As blockchain technology could revolutionize the operation of other fields, innovators are starting to envision how the concepts might apply to science. So far, the main thread is related to peer-to-peer distributed computing projects for which individual volunteers provide unused computing cycles to Internet-based distributed computing projects. Two notable projects are SETI@home (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which uses contributed computing cycles to help analyze radio signals from space, searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence), and Folding@home (a Stanford University project for which computing cycles are used to simulate protein folding, for computational drug design and other molecular dynamics problems). Per blockchain technology, remunerative coin has been set up to reward participants in both the SETI@home and Folding@home projects. For SETI@home, there is Gridcoin, which is the remunerative coin available to all BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) projects, the infrastructure upon which SETI@home runs. For Folding@home, there is FoldingCoin, a Counterparty token that runs and is exchangeable to the more liquid XCP cryptocurrency (and therefore out to Bitcoin and fiat currency) via the Counterparty wallet (Counterwallet).
A more fundamental use of the blockchain for science could be addressing the wastefulness of the mining network, which consumes massive amounts of electricity. Instead of being used to crunch arbitrary numbers, perhaps the extensive processing power could be applied to the more practical task of solving existing science problems. However, a mining algorithm must meet very specific conditions, like generating code strings or hashes that are easily verifiable in one direction but not in reverse, which is not the structure of traditional scientific computing problems.125 There are some cryptocurrency projects trying to make blockchain mining scientifically useful—for example, Primecoin, for which miners are required to find long chains of prime numbers (Cunningham chains and bi-twin chains) instead of SHA256 hashes (the random guesses of a specific number issued by mining software programs based on given general parameters).126 There is an opportunity for greater progress in this area to reformulate supercomputing and desktop grid computing problems, which have been organized mainly in a massively parallel fashion, into a mining-compatible format to take advantage of otherwise wasted computing cycles.127
Gridcoin, if not solving the problem of using otherwise wasted mining cycles, at least tries to align incentives by encouraging miners to also contribute computing cycles: miners are compensated at a much higher rate (5 GRC versus a maximum of 150 GRC) for mining a currency block when also contributing computing cycles. A typical complaint about blockchain technology is the wastefulness of mining, both in terms of unused computing cycles and electricity consumption. The media presents estimates of power consumption such as “the Eiffel Tower could stay lit for 260 years with the energy used to mine Bitcoins since 2009,”128 and that in 2013 Bitcoin mining was consuming about 982 megawatt hours a day (enough to power 31,000 homes in the United States, or half a Large Hadron Collider),129 at a cost of $15 million a day.130 However, the comparison metric is unclear; should these figures be regarded as a little or a lot (and what are the direct economic benefits of the Eiffel Tower and the LHC, for that matter)? Bitcoin proponents counter that the blockchain model is vastly cheaper when you consider the fully loaded cost of the current financial system, which includes the entire infrastructure of physical plant bank branch offices and personnel. They point out that the cost to deliver $100 via the blockchain is much cheaper than traditional methods. Still, there is concern over how Bitcoin could eliminate its wasteful consumption of electricity for mining while continuing to maintain the blockchain, and 3.0 innovations could be expected. One response is cryptocurrencies that are apparently more energy efficient, such as Mintcoin.
SETI@home and Folding@home are community supercomputing projects in the sense that a community of individual volunteers contributes the raw resource of computing cycles; they are not involved in setting the research agenda. A more empowered model of community supercomputing would be using the resource-allocation mechanism of the blockchain to allow noninstitutional researchers access to supercomputing time for their own projects of interest. In a model like Kickstarter, individuals could list projects requiring supercomputing time and find other project collaborators and funders, soliciting and rewarding activities with appcoin or sitecoin. An early project in this area, Zennet, has been announced which may allow community users to specify their own supercomputing projects and access shared desktop grid resources via a blockchain structure. Citizen science data analysis projects are under way and were perhaps initially demonstrated in the example of mass collaboration on open data sets in the book Wikinomics (2008).131 The difference is in liberty extending: now using the blockchain means that these kinds of citizen science projects can be deployed at much larger scale—in fact, the largest scale—at a tier at which (per resource constraints) citizen scientists do not currently have access. Wikinomics and other examples have documented the scientifically valid contributions of citizen science as a channel.132 Projects such as DIYweathermodeling, for example, could have the benefit of getting citizen scientists involved in contributing evidence to large-scale issues like the climate change debate.
