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Blockchain: Unlocking new possibilities

The government of Goa has recently announced its intention to introduce Blockchain technology in the state to offer better governance. TG Life looks at the possibilities for use of the new tech

10th August 2018, 02:21 Hrs

The state of Goa further cemented its image as an emerging IT hub when it hosted the World Blockchain Congress last weekend. The government is now looking at possibilities to use blockchain technology to improve its governance. So, what exactly is this technology? And how can it change governance? 

In simple terms, Blockchain is a system of record-keeping that offers authentic records that cannot be tempered with and open to public. That said, the information is recorded in “blocks”. These blocks are made up of three elements: the main data that you wish to record, a “hash”, which is like a unique code of that data, and the hash of the previous block. 

Here, there is possibility that anyone could change the hash of a block. But Blockchain is open for anyone to join, which means all users on the network have copies of the original blocks. A block is considered authentic only when all the users in the network validate it. That means if you temper with one block, the rest of the users in the network will reject it, rendering your information invalid. This, in addition to a mechanism called “Proof of Work” makes Blockchain a highly secure transaction technology. The technology is mainly used in BItcoin business, but it can also be used to authenticate permits, licenses, medical and land records etc. Dr Pandurang Kamat, Associate CTO and Chief Technologist at Persistent Systems, who was the speakers at International Blockchain Congress, explained how the government of Goa can use Blockchain technology for better governance. 

“Blockchain offers trust, integrity of data and transparency. In government the most obvious use case is that of any kind of asset registry. The provenance, ownership and the history of transfer of assets that the government registers can be tracked on a blockchain instead of a normal database system”,  says Dr Kamat. “Blockchain can ensure the sanctity of the tendering process by allowing for bids to be committed without being revealed in advance and preventing bid alterations, allowing for better KYC of the bidders etc. A blockchain based public ledger that lets citizens, CAG and the department heads to track progress of files through the system will also add transparency and accountability,” he adds. 

That said, the systems has certain drawbacks. Firstly, the technology is still pretty nascent and thus is used mainly by those with advanced knowledge of IT. It’s complex systems and jargon is difficult to understand for common people. The second issue is costs. “There are costs associated with it”, informs Dr Kamat. “The security and integrity of blockchain comes at the cost of replication of data, he says. “Secondly for the true value to be realised multiple entities in the government or industry have to come together and agree to setup the blockchain network.”

Another flaw in the technology is called 51% attack. Blockchain relies on peer to peer network to validate information, but what if most of these users themselves begin to lie? And if more than half of the P2P network (51%) pick up the lie, it spreads through the network. This possibility was highlighted by Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious creator of Bitcoin. 

   “The technology is available today to everyone. However it’s hard to use for the common person – that user experience has to improve significantly for adoption to increase.” Dr Kamat notes. “The underlying infrastructure is still in nascent stages but it is expected that over the next 5 years the usability, stability and performance of blockchains will improve significantly and drive adoption in enterprises, government and consumer space.”

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