So, The Turing Test has been out now for over two months. What have I been up to since then? Mostly, trying to figure out how to market the books I’ve already written with better success than I have to date. What I haven’t been doing is writing book five. Happily, I decided this weekend it’s time to check back in to see what Frank’s been up to since we saw him last.
Up until a day or two, I had only a few vague idea about where Our Hero’s adventures should lead him next. The one thing that was clear to me was which technology should underlie the story this time around. And which technology would that be?
Why, the blockchain, of course.
For those of you that are not familiar with it, the blockchain is a new network platform that everyone seems to be in love with. In principle, it’s rather simple: in a blockchain, a group of transactions are packaged in a virtual envelope called a block. That block also contains a cryptographic “hash” identifier that points back to the previous block in the chain. The next block contains more transactions and a new hash pointing back to the previous block, and so on. Think of a blockchain in action as a process of perennially string more beads onto the same thread, each one linked directly to it’s neighbor, and indirectly to all the rest.
The second important thing to know about the blockchain concept is that a blockchain does not exist in a single place. Instead, the same records (in a public blockchain) are mirrored on tens, hundreds, or even thousands of other sites. The concept is that while one record repository could be hacked to change, or even erase, records, the duplicate copies on thousands of additional servers could not. And there are additional levels of security built into the blockchain besides redundancy. For example, in order to change a transaction that happened, say, a week ago, you’d not only have to change the same data on every other duplicate copy of the same blockchain, but all of the records of all of the transactions that happened since then on all of those duplicates as well.
The third thing to know is that the blockchain is a “disintermediating” technology, meaning that it renders unnecessary institutions that have enjoyed their positions as middlemen, quite profitably and comfortably, for hundreds, and even thousands, of years (e.g., the way Craigslist eliminated want ads as a revenue source for thousands of newspapers). As an example, a payments blockchain would eliminate the need for banks and bankers, because each owner of a blockchain “wallet” can make and receive payments directly with any other wallet owner, without a bank, PayPal or a credit card company involved. Think of a blockchain as a public ledger storing information in multiple locations that anyone can use directly for purposes of making an exchange or storing data.
If this is beginning to ring a bell, it’s because Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that’s been much in the news for several years now, is based on the blockchain. Because the blockchain technology it’s data-agnostic, though, it can be used to support any kind of data, from health records to financial transactions to real estate transfers to little league data. The promise is that transactions can occur more cheaply and efficiently in a far more secure fashion, and with far greater privacy and freedom, than is possible using traditional systems. (If you’d like to learn more about the blockchain, the Wikipedia entry is a great place to start).
Add it all up, and it sounds pretty good.
There’s only one problem: just as with each of my prior books, I’ve come up with a way I believe could defeat all of those levels of security. Since each of the hacks I came up with for my prior books has been vetted by security experts and confirmed as being viable, I expect this one will be, too. Now, when a lawyer with a BA in history can keep coming up with ways to hack the most critical information systems we all rely on, inn’t that it’s a little worrying?
Be that as it may, the good news is that Frank will Ride again. Look for book 5 sometime this winter. In the meantime, if the above sounds too disquieting to bear, why not distract yourself with one of Frank’s prior adventures?
You can find the complete Frank Adversego Thriller series here.