Another application of blockchain health is in global public health, for the efficient, immediate, targeted delivery of aid funds for supplies in the case of crises like Ebola and other contagious disease breakouts.133 Traditional banking flows hamper the immediacy of aid delivery in crisis situations, as opposed to Bitcoin, which can be delivered immediately to specific publicly auditable trackable addresses. Individual peer-to-peer aid as well as institutional aid could be contributed via Bitcoin. In emerging markets (often with cellphone penetration or 70 percent or higher) there are a number of SMS Bitcoin wallets and delivery mechanisms, such as 37Coins134 and Coinapult, and projects such as Kipochi135 that are integrated with commonly used mobile finance platforms like M-Pesa (in Kenya, for example, 31 percent of the GDP is spent through mobile phones136). Apps could be built on infectious disease tracking sites like Healthmap and FluTrackers to include Bitcoin donation functionality or remunerative appcoin more generally.
Perhaps the world’s best-known Bitcoin-accepting charity is Sean’s Outpost, a homeless outreach nonprofit organization based in Pensacola, Florida. Capitalizing on the trend of individuals receiving Bitcoin and not having any local venues to spend it in or otherwise not knowing what to do with it, and Bitcoin startups needing to demo how Bitcoin is sent on the Web, Sean’s Outpost has been able to raise significant donor contributions and undertake projects like a nine-acre “Satoshi Forest” sanctuary for the homeless.137
The democratization and freedom-enhancing characteristics of the blockchain seen in many projects also apply in the case of consumer genomics, which is the concept of uplifting organizations to the blockchain (to the cloud in a decentralized, secure way) to escape the limitations of local jurisdictional laws and regulation. That there is a need for this does not necessarily signal illegal “bad players” with malicious intent; rather, it indicates a lack of trust, support, relevance, and espousal of shared values in local jurisdictional governments. Traditional government 1.0 is becoming outdated as a governance model in the blockchain era, especially as we begin to see the possibility to move from paternalistic, one-size-fits-all structures to a more granular personalized form of government. Genomics can be added to the list of examples of uplifting transnational organizations to the decentralized blockchain cloud like ICANN, WikiLeaks, Twitter, Wikipedia, GitHub, and new business registrations as DACs. Transnational blockchain genomics makes sense in the context of the right to personal information (the right to one’s own genetic information) being seen as a basic human right, especially given the increasing cost feasibility per plummeting genomic sequencing costs.
In one view, consumer genomics can be seen as a classic case of personal freedom infringement. In many European countries and the United States, paternalistic government policy (influenced by the centralized strength of the medical-industry lobby) prevents individuals from having access to their own genetic data. Even in countries where personal genomic information is used in health care, there is most often no mechanism for individuals to get access to their own underlying data. In the United States, prominent genomic researchers have tried to make a public case that the “FDA [Food and Drug Administration] is overcautious on consumer genomics,”138 and established in studies that there is no detrimental effect to individuals having access to their own genomic data.139 In fact, the opposite might be true: in the humans-as-rational-agents model, 80 percent of individuals learning of a potential genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease modified their life-style behaviors (e.g., exercise and vitamin consumption) as a result.140 Other news accounts continue to chronicle how individuals are seeking their own genomic data and finding it useful—for example, to learn about Alzheimer’s and heart disease risk.141
As a result of paternalistic purview, and no clear government policies for the preventive medicine era, US-based consumer genomics services have closed (deCODEme142), directed their services exclusively toward a physician-permissioning model (Pathway Genomics, Navigenics), or been forced to greatly curtail their consumer-targeted services (23andMe143). In response, blockchain-based genomic services could be an idea for providing low-cost genomic sequencing to individuals, making the data available via private key.
