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Blockchain Technology's Three Generations

In a study produced by the Global Innovation Policy Center for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, global online piracy costs the U.S. economy at least $29.2 billion and as much as $71 billion in lost domestic revenues each year.


While this figure is significant, it doesn't take into account the annual losses to the U.S. economy in jobs and in the reduced gross domestic product (GDP). The report estimates digital video piracy results in between $47.5 billion and $115.3 billion in reduced U.S. GDP per year along with losses of between 230,000 and 560,000 jobs.


To be sure, media companies have taken steps to protect their content from piracy, but this has not been enough to fully cut off the process. Now, analysts have speculated that blockchain technology could potentially play a role in the control of this content and the protection against piracy going forward.


Stage 1: Bitcoin and Digital Currencies

While the ideas that would go into the blockchain were swirling around in computer science communities, it was the pseudonymous developer of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, who outlined the blockchain as we know it in the white paper for BTC. In this way, blockchain technology began with the Bitcoin network. While blockchain has since gone on to see use in a huge variety of other areas, in some sense it was designed specially for this digital currency and for advancing the goals of digital currencies more broadly.


In the earliest stages, blockchain set up the basic premise of a shared public ledger that supports a cryptocurrency network. Satoshi's idea of blockchain makes use of 1 megabyte (MB) blocks of information on bitcoin transactions. Blocks are linked together through a complex cryptographic verification process, forming an immutable chain. Even in its earliest guises, blockchain technology set up many of the central features of these systems, which remain today. Indeed, bitcoin's blockchain remains largely unchanged from these earliest efforts.


Stage 2: Smart Contracts

As time went on, developers began to believe that a blockchain could do more than simply document transactions. Founders of ethereum, for instance, had the idea that assets and trust agreements could also benefit from blockchain management. In this way, ethereum represents the second-generation of the blockchain technology.


The major innovation brought about by ethereum was the advent of smart contracts. Typically, contracts in the mainstream business world are managed between two separate entities, sometimes with other entities assisting in the oversight process. Smart contracts are those that are self-managing on a blockchain. They are triggered by an event like the passing of an expiration date or the achievement of a particular price goal; in response, the smart contract manages itself, making adjustments as needed and without the input of outside entities.


At this point, we may still be in the process of harnessing the untapped potential of smart contracts. Thus, whether we have truly moved on to the subsequent stage of the development of blockchain is debatable.


Stage 3: The Future

One of the major issues facing blockchain is scaling. Bitcoin remains troubled by transaction processing times and bottlenecking. Many new digital currencies have attempted to revise their blockchains in order to accommodate these issues, but with varying degrees of success. In the future, one of the most important developments paving the way for blockchain technology going forward will likely have to do with scalability.


Beyond this, new applications of blockchain technology are being discovered and implemented all the time. It's difficult to say exactly where these developments will lead the technology and the cryptocurrency industry as a whole. Supporters of blockchain are likely to find this incredibly exciting; from their perspective, we are living in a moment with an epochal technology that is continuing to grow and unfold.

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