a digital currency.
Blockchain is best surmised as a decentralized digital ledger. A network of computers participating in a Blockchain application all hold a copy of the ledger, which records every transaction. In the case of Bitcoin that is the transfer of digital currency, though, in theory, it could be any kind of transaction. These computers act as ‘nodes’, and mean multiple copies of the ledger exist at any one time. These nodes subsequently approve all future transactions as being consistent with the ledger’s history.
For example, for person A to send person B one Bitcoin, the ledger must verify that person A owns that Bitcoin as the result of previous transactions. Blockchain technology normally requires that at least 30% of all copies of the ledger (Except 51% in the case of Bitcoin) verify a transaction. The ledger is then simultaneously updated across all of its copies. At regular periods these transactions are then bundled together and cryptographically sealed in a data ‘block’ which is also time stamped. This data ‘block’ is then immutable and cannot be altered, meaning the historical ledger record can be trusted. These blocks are linked together by a cryptographic thread, with an element of each sealed block carried into the next in the chain. For any kind of fraud or corruption of the overall record to occur, these blocks would have to be tampered with. The ‘hashing’ cryptography Blockchain employs makes this extremely difficult. An additional layer of security is the fact that this would have to be achieved simultaneously across every copy of the Blockchain ledger for the inconsistency in one copy not to be spotted and rejected by the peer-2-peer system.
It soon became apparent that the decentralized Blockchain technology that provided the efficiency, security, and immutability required to make Bitcoin a viable digital currency proposition could also be used for an almost limitless variety of other applications. Blockchain is actually not one technology, as often presumed. Rather it is a group of technologies that can be used in combination or interchanged to achieve varying results and ‘protocols’.
Who Invented Blockchain?
No one really knows who invented Blockchain. Nominally, Blockchain’s technology was invented by Bitcoin’s inventor. The problem with that answer is that no one really knows who Bitcoin’s inventor was and if they alone created Blockchain technology. In 2008 Bitcoin’s inventor, the year before it was launched, released a white paper detailing the concept behind the cryptocurrency and the Blockchain technology. The white paper, and subsequently Bitcoin, were released under a pseudonym - Satoshi Nakamoto. It has never been confirmed who exactly is behind the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym, though there are a handful of more popular suspicions. The USA’s National Security Agency is rumored to have uncovered who Nakamoto was.
Whether whoever Nakamoto is, invented Blockchain technology alone, or as part of a team, we may never really know.
Who owns Blockchain?
Bitcoin, and Blockchain, were launched as an open source code. This means that it is free to use and be customized by anyone who has the technology knowledge and skills to be able to do so. This means that nobody ‘owns’ or can ever own the technology. It can be considered, along with Bitcoin itself, Satoshi Nakamoto’s gift to the world.
Particular Blockchain applications can be patented and ‘owned’ but not the technology itself.