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Srinath PereraFollowMar 15
Blockchain has been capturing the imagination of businesses and government organizations, alike. But it can be difficult to sort between the hype and the real potential of this technology. With that in mind, we wanted to take a systematic approach to evaluate it. To do so, we have used the Emerging Technology Analysis Framework (ETAC), which takes a broad view of emerging technology by probing impact, feasibility, risks and future timelines.
Additionally while doing our research, we soon understood that blockchain is many things, and it is hard to talk about blockchain holistically. Therefore, identified 10 categories of blockchain use cases to focus on in our evaluation.
These use case classes are identified in the following figure.
Here then is a summary of our observations around the impact, challenges, and risks of adopting blockchain, and how each of the above use cases is affected.
Blockchain provides an immutable decentralized ledger. We can use this ledger to improve trust. This happens in three key ways.
First, blockchain provides each participant with an identifier and means to manage verifiable claims, such as certificates of his name, education qualification, and birthday, among others. For example, we can use the blockchain can use two W3C specifications: decentralized Identifiers (DID) and verifiable claims to implement the above security scenarios. This enables two parties, who do not know each other, to verify the other and know his attributes, thus establishing trust. This has several advantages.
Blockchain provides a way for multiple parties to communicate or work together in an auditable manner. This again removes costly processes (e.g. lawyers or other intermediaries) to establish trust between two parties. This also contributes to the resulting system being more cost-effective and agile.
The blockchain is decentralized. No single user or small group of users can change the blockchain, giving us a trustable source to manage ultra-critical systems. This elevated level of trust enables use cases that were not possible before, for example, global reputation and voting).
In evaluating blockchain, we distinguish between challenges and risks. What we call challenges are technical limitations, which are likely to be fixed in the future. In contrast, risks are inherent to the nature of the blockchain and are unlikely to change.
For blockchain, we have identified four technical challenges: limited scalability and latency, limited privacy, storage constraints, and unsustainable consensus. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
Limited scalability and latency. At the time of writing, a bitcoin transaction takes about 8 minutes and can support only about 2 to 3 transactions per second. Most use cases that we evaluated are not feasible under these limits. For example, to handle global-scale systems, such as a decentralized internet, blockchain needs to handle tens of thousands of transactions per second. However, it is worth noting that this is decided by the choice of consensus algorithm. Private blockchain implementations have proposed faster algorithms although they provide lesser guarantees.
Limited privacy. Blockchain provides pseudo anonymizations. However, by analyzing the transaction graph and other related information, it is often possible to link users to transactions. Once one transaction is linked to a user, all his transactions become known.
Storage constraints. With current algorithms, each node must store the full history of the blockchain. This leads to high transaction latencies. The need to store the full history also forestalls lightweight nodes, such as IoT devices, from joining a blockchain network. As time passes, the history becomes larger aggravating the problem.
Unsustainable consensus. The current consensus method is cumbersome and consumes a significant amount of energy. For example, if considered as a country, Bitcoin energy consumption would be 39th in the world, which is higher than in Australia.
Next, we identified five risks with bitcoin: irrevocability, regular absence, misunderstood side effects, fluctuations in bitcoin prices, and unclear regulatory responses.
Irrevocability. The irrevocability of transactions is a significant risk. For use cases, such as bitcoin and land registry, a resource is passed from one owner to another, and only the current owner has the ability to assign it to a new owner. For this and similar use cases, irrevocability can have devastating consequences. However, for most other use cases, this can be addressed via a recovery transaction that undoes the original transaction.
Regulator Absence. Another risk is regulator absence. A regulator plays a key role in some use cases. For example, in the case of a stock market or share offering, oversight makes sure that all parties are protected. Without a regulator, it might not be easy to detect and avoid pyramid schemes and other types of fraud. Although not popular, regulators play a crucial role in many systems. Blockchain-based systems, in their current form, do not support a regulator. Also given irrevocability, it can either be impossible or expensive to fill the missing regulator’s role.
Misunderstood Side Effects. The impact of blockchain extends beyond computer science. We need to understand the economics, social, and political side effects of the blockchain.
Fluctuations in Bitcoin Prices. Another risk is fluctuating bitcoin prices. However, many believe that this is because it is new; its intrinsic value is hard to judge, and it will stabilize over time (see Barker (2017)). With high bitcoin values, transaction charges are also high, making them unattractive for many use cases, such as micropayments. It seems that the deflationary nature of Bitcoin and broad transformative use cases are in conflict due to the transaction costs. This problem will escalate with time.
Unclear Regulatory Responses. As we discussed under impact, blockchain changes many interactions and transactions that are currently governed by regulations and laws. Therefore, we are likely to see future regulations and laws governing blockchains and their use. The responses of those institutions are not clear, and the associated uncertainty creates risks for anyone adopting bitcoin.
For each of the ten use cases we focused on, we identified the challenges and risks associated with both public and private implementations. Additionally, in our conclusions, we include the European Union Technology Readiness Level (EU-TRL) for each use case. The following table summarizes our analysis.
The following picture shows the same information visually.
From the analysis above, we have made six assertions.
A detailed review of our blockchain analysis using ETAC can be found in our recently published paper, “A use case centric survey of Blockchain: status quo and future directions”.
Mar 15, 2019
Let me ask you a cringe-worthy question, have you heard of CBD?
Of course you have. (CBD already has its own pyramid schemes, for crying out loud.) You’ve probably also heard of THC, three letters cherished for the compound’s sometimes-euphoric effects. And you might even know that CBD and THC are both cannabinoids, active compounds of the cannabis plant, and that there are many many others.
But did you know that your body makes its own versions of cannabinoids?
