Some people have heard of “bitcoin,” an alternative virtual currency that people collected by “mining” answers to a really hard question. Bitcoins were used as a reward for lending massive amounts of computing power, sort of like SETI used distributed computers to look for aliens in the early days, allowing use of networked computers with excess capacity to solve perplexing and memory-intensive problems.
However, few folks outside of the crypto-currency financial world have heard of the “blockchain,” which is the set of technologies that makes *transfer* of virtual currency work. After all, what good is currency, if you can’t spend it?!
The genius idea of “blockchains” solved a really Big Problem. The basic idea is that trust is created through computer code that can be written to automate storing information in “blockchains” that are nearly impossible to hack, change OR access without special encrypted credentials. While digital currencies are constantly being created by innovative companies looking to solve interesting problems, nearly all are building their services on blockchain technology.
They got this idea, in part, from the concept of “tally sticks.” Tally sticks have been around for thousands of years, and were used until as late as the 1800s in the UK before the advent of central banks. Given that the UK was probably the biggest financial center in Europe at the time (if not the world), that tells you how tried-and-true the system was. With a tally stick, there was no doubt about agreement and debt ownership.
Recent prosecutions of Bitcoin uses may make you think that it’s “kinda shady,” but nothing could be further from the truth. What has happened is that early prosecutions of folks doing bad stuff grabbed the attention of financial managers, who began thinking about ways in which a trust-free system could lower cost and increase the value of services they offer. If you need proof, enormous companies like PayPal, Microsoft, NASDAQ are all now looking at ways of using the technology to improve what they offer and create new services.
Now, open and closed blockchain networks are poised to solve financial and marketplace problems in interesting ways and as a profession obsessed with rules, loopholes and standards, lawyers really have to get up to speed fast!
All of this innovation was happening right under the noses of lawyers, who now have to quickly get up to speed on this new way of working. That’s where Tallystick News (www.tallysticknews.com) comes in: the objective is to educate lawyers and legal service consumers about the pluses and minuses of using blockchain technology. After all, consumer services are using it already and it’s only a matter of time before medical records providers create blockchain networks to store and retrieve patient medical data!
Career-wise, maybe you’re not interested in practicing traditional law, and would like to dwell closer to the geek-side of technical change, this might be interesting to you! If legally-inclined, take a look at the idea of “smart contracts,” which is code that can also effect legal commitments. Tallystick News is posed to be a *great* place to get your news and to participate in the discussion!
Regina Mullen (Twitter: @thunkinoutloud) graduated from Harvard with a degree in East Asian Studies (Japanese) and the University of Michigan Law School. She has lived and worked in Japan (including 2 years with a Japanese law firm) and been a litigator in state and federal court. A self-taught programmer and photographer, her interest is in looking at technology and documenting change in new ways. Proud mother of a PhD student, who is far smarter than his parents. She currently resides and works in Manhattan (Harlem), where she also serves as a FINRA arbitrator.