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Published on 31 de July, 2018 at Cities and Regions

Introduction to Blockchain from a Multidisciplinar Case Study

By Francesc Quintana
4 min read

The event “A multidisciplinary introduction to Blockchain“, organized by the Open University of Catalonia, was held last June on Monday 18th, 2018. In the form of short, powerful talks, the speakers August Corrons, Víctor García, Marc Rocas, Sebastián Valdecantos, Benjamí Anglès, Pere Vidal and Àngels Fitó, approached blockchain technology from multiple and diverse perspectives.


Disruptive Element

By building a distributed, shared and secure network, blockchain is a technology that allows us to transform centrality into distribution, competition into collaboration, opacity into transparency and confidence into security by making it possible for advanced mathematics, computer science and coding to actually strengthen social economy.


How Does It Work

Its main attribute is to store data in groups (blocks). Metadata is added to each block linking it to the previous one (as in a metaphoric chain). This attribute guarantees data immutability since the data of a block can only be edited or “hacked” by modifying all subsequent blocks. But to get a single change in a distributed network would be as impractical as changing the license plate of all cars in the world at the same time.

For this reason, blockchain is especially suitable for storing definitive data ordered in time. The stored data usually are several transactions (not only financial) so they are often called by this name.


Current Projects

Economy at the service of the people. The effects that blockchain will have on how everyday technology communicates and structures are enormous and unpredictable. Today, its best-known implementation, with a recent growth of small and large investors, are tokens and cryptocurrency, a new digital payment method that get by without banks as intermediaries.

Digitizing the currency allows you to embed the rules to its software and thus transfers the authority to create standards in the financial field from central banks to the actual users. Therefore, it opens a door to transform and democratize the economy and empowers citizens to legislate transparently and coherently with local ecosystems.

Medium for social entrepreneurship. More and more social enterprises and associations, which are natural partners of this technology, establish synergies taking advantage from its potential for social projects. At the event held last June 18th, we had the privilege of meeting Monedapar; which is transforming society and the way of doing business in Argentina. This initiative proposes a system of mutual credit that takes from and returns to the community in a reciprocal exchange of goods, services, time and credit.

Transformative tool for the public sector. Furthermore, it is in the public sector where viable opportunities could have a huger impact. It is expected that this new technology will make possible a potential transformation of processes as registration of property, payment of taxes, identification or electronic voting. Cities around the world are launching initiatives that can transform how different agents are interacting:

  • Dubai is already running a huge pilot project with IMB that seeks to save time, efforts and resources using blockchain to identify companies, manage certificates and contracts, favor trade and promote tourism.
  • Bristol (England) and Berkeley (USA), on the other hand, are among the pioneer cities with local and digital civic currencies. This payment currencies have social benefits as ease local retail trade and its profits can be used for building social housing, creating green spaces or having new ambulances.

Other government objectives are the promotion of renewable energies and recycling, reinforced by tokens accepted for the payment of local taxes. We can find exemplary cases everywhere and, without going any further, in the next few years we will see the evolution in Barcelona of the Citizen Currency Rec. Rec is presented as an only digital currency that promotes increasing the economic and social vitality by developing the local economy and community.


The Paradigm Shift in the Future Digital World

Regarding the digital platforms, we have also seen a paradigm shift. The new initiatives based on blockchain go beyond centralized networks such as Uber, Facebook or Airbnb to propose analogous but autonomous and decentralized organizations such as Steemit, Storj, Wificoin and Winding Tree. In these, the company remunerates you in virtual currency for the contents that you spread, the space you share or the Mb of connection that you do not use.

Beyond the well-known cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, the potential of blockchain technology goes much further than its original purpose as an economic alternative. A token is flexible enough to become both a currency and a vote. Because of it, blockchain makes possible ideas and activities that in a traditional system were not. It allows us to rethink all areas and puts new opportunities on the table.

Roy Amara declares that we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. It seems we are now aware of how blockchain could revolutionize the economy and industry, but we barely have a glimpse on the tremendously innovative potential impact it could have on the public sector, our forms of government and the organization of civil society.

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