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Blockchain-of-Things

Geschreven door Ben van Lier - 16 mei 2018

Ben van Lier
In 1954 [1], English scientist W. Ross Ashby described the possibility of machine components establishing mutual connections or the interconnection of machines to create a new whole as a fundamental feature of these machines. Ashby concluded this after studying the functioning of an interconnected whole that he called a homeostat. Kline [2] defined the homeostat as follows: “The homeostat consisted of four interconnected boxes filled with electronic gear and switches.” (2015:52).

In 1962 [3] , Ashby claimed that when adding a feedback loop to these interconnected systems: “the system would be self-organizing if a change were automatically made to the feedback changing it from positive to negative; then the whole would have changed from a bad organization to a good one.” (1962:115) In 1978, Lamport called such an interconnected whole a distributed system. In Lamport’s [4] view, this kind of distributed but interconnected system can be considered: “a collection of distinct processes that are spatially separated and communicate with each other by exchanging messages. A network of interconnected computers such as the ARPA net is a distributed system.” (1978:558) Interconnecting machines in networks enables communication and interaction between these machines, thus paving the way for joint decision making about the activities that are to be performed.

Research project

In March 2017, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) received a research proposal with the following title: Framework of Blockchain of Things as Decentralized Service Platform [5]. The proposal was submitted by Egypt’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, in conjunction with China Unicom, the China Academy of Information and Communication Technology (which comes under the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology), ZTE corporation, AliBaba Group, and the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation.

This research project is focused on introducing a concept for the functioning of a blockchain of things. The scope of the study is to analyse: “common characteristics and high level requirements, when it is as a decentralized service platform for IoT, and then brings a general framework of Blockchain of Things and relevant capabilities as mapping to IoT reference model.” In this context, the Internet of Things is defined as: “a global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on, existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies.”

According to this proposal for a new work item at the ITU, the information transactions performed by things jointly are enabled by a: “decentralized service platform, based on blockchain-related technologies, enabling the (physical and virtual) things to participate in and make transactions.” (2017:9) Decisions made by a whole of interconnected things are, according to the research proposal, based on: “consensus: a broader term overarching the entire flow for a BoT transaction, in which the entities involved in a BoT to generate agreements and to confirm the correctness of the BoT transactions.”

Following on from that, the proposal points out that decisions made by a group of things through consensus are logged in each participant’s own, and therefore distributed, ledger, which is defined as: “a distributed append-only transaction log managed by the BoT peers. The BoT ledger stores whole or part of information for the BoT transactions.” The proposal states that the peer-to-peer transactions to be performed between one or multiple things and one or multiple other things can be performed by any independent entity that: “supports BoT related functionalities, such as IoT device, IoT gateway and IoT system”. Based on the features selected for participation in a blockchain of things, the proposal to the ITU states that every BoT can be classified as either public, consortium or private. In a public blockchain of things, any random thing can be connected in a network and take part in any decision-making process. Aside from that, the proposal also predicts the emergence of consortia of things where: “parts of the participants are known and trusted with which they provide services for their consumers”. And finally, the research proposal submitted to the ITU also predicts the emergence of private blockchains, stating that “in the private blockchain of things all the participants are known and trusted”.

Networks of things

In 2016, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology stated [6] that within the rapidly developing network of things: “the tethering factoring is data.” Networked things operate based on interconnections and the ensuing possibilities for communication and interaction between these things. Vermesan et al [7] (2018) claimed that their concept of the Internet of Robotic Things goes further than the Internet of Things: “beyond networked and collaborative/cloud robotics and integrates heterogeneous intelligent devices into a distributed architecture of platforms operating both in the cloud and the edge. IoRT addresses the many ways IoT today technologies and robotic “devices” convergence to provide advanced robotic capabilities, enabling aggregated IoT functionality along with novel applications and by extension, new business, and investment opportunities not only in industrial domains but in almost every sector where robotic assistance and IoT technology and applications can be imagined” (92017:99).

