Over the past year and a half Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been taken a place under the mainstream spotlight, meaning the public at large has witnessed the speculative behavior in the cryptocurrency market. In December 2017 the price of one Bitcoin surpassed $20,000, only to encounter a bear market where the market price today is around $6,500. This volatility is not new to Bitcoin. For example, on December 4, 2013, Bitcoin was $1,175 and shortly after, on February 10, 2014, the price hit a low $100. I point out price volatility to show that the cryptocurrency market is a unique speculative market. With that being said, let’s put money to the side and focus on the technology on which the Bitcoin network runs – blockchain technology. As we will see, using blockchain to create and maintain a currency is only the beginning.
At its essence blockchain technology is linked data between computers. It is defined as a digital, decentralized, append-only, distributed ledger that allows unrelated individuals to transact with each other without the need for a third-party or controlling authority. Because no third-party transaction confirmation is needed, the network becomes trustless. I want to make a note on the ‘append-only’ characteristic because it is crucial to the high security value blockchain provides. Append only means that data can only be added to the blockchain, it cannot be removed. Blocks that are already on the chain cannot be altered in any way. You can only make a change by noting it on a future block that is not on the chain yet, and every participant of the blockchain can see this change. At very technical levels advanced cryptography is what allows blockchain to exist, but diving into a discussion of these technicalities requires a scientific discussion, which, while interesting, would not serve a legal purpose. However, something of high-relevance to the legal community is a discussion of smart contracts. Working closely with coders and blockchain experts, attorneys can draft smart contracts that provide a more efficient, secure, and cost-effective way of facilitating transactions between individuals.