Every revolution shakes up a society. The old way of doing things shifts and changes, leaving people wondering what the new rules are and how things relate to each other. The digital revolution is no exception to that rule. As the digital world expands, more and more social features are being absorbed by this new virtual world. Online shopping is a huge industry, social interaction has moved to the internet in a big way, and video gaming allows everyone to be the hero of their own digital reality. Now with the advent of cryptocurrency, everyone can be their own online banker. Because so many things are quickly and more efficiently done in the virtual world of digital reality, we are often left wondering how we should bridge the conventional physical world with the new digital one.
Humans: Are we masters of technology or slaves to machines?
One thing we need to keep in mind, as we ask this question, is that this virtual vs. real dilemma has happened before. Before the age of machines, most work was performed by muscle power. With the advent of the industrial revolution, virtual workers began to pop up in every field of industry and agriculture. As these mechanized “virtual” workers began to replace human muscle power, some social observers saw humans taking a subservient role to these clanking and smoking beasts. Human laborers toiled long hours to feed these new creations with raw materials. While it is true that without the humans the machines would sit there lifeless, without the machines the human tenders would have to do the work themselves. In an odd trade-off. Human workers became a step removed from their work, but wound up more productive as a result.
Suffering as the weak link, or benefiting from growth
The digital machines of today are built from ethereal computer code instead of cold steel, but many of the human dilemmas are the same. As the digital machines provide more unique advantages, people spend more time feeding them. These virtual machines are fantastic at processing data, and we are finding more and more ways to represent the physical world by this data. The weak link in the system is becoming the human tenders. It is like having a machine that could wash and dry clothes the instant it was filled. Either we leave it idle for a time, or we work ourselves to death trying to keep it busy. In order for us to truly benefit from the phenomenal innovations of the digital revolution, we need a mechanized way to feed this beast.
Digitally creating reality
In the world of manufacturing, quality control and supply chain logistics are essential to our highly specialized and productive manufacturing operations. Stringent quality control requires that each step of a manufacturing process be traced from the raw material to the completed product. Unique digital identifiers are assigned to each part as it goes through the process and each final product can be audited using that digital system. If a piece loses its identifying tag, it goes from being a valuable step in the process to a piece of trash. Regardless of its physical properties, if it cannot be tracked and verified in the virtual world, it becomes useless in the physical. This seems odd from a human perspective, but the essential concept is identification. Without the identifying tag, the virtual machine that tracks and manages the dizzying amount of information necessary for the end result cannot relate to that piece. It is this system connecting digitally verifiable tags to practical chunks of stuff that feeds the beast that we call our manufacturing industry and results in our high standard of living.
These connection systems that feed our manufacturing processes have been primarily restricted to centralized and proprietary installations. Only the largest firms have the resources to build these types of tracking systems. Because these very expensive systems result in such extreme levels of productivity, there are usually a few firms that dominate these industries. Aside from price, these centralized overseeing digital brains have another shortcoming. Each physical piece still has no intrinsic identity. Their identities are assigned and managed by the center. This means that without access to the central authority, no other business can interact with that physical piece. This effectively restricts the efficiencies of virtual management to the parent organization.
Decentralizing digital control
This trend of centralized control is meeting with some challenges from some of the newest innovation in the virtual world. Blockchain technology, the new kid on the digital block, has brought in a unique solution to the challenge of digital oversight. This invention which has spawned a number of projects, primarily cryptocurrencies, is changing the way we think about virtual management. Blockchains utilized a distributed ledger and protocol to achieve universal consensus among peers. There is no enforcement required; all of the participants have to agree or nothing happens. This technology has been used primarily for currency interchanges, but there is a company with its eye on manufacturing.
WaltonChain: Decentralizing the virtual to physical interface
WaltonChain (Crypto: WTC) was named after Charlie Walton. Although his name is not a household word, his invention certainly is. Charlie Walton created the RFID tag. WaltonChain aims to be the one-stop-shop for integrating RFID tracking systems into the open source and decentralized world of blockchain technology. The development team behind the WaltonChain project has extensive backgrounds in the textile industry and most of their illustrations for use cases come from that field. The goal of the WaltonChain project is to incorporate RFID identification directly into blockchain universal consensus technology.
Giving the practical a virtual identity
A WaltonChain RFID tag will be able to create a public/private key combination. This will give it a totally unique, globally verifiable identity. As opposed to an identity that was assigned to it by a particular business, this blockchain identity is intrinsic to this physical piece and can be interacted with and verified in a decentralized and global way. Any individual or business could download the open source software and create their own digital management system to interact with this product. The WaltonChain protocol will also allow for creation of child chains to perform more narrow and specialized functions within smaller businesses. For example, if an item of clothing is identified on the main chain, as it entered a retail store, the store could log it into its own child chain that would track it through the store and log details such as how many times it was tried on. Because of the universal nature of blockchain technology, there would not have to be any contractual connection between the manufacturer and the retailer for this increase in efficiency and ease of management to be utilized.
Decentralizing wealth and efficiency
As a result of blockchain technology merged with RFID technology, many improvements will become available. Not only will conventional practices become less expensive, new opportunities are developing that would not have been possible previously. With their extensive knowledge of manufacturing and computer science, the WaltonChain team is bringing fascinating innovation to the interface between the practically physical and the ever changing virtual.
To learn more about WaltonChain, visit http://www.waltonchain.org
Contributed by: Josh Justice Follow @josh0mattoc
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