Voice of the Industry

Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology - an iceberg to remember

Friday 17 September 2021 08:58 CET | Editor: Alin Popa | Voice of the industry

Dr Joshua Ellul, director of the Centre for DLT at the University of Malta, shares a memento with us, discussing the benefits of blockchain in the process

I was invited to give an introductory talk for a non-IT focused audience on blockchain as part of a series of lectures organised by @UnitCommunity. Having been involved in the design and delivery of lectures spanning from undergraduate courses to a masters in blockchain and DLT at the University of Malta (@UMmalta) with students ranging from IT and Computer Science, Business, Finance, Economics, Management, and Law and Regulation, I have given such introductory lectures and talks many times over. The highlights and parts of lectures that I tend to keep fond memories of always involve interaction with students. However, when I started this talk little did I know that I would receive a memento that will outlive my often volatile memory. 

During the talk an attendee put, what is for me, a masterpiece together — seen here. The drawing was passed on via Thy Diep Ta, the upbeat organiser. I was immediately taken aback as I was not expecting anything of the sort and overjoyed because it gave me a feeling of fulfilment as I perceived the drawing to be evidence that the attendee learnt something from the talk. However, it was not only the attendee who may have taken something away, and it’s not just this memento that I took away, but also other perspectives to aspects I was talking about.

Like how an iceberg destroys anything in its way, blockchain and DLT has the potential to disrupt many aspects of our lives and the future of professional and socio-political interaction and relationships. Yet whilst at the surface it may seem that it’s nothing special and it’s just another database, that is absolutely not the case (for a number of reasons). Digging deeper, or rather looking below the water, the depths and mass of what we’re dealing with is revealed. Whilst indeed this does apply from the technological perspective (which I am passionate about), in that there’s so much to this technology and endless possibilities for furthering and making advancements — yet there’s so much more to it. 

At the tip, many are likely to encounter cryptocurrencies and this is where many stop looking further — as they may associate it with negative connotations or may not be intrigued by what cryptocurrencies offer. However, let’s start by getting rid of the negative connotations, i.e. the fact that bad actors make use of cryptocurrencies. Bad actors will and do make use of any financial instrument. They utilise and clean hard cash, manage to filter through both legitimate and well-intended banks as well as those that close an eye, and even set-up banks to specifically facilitate their activities. So if we should discard cryptocurrencies for this reason, then we should do the same with our cash and banking systems. Now, whilst cryptocurrencies enable for ease of access, they also record transactions immutably (in a manner that cannot be removed or changed) and in an open and public manner allowing for investigative powers to use such open transactions to track down such bad actors.

What cryptocurrencies offer is the decentralisation of monetary systems and self-sovereign ownership of digital assets and other direct and indirect features that many would claim are desirable — yet I will not go into this here as it would warrant a discussion of its own. But cryptocurrencies are only one type of application of blockchain. We can use blockchain (or other DLTs and smart contracts) to decentralise and disintermediate other systems, services and aspects of our lives. Forgetting the technology though, really it’s all about decentralisation and trust.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could implement systems that could minimise cheating and corruption? Well, that’s exactly what blockchain can help us do — and indeed it’s quite ironic that blockchain is often perceived to be a tool for criminals, yet it is a tool to mitigate criminal activity. Consider if you were to put in a bid to win a tender and because a friend of an employee at the agency responsible for handling the tender managed to get inside knowledge of the prices submitted (by perhaps paying the employee), you do not win the tender — even though you deserved to because you had actually submitted the cheapest price (ignoring the employee’s friend’s bid). A blockchain based system could be put into place to make sure that such situations cannot occur. This is because centralised control of the system is taken away from the agency, and the blockchain (based smart contracts) will ensure that the tendering process is followed and cannot be tampered. This is because blockchain systems are not controlled and operated by a single entity, yet they allow for different parties to maintain the system collectively, and cheating or tampering will be caught out.

Verifiable, tamperproof, guaranteed processes can be implemented without having to trust any party, and without allowing for any party to cheat. Who can argue with such benefits? Why have we not moved the many systems that would benefit from such guarantees to blockchain yet?

Oh, and there’s so much more to blockchain that I have not even come close to touching upon, from legal and regulatory aspects, to other socio-economical aspects, decentralised finance, and the tokenisation of everything, and so much more. We’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg.

Lecturing is not a one-way channel, but involves both two-way communication, and two-way learning. I have learnt as much and maybe much more from this interaction than the attendees themselves.

About Dr Joshua Ellul

Dr Joshua Ellul is director of the Centre for DLT at the University of Malta. He is also Chairperson of the Malta Digital Innovation Authority which regulates technology aspects of blockchain. He has recently been appointed as an Expert Evaluator on blockchain for the European Commission and is a member of the Expert Panel of the European Blockchain Observatory and Forum. His areas of research focus around the Blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) domains including: technology regulation; enabling ease of software development; blockchain architecture; and techniques for counteracting mistakes in smart contracts. Dr Joshua Ellul can be found on Twitter: @JoshuaEllul, LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joshuaellul/, or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/joshua.ellul

About Centre for Distributed Ledger Technologies - University of Malta:
The Centre for DLT at the University of Malta runs a world-first multidisciplinary Masters in Blockchain and DLT which takes in students having backgrounds in computer science/IT, law, finance, economics, management and business. The Masters covers blockchain and DLT from different perspectives introducing students to the disciplines they are not acquainted with, and further allowing students to dig deeper in their areas of specialisation.


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Keywords: blockchain, DLT, data sharing, cryptocurrency, fraud management
Categories: Blockchain & Cryptocurrencies | Cryptocurrencies
Countries: World
This article is part of category

Blockchain & Cryptocurrencies