One of the largest current transformational challenges in public health and medicine is moving from the current narrowband model of “having only been able to treat diagnosed pathologies” to a completely new data-rich era of preventive medicine for which the goal is maintaining, prolonging, and enhancing baseline health.144 Such a wellness era is now beginning to be possible through the use of personalized big data as predictive information about potential future conditions. Personalized genomics is a core health data stream for preventive medicine as well as individuals as knowledgeable, self-interested, action-taking agents.145
In fact, as of November 2014, a blockchain genomics project, Genecoin, has launched an exploratory website to assess potential consumer interest, positioning the service as a means of backing up your DNA.146
At one level, there could be blockchain-enabled services where genomic data is sequenced and made available to individuals by private key outside the jurisdiction of local governments. However, at another higher level, as a practical matter, to achieve the high-throughput sequencing needed for all seven billion humans, larger-scale models are required, and blockchain technology could be a helpful mechanism for the realization of this project. Individuals ordering their genomes piecemeal through consumer genomic services is an initial proof of concept in some ways (and a health literacy tool as well as a possible delivery mechanism for personal results and recommendations), but not an “all-human-scale” solution for sequencing. Blockchain technology, in the form of a universal model for record keeping and data storage and access (a secure, decentralized, pseudonymous file structure for data stored and accessed in the cloud) could be the technology that is needed to move into the next phase of industrialized genomic sequencing. This applies to genomic sequencing generally as an endeavor, irrespective of the personal data rights access issue. Sequencing all humans is just one dimension of sequencing demand; there is also the sequencing of all plants, animals, crops, viruses, bacteria, disease-strain pathogens, microbiomes, cancer genomes, proteomes, and so on, to name a few use cases.
There is a scale production and efficiency argument for blockchain-based transnational genomic services. To move to large-scale sequencing as a “universal human society,” the scope and scale of sequencing and corresponding information processing workloads suggests not just transnationality, but more important, heavy integration with the cloud (genomic data is too big for current forms of local storage and manipulation), and the blockchain delivers both transnationality and the cloud. Transnational regional centers for genomic sequencing and processing and information management of the sequenced files could be the best way to structure the industry given the cost, expertise, equipment, and scale required. This could be a more efficient solution rather than each country developing its own capabilities. Blockchain technology might be used to achieve a high-throughput level of industrialized genomic sequencing—on the order of millions and billions of genomes, well beyond today’s hundreds. In reality, blockchain technology might supply just one aspect of what might be needed; other issues are more critical in achieving industrialized genomic sequencing operations (information processing and data storage is seen as the real bottleneck). However, the blockchain ecosystem is inventing many new methods for other operational areas along the way and might be able to innovate in a complementary manner for a full solution to industrial-scale genomic sequencing, including recasting the problem in different ways as with decentralization concepts.
Blockchain technology might be indicative of the kinds of mechanisms and models needed to achieve the next orders-of-magnitude progress in areas like big data, moving to what would currently be conceived as “truly-big-data,” and well beyond. Genomic sequencing could be one of the first demonstration contexts of these higher-orders-of-magnitude models for progress.
Even without considering the longer-term speculative possibilities of the complete invention of an industrial-scale all-human genome sequencing project with the blockchain, just adding blockchain technology as a feature to existing sequencing activities could be enabling. Conceptually, this would be like adding coin functionality or blockchain functionality to services like DNAnexus, a whole-human genome cloud-based storage service. Operating in collaboration with university collaborators (Baylor College of Medicine’s Human Genome Sequencing Center) and Amazon Web Services, the DNAnexus solution is perhaps the largest current data store of genomes, having 3,751 whole human genomes and 10,771 exomes (440 terabytes) as of 2013.147 The progress to date is producing a repository of 4,000 human genomes, out of the possible field of 7 billion humans, which highlights the need for large-scale models in these kinds of big data projects (human whole-genome sequencing). The DNAnexus database is not a public good with open access; only 300 worldwide preapproved genomic researchers have permission to use it. The Genomic Data Commons148 is a US-government-funded large-scale data warehouse and computational computing project being assembled to focus on genomic research and personalized medicine. In this case, the resource is said to be available to any US-based researcher. This is a good step forward in organizing data into standard unified repositories and allowing access to a certain population. A further step could be using an appcoin like Genomecoin to expand access on a grander scale as a public good fully accessible by any individual worldwide. Further, the appcoin could be the tracking, coordination, crediting, and renumerative mechanism sponsoring collaboration in the Genome Data Commons community. Like the aforementioned Wikinomics example, the highest potential possibility for discovery could be in making datasets truly open for diverse sets of individuals and teams from a variety of fields and backgrounds to apply any kind of model they might have developed.