True story. They’re called endocannabinoids, and they’ve got a big responsibility. Later, we’ll get into how to get these endocannabinoids functioning at their best, but let’s first explore the system that they’re a part of.
There’s a network of receptors located throughout your body called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), and it’s how the cannabinoids in cannabis work their magic. This crucial system was discovered back in 1988; but, in large part due to the illegality and stigma surrounding cannabis, it’s tragically understudied and hardly covered in medical school.
The cannabinoids in cannabis (technically and more specifically called phytocannabinoids) interact with receptors all over the ECS, causing various effects in the system they are located within — and they’re located everywhere.
Civilized spoke with self-described ‘cannabinoidologist’ Tamás Bíró MD, PhD, DSc, Professor, Director General of the Hungarian Center of Excellence for Molecular Medicine and Director of Applied Research, Phytecs, Inc. who explained, “The ECS is a central player in maintaining and controlling the homeostasis of the human body. As of today, we know that the ECS is functionally active in all organs of the body and controls most of its physiological processes.”
You read that right, the ECS is active in all organs of the body and controls most of the processes that keep us alive and functioning. That includes sleep, appetite, mood, inflammation, and so on. The endocannabinoid system’s global presence in the body is how cannabinoids, like the now-ubiquitous CBD, are able to help treat all kinds of ailments.
It might seem like our bodies were made for weed, but it’s not quite a stoner fantasy of that level. (Still pretty cool, though.) Our bodies create compounds called endocannabinoids — the prefix endo– being short for endogenous — that also interact with the ECS, helping to promote its healthy function throughout the body.
Though several more have been discovered, most current research revolves around two main endocannabinoids. Anandamide was the first to be discovered, named after the Sanskrit word for bliss. The second main endocannabinoid is 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), whose moniker may not have a charming origin, but has been scientifically linked to feelings of bliss, as well. 2-AG’s plasma levels have also been found to increase after orgasm in both men and women.
A more well-known byproduct of elevated endocannabinoid levels is the phenomenon of peaceful euphoria often experienced by athletes during intense exercise. As explained to us by Nicholas V. DiPatrizio, Ph.D. at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine, “Levels of endocannabinoids are elevated in blood during running, which may contribute — at least in part — to the ‘runner’s high.’”
The ECS helps promote health throughout the body by encouraging balance in its various functions. Much like we prefer not to be too hot or too cold, the systems in our bodies have “Goldilocks zones” where they perform best. The endocannabinoids and receptors that make up the ECS help adjust functions so they are just right.
And when this system isn’t able to its job, health can go very awry. As Dr. Bíró puts it, “For the body to stay healthy, it requires a healthy ECS. However, like all equations, ‘healthy ECS = healthy body’ is also valid from the other direction.” A consequence of an unhealthy ECS would be that the system cannot regulate homeostasis,” said, “which in turn impairs key physiological functions.”
Since the ECS is located so globally throughout our bodies, this means a wide range of possible malfunction. Research is still very limited, but ECS malfunction has been connected with migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory and neurological conditions, as well as a variety of treatment-resistant diseases.
So, if you want to get a healthy body — you need to get a healthy ECS.
Maintain Balance: It makes sense that practicing harmony in one’s lifestyle is the way to keep this system of balance in order. “The most important thing you can do to keep the ECS healthy is to avoid the extremes,” said Dr. Biró. “To name a few examples: Avoid extreme and chronic stress, avoid being overweight, control alcohol consumption, and try to curtail dependencies, in general.”
…Even When it Comes to Cannabis: Dr. Bíró also notes that while overconsumption of non-endogenous cannabinoids (like those in cannabis) can lead to ECS dysfunction, conversely they can also be used to treat the symptoms that ECS dysfunction causes. “One can use carefully selected and properly dosed cannabinoids to substitute for endocannabinoids if their production levels are low,” he said. This means that if your body isn’t producing its own endocannabinoids, then cannabis can be used to treat the problem. (Though, the symptoms will recur once it wears off and levels are low again, so this is a fairly high-maintenance solution.)
There isn’t nearly enough information out there, nor studies funded, on how cannabis use affects the ECS; but Bíró also noted that some cannabinoid ratios were more beneficial than others. This helps explain discrepancy among pertinent studies, as well as draws importance to the use of multiple cannabinoids (not just, say, CBD). Try seeking out others, like THCa, another non-intoxicating option that can be found in raw cannabis, as well as in dispensaries.
Eat Right and Get Moving: Civilized also spoke with Ethan Russo, MD of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, who shared that “lifestyle approaches can be integral to fostering a healthy ECS.” These approaches, he said, include “regular aerobic exercise and following an anti-inflammatory diet, such as a Mediterranean diet, with emphasis on olive oil, fish, seeds, and nuts.” He suggested adding pro- and prebiotics, both ways of improving gut health. He also added that “sedentary behavior is harmful to the ECS, as are foods that are pro-inflammatory, such as fried foods with trans-fats, or too many calories in general.”
The ECS not only makes cannabis so powerful, it’s the system responsible for keeping all the other systems in line and properly functioning. From pain regulation, to fertility, the ability to think straight, and the wide world in between, it plays a huge role in your health, even if your doctor isn’t yet privy to its significance.
“Boosting endocannabinoid tone offers many advantages, by balancing neurotransmitter function in the brain, regulating digestion, and positively influencing overall homeostasis in virtually every physiological system of the body,” said Dr. Russo. He also noted how personal advocacy is important: “People should be encouraged to educate themselves and their doctors on the role of the endocannabinoid system in overall health and its maintenance.”
So if you’re feeling off, consider how balanced your approaches to activities and wellness are; maybe your ECS needs a little TLC. And while you’re restoring balance, a bit of THC, CBD, CBN, or any of the many other cannabinoids out there – just might ease the journey.