Blockchain Roundup

A recent tsunami of studies and forecasts suggests how distributed ledger technology may affect civil society in the near future.

book covers

5G-enabled internet of things, ed. by Yulei Wu et al. CRC Press, 2019. 396p bibl index ISBN 9780367190101, $119.95; ISBN 9780429199820 ebook, $57.95. Reviewed in CHOICE February 2020

This is a comprehensive treatment of the resources that come together to form what we refer to as 5G, the fifth generation cellular network technology, and what capabilities this technology will contribute to enable and enhance the Internet of Things. The book represents a heroic effort involving four editors and more than 50 contributors. Its chapters are distributed into four sections. The first section describes the architecture and related technologies that will come together to form the fifth generation. From these five chapters, readers can get an overview of 5G. Section 2, composed of six chapters, describes the main components that form this next-generation network. Section 3 comprises three chapters that describe the privacy and security issues associated with 5G. Notably, one of these is a chapter on application of the blockchain technology in 5G. Section 4 describes four end-user applications, in four chapters, that are enabled through 5G. Each chapter in the book is fairly self-contained with its own table of contents and a concluding reference section. Also worth noting, the volume provides a well-constructed overall back-of-the-book index. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —J. Beidler, emeritus, University of Scranton

The Cambridge handbook of smart contracts, blockchain technology and digital platforms, ed. by Larry A. DiMatteo, Michel Cannarsa, and Cristina Poncibò. Cambridge, 2019. 366p index ISBN 9781108492560, $195.00; ISBN 9781108600071 ebook, $136.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2020

This is a fascinating book with surprises for the reader in each chapter. It is common knowledge that blockchain is a sophisticated technology that relies on tricky applications of hashing algorithms and a cryptographic infrastructure; also, that the distributed nature of the technology makes it challenging to implement. Furthermore, business applications of blockchain, particularly the ability to support smart contracts, create another layer of complexity that might outweigh other technological issues. Smart contracts are subject to legal regulations, contract laws in particular. This book discusses interactions between the evolving legal framework and the equally evolving technology. One of the bigger questions concerns the optimal degree of government regulation of blockchains. Possible areas for such intervention include property rights, data protection, and protection of contracting parties. The blockchain technology was developed to keep politicized governments and legal systems as far apart as possible. As a result, many central ideas behind blockchain—that it is self-enforcing, autonomous, immutable, distributed across many jurisdictions, and highly encrypted—make smart contracts incompatible with existing contract law. This book offers many examples of such collisions and areas of confusion between blockchains and legal entities. It will be fascinating to see whether the legal profession will move closer to core computer science and cryptographic subjects. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through professionals. —J. Brzezinski, McHenry County College

De Filippi, Primavera. Blockchain and the law: the rule of code, by Primavera De Filippi and Aaron Wright. Harvard, 2018. 300p index ISBN 9780674976429, $35.00; ISBN 9780674985933 ebook, contact publisher for price. Reviewed in CHOICE September 2018

The book is a wonderfully thorough analysis of one of the most important technologies of this century. It is a comprehensive book that should be recommended reading for anyone interested in cryptography-based technologies. This technology with embedded economic incentives is likely to proliferate into many areas of the economy. De Filippi (Harvard) and Wright (Yeshiva) discuss difficult dilemmas that often center on the lack of governmental accountability. Perhaps decentralized blockchain technologies will ensure transparency better than traditional methods. Many governments are exploring notarization techniques and registry systems based on blockchain ecosystems. Whether the rule of code and algorithms will turn out to ensure better security and integrity than the rule of law, only time will tell. In the banking world, cryptographic clearance and settlement for financial transactions are explored by all major organizations. Digital cryptocurrencies are probably the most publicized aspect of blockchain technology. They are discussed here in-depth. Another key area, crucial in any economic activities, is computable contracts that can be executed autonomously on a peer-to-peer blockchain network. From the perspective of a blockchain programmer, this book is a valuable resource. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —J. Brzezinski, McHenry County College

Furlonger, David. The real business of blockchain: how leaders can create value in a new digital age, by David Furlonger and Christopher Uzureau. Harvard Business Review Press, 2019. 257p index ISBN 9781633698048, $32.00; ISBN 9781633698055 ebook, $32.00.Reviewed in CHOICE February 2020