One benefit of “Bitcoin/blockchain-as-economics” is that the technology automatically enables embedded economics as a feature in any system. In the genomic sequencing and storage context, the economics feature could be used in numerous ways, such as obtaining more accurate costs of research (blockchain economics as tracking and accounting) and to remunerate data contributors (whether institutional or individual) with Genomecoin or GenomicResearchcoin (blockchain economics as micropayment remuneration). The economic/accounting tracking features of the blockchain further allows now other foreseen capabilities of the blockchain, such as attribution as an enabler for large-scale human projects (like attribution at the GitHub line item of committed code or digital asset IP-protected ideas). Attribution is a crucial feature for encouraging individual participation in large-scale projects.
In the future, there might be different kinds of blockchains (ledgers) for recording and tracking different kinds of processes, and exchanging and providing access to different kinds of assets, including digital health assets. Blockchain health is the idea of using blockchain technology for health-related applications.149 The key benefit behind blockchain health is that the blockchain provides a structure for storing health data on the blockchain such that it can be analyzed but remain private, with an embedded economic layer to compensate data contribution and use.150
Healthcoin could more broadly be the coin or token for health spending, forcing price discovery and rationalization across health services. Services in national health plans could be denominated and paid in Healthcoin. This could help to improve economic inefficiencies rife within the health-services industry. Price transparency—and a universal price list—could result, such that every time a certain health service is performed, it costs 5 Healthcoin, for example, instead of the current system (in the United States) where each consumer might pay a different amount that is a complex calculation of the multipayor system connecting different insurers and plans.
Personal health records could be stored and administered via blockchain like a vast electronic electronic medical record (EMR) system. Taking advantage of the pseudonymous (i.e., coded to a digital address, not a name) nature of blockchain technology and its privacy (private key access only), personal health records could be encoded as digital assets and put on the blockchain just like digital currency. Individuals could grant doctors, pharmacies, insurance companies, and other parties access to their health records as needed via their private key. In addition, services for putting EMRs onto the blockchain could promote a universal format, helping to resolve the issue that even though most large health services providers have moved to an EMR system, they are widely divergent and not sharable or interoperable. The blockchain could provide a universal exchangeable format and storage repository for EMRs at a population-wide scale.
One benefit of creating standardized EMR repositories is exactly that they are repositories: vast standardized databases of health information in a standardized format accessible to researchers. Thus far, nearly all health data stores have been in inaccessible private silos—for example, data from one of the world’s largest longitudinal health studies, the Framingham Heart Study. The blockchain could provide a standardized secure mechanism for digitizing health data into health data commons, which could be made privately available to researchers. One example of this is DNA.bits, a startup that encodes patient DNA records to the blockchain, and makes them available to researchers by private key.151
However, it is not just that private health data research commons could be established with the blockchain, but also public health data commons. Blockchain technology could provide a model for establishing a cost-effective public-health data commons. Many individuals would like to contribute personal health data—like personal genomic data from 23andMe, quantified-self tracking device data (FitBit), and health and fitness app data (MapMyRun)—to data research commons, in varying levels of openness/privacy, but there has not been a venue for this. This data could be aggregated in a public-health commons (like Wikipedia for health) that is open to anyone, citizen scientists and institutional researchers alike, to perform data analysis. The hypothesis is that integrating big health data streams (genomics, lifestyle, medical history, etc.) and running machine learning and other algorithms over them might yield correlations and data relationships that could be helpful for wellness maintenance and preventive medicine.152 In general, health research could be conducted more effectively through the aggregation of personal health record data stored on the blockchain (meaning stored off-chain with pointers on-chain). The economic feature of the blockchain could facilitate research, as well. Users might feel more comfortable contributing their personal health data to a public data commons like the blockchain, first because it is private (data is encrypted and pseudonymous), and second for remuneration in the form of Healthcoin or some other sort of digital token.
Notary-type proof-of-existence services are a common need in the health industry. Proof of insurance, test results, prescriptions, status, condition, treatment, and physician referrals are just a few examples of health document–related services often required. The “notary function” as a standard blockchain application is equally well deployed in the context of blockchain health. Health documents can be encoded to the blockchain as digital assets, which could then be verified and confirmed in seconds with encryption technology as opposed to hours or days with traditional technology. The private-key functionality of the blockchain could also make certain health services and results delivery, such as STD screening, more efficient and secure.
Blockchain health could create more of a two-way market for all health services. Doctors and health practices could bid to supply medical services needed by patient-consumers. Just as Uber drivers bid for driver assignments with customers, doctor practices could bid for hip replacements and other needed health services—for example, in Healthcoin—at minimum bringing some degree of price transparency and improved efficiency to the health sector. This bidding could be automated via tradenets for another level of autonomy, efficiency, and equality.
