What was blockchain technology originally designed for? It is widely believed to have been created in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto as part of his white paper to create bitcoin (BTC). Since bitcoin is based on decentralized ledger technology, a blockchain had to be created to serve as the foundation for the cryptocurrency.
Since 2008, blockchain technology has become much broader than the use of cryptocurrencies and is now being applied to things ranging from healthcare to finance to green technology and more.
But blockchain technology didn’t start with Satoshi’s white paper. It was invented in 1991 to authenticate and protect content through a concept called timestamping.
History lesson about blockchain
In the famous Satoshi Bitcoin white paper, he quotes another: How to remember the time of the digital paper published by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta in 1991. Both researchers knew that in a fully digital world, the issue of document certification – when are documents created and when are they changed – would become a problem.
They explained that in the old days you could just flip through the pages of a notebook to see the dated notes. They refer to other means of certification, such as. For example, sending a letter by post or a notarial act, but in these cases the forgery of documents is immediately detected. But that’s not the case in the digital world, where documents can be changed without leaving evidence.
The problem is to capture the data in time rather than in a medium, they wrote. The first solution they suggested was to simply send the document to a time stamping service. The TSS will then keep a copy as a reference, which it can request for comparison purposes if necessary.
What is the problem with this solution? He trusted a third party to take advantage of him.
Instead of a third party verification tool, they would use a secure cryptographic hash function that would serve as a unique identifier for a piece of content. Instead of sending the full document to TSS, the creator instead sends a unique identifier. Upon receipt, TSS will provide a digitally signed confirmation. By verifying the signature, the client was assured that the TBS had indeed processed the request, that the hash had been correctly received, and that the correct time had been recorded.
But what happens if TSS puts the wrong timestamp on the hash? Haber and Stornetta proposed two solutions: (1) use fragments of previous searches to create new searches, resulting in a chronological archive; and (2) make the whole system decentralized, transparent, and auditable.
For anyone who knows how blockchain technology works, it does. Blocks are created by extracting the hash of the last block and resolving the hash of the new block. Once a block is added, it is verified by the nodes of the decentralized system and locked in the public ledger, it cannot be changed.
Original use cases
Haber and Stornetta provided examples of the use of these types of time stamps, referring to inventions or ideas that must be proven to be patentable. Since the documents are stored as hash functions, they can capture intellectual property and patents without revealing their contents. They also give examples where a company that has falsified documents can prove their authenticity with a time stamp. They not only have time-stamped text documents, but also original audio recordings, photos, videos and much more.
Although Haber and Stornetta eventually founded their own company, called Surety, which operated as a TSS (and, interestingly, placed its hashes in ads in the New York Times every week since 1995), the idea was never fully realized. It wasn’t until 2008, with the creation of bitcoin, that blockchain technology finally gained a foothold, four years after Haber and Stornett’s patent expired.
Why do we need parking meters today?
The need for document authentication is not unique to the 1990s. In a world where so much digital content is produced and there seems to be a growing distrust of content on the internet, a temporary restriction may be the ideal way to achieve the necessary transparency and accountability.
The idea is simple. A unique hash is generated from a text fragment, title or date content and added to the blockchain. This allows us to know not only when a piece of content was created in the ledger, but also when a piece of that content was modified, the hash changes, showing that the content was modified or a new version was created.
For example, content creators can prove that they created the work at any time by requesting it on the blockchain. Time stamping can also eliminate plagiarism and copyright disputes, as the original work can be traced back to the hash in an immutable chain.
Time stamping also increases reader confidence. With additional layers of verification, they can know exactly who wrote the content and when, and they can see the verification certificate. The more websites use timestamps, the more readers will become accustomed to associating timestamps with transparency, accountability, and authenticity, and will reject unverified content without timestamps. Time-stamping can also be used in e-commerce, where buyers can see the original terms and agreements and not be fooled by a suddenly updated version that voids the warranty.
With simple implementation, the Internet can become a safe place where authors can be assured that their content remains protected, and where readers know that what they read is verifiable. It’s been a long time since the original article was published in 1991, but these ideas are still needed today.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent those of Cointelegraph.
Sebastian van der Lans is chairman of the Trusted Web Foundation and founder and CEO of WordProof. Winner of the European Commission’s Blockchain for the Common Good competition. He is on a mission to restore confidence in the Internet.