According to Vermesan et al, blockchain technology is not only a means for reliable peer-to-peer communication between a varied range of devices in the development of the Internet of Robotic Things, it can also contribute to the prevention of potential threats, vulnerabilities, or consequences of external attacks.

Bahga and Madiseeti [8] (2016) consider the development of the Internet of Things first and foremost as promising for industrial and manufacturing systems. They assume a decentralised peer-to-peer platform that they call a blockchain platform for the Industrial Internet of Things. The blockchain they propose: “enables peers in decentralized, trustless, peer-to-peer network to interact with each other without the need for a trusted intermediary.” (2016:534)

Kott, Swami and West [9] (2016), on the other hand, focused on applications for the armed forces: “The battlefield of the future will be densely populated by a variety of entities (“things”) – some intelligent and some marginally so – performing a broad range of tasks: sensing, communicating, acting, and collaborating with each other and human warfighters.” (2016:70) In their opinion, the things operating in the theatre of war will be able to coordinate and execute their tasks through continuous collaboration based on mutual communication, coordination and negotiation in order to be able to achieve the objectives that have been set. The US government’s defence budget, which was presented in December 2017 [10], is testimony to the growing interest in blockchain technology in a defence context, as it asked for: “a description of potential offensive and defensive cyber applications of blockchain technology and other distributed database technologies.”

Conclusions

In 2008, Nakamoto [11] said the following: “What is needed is an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party.” (2008:1) Based on the blockchain or network of things created by Nakamoto, machines independently perform reliable information transactions without the involvement of a trusted human third party. The development towards increasing autonomy of machines that jointly perform tasks is something we are now seeing in various social sectors and cultures. This does not only pose questions about the functioning of individual things that autonomously perform tasks, but increasingly also about groups of things that perform tasks for us or will be performing tasks for us without any further human involvement. Following on from that, we as humans should perhaps ask ourselves whether we should focus more on philosophical and/or ethical issues instead of on economic, ideological or technological possibilities, and consider what this development means for our role as humans in a world that is increasingly dominated by interconnected and autonomously operating machines.

  1. Ashby, R.W. (1954) Design for a Brain. New York, John Wiley & Sons
  2. Kline, R.R. (2015) The Cybernetics Moment. Or Why We Call Our Age the Information Age. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 9781421416717
  3. Ashby, R.W. (1962) Principles of the Self-Organizing System. In: Principles of Self-Organization: Transactions of the University of Illinois Symposium. Eds: Von Foerster, H. and Zopf, G.W. London, UK, Pergamon Press. pp. 255-278.
  4. Lamport L. (1978) Time, Clocks, and the Ordering of Events in a Distributed System. Communication of the ACM, Volume 21, Issue 7, pp. 558-565, July 1978.
  5. International Telecommunication Union (2017). Telecommunication standardization sector. Study Period 2017-2020. SG20-C.008. Dubai, 13-23 March 2017
  6. Voas, J. (2016) Networks of Things. NIST Special Publication 800-183
  7. Vermesan, O. et al (2017) Internet of Robotic Things in: Cognitive Hyperconnected Digital Transformation - Internet of Things Intelligence Evolution. River Publishers ISBN 9788793609105 Editors: Vermesan, O. and Bacquet, J. pp.97-155
  8. Bahga, A. and Madisetti, V.K. (2016) Blockchain Platform for Industrial Internet of Things. Journal of Software Engineering and Applications, Volume 9, pp. 533-546
  9. Kott, A., Swami, A. and West, B.J. (2016) The Internet of Battle Things. Computer Volume: 49, Issue: 12, Dec. 2016, pp. 70-75
  10. https://www.coindesk.com/trump-signs-defense-bill-authorizing-blockchain-study/  SEC. 1646. Briefing on cyber applications of blockchain technology
  11. Nakamoto, S. (2008) Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System. https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf

Ben van Lier works at Centric as Director Strategy & Innovation and, in that function, is involved in research and analysis of developments in the areas of overlap between organisation and technology within the various market segments.

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