The third step of blockchain health as a standardized repository and a data research commons is backup and archival, not just in the operational sense based on practitioner needs, but as a historical human data record. This is the use case of the blockchain as a public good. Blockchain backup could provide another security layer to the physical-world practices of virus banks, gene banks, and seed vaults. The blockchain could be the digital instantiation of physical-world storage centers like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (a secure seedbank containing duplicate samples of worldwide plant seeds), and World Health Organization–designated repositories like the CDC for pathogen storage such as the smallpox virus. A clear benefit is that in the case of disease outbreaks, response time can be hastened as worldwide researchers are private key–permissioned into the genetic sequencing files of pathogens of interest.
Blockchain-based smart contracts could have myriad uses. One possibility is smart literacy contracts. Bitcoin MOOCs (massive open online courses) and smart literacy contracts encompass the idea of opening up emerging-market smart-contract learning to all individuals worldwide the same way that traditional MOOCs opened up educational courses to all individuals worldwide. Just as Bitcoin is reinventing the remittances market and bringing about financial inclusion, so too the foreign aid market can be reinvented with blockchain-based, peer-to-peer smart contracts. The concept is like Kiva, Grameen microlending, or Heifer International 2.0, which could include peer-to-peer financial aid, but more importantly allows the configuration of peer-to-peer aid that is not currency-based but personal development-based. Blockchain Learning is decentralized learning contracts.
One way to improve literacy in emerging markets (perhaps the key metric for poverty eradication) could be via decentralized smart contracts for literacy written between a donor/sponsor peer and a learning peer. Much in the way that Bitcoin is the decentralized (very low fee charging, no intermediary) means of exchanging currencies between countries, a decentralized contract system could be helpful for setting up learning contracts directly with students/student groups in a similar peer-to-peer manner, conceptually similar to a personalized Khan Academy curriculum program. Learners would receive Bitcoin, Learncoin, or the local token directly into their digital wallets—like 37Coins, Coinapolt, or Kipochi (used as Bitcoin or converted into local fiat currency)—from worldwide peer donors, and use this to fund their education expenses at school or separately on their own. A key part of the value chain is having a reporting mechanism (enabled and automated by Ethereum smart contracts, for example) to attest to learner progress. Rules embedded in learning smart contracts could automatically confirm the completion of learning modules through standardized online tests (including confirming the learner’s digital identity, such as with short-handle names for Bitcoin addresses provided with services like OneName, BitID, and Bithandle). Satisfying the learning contract could then automatically trigger the disbursement of subsequent funds for the next learning modules. Blockchain learning contracts can be coordinated completely on a peer-to-peer basis between the learner and the learning sponsor; and really directly with the automated software contract. Again, the idea is like Kiva or Heifer International (i.e., peer-to-peer direct) for blockchain literacy for individualized learning contracts.
Learncoin could be the currency of the smart contract literacy system, with schools, student groups, or individuals issuing their own token: MthelieLearncoin, Huruma Girls High School tokens, or PS 135 tokens (that all convert to Learncoin, and to Bitcoin). School fundraising in any area worldwide could be conducted with Learncoin and LocalSchoolName tokens. Just as physician RFPs make the health services market two-sided, students or student groups could post their open learning contracts (or funding needs and budget) to a Learning Exchange, which could be fulfilled by learning-funders on the other side of the transaction.
Learning contract exchanges could apply in a much broader sense—for example, as a universal learning model. This could apply to government workforce retraining, graduate students, and employees within corporations. Learning contract exchanges could be a way of reinventing or improving the orchestration of the continuing professional education (CPE) programs required for many fields like law, information technology, and medicine. Learning contracts in the development context could be extended to many use cases in emerging markets. There could be many categories of “literacy” contracts, such as basic reading for elementary school children, but also for every area of education, such as vocational learning (technical literacy and agricultural literacy), business literacy, social literacy, and leadership literacy.
