Beyond Bitcoin: Evolving Blockchain Use Cases

By Elizabeth Leake

March 26, 2018

The blockchain topic is gaining momentum, but it’s grossly misunderstood. The term, erroneously, has become synonymous with cryptocurrencies. However, that’s only one of many applications for blockchain. Contributor Elizabeth Leake looks at the real potential for blockchain to make a difference, in fighting fraud, securing personal data and improving agricultural systems.

I’ve become blockchain-curious given the many, ubiquitous non-financial applications that have cropped up ever since cryptocurrencies gave it a controversial reputation. I’m especially interested in use cases that improve value chains in agricultural food systems in low and middle-income countries. Because more people there earn a living from agriculture, blockchain stands to alleviate poverty while improving food security prospects for everyone.

According to analysts who work for International Business Machines (IBM), blockchain—or distributed ledger technology—is “a shared, unalterable ledger for recording the history of transactions. It increases trust, accountability and transparency across business networks.” By enabling smart contracts between individuals anywhere around the world, there is no need for centralized support or oversight (legal, banking, title companies, broker, or other steps that add cost and opportunities for fraud). A decentralized ledger can still be tampered with, but with blockchain’s transparency, it’s easier to detect if something has been altered. As for efficiency, IBM Global Financing reported saving as much as 75 percent of the time required to mediate transaction disputes among 4,000 partners and suppliers using a blockchain distribution management solution.

To economists and business managers, 75 percent savings is nontrivial; this explains why there’s a Consumer Goods Blockchain Forum with representation from such commercial giants as Nestle, Walmart, Proctor and Gamble, McDonalds and others. These companies employ a large percentage of the global workforce, so they’re interested in relevant training. That’s STEM-Trek’s cue to pay attention.

As STEM-Trek’s facilitator, I keep a finger on the pulse of social networks which foster more than 15,000 global contacts; for the most part, they’re students, computational and data scientists and high performance computing industry stakeholders. While many have buzzed with enthusiasm about blockchain’s potential for 18 months or more, and a wealth of blockchain content was published in 2017 via the Association for Computing Machinery Digital Library, I haven’t noticed new grant opportunities to support related research, or that many universities have incorporated related instruction into curricula. That will change as more jump on the blockchain bandwagon, and issues that I will explain here are rectified.

Most blockchain experience has been with first (Bitcoin) and second (Ethereum) generation cryptocurrencies. In crypto production environments, computational systems are decommissioned after one or two years since the applications are so resource-intensive that components fail quicker than the prescribed five-year warranty average. I looked into the prospect of recycling, and was told it’s not worth it. By the time the hardware is decommissioned, it’s useless. Mining is also energy-intensive, and the cost to mine varies with the price of energy, which differs by state in the U.S. For example, when a single Bitcoin reached $17,652.30 in value, it cost $9,483 to mine in Hawaii, but only $3,224 in Louisiana (according to Market Watch on December 17, 2017). It’s neither sustainable nor environmentally responsible.

As far as engaging in related research, such costs would be prohibitive for colleges and universities that struggle to keep the lights on. At the same time, criminally-clueless (or careless) students have exploited free electricity to mine for cryptocurrency from dorm rooms. Apparently nobody notices or cares that there are racks of blinking lights in some student closets. But astronomical energy bills trigger audits, expulsion and widespread embarrassment; especially if it follows an unwelcome visit by U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigators who watch mining activity closely. Unexplained energy consumption has become a red flag for suspected criminal activity.

Beyond Bitcoin, Ethereum and more than 1,000 other initial coin offerings (ICO) in circulation, third-generation cryptocurrency development is tackling known issues of sustainability (power/efficiency), interoperability (policies & compliance), scalability, and security (quantum computing poses a threat). Progress in each of these areas is likely to be made through a combination of diplomacy, intelligent data management and artificial intelligence.

