Although blockchain technology is still evolving, it can already offer many advantages to the scientific community.
Blockchain is revolutionizing the world.
It is one of the biggest technology markets worldwide, with prospects tocontinue growing and eventually reaching 23.3 billion dollars worth ofinvestments by 2023, according to Statista.
In the future, the rapid growth in investments will encompass manydifferent industries, and blockchain will become a mainstream technology.
See also: How Blockchain Technology and Cognitive Computing Work Together
Currently, however, different industries are only at the early stage of introducing blockchain technology to different procedures and operations. According to Deloittes 2018 global blockchain survey, blockchain technology is expected to revolutionize many industries. It is anticipated that by using blockchain, industries will completely change the way they function.
According to Deloittes survey, manufacturing industries, as well as theenergy sector, along with healthcare, technology, and even the public sector (governmentalinstitutions, executive branch), will eventually turn to blockchain technologyto organize data, store it, and ensure its security.
But heres what caught our attention, while analyzing this survey.
Interestingly enough, life sciences (biotech, medical devices, andpharma) ranks high on the list of industries that will make use of blockchain.The technological advancement in life sciences greatly impacts the quality ofhealthcare, giving us new opportunities to improve it.
Lets take a step further.
Technological advancement in engineering and computer science will giveus new opportunities in manufacturing, the energy sector, and other relatedfields.
This pushes us to deduce the following thought: will science in general be changed by blockchain technology? And, if yes, what opportunities, prospects of implementation, and potential problems should we expect from it?
Lets dig deeper.
Blockchainfor Science: Revolutionary Opportunities
Blockchain technology is versatile. Therefore, the wholedata-hash-previous hash system works for every transaction involving value,whether its money, goods, or information. Besides, the high levels of securityensure fraud protection, as every transaction is recorded and distributed amongthe computer network.
As a result, these features of the blockchain technology offer thefollowing opportunities that can revolutionize science in different aspects.
Opportunity#1: Making Research Transparent
The science behind blockchain is simple.
A set of blocks that contain data is shared in one network of parties(nodes), which have equal and immutable access to the data carried by theblock.
Whats in it for scientific research?
Lets say a group of researchers is working on a statistical analysis ofa certain business venture. They collect data that is stored in blocks, thuscreating a data-carrying blockchain for this research.
Any changes that are made to this data will not go unnoticed, as everyresearcher from the team can equally spot and track these changes.
Joris van Rossum, Director of Special Projects at Digital Science, saysthat among the biggest benefits that blockchain can bring to scientificresearch is eliminatingpoor communication.
Right now, according to van Rossum, scientific research is at a verydeficient state. Blockchain gives an opportunity to change, as it ensuresreproducibility that is central for transparent scientific research.
Opportunity#2: Making Data Storage Safer
Blockchain is designed in a way that ensures safe storage of any datathat every block contains. Hashes, which work as a protection device for thedata, are hard to tamper, thus keeping all research data safely stored.
Essentially, blockchain is a decentralized database of information. Itis decentralized because every node has full access to the data and any changesthat have been made. This includes any changes made involving the hashes ofevery block, thus making it impossible to leak the information or corrupt it.
Blockchain technology also ensures an extra level of protection, as allthe data is broken into segments (shards), which are encrypted. Thus, anyclassified research data can be safely stored in blocks, accessed, and trackedby every node in the network.
Opportunity#3: Making Science Transparent
Blockchain technology brings an opportunity to make the decisions andthe activity of scientific organizations more transparent by introducingso-called smart contracts.
Distributedledger technology enables blockchain to store small computerprograms that track the data. Smart contracts are created in the form ofcomputer programs and are designed to cut the middleman in all datatransactions. Instead, this smart contract becomes the middle man, and all theactivity can be traced by the network of nodes.
The two main features that science and scientific research can benefitfrom are that smart contracts in their nature are:
Thisfeature of smart contracts wont allow any of the two parties to opt out of thecontract, change its terms, or terminate it. This means that every scientificorganization that was promised governmental funding will get it.
Smart contracts are almost impossible to tamper with. As all theactivities are fixated and stored in blocks, it not only gets safer to storethis data but makes the general activity of scientific organizations moretransparent and organized.
Blockchainfor Science: Prospects of Implementation
All the above-mentioned opportunities have already found theirimplementation in decentralized blockchain-based data storage.
Decentralized clouds started emerging recently, becoming a strongcompetitor and a potential threat to centralized servers such as Google Cloud,Dropbox, etc.
Decentralized cloud storage uses blockchain technology to:
Essentially, all the above-mentioned opportunities, brought to scienceand scientific research by blockchain, are already, in one way or another,implemented by decentralized clouds.
Besides obvious reasons, like transparency and security, scientists andresearchers could be interested in decentralized clouds for the following reasons:
Since blockchain technology is behind this idea, every file indecentralized cloud storage is marked with a hash, and every other filecontains a hash from a previous file. Thus, any scientific organization, oreven a small group of researchers, can be sure that every file is safely storedand wont go missing.
Blockchainfor Science: Potential Problems
Alongside with the above-mentioned advantages, the implementation ofblockchain technology can potentially cause problems. Aside from the fact thatscience is currently not fully ready for blockchainadoption, the technology itself is still underdeveloped, which may lead to thefollowing issues.
Problem#1: Authorization Issues
The goal of blockchain technology is to encrypt and safely store thedata and establish consensus in a distributed network.
To prove that a network member has permission to write to a certainchain, it is required to run complex algorithms that will ensure rightfulauthorization. Such algorithms take immense amounts of computing power, whichcomes at a cost.
So, even if blockchain technology can solve theproblems of securing and storing the data for scientific research, theauthorization of each network member remains an issue.
Problem#2: Lack of Legislation
As scientific society follows certain rules established by law, usingblockchain technology may present certain legislation-relatedissues:
All these issues need further clarification and the development oflegislation that will cover and resolve them.
Problem#3: Potential Hacker Attacks
Although blockchain is considered one of the most secure technologies inthe world, theres a possibility that a blockchain can be hacked.
This happened to Coinbase and Ethereum Classic when a hacker gainedcontrol of more than half of the networks computing power. Covering thisstory, MITTechnology Review listed the reasons that could potentiallyundermine the security of the blockchain technology:
Although now it is the best solution to ensure security, blockchaintechnology is far from being perfect. Before switching from a centralizedserver to decentralized cloud storage, researchers should understand thatalthough the chances of research information getting hacked are lower, it isstill possible.
Blockchain Brings New Potential to Science
Apart from some issues, blockchain technology brings a variety ofbenefits to the scientific community. Every researcher knows that effectivecommunication, transparency, and data security are crucial for high-qualityresearch.
Although blockchain technology is still evolving, it can already offermany advantages to the scientific community. And, as the evolution ofblockchain technology shows no signs of stopping, we can safely say that oneday it will become integral for scientific research and science in general.
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