Unbalkanizing the Blockchain Ecosystem: Emergence of Semantic Blockchain

In a recent interview Bitcoin core developer Jeff Garzik proffered a vision of the Blockchain development phase now underway, in which he described “a mesh network of cross-chain smart contracts”.

To those familiar with the ideas of the Semantic Web and the global ecosystem of Linked Data these concepts should sound startlingly familiar.

Initial Tremors

The Semantic Web of Linked Data was supposed to transform the Web from a distributed file system into a distributed database system . But way back in 2006, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with the WWW conception, said that the vision of the Semantic Web was “largely unrealized”.

For many this proclamation definitively sounded the death knell on an ambitious area of research. Google trends is an easy mechanism for confirming this dismal state of affairs, and it seems safe that the notion of the “Semantic Web” can now take up its mantle in the dustbin of history.

But in our haste to disregard this formerly compelling avenue of exploration we might do well to remember Lazarus or Napoleon, or, for that matter, the once completely infeasible notion of digital money. “You’ll never step in the same river twice”, said  Heraclitus, but some dead ideas have an uncanny way of them of coming back with a vengeance.

Semantic Renaissance

The dark ages describe an era of European history wherein much of the culture and civilization established under the Roman Empire was forgotten or disregarded until the epoch we know of as the Renaissance.

The latest and greatest trend in Artificial Intelligence  is Deep Learning which was responsible for the recent victory (or defeat, depending on your perspective) in the struggle of Machine vs. Man over the game of Go.

The aficionados of “Deep Learning” are aware of the Dark Ages into which Neural Networks research was plunged by the highly critical ‘Perceptrons: An Introduction to Computational Geometry’ by Minsky & Papert, a work which did much to precipitate a 20-year freeze on exploration.

The same story is familiar to those who have spent any time studying the development of digital money and the ill-fated attempts of the 1990’s at its realization. In 2008, finally there came the fusion of existing disparate frameworks in a novel way which enabled the creation of Bitcoin which gave rise to the Blockchain as a useful data structure.

Unbalkanizing the Balkanized Blockchain

The interchange of homogeneous data facilitated by Blockchain technologies, a new framework for information (value) transmission, might just be the catalyst needed to spur the ideas of the dormant Semantic Web community into reality. This is the lofty ambition at which, in one way or another, a series of projects are currently taking aim.

Rootstock, Interledger, IPLD, and Pegged Sidechains are attempts at breaking down the nascent data silos in the quickly Balkanizing Blockchain ecosystem giving new life to the concept of a “Web of Data”.

The progress of Blockchain technologies thus far has unfolded as a drama of epic proportions and in the context of this development one might catch a glimpse of what its future could have in store.

Blockchain Development: An Internet Drama

Act I: The Gold Protocol

The curtain opens on a fledgling digital currency, the first use case of Blockchain as a data structure.

Act II: Smart Contracts

The Ethereum project realized the idea of smart contracts on an open and universally accessible “world computer”.

Act III: Consortial Blockchain

Large institutions call for multiple private chains with comprehensive permissioned access.

Act IV: Semantic Blockchain ...

The road ahead

The next chapter in the development of Blockchain as a technology is not yet determined - and the degree to which concepts from the “Semantic Web” are incorporated into its structure will do much in the way of defining the future interoperability and accessibility of this platform. This will characterize the nature of organizations which take shape around it - and to the extent that we interact with these operations - our lives.