The Cardano Project is focused on these issues, and they’re exploring the use of Recursive Internetwork Architecture, or RINA. RINA was developed by John Day (Boston University) who wrote the 2008 book, Patterns in Network Architecture; A Return to Fundamentals. Since RINA addresses the issues described above, I asked Day to describe what makes it a better Internet Protocol than Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), for example.

“The original insight for networking (that was lost in the late 1970s) was Interprocess Communication which had more in common with operating systems than with telecom. As we have built upon that, we’ve discovered that there aren’t five or seven layers, but a single layer that repeats (at different scopes) for different ranges of bandwidth, quality of service and scale,” said Day.

“A major difference with RINA is that it separates mechanism from policy,” he said. “Mechanisms are the invariants, while policies are the variants for specific environments. For example, the mechanism for sending acknowledgements is the same across all protocols, but when they are sent (the policy) differs. By separating the two, there is a major collapse in complexity and the resulting layers complement each other. This makes the network more efficient, less costly and much easier to manage.”  Since a RINA layer is a securable container, there is no need for firewalls.  In the current Internet, each protocol is secured independently, which leads to considerable duplication.

I asked Day if TCP/IP would be replaced by RINA, or if the Internet would require architectural changes before it could be used. “RINA can work alongside, over and/or under TCP/IP on existing infrastructure. I recommend employing RINA when appropriate, and use TCP/IP where it is beneficial, such as for testing malware, spam, phishing, etc.,” he said with a wink and a smile.

While the Cardano Project involves financial data, medical and pharmaceutical industries are embracing blockchain to secure public health and personal information, and to safeguard consumers against counterfeit drugs. There are also blockchain enthusiasts in agricultural and related industries who are concerned with global food security. While most of us have become wise to counterfeit software, telephony and designer handbags, few realize the same deceptive practices affect food, feed, seed and agricultural supplies. A compromised herbicide or pesticide, for example, might not be identified until after a crop fails. It could take years and declining health before some realize they aren’t receiving promised fortifications.

Blockchain effectively tracks the provenance of raw materials and commodities. In the case of cocoa, for example, if GPS coordinates are captured when and where it’s harvested, the information could be used to verify that the producer exercises best practices relating to sustainability (which prevents irresponsible deforestation). It can also be used to track how rare earths used in electronics are mined to ensure that forced or child labor weren’t involved.

With blockchain’s ability to offer immediate traceability, bad actors can still dump junk into the market, but they will be discovered quicker, issues will be resolved faster and they’re less likely to do it again. In essence, it would cost more for criminals to cheat a blockchain system than it’s worth; associated risks and penalties are much higher. International policing agencies also use blockchain to combat fraud. Mitigating disputes and crime robs time and money from the value chain.

Virtual end-points are easy to trace computationally, but crossing from the virtual to physical realms will require a “follow the product solution,” and that’s what Netherlands-based FOCAFET Foundation is developing. Designed with the moonshot expectation of becoming 100 times more efficient and 1,000 times more secure than current methods, FOCAFET’s “virtual Internet of entities” employs a bar code that can’t be copied. Unique product attributes are recorded in blockchain ledgers. For example, it might record a seed’s genetic makeup or a product’s exact chemistry, and then follow it through each step of the supply chain until delivery, including where and how it was produced. It could also be used to track energy, or any other quantifiable commodity. Using a mobile device, the end-user scans the bar code, and the product’s authenticity and integrity are immediately verified before it’s used. The mobile app is light at the end-point, will accommodate a broad range of devices (considering that some in poorer regions use older hardware) and is interoperable with about 80 spoken languages. Additionally, it will seek community feedback in an interest of continuous improvement, and will rely on a free and open use Internet protocol.

The state of global blockchain culture is a theme for STEM-Trek’s proposed July workshop called [email protected] Funds and final approval are pending, but we hope it will take place during the Practice & Experience in Advanced Research Computing (PEARC18) conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 22-25.  Watch the STEM-Trek site for updates!

