The Canadian government has launched a trial to explore the use of blockchain technology in making government research grant and funding information more transparent to the public.
For the trial, the National Research Council (NRC) is using the Catena Blockchain Suite, a Canadian-made product built on the Ethereum blockchain, to publish funding and grant information in real time.
When the NRC creates or amends a grant, the pertinent information is stored on the Ethereum blockchain, and posted on an online database that Canadians can peruse.
“Blockchains provide the ultimate in transparency and trust, making this technology a brave new world for organizations that strive to conduct transparent business,” the NRC said in a blog post.
“These are early days yet, but the experiment is expected to provide constructive insight into the potential for blockchain technology and how it may be used for more open and transparent function of public programs.”
As the NRC website explains, “On the simplest level, blockchains are public ledgers that record transactions shared among many users. Once data is entered on a blockchain, it is secure and unalterable, and provides a permanent record.”
The high level of security comes from storage of data in encrypted blocks that are decentralized, or stored on a network of computers around the world. This combination of encryption and decentralization ensures that data is practically impenetrable.
The most well-known manifestation of blockchain technology is Bitcoin, a digital currency that stores all transactions and amounts on a decentralized public ledger. But while Bitcoin’s meteoric rise has garnered it much hype, its utility pales in comparison to Ethereum.
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Whereas Bitcoin is a digital currency, Ethereum is an entire blockchain-based platform whose operations are fueled by the cryptocurrency token Ether. Ethereum’s usefulness stems from its ability to run smart contracts, which are coding operations that make it possible to exchange money or data in a transparent and secure manner.
The Ethereum platform even comes complete with its own programming language, allowing developers to build applications and services that use its blockchain. The Catena Blockchain Suite, built by Ottawa-based company Bitaccess, is one such application.
Every time the NRC gives a grant to a company or individual, it shares that information with Bitaccess, which stores the data on the secure and tamper-proof Ethereum blockchain. Individual grant information is then posted online.
Canadians can peruse grant information by monetary value, date, recipient and region. They can also verify grant information by clicking on the Transaction ID link, which takes them to the unique transaction listing on the online Ethereum transaction database Etherscan.io.
As of Saturday, Jan. 20, the biggest grant listed on the database was an $11,849,901 contribution to an industry R&D project at Ryerson University.
The initiative should come as music to the ears of Ethereum’s 23-year-old Russian-Canadian inventor Vitalik Buterin.
While much of the talk surrounding the rise of cryptocurrencies has centred on their profit-making potential (the value of the Ether token has risen by over 10,000 per cent in the last one year), Buterin, who invented Ethereum in 2015 aged 19, has been keen to stress the larger mission behind the technology — his website and Twitter timeline frequently refer to the use of Ethereum to distribute power and trust among the masses, rather than focus them on traditional power brokers such as government and banks.
On one occasion, he shared an article discussing the use of Ethereum by the UN and European Union to monitor refugee populations and funding, while maintaining that the use of the technology by governments doesn’t necessarily run contrary to the aim of decentralization.
In November, Buterin tweeted out a poll asking his half a million followers to vote on which institutions they would most like to see adopt blockchain storage.
With 44 per cent of the vote, the “government” option easily won out.
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