The connection we share through the Internet has laid the foundation for a whole new digital infrastructure, in which blockchain technology is heralded by many believers for being the future of both our money and our internet infrastructure. However, the future of this technology and its applicability is not so certain as many blockchain evangelists will have you believe. This makes us wonder, how exactly are we going to build our collective and digital future? Can we make it less energy intensive, and bring back the human touch?

When the first version of the Internet came about, people had to dial-up over phone lines using a modem to connect it to the network. You paid by the minute, the connection dropped every now and then, and in general, it wasn’t a very nice experience.

We may be safe to say that, the blockchain is currently still in its dial-up phase: it's clunky, often not very user-friendly, and probably only being used by some technical cousin of yours.

This leaves us with the opportunity to develop this new infrastructure of technologies. There are many projects that aim to push the blockchain further - which we will refer to as ‘infrastructure projects’. These are projects that aