On November 1, 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto published a research article explaining the fundamentals of the bitcoin, a digital currency based on open-code software and P2P technology that would come to be called blockchain. His article attracted a large community that began to work to make this a reality, and thus on January 3, 2009, the bitcoin network began to function and the first bitcoins were created. That day would be a turning point in the history of the internet and finances.
Over time Satoshi Nakamoto, whose identity could never be confirmed, disappeared without a trace, but his legacy is more alive than ever. Indeed, today everyone is talking about bitcoin and blockchain because of their great potential: decentralization, liberty, participation and autonomy for users. It’s believed that bitcoin and blockchain could radically transform many of today’s economic and social structures. But to understand all this, it’s necessary to explain what each of them is.
A bitcoin is what is known as digital currency or cryptocurrency and was the first of many that have sprung up over time. As explained by Javier Marrero Fernández, professor of International Finance and Strategic Management at Universidad Europea de Canarias, they are “digital assets, considered to be money insofar as they are able to be used to make payments for goods and services.” To obtain Bitcoins, for example, there are two options: buy or mine, which consists of carrying out different tasks that help the maintenance of the network. With most of the cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, there is not a central unit that issues the currency, which instead is distributed on the basis of a protocol that has been agreed upon by the participants in the network. At present, there are more than 1,700 different cryptocurrencies, each operating in a different way.
Crytocurrencies and blockchain: an inseparable couple
As the professor puts it, “blockchain is the field and bitcoin is one of its fruit trees. Blockchain is a kind of enormous account book, where a mountain of digital events of all kinds are annotated. It can store anything from contracts to sales operations for products or services.”
This technology was thus conceived to make possible a deeds registry of transactions in a setting where the nodes that make up part of the net don’t trust each other.
Héctor Carretie, professor in the School of Social Sciences and Communication at Universidad Europea, says that in a blockchain network it is the participants themselves who validate each one of the transactions carried out. Each one of the participants or nodes on the network keeps an exact copy of the logbook of transactions. The elements of a transaction are known as tokens and are identified with a hash tag or a numerical password, which makes it possible to follow the transactions perfectly.
Mention must also be made of the ‘smart contracts’ that, according to Carretie, “make it possible to carry out transactions in a setting like blockchain where there’s little confidence.”
Smart contracts are informatics programs that are activated the moment there is some determined input and automatically generate some output, without any human intervention and, thus, without the need for any confidence.
Is this technology secure? According to Yaiza Rubio and Félix Brezo, intelligence analysts and co-directors of the Bitcoin and Blockchain postgraduate program at Universidad Europea, “security reflects two of its main characteristics: its decentralized nature and the fact that it replicates the contents of the chain in all the nodes that make it up; and the successive linking of each block of transactions with the previous one, which makes it extremely costly to modify them as more and more blocks are added.”
An unimaginable range
The experts agree that currently it’s impossible to understand and predict all the possible applications and implications that this technology may bring in the future. Héctor Carretie points out that in the business world, for example, “the financial department could automate its bookkeeping or carry out a direct and permanent audit of its accounts.”
For the time being there are companies and government that are experimenting in this area. As the professor notes, “Dubai is implementing this technology to put all its public documents in this format. The state of Delaware, in the United States, uses this technology to store all the registration details of the companies. Sweden has already announced that it is designing its e-krona, its virtual currency, which in this case is centralized.”
Given the potential and rapid growth of bitcoin and blockchain, in 2017 Universidad Europea launched its Expert in Bitcoin and Blockchain postgraduate course. It’s aimed at professionals in any field who want to get into this world, and according to María Cruz Gaya López, subdirector of the AED postgraduate course and promoter of the idea, “the students end the course capable of developing their projects based on this technology, as well as critically analyzing the technical and legal viability of other solutions that are based on the different technology of the chain of blocks.”
She has no doubts about it: bitcoin and blockchain will provide the employment of the future. The departments of innovation in the largest companies are looking for specialists who will help them find their place in this world, and for that reason it’s no longer rare to find offers of employment that include the words ‘blockchain’ or ‘bitcoin.’
And while the experts say that today it’s impossible to foresee all the possible consequences of developing and implanting bitcoin or blockchain, they all agree on their huge potential. This is only the tip of the iceberg of an ecosystem that has come to stay, and that has the capacity to transform many of the aspects of the world as we now know it.