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Blockchain and the Evolution of Information Systems

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Written by   15
6 months ago

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From humanity’s earliest days, life has been primarily spent in the pursuit of increased knowledge. For thousands of years, that pursuit was largely driven by the needs of survival: the development of tools for transportation, food production, medicine, war, and so much more has helped ensure the longevity and advancement of civilizations past and present. But given the massive technological advancements of the past several centuries, there are large groups of the earth’s population who these days are able to dedicate a portion of their lives to the pursuit of knowledge for purposes other than pure survival.

It’s relatively safe to assume that humanity wouldn’t have progressed much, if at all, if we hadn’t developed instruments to record knowledge and transfer it across space and time. After all, only so much knowledge can be passed down from generation to generation through word of mouth.

The evolution of technology to record and share knowledge itself has been rather remarkable. For millennia, information was recorded on paper and shared from person to person. The idea of tangible books made of paper and ink may seem completely foreign to some future generation, and even today is being replaced by a wide variety of digital mediums. But for the people of those foregone generations, books were a godsend helping them to acquire the knowledge they needed to mold their futures.

As time has passed though, societies have developed new methods to transmit and store information. Videos, podcasts, messaging, social media, memes, news outlets… the list goes on. And these days it seems like nearly all of that data lives on top of computers and servers, oftentimes in huge data centers and warehouses controlled by large corporations and governments. That setup has worked for many years and has allowed the sum of all human knowledge to coalesce on the internet, accessible to billions of people around the world at the push of a button.

While wildly successful at storing and transmitting information over space and time, the networks we’ve come to rely on since the dawn of the internet suffer from a major flaw: centralization. Over time, the largest corporations and the most powerful governments have come to control much of the physical and digital infrastructure housing humanity’s tools of knowledge. This centralization is the very antithesis of the open exchange of communication enabled by the internet and introduces various instabilities into the system:

Single Points of Failure

While books may seem old-fashioned to some, information availability was assured due to the necessity of printing hundreds or thousands of copies of the same book. If your copy was damaged or lost, you could still access the book’s information relatively easily if you could find someone nearby who also had a copy.

In contrast, today’s system allows us to access knowledge instantaneously and from almost anywhere, but we are wholly reliant on the continuity of internet service providers, server farm operators, and the like. If one of those intermediaries goes down, your access to the information you need could be cut off for as long as it takes them to bring their operations back online.


The invention of the printing press centuries ago was heralded for making the dissemination of knowledge through books faster than ever. Beforehand, the majority of books were created by scribes and other officials, which introduced a high level of centralization into ancient information systems.

Centralization is a boon for censorship of information. Since the majority of humanity’s access to information in today’s world relies on a handful of large providers, it is easy for governments and other parties to limit the free exchange of information they don’t agree with by cutting it off straight at the source. Such a course of action directly limits humanity’s freedom to choose and is a gross infringement of our right to information.

Blockchain: Information Systems for the Digital Age

Thankfully, a new technology known as blockchain was introduced in 2008 that increases the dissemination of information and directly works to correct the issues brought on by single points of failure and censorship. Note that not all blockchains are created equally and I am a firm believer that the Proof of Work blockchain model espoused by Bitcoin represents the strongest improvement over the information systems that we’ve discussed thus far:

No Single Point of Failure

Nodes, miners, and participants on the Bitcoin blockchain are located all around the world and the vast majority hold a sufficiently detailed copy of the blockchain to enable it to operate without fail even if one or many members on the network go offline temporarily or permanently.

Censorship Resistance

Public blockchains have been a boon for the freedom of information. Since there is no gatekeeper or central government, anyone is able to participate in the network and no one has any more power or authority than anyone else. As such, any decision about the composition of the blockchain or of the information residing on it effectively has to be made by more than fifty percent of participants. Censorship of information is nearly impossible when consensus is achieved in such a manner.

While humanity’s pursuit of knowledge continues after thousands of years, it’s clear that our society has rejected the centralized information repositories that have limited information accessibility time and time again. Blockchain is one of the key tools in our arsenal to ensure that knowledge is always available to those who seek it.

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