The Fragile Historical Record
Since the invention of writing systems around five thousands years ago humanity has been able to encode and decode messages through reading and writing. The recording and storage of these messages over time on paper mediums provide the insights we have today about the history of the world.
However due to the fragile, combustible and generally decaying nature of paper, surprisingly few original historical records from before the time of the printing press have survived to today. In addition to general decay and lost to fires, the medium of paper is difficult to authenticate in the sense of providing a reliable “time stamp” as to when a message was originally created (though carbon dating has helped in this respect).
Today computer based recording systems while much better at copying and relaying messages instantly around the world, still suffer from fraud and persistence issues in maintaing an honest record of history. Databases can be easily altered, records can be fraudulently created, central record keeping authorities can be corrupt or fail to properly back up records in multiple copies.
And then on January 3rd 2009 the bitcoin blockchain began confirming blocks of transactions (starting with the Genesis Block) on its decentralized network of nodes. That day, for the first time, in the whole of human history, a truly persistent and immutable ledger of record began operating. The very first transaction contained the following text “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”. The text which was from a newspaper headline that same day, was the first extra data other than the transaction itself to be stored in the bitcoin blockchain.
Fast forward a few years and applications are storing all sorts of data in the bitcoin blockchain far beyond a few words attached to a transaction. One of the methods to accomplish this is known as “Proof of Existence” where the user hashes a long document into a short string of letters and numbers and places that hash into the blockchain. This effectively places an immutable time stamp on the document, forever onward (provided the user has a copy of the document), it can be proven with cryptographic certainty that the document did indeed exist in that form, and at the time it was added to the blockchain record.
Now we can maintain an honest accounting of the timing of events in history thanks to the blockchain.
The next logical extension of this “Proof of Existence” is to allow users to chain together these time stamped documents as a “Proof of Process”, thus leveraging the time stamping service throughout a defined series of activities so that an entire process can be proven to have been executed. Finally with all the hashes in this process linked to the blockchain record any user can at any time in the future conduct a “Proof of Audit” and confirm the process was following according to the rules set forth.
The final piece in creating our true recorded history of the world falls into place with the capabilities of a decentralized immutable storage network for large files. The Safe Network and other projects such at Storj are creating a place for users to permanently store files on a distributed network of nodes, making the original document recoverable for all time.
So we now have the original document, we have the time stamping from the immutable blockchain, we can bring the two together with a Factom Chain and further more prove a fine grained series of actions accrued.
The clarity and reliability with which we can record, prove and audit events in our personal lives, as well as our collective history is about to radically improve. It is not hyperbole, to state that this shift is equal to that of, the move from our ancient past of oral history to the beginning of written history as we know it today.