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Is Blockchain the New Internet? How Networks Are Evolving

Since the inception of bitcoin in 2009, the cryptocurrency community has been facing a disconcerting sense of confusion regarding the rest of the world’s reluctance towards blockchain-based currencies. Often the obvious reasons cited for this lack of enthusiasm include the incomprehensible technology underlying cryptocurrencies. Other obstacles such as the counterintuitive notions of computational economics continue to complicate this novel landscape for newcomers.

Naturally a lot of educational efforts are being invested in addressing these gaps and improving accessibility to pertinent knowledge through conferences, podcasts, workshops, and research. However, when it comes to policies and large-scale mass adoption, the challenges for cryptocurrency extend far beyond just the obvious ones that are being discussed extensively.

Needless to say, all this can make the topic quite complicated and inaccessible to those who are interested in learning about the more fundamental aspects of this phenomenon, but are turned off by the overwhelming ideological noise.

IBC is the best bet on a multi-chain future.

Complexity, Chaos, and Opportunity in the Cryptoverse

The crypto universe is complex, and it is getting even more complicated with every passing year as technological components of its ecosystem (e.g. bridges, sidechains, parachains, layer-2, etc) continue to evolve. Likewise, the narratives around cryptocurrencies are also becoming more outlandish with time as newer coins and tokens enter into this chaotically self-organized ecosystem; unleashing a convoluted competition of ideologies.

To add to this, the stern outlook of most governments towards cryptocurrencies has brought forth sensational political dimensions that have steadily bifurcated into conspiracy theories and polarized worldviews. As a result, cryptocurrencies mean different things to different people. Often the stark cultish nature of some of its more zealous advocates has sparked both suspicion as well as aversion in the minds of novices, who would probably like to know more if not for all the bubbling cauldron of discombobulation.

The Bummer of Love

This phenomenon is reminiscent of the anti-establishment movement of the 1960s. Critics have pointed out that the sophomoric over-enthusiasm of some of the counterculture’s strongest proponents ironically wound up upending its revolutionary sentiment. As its offshoots proliferated in the form of new-age spiritualism and an ultra-glamorous market for advertising agencies to peddle caricatured facsimiles of ideals such as self-realization and freedom, the soul of counter-culture dissolved in the very forces that it vowed to eradicate.

The disenchantment that many express about such failed revolutions has at least partly been attributed to puerile idolatry which exacerbated political dialogue, thereby hindering actionable policy change. Today similar reactions are elicited in the minds of crypto neophytes who sometimes happen to eavesdrop on passionate discussions spouting in the burgeoning space of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. This is unfortunate, because some of the conceptual foundation on which the blockchain technology is predicated is actually quite promising and germane beyond the confines of select special interest groups.

Blockchain: The Next Stage of the Internet

Throughout history, human beings have been wielding the awesome power of technology, facing its perils, and reaping its fruits. Our relationship with tools and machines, and our constantly proliferating desire to compute vast oceans of data and information percolating through this anthropogenic world, have characterized the very essence of our evolution.

The emergence of the internet in the late twentieth century spawned a rapidly accelerating chain of computer networks that we came to know as the world wide web. Since then the constant evolution of the internet has generated tremendous excitement and interest in the fields of social science, mathematics, and physics. The real world applications of this interdisciplinary research are relevant to almost every domain of human societies as our world continues to become increasingly interconnected.

Among other things, the internet is fundamentally a communication network that is arguably also an example of a scale-free network. This means that it obeys the statistical phenomenon of ‘power law’ distribution, wherein relative changes in the attributes of one node generate proportional changes in other connected nodes on the network.

Additionally, as the size of a scale-free network expands, the inherent properties that define its collective behaviour tends to remain the same. These traits impart scale-free networks with robustness and makes them amenable to emergent complexity over time. One of the key features of scale-free networks is ‘preferential attachment’, which leads to select, highly-connected nodes called ‘hubs’. Such an infrastructure allegedly makes the internet less vulnerable to random attacks, but highly prone to targeted attacks on the more centralized hubs.

A Case for Decentralizing the Internet

With rapid evolution of the internet in the twenty-first century, critical issues related to corporate monopolization and centralization have begun to stand out like sitting ducks. Regulatory bodies wielding massive control on the internet’s key hubs certainly raises questions regarding data ethics and privacy among other threats to democratization and net neutrality.

With the rising trend of digital metaverses, non-fungible token art, and virtual spaces for work and education, these concerns are certainly becoming more urgent. The impetus to use open-source blockchain technology to upgrade the current web and maintain true decentralization therefore makes a lot of sense. Blockchain, with its distributed and peer-to-peer infrastructure, offers a viable solution to address the inevitable vulnerability of hub nodes that inevitably concentrate centralized power. In fact, this feature has often been cited as an example in favour of cryptocurrencies in circumventing centralized financial institutions from playing the role of the corruptible intermediaries.

Caveats for Blockchain

One of the technical limitations of the blockchain network has been scalability. Recently the introduction of lightning network technology has enabled the community to address this by somewhat endowing the emergent properties of scale-free networks to the blockchain. The lightning network also allows for more efficient manifestation of the trust-free attributes of blockchain, enabling tighter privacy and security along with faster transaction times. It will be exciting to see how this new iteration of the network evolves as more nodes and links are added to it.

However, it should be noted that the scale-free model of the internet has also been challenged by research that underscores the paucity of rigorous data and empirical measurements to support it. The fact that the internet, to begin with, is a largely decentralized distributed system makes it less compliant for conducting accurate data measurements.

Furthermore, the implementation of the blockchain layer over the current internet is still very much a work in progress. The lack of a critical mass of users is one of the key impediments to achieving the desired benefits of scale-free networks. Despite this ever-changing terrain the blockchain technology is here to stay, suggesting that more research and education in this area is crucial for democratically facilitating the future evolution of the internet. I personally find these scientific dimensions more exciting than the ideological debates. In fact, perhaps they are more pertinent to the social relevance of a technology like the internet.

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Ankur Dynanmote

About the Author

Ankur Dnyanmote

Ankur Dnyanmote Ph.D. does research involving computational biology and bioinformatics. He is deeply interested in systems thinking and interdisciplinary work focused on a wide spectrum of issues related to science, philosophy, innovation, and technology. His curiosity about blockchain and cryptocurrency is largely driven by these interests.

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