Blockchain is, in simplest terms, a computer program that establishes a transparent, public, append-only ledger. It’s a mechanism for creating consensus among distributed parties who don’t need to trust each other—instead the trust is established by the mechanism. This trust is critical, since blockchain depends on a challenge, coupled with the fact that no one actor on the network can solve the challenge consistently more than anyone else on the network. Because it randomizes the process, no one party can force the blockchain to accept a particular ledger entry that other with which other parties disagree.
Blockchains are a kind of database, only they store data in units called “blocks” that have limited capacity. Once the block is filled, it is encrypted and chained to the previous block, and shared across all the computers, known as “nodes,” stored on its peer-to-peer network.
The data contained within the block is “hashed,” meaning it is turned into a string of numbers and letters, and timestamped, so if either the hash or the timestamp don’t match up, that will raise a flag. Each block contains the data itself, as well as a hash of the data, and the hash of the previous block. This means that a node were to be hacked or a block changed by anyone, whether an innocent mistake or a nefarious actor with bad intent, the rest of the network could easily pinpoint the discrepancy and correct it. A block that doesn’t agree with the rest of the blockchain is undesirable and, if not corrected, becomes valueless.
Blockchains maintain a record of transactions across a linked peer-to-peer network of computers. Because all computers retain control of the blockchain collectively, rather than any single user, the shared nature of the record makes it immutable and decentralized.
A smart contract is simply a computer program or transaction protocol that automatically executes, controls, or documents legally relevant events and actions according to the terms of a contract or an agreement. In a word, it functions just like any contract: one party meets a condition, which triggers an action by another party.
Because of its decentralized nature, blockchain technology has proven a useful tool for tracking anything of value, and this means establishing the protocols of a contract, and upholding them. Recording the sustainability of a product, such as an advanced, bio-based renewable fuel, is one such way that blockchain can lock in the sustainability value of that product by the unit of sale. With that sustainability value managed through blockchain, and it is therefore beyond reproach and immutable, and increases the value of related products.
As the world grows more and more connected, a network of devices connected directly to one another with no person or audience is growing. The “Internet of Things” allows software, sensors, and other technologies, including embedded systems, wireless sensor networks, control systems that use cellular and broadband internet connections to relay information between devices.
Most consumers are most familiar with the Internet of Things in the application of smart home technology. Industrial application of the technology has grown rapidly, making the use of wireless connectivity to eliminate the need for wires from sensors or between devices.
The Industrial Internet of Things uses devices to collect data from equipment and provide analysis. When used to connect manufacturing devices equipped with sensors, the systems can provide identification capabilities, as well as processing, communication, actuation, and networking function and control. Network control and management of manufacturing equipment, asset and situation management, or manufacturing process control allow IoT to be used for industrial applications and smart manufacturing. In agriculture, IOT farming applications can detect data on moisture, soil content, temperature, rainfall, pest infestation, wind speed and humidity. Process controls can be integrated for targeted application of pesticides and fertilizer, optimizing investment and minimizing overall impact of excessive application.