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Blockchain protocol: What’s next after Bitcoin?


The students of the CRI Harvard Summer School who attended the “Human and Technology” conference cycle during the Futur en Seine Festival give their analysis of how the technology behind bitcoins could impact our daily lives. 

A protocol leveraging the collective power

Ideas on the precipice of breakthroughs that would cause seismic shifts in how we live our lives everyday are nearly universally met with resistance. This is exactly the case with Bitcoin and the Blockchain protocol. Bitcoin, and other types of virtual currency, has been viewed for some time as a currency that simply facilitates the online black market and other suspicious operations on the internet. While this arena may have been the early adopter of this technology, the technology itself should not be cast aside.

In reality, Bitcoins and the blockchain protocol provide a secure means of executing a financial transaction on the internet, while minimizing common risks associated with finance and currency changing hands. I imagine that as Bitcoin becomes more prevalent, it will be viewed as an appropriate and common form of currency that can be a unit of exchange in everyday transactions—fitting in perfectly in a world where seemingly everything can be done online.

The concept of leveraging the collective computing power of the network as a means of providing consensus for the transaction, as is the case with the blockchain protocol struck me as a fascinating concept. The transactions are likely legitimate if the majority of the computers on a network validate the sequence of transactions in the blockchain protocol (by timestamp).

This is similar to how the government could have surveillance of much of America by leveraging individuals’ cell phone microphones and cameras. Other uses of the “collectivization of technology” system could bring many benefits to a smart city approach. I imagine a potential technology where people can use the service/power of nearby cell phones that are not currently in use to assist their own calls or data usage. Then while their own phones are not in use, others in the community can leverage them.

Alex Kaufman, Cecile Crapart & Olivia Chen

Capture d’écran 2015-09-23 à 14.40.08

Towards a more technologically empowered society

The Bitcoin presentation embodied much of what we believe Futur en Seine tried to convey, namely that the integration of technology into even the most commonplace transactions has the potential to markedly change the way we live our lives.

Cited specifically in the Bitcoin panel was the reality that moving towards an entirely digital currency removes the need for trusting a larger financial corporation. What is particularly interesting about this reality is that it is largely contrary to what most technology does. Instead of decreasing user autonomy and increasing dependence on institutionalized technology, Bitcoin does the opposite. Power is restored to the person whose money is being managed, and s/he is free to manipulate and transfer those funds as s/he sees fit.

The application discussed specifically was Blockchain, which serves as a method to monitor trends in Bitcoin’s value, and it also acts as a Bitcoin wallet, enabling the user to make his or her own transactions using the application. Moreover, many large companies are beginning to accept Bitcoin as forms of payment, and large investment firms, such as Goldman-Sachs, have shown their interest in Bitcoin by investing in it.

Bitcoin represents the willingness to advance to a more technologically empowered society and, perhaps more importantly, it showcases the capability to satisfy that desire. This will conceptually serve as a major part of the foundation for our final project, in that it illustrates the impact a simple idea can have when it is married to innovation and the available technologies.

Maryam Arif, Cynthia de Souza, Karolina Ladino Puerto, Jacob Scherba, Stephanie Ying

Written by Harvard Summer School

The CRI Harvard Paris Summer program was organized this summer by professors Rob Lue and Alain Viel from the department of Molecular biology at Harvard University, assisted by Adam Tanaka, a PhD student in Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The implementation of the program was made possible through the work of Tamara Milosevic from the CRI and Julien Barrere as a residential coordinator. This program was examining the exciting emerging field of smart cities, but taking another perspective: how can we be inspired by the biological systems (from evolution to metabolism inside our cells) and how can we use science and biology to reinvent the city of the future.

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