In the early 1960s, an American researcher at the RAND Corporation named Paul Baran identified a core issue with the United States security strategy: centralization. In an extensive paper he outlined his findings on how a system with any single point of failure could be easily compromised by a sophisticated attacker. The solution, as he saw it, was to build systems which had multiple hubs, so that if one failed, the others could still support the network. 

The Modern Internet

At the same time that Baran was developing his theories on decentralization, researchers at DARPA were working on connecting computers over telephone lines. In 1969, the first email was successfully sent from UCLA to Stanford across the ARPANET. In the decades since, the internet has expanded dramatically to include billions of connected devices from smartphones and computers to robots and even satellites. Despite this, the core technology has remained unchanged. As with most technologies, the internet has been built on top of the previous systems, with each iteration wrapped around its predecessor like a shell. 

Today, fewer than a dozen data centers process the majority of the information being sent over the web. Most of this system is privately owned, and none of it was designed to sustain the demands of the modern audience. Beyond just the physical infrastructure, a few major corporations own the portals that we use to connect. Whether social media or search engines, these too, are vulnerable to compromise.  

The Place of Blockchains
Since the invention of Bitcoin in 2008, blockchain systems have rapidly developed as a means of allowing wide networks of computers to cooperate without central trusted parties. In the Bitcoin network, the public blockchain allows all of the nodes to transact and share value without the need for a physical bank, thereby ensuring that there’s no single point of failure. 

With the introduction of the Ethereum protocol in 2015, a new kind of blockchain was created which allowed software to exist on the same sort of decentralized network. In such a network, code can run without a single point of failure, which reduces the risk of failure or manipulation. As this technology has continued to develop, we’ve seen proposals to decentralize everything from energy production to content creation and video streaming, and it’s all thanks to blockchain and decentralized ledger systems. 

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89 thoughts on “What is Decentralization?

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