Feature image: Photo by Malcolm Carlaw (Summer Wheat beginning to ripen in the Palouse region; used with the photographer’s permission)

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

ORNL Helps Identify Challenges of Extremely Heterogeneous Architectures

March 21, 2019

Exponential growth in classical computing over the last two decades has produced hardware and software that support lightning-fast processing speeds, but advancements are topping out as computing architectures reach thei Read more…

By Laurie Varma

Interview with 2019 Person to Watch Jim Keller

March 21, 2019

On the heels of Intel's reaffirmation that it will deliver the first U.S. exascale computer in 2021, which will feature the company's new Intel Xe architecture, we bring you our interview with our 2019 Person to Watch Jim Keller, head of the Silicon Engineering Group at Intel. Read more…

By HPCwire Editorial Team

What’s New in HPC Research: TensorFlow, Buddy Compression, Intel Optane & More

March 20, 2019

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE and Intel® Omni-Path Architecture: How to Power a Cloud

Learn how HPE and Intel® Omni-Path Architecture provide critical infrastructure for leading Nordic HPC provider’s HPCFLOW cloud service.

powercloud_blog.jpgFor decades, HPE has been at the forefront of high-performance computing, and we’ve powered some of the fastest and most robust supercomputers in the world. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Insurance: Where’s the Risk?

Insurers are facing extreme competitive challenges in their core businesses. Property and Casualty (P&C) and Life and Health (L&H) firms alike are highly impacted by the ongoing globalization, increasing regulation, and digital transformation of their client bases. Read more…

At GTC: Nvidia Expands Scope of Its AI and Datacenter Ecosystem

March 19, 2019

In the high-stakes race to provide the AI life-cycle solution of choice, three of the biggest horses in the field are IBM, Intel and Nvidia. While the latter is only a fraction of the size of its two bigger rivals, and has been in business for only a fraction of the time, Nvidia continues to impress with an expanding array of new GPU-based hardware, software, robotics, partnerships and... Read more…

By Doug Black

At GTC: Nvidia Expands Scope of Its AI and Datacenter Ecosystem

March 19, 2019

In the high-stakes race to provide the AI life-cycle solution of choice, three of the biggest horses in the field are IBM, Intel and Nvidia. While the latter is only a fraction of the size of its two bigger rivals, and has been in business for only a fraction of the time, Nvidia continues to impress with an expanding array of new GPU-based hardware, software, robotics, partnerships and... Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia Debuts Clara AI Toolkit with Pre-Trained Models for Radiology Use

March 19, 2019

AI’s push into healthcare got a boost yesterday with Nvidia’s release of the Clara Deploy AI toolkit which includes 13 pre-trained models for use in radiolo Read more…

By John Russell

It’s Official: Aurora on Track to Be First US Exascale Computer in 2021

March 18, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy along with Intel and Cray confirmed today that an Intel/Cray supercomputer, "Aurora," capable of sustained performance of one exaf Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Why Nvidia Bought Mellanox: ‘Future Datacenters Will Be…Like High Performance Computers’

March 14, 2019

“Future datacenters of all kinds will be built like high performance computers,” said Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang during a phone briefing on Monday after Nvidia revealed scooping up the high performance networking company Mellanox for $6.9 billion. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Oil and Gas Supercloud Clears Out Remaining Knights Landing Inventory: All 38,000 Wafers

March 13, 2019

The McCloud HPC service being built by Australia’s DownUnder GeoSolutions (DUG) outside Houston is set to become the largest oil and gas cloud in the world th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quick Take: Trump’s 2020 Budget Spares DoE-funded HPC but Slams NSF and NIH

March 12, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget request, released yesterday, proposes deep cuts in many science programs but seems to spare HPC funding by the Depar Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Wins Mellanox Stakes for $6.9 Billion

March 11, 2019

The long-rumored acquisition of Mellanox came to fruition this morning with GPU chipmaker Nvidia’s announcement that it has purchased the high-performance net Read more…