As every category of organized human activity has moved onto the Internet and currently has the possibility of being reinvented and made more efficient, fair, and otherwise attribute-enabled with the blockchain, so too could academic publishing be put on the blockchain. There have been innovations toward openness in the academic publishing field, such as open-access journals, which although they provide open access to article content instead of keeping it behind a paywall, force authors to support possibly prohibitive publication fees. So far, the Bitcoin convention of making open source code available by publishing software for cryptocurrency blockchains and protocols on GitHub has extended to some forms of “academic” publishing in the area, too, as white papers are posted as “Readme files” on GitHub. For example, there is blockchain venture capitalist David Johnston’s Dapp paper (“The General Theory of Decentralized Applications”) and Factom’s concept for batching the notarization of digital artifacts paper (the “Notary Chains” white paper).
An interesting challenge for academic publishing on the blockchain is not just having an open-access, collaboratively edited, ongoing-discussion-forum journal per existing examples, or open-access, self-published blockchain white papers on GitHub, but to more fundamentally implement the blockchain concepts in blockchain journals. The consideration of what a decentralized direct peer-to-peer model for academic publishing could look like prompts the articulation of the functions that academic publishing provides and how, if these are still required, they might be provided in decentralized models. In terms of “publishing,” any manner of making content publicly available on the Web is publishing; one can easily self-publish on blogs, wikis, Twitter, Amazon, and the like. A blockchain model in terms of decentralized peer-to-peer content would be nothing more than a search engine linking one individual’s interests with another’s published material. This is a decentralized peer-to-peer model in the blockchain sense. So, academic (and other publishers) might be providing some other value functions, namely vouching for content quality. Publishers provide content curation, discovery, “findability,” relevancy, advocacy, validation, and status ascribing, all of which might be useful attributes for content consumers. One way to improve a centralized model with blockchain technology is by applying an economy as a mechanism for making the incentives and reward structures of the system fairer.
Journalcoin could be issued as the token system of the publishing microeconomy to reward contributors, reviewers, editors, commentators, forum participants, advisors, staff, consultants, and indirect service providers involved in scientific publishing. This could help improve the quality and responsiveness of peer reviews, as reviews are published publicly, and reviewers are rewarded for their contribution. With Journalcoin, reviewers can receive reputational and remunerative rewards, and more transparency and exchange is created between authors, reviewers, and the scientific community and public. ElsevierJournalcoin and SpringerJournalcoin, for example, could be issued as metacoins, running on top of the Bitcoin blockchain, say as Counterparty assets, fully convertible at any time to Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies.
A token-based coin such as Researchcoin could be used for individuals to collectively indicate interest and purchase the rights to read a certain research paper that is otherwise buried behind a paywall. Medicinal Genomics envisions a multisig, Bitcoin-based voting system for the public to indicate their demand to open source scientific papers related to pandemic disease (which the public ironically funds in the first place with tax dollars, yet cannot access).153 For example, individuals with a mutation in the NPC1 gene have been found to be resistant to Ebola infection.154 This kind of information could be easily used by empowered biocitizens to look up in their own personalized genomic data to see if they have higher conferred resistance to Ebola or other diseases such as HIV, which also has higher resistance in individuals with certain genotypes.155 Although some are in favor of individuals having access to their own data, others feel that they may read too much into it without appropriate medical counsel. The Alzheimer’s disease study mentioned previously, however, does hint that the benefits seem to outweigh the costs.
Related to Journalcoin, ExperimentalResultscoin could be another idea, implemented in the context of science journals, to incentivize and reward science experiment replications (helping to solve the problem of the 80 percent irreplicability of scientific experimental results), the publishing of negative results and raw data (just 45 percent are willing to make this available), and counter other biases in scientific publishing, such as priming, duplicate results, and carelessness.156
Just as Bitcoin is a digital payment mechanism for transactions between humans but could also empower the machine economy in machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) payments, ExperimentalResultscoin could likewise serve as a mechanism for incentives, coordination, and tracking science executed by both humans and machines. Increasingly, both robotic lab aides and algorithmic programs are facilitating and generating scientific discovery. Some examples include Lipson’s computing algorithms that have distilled physical laws from experimental data,157 Muggleton’s microfluidic robot scientist,158 and Waltz and Buchanan’s AI scientific partners.159
The 3.0 sense of applying blockchain technology to publishing would be having the blockchain completely fulfill the functions of the publisher (like a “semantic Verisign,” vouching mechanism for qualitative content). A DAO/DAC/AI/VM model might be able to use data-based metrics (like the number of reads both in general and by affinity peers or colleagues, the number of comments, semantic keyword matching, and concept matching) to determine targeted content of quality and interest. The micropayment aspect of the blockchain could be used to make this a fee-based service. The idea is semantic peer-to-peer search, integrating the social networking layer (to identify peers) and adding blockchain economic and privacy functionality. Automatic nonpeer, nonhuman content-importance ascription models might also be a possibility.
