Stephen Downes

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Forgery Protection of Academic Certificates through Integrity Preservation at Scale using Ethereum Smart Contract, Auqib Hamid Lone, Roohie Naaz, Scalable Computing: Practice and Experience, Dec 24, 2020

This article brings readers up-to-date with developments in blockchain-based academic certificates and provides a detailed framework for degree management using Ethereum (which may become more important as Ethereum migrates to proof-of-stake). The paper credits the University of Nicosia as "the first university in the world to issue academic certificates whose authenticity can be verified through the Bitcoin blockchain" and references João Santos's Hypercerts, a non-... [Direct Link]

Ethereum 2.0 Beacon Chain Goes Live as ‘World Computer’ Begins Long-Awaited Overhaul, William Foxley, Coindesk, Dec 06, 2020

Traditional blockchains such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are based on 'proof-of-work', which is a requirement that providers solve long cryptographic problems before being allowed to add new data to the chain. This takes a lot of time and creates a huge processing cost for each transaction, so Ethereum has long been working toward an alternative 'proof-of-stake' requirement. This week marks the beginning of that transition. Announced by Russo-Canadian developer Vitalik Buterin in ... [Direct Link]

From Long-distance Entanglement to Building a Nationwide QuantumInternet, K. Kleese van Dam, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Jul 24, 2020

This is a report for the U.S. Department of Energy outlining development toward the Quantum Internet (QI). The QI depends on a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement, whereby a change of state in one particle is mirrored by a second particle, no matter how far distant. Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance". So it's a means of instantaneous information transmission. The speed would be limited only by how fast we can generate and read changes of state. This report (38 ... [Direct Link]

Blockchain in Higher Education: Are we on the Cusp of Transformation or Still Gathering Information?, Megan Raymond, WCET Frontiers, Oct 16, 2019

After a quick introduction defining blockchain, this article then shifts to its main focus, an interview with three experts on the following potential applications: “blockcerts” for certifications and credentials, bitcoin for paying for tuition, blockchain for transcripts, and using blockchain technology to retain authorship and attribution in open education resources. The focus isn't exactly where I would place it, though it does represent what seem to be the  ... [Direct Link]

ZeroNet, Aug 09, 2019

ZeroNet bills itself as offering "open, free and uncensorable websites, using Bitcoin cryptography and BitTorrent network." There are no central servers; rather, users of the network host parts of the network themselves That sounds great, but the darker side of this model is emerging as 8chan, "a website filled with the worst garbage one can find on the internet," is using ZeroNet to host its site, according to this Engadget report. The problem for users is, if they access ... [Direct Link]

Blockchain - the Networked Ecosystem is the Business, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, May 27, 2019

The key to understanding the impact of blockchain, I think, is to stop thinking about Bitcoin and digital currency, and to start thinking about networked ecosystems. "We’ve observed that organizations that launch their journeys by first designing and testing minimally viable ecosystems (MVE), rather than minimum viable products (MVP), have a greater chance to be successful. When first organizing a blockchain, designing an MVE that equitably incentivizes all participating network ... [Direct Link]

Facebook and Telegram Are Hoping to Succeed Where Bitcoin Failed, Nathaniel Popper, Mike Isaac, New York Times, Mar 15, 2019

This meshes with the idea that Facebook wants to follow the path set out by WeChat in China, which is widely used for financial transactions (people just pull out their phone and pay  I saw it a lot when I was in Beijing). Combining payments with a digital currency (Facebook acquired Chainspace in February) would address the pervasive problem (and cost) of currency conversion in the west. But it would have to be a 'proof of authority' currency because alternative models are too ... [Direct Link]

Horizon Report Preview 2019, EDUCAUSE, Feb 28, 2019

This report (11 page PDF) carries on Horizon's long-standing tradition of predicting things that have already happened. Need proof? For the short term, Horizon is predicting mobile learning and analytics. Medium term sees mixed reality and artificial intelligence. And get ready, because in 4-5 years we'll see blockchain and virtual assistants (that will be a surprise to anyone who bought a Google Home with Bitcoin). It's not that these predictions are unhelpful, they're also ... [Direct Link]

Once hailed as unhackable, blockchains are now getting hacked, Mike Orcutt, MIT Technology Review, Feb 21, 2019

One of my colleagues, Andriy Drozdyuk, has been saying all along that there is only one real blockchain, Bitcoin, because the innovation is as much social as it is technical. It is the investment and number of distinct users that makes it secure, not the technology. The recent Ethereum Classic hack may be proving him right. In this hack, bad actors took over more than half of the nodes and then began to write 'double spend' transactions, effectively defrauding the system. Ths is th ... [Direct Link]

A Taxonomy of Blockchain Technologies: Principles of Identification and Classification, Paolo Tasca, Claudio J. Tessone, Ledger, Feb 15, 2019

This paper (39 page PDF) doesn't talk about the applications of Bitcoin or Ethereum, nor even about the specifics of particular currencies. Instead it looks at blockchain (aka 'distributed ledger') technologies in general, identifies major types of features, and creates a taxonomy using them. Features include, for example, identity management, consensus, or fee and reward systems. As such it's a good overview of the underlying technologies, though it will require some ... [Direct Link]