By Doug Black

Optalysys Rolls Commercial Optical Processor

March 7, 2019

Optalysys, Ltd., a U.K. company seeking to advance it optical co-processor technology, moved a step closer this week with the unveiling of what it claims is th Read more…

By George Leopold

Quantum Computing Will Never Work

November 27, 2018

Amid the gush of money and enthusiastic predictions being thrown at quantum computing comes a proposed cold shower in the form of an essay by physicist Mikhail Read more…

By John Russell

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

ClusterVision in Bankruptcy, Fate Uncertain

February 13, 2019

ClusterVision, European HPC specialists that have built and installed over 20 Top500-ranked systems in their nearly 17-year history, appear to be in the midst o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Reportedly in $6B Bid for Mellanox

January 30, 2019

The latest rumors and reports around an acquisition of Mellanox focus on Intel, which has reportedly offered a $6 billion bid for the high performance interconn Read more…

By Doug Black

Why Nvidia Bought Mellanox: ‘Future Datacenters Will Be…Like High Performance Computers’

March 14, 2019

“Future datacenters of all kinds will be built like high performance computers,” said Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang during a phone briefing on Monday after Nvidia revealed scooping up the high performance networking company Mellanox for $6.9 billion. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Looking for Light Reading? NSF-backed ‘Comic Books’ Tackle Quantum Computing

January 28, 2019

Still baffled by quantum computing? How about turning to comic books (graphic novels for the well-read among you) for some clarity and a little humor on QC. The Read more…

By John Russell

Contract Signed for New Finnish Supercomputer

December 13, 2018

After the official contract signing yesterday, configuration details were made public for the new BullSequana system that the Finnish IT Center for Science (CSC Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep500: ETH Researchers Introduce New Deep Learning Benchmark for HPC

February 5, 2019

ETH researchers have developed a new deep learning benchmarking environment – Deep500 – they say is “the first distributed and reproducible benchmarking s Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 18 Virtual Booth Video Tour

Advania @ SC18 AMD @ SC18
ASRock Rack @ SC18
DDN Storage @ SC18
HPE @ SC18
IBM @ SC18
Lenovo @ SC18 Mellanox Technologies @ SC18
NVIDIA @ SC18
One Stop Systems @ SC18
Oracle @ SC18 Panasas @ SC18
Supermicro @ SC18 SUSE @ SC18 TYAN @ SC18
Verne Global @ SC18

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Bets $2B Seeking 1000X AI Hardware Performance Boost

February 7, 2019

For now, AI systems are mostly machine learning-based and “narrow” – powerful as they are by today's standards, they're limited to performing a few, narro Read more…

By Doug Black

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Reflections and (Mostly Hopeful) Predictions

December 19, 2018

So much ‘spaghetti’ gets tossed on walls by the technology community (vendors and researchers) to see what sticks that it is often difficult to peer through Read more…

By John Russell

Arm Unveils Neoverse N1 Platform with up to 128-Cores

February 20, 2019

Following on its Neoverse roadmap announcement last October, Arm today revealed its next-gen Neoverse microarchitecture with compute and throughput-optimized si Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

It’s Official: Aurora on Track to Be First US Exascale Computer in 2021

March 18, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy along with Intel and Cray confirmed today that an Intel/Cray supercomputer, "Aurora," capable of sustained performance of one exaf Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Move Over Lustre & Spectrum Scale – Here Comes BeeGFS?

November 26, 2018

Is BeeGFS – the parallel file system with European roots – on a path to compete with Lustre and Spectrum Scale worldwide in HPC environments? Frank Herold Read more…

By John Russell

France to Deploy AI-Focused Supercomputer: Jean Zay

January 22, 2019

HPE announced today that it won the contract to build a supercomputer that will drive France’s AI and HPC efforts. The computer will be part of GENCI, the Fre Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This