Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) is a modern advent in IT that enables the forming of consensus across a distance, within a reasonable amount of time. This decentralized approach to computing has a variety of real-world applications, such as crypto-currencies, automated contracts, etc. Most people think of Blockchain as the best DLT out there, but lately there has been a new player in this field called Hashgraph, which is quite promising. Let’s take a closer look at it.
Hashgraph is a new approach to DLT, that promises to be better than Blockchain and its variants. Right now it is still in its early stages and to many people it seems somewhat academic, but it’s quite mature as a technology, since the company that developed it already has industrial clients. Also, Dr. Leemon Baird, who came up with the idea and co-founded the company, had been working on it for a few years now, so it’s not some trendy idea that is bound to disappear in a few months. You can learn more about the specifics of its functionality in this comprehensive deck of it, which demonstrates how an extension of the gossip protocol is employed to greatly speed up voting among the nodes (in what is called “virtual voting”) to drive consensus among them in an efficient and safe manner.
The key advantage of this tech is that it’s quite fast. Not two or three times faster than the best alternative, but orders of magnitude faster. The reason for this is that it has a lower computational cost plus there is no need for waiting for potential disagreements to resolve themselves (a problem in Blockchain, related to forking).
Another advantage is that hashgraph can guarantee fairness. That’s not a marketing-related point, but something mathematically proven, deriving from the fact that the knowledge of the system that reaches any particular node converges over time to the total information of that system. Fairness is linked to consensus and it is essential for a network where the first-come-first-serve rule can apply.
Also, this system is pretty secure, since it has what is known as Byzantine Fault Tolerance. This is related to the condition whereby all the members of the network know when they have reached consensus and there is no room for doubt about it. This level of security ensures that certain network attacks, like Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) cannot harm a hashgraph network. Also, this system doesn’t require proof-of-work, like many Blockchain-based systems, something that brings us to the next point.
Finally, hashgraph is lightweight, requiring very little power to run. This makes it also very scalable as it can run on any kind of device (e.g. a smartphone) and sustainable (it requires a manageable amount of energy when it scales). This last point is not mentioned in the hashgraph site, but it’s a very important one, since it can make the difference between a good system in theory and a highly functional one.
Also not mentioned on the site are a couple of disadvantages of hashgraph. First of all, the whole technology is patented. This means that
1. not everyone can tweak its code (though there is an SDK available if you want to build an application on top of the hashgraph infrastructure), and
2. there is no guarantee that this tech is going to remain free in the future.
What’s more, hashgraph doesn’t have a crypto-currency yet (even though there are scammers who try to sell you hashgraph coins). This makes hashgraph seem less applicable to most people, who have already become familiar with alternative currencies like Bitcoin and Ripple. Also, a crypto-currency seems like an obvious application of a DLT, so not having one based on hashgraph raises suspicion about how serious it is about competing with Blockchain.
Overall, hashgraph seems like a very promising kind of DLT, perhaps one that can add a lot of value to the digital world. It has become clear that despite the various shortcomings of DLTs, the decentralization options they offer are something the world needs, even if it may take a few years before this mindset becomes mainstream. Hashgraph still has some issues and may not be able to win everyone, but just like there are several closed-source technologies out there that have their share of users, hashgraph may be able to earn a piece of the pie of cyber products and services, such as automated contracts, easy online collaboration without the need of servers, fast crypt-currencies, etc.
How Is This Relevant to Data Science / A.I.?
Since most breakthroughs come about from the combination of different technologies, it would be naive to think that data science or A.I. will evolve on their own. New technologies like DLTs, IoT and Cyber-security have a role to play, since they come with their own sets of data streams and data problems that need to be solved. Perhaps the next generation of data products will run as applications on a hashgraph, instead of a cloud, while the latter may be used just to store the most sensitive data only. Whatever the case, it’s good to look at the bigger picture of the tech world when contemplating about data science and artificial intelligence, since the more the various tech fields evolve, the more inter-connected they become.
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Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.