The global economy is currently in a state of transformation, and blockchain is the most impactful new technology with potential to change many information-driven processes within the financial industry. It is the foundation of new currencies (or cryptocurrencies) that soon might challenge traditional forms of payment, creating new forms independent of banks or governments. One of its more fundamental applications is secure information storage that can replace traditional database architectures. Organizations using one of the increasing number of blockchain platforms can implement so-called smart contracts and securely save them on distributed systems. Many organizations, including governments, are already implementing various forms of this encryption-based technology, as detailed in this book, which provides insightful case studies in accessible language. Authors Furlonger and Uzureau (both, Gartner, Inc. consultants) are popular speakers and consultants in business and financial technology. Their book adopts the management consultant perspective and discusses the experiences of early blockchain adopters, offering advice to corporate executives aspiring to embed this technology within their organization. Each section ends with a “lessons learned” summary, emphasizing the how-to intent of the volume. The later chapters present more advanced use cases, situating blockchain within the internet of things (IoT) landscape. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —J. Brzezinski, McHenry County College

Magnuson, William. Blockchain democracy: technology, law and the rule of the crowd. Cambridge, 2020. 258p index ISBN 9781108482363, $110.00; ISBN 9781108712088 ebook, $29.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2020

Investigating the most transformative technology of recent times, this fascinating book dives deep into the origins of blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Magnuson (Texas A&M Univ. School of Law) has compiled an enormous amount of research on the subject and put together a compelling case about the fundamental aspects of blockchain applications. Equally exciting is his account of the people behind the implementations and dangerous errors found and exploited by hackers. This is made more worrisome by the reality that this technology is here to stay, as evidenced by its widespread adoption by governments and corporations, despite its invisibility—and illegibility—to the average person. Magnuson efficiently presents many contradictions relating to the security of system algorithms, the environmental impacts of computers performing complicated calculations, and regulatory difficulties. Even if unintentional, the big picture conveyed here is bleak. As Magnuson elaborates, we are entering an era of enormous technological complexity created by anonymous, genius-level programmers, possibly connected to the criminal underworld. Any reader with some interest in technology and politics can easily guess where this leads. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. —J. Brzezinski, McHenry County College

Ramakrishnan, Ravi. Internet of things: approach and applicability in manufacturing, by Ravi Ramakrishnan and Loveleen Gaur. CRC Press, 2019. 192p bibl index ISBN 9781138598157, $129.95; ISBN 9780429486593 ebook, $57.95. Reviewed in CHOICE March 2020

Ramakrishnan and Gaur (Amity Univ., Noida) provide a detailed primer on the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and the revolution it represents: the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. As a digital network of physical objects and real-world devices, the IoT allows such objects and devices to be sensed and controlled remotely (chapters 1-2). The new IoT environment has evolved rapidly, bringing technical, economic, and social impacts (chapters 3-4). This book delves into the positives and negatives, including challenges in manufacturing; required standards for interoperability; requirements for business process management; and green product development (chapters 5-9). As the authors point out, the coming IIoT revolution will see 30 billion objects connected by 2021. At such a scale, user perceptions and technology acceptance must be modeled (chapter 10). Although the IIoT will increase business productivity, because devices are connected to the internet, they are vulnerable to hacking. The security risks are huge–cloud deployment, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain, and cryptography will all be involved in protecting privacy and infrastructure (chapters 10-12). Although this is a highly informative tome, readers will need to approach it (and the references following each chapter) with a robust technical or computing background. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. Students enrolled in two-year technical programs. —C. Tappert, Pace University

Tapscott, Don. Blockchain revolution: how the technology behind Bitcoin is changing money, business, and the world, by Don Tapscott and Alex Tapscott. Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. 348p index ISBN 9781101980132, $30.00; ISBN 9781101980156 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2016

The blockchain offers high-level encryption with built-in verification. It first became popular with the use of Bitcoin (but an early version was invented for another cryptocurrency). Bitcoin made the blockchain both applicable and popular. Many decades from now, people may praise Bitcoin much more for the advancement of blockchain than for its intended purpose as an alternative currency. Interesting observations are how blockchains could be used to avoid voter fraud, improve copyright protections, better protect/verify medical records, and speed up financial transactions. The book is at times overly optimistic and a bit of a cheap sales pitch, but the essence is right. There are a number of silly errors, such as when the authors write (on page 255) that had Greeks anticipated their country’s economic crash, they might have exchanged their drachmas for Bitcoins—had they been available. First, Greece uses the euro, having given up the drachma in 2001. Second, the Greek debt crisis started in 2009. Despite some errors and salesmanship, the book is one of few to offer insights for people interested in the future of blockchains. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. —R. H. Scott, Monmouth University