Another means of employing the blockchain in academic publishing could be using it for plagiarism detection and avoidance, or better, for autocitation (an Ethereum smart contract/DAO that does a literature search and automatically cites all related work would be a tremendous time-saver). This could be accomplished through off-chain indexed paper storage repositories linking the asset by key to the blockchain. The blockchain could become the universal standard for the publication of papers, and of the underlying raw data and metadata files, essentially creating a universal cataloging system and library for research papers. Blockchain economics could make digital asset purchase of the papers easier by assigning every paper a Bitcoin address (QR code) instead of requiring users to log in to publisher websites.
Despite the many interesting potential uses of blockchain technology, one of the most important skills in the developing industry is to see where it is and is not appropriate to use cryptocurrency and blockchain models. Not all processes need an economy or a payments system, or peer-to-peer exchange, or decentralization, or robust public record keeping. Further, the scale of operations is a relevant factor, because it might not make sense to have every tiny microtransaction recorded on a public blockchain; for example, blog-post tip-jar transactions could be batched into sidechains in which one overall daily transaction is recorded. Sidechains are more broadly proposed as an infrastructural mechanism by which multiblock chain ecosystems can exchange and transfer assets.160 Especially with M2M/IoT device-to-device communication, there are many open questions about the most effective ways to incorporate market principles (if at all) to coordinate resources, incentivize certain goal-directed behavior, and have tracking and payments remuneration. Even before we consider the potential economic models for M2M/IoT payments, we must work out general coordination protocols for how large swarms of devices can communicate, perhaps deploying control system and scheduling software for these machine social networks, adding new layers of communication protocols like a “chirp” for simple microcommunications such as on, off, start, and stop.161
In the farther future, different classes of blockchains for different kinds of applications could be optimized. Maybe there could be daily purchase blockchains for the grocery store and coffee shop purchases, and others for large-ticket items like real estate and automobiles. More stridently different functionality is needed for noneconomic-market blockchains, for government services, intellectual property registration, notary services, science activities, and health-record keeping. The key question is distinguishing the economic principles needed for the different range of functions with which blockchain technology could be helpful. However, not every operation is one of value registration and exchange.
Not all of the ideas described need a blockchain; they do not require sequential, public, and distributed data storage. They could instead be implemented through other technology such as cloud storage or distributed computing models more generally. However, blockchain technology could be included to provide additional functionality, and further, it is not possible at present to see all of the potential future benefits and uses of blockchain technology that might emerge.
Another reason that the blockchain is not for every situation is because we do not want to “economify” everything. We do not want to reduce the qualitative aspects of life to a purely and nakedly economic situation. The idea of a remunerative coin accompanying many more situations and making the economics of situations more explicit is welcome in some ways but repugnant in others. However, the broader conceptualization of economy evoked by blockchain technology invites a new consideration of the notions of transfer, exchange, and acknowledgment that is deeply qualitative and could persist even as blockchain-enabled features do not (and should not) become omnipresent.
There is a mix of forces both toward centralization and decentralization operating in the blockchain industry. In fact, it is the blockchain that has defined the landscape of models to comprise those that are both centralized and decentralized. Aside from the Internet, there have not been many large-scale standardized decentralization models that have been readily conceptualized and used in different contexts to organize activity. Even though decentralization is the core enabling functionality of blockchain technology (the decentralized trustless cryptographic transaction recording system and public ledger), there are also many centralization pressures. One is the centralization forces toward developing the standard plumbing layers of the blockchain economy. The Bitcoin blockchain has 90 percent cryptocurrency market capitalization, and some projects consider it safest and easiest to build protocol 3.0 ideas on this installed base without having to mount a mining operation on a new altcoin blockchain. Mining is another area upon which there are many centralization pressures. The fierce competition has driven mining from individuals with mining rigs to mining pools and custom ASICs such that a few large mining pools register most of the new Bitcoin blocks and have started to reach the 51 percent threshold of controlled hash power, which could result in a mining takeover. It remains to be seen how forces toward economic efficiency through centralization and trustless exchange through decentralization will come to equilibrium.