DFINITY is the Cloud 3.0 that Marries Crypto Valley with Silicon Valley, Michael K. Spencer, Medium, Feb 01, 2019

First there was blockchain, characterized by digital coins like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Then there were smart contracts and distributed applications (dApps) that could represent and manipulate more than just money. What this article portends is a third wave of distributed computing. DFINITY "is building an open, decentralized blockchain that runs smart contract software systems with vastly improved performance, capacity, and algorithmic governance." How much stock do I put into this ... [Direct Link]

How the Blockchain could fix the Node.js ecosystem, Philipp Langhans, HackerNoon, Jan 01, 2019

We find with a lot of blockchain writing that it blends some good technical complexity with some fairly simplistic advocacy. This is a case in point. Node is a Javascript library than can be used to build websites (the system I'm studying, Electron, is based on Node). It's open source software, and like most such, depends on people contributing modules. In one case, a hacker obtained permission to upload a Node module and embedded some code that would steal the contents of a bitcoin ... [Direct Link]

Let’s Create a Secure HD Bitcoin Wallet in Electron + React.js, Michael Michailidis, Coinmonks, Medium, Jan 01, 2019

I haven't tried this one yet - I've been taking a course on Electron in Udemy (it cost me $15 'on sale') which I won't recommend (I've had to work my way through a number of errors) and I'm not quite ready to tackle this yet (maybe by the end of my extended holiday break). In any case, you won't be building an actual Bitcoin wallet - the project is built for 'Testcoin', which is as the name suggests, a test coin that has no value. Still, looking through ... [Direct Link]

Blockchain diplomas land in Virginia at ECPI, Jacob Demmitt, The Roanoke Times, Nov 26, 2018

 It was only a matter of time. "Virginia Beach-based ECPI University has joined a group of early adopters that distribute student degrees through the same kind of decentralized computer networks that power Bitcoin... The concept behind the technology is virtually unchanged, except ECPI is using the blockchain to issue digital degrees instead of digital currencies." The plan does have a definite upside: "It’s on there for life. They never have to call the registrar&... [Direct Link]

There’s more to decentralisation than blockchains and bitcoin, Irina Bolychevsky, Medium, Oct 14, 2018

Good article on decentralization. The key characteristic I propose is that a system is decentralised to the extent it distributes power. Specifically, the distribution of control, knowledge and capability between many users." The article is more focused on types of decentralization than on how to do it and what it means, but it's useful as an overall introduction.  Related: How solid is Tim’s plan to redecentralize the web? [Direct Link]

Peter Thiel: Crypto vs AI Dichotomy Will Determine the Future of Humanity, Avi Mizrahi,, Sept 19, 2018

The dichotomy here is dramatically overstated, and yet there are these two tensions, characterized by these two technologies, that illustrate a tension between competing technological approaches. On the one hand we have AI, characterized by big data and machine learning, which conjures up the sceptre of the surveillance state. On the other hand we have crypto technologies, including Bitcoin and anonymity and secret messages, that conjures up the sceptre of the libertarian ideal. Obviously ... [Direct Link]

Does a ‘universal attention token’ sound good? Then you’re going to love the blockchain, Mathew Ingram, Columbi Journalism Review, Sept 04, 2018

This is an idea that doesn't interest me. But I raise it here because it will probably be applied to educational content at some point (there's probably a stealth startup already in the works). “SocialFlow—which manages social-media campaigns for media companies—wants to replace the ad business and its shady click and page-view model with a cryptocurrency-based “universal attention token,” which it announced this week.” The same idea "is ... [Direct Link]

Does Higher Education need blockchain?, Chris Fellingham, Medium, Jun 15, 2018

As the Class Central report suggests, this article reminds us of Audrey Watters's outline of blockchain in education dating from April of 2016 (where she wrote "One Bitcoin is currently worth about $415" - heh). "Decentralised trust systems may well be the future but I don’t see that it solves a core problem," writes Chris Fellingham. "Edtech...  does not have a problem of trust in its credentials — it has a problem of credibility in its courses.&... [Direct Link]

Blockchain technologies face a maturity problem, Dan Swinhoe, IDG Connect, May 25, 2018

The first problem is scalability, which shows up immediately in the amount of time it takes to verify that a transaction is authentic. Visa performs 40K transactions per second, while Ethereum and Bitcoin are capable of between 7-15 per second. You see the issue. The energy cost is another factor, "currently around 180 million KWh for just 200,000 transactions." Again, you see the issue. A third issue centres around hacking; while the blockchain itself is secure, the systems around ... [Direct Link]

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Consensus Algorithms, Zane Witherspoon, Hacker Noon, Feb 15, 2018

A 'consensus algorithm' is a mechanism for verifying transactions in a distributed network. A transaction doesn't take place until everyone (or a large enough subset of everyone) agrees that it can take place (ie., it isn't contradicted by some previous transaction). But how do you get to have a say in these consensus networks? That's what the algorithms decide. The first is 'proof of work', such as solving equations to 'mine' bitcoins. Another is '... [Direct Link]

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Jan 06, 2021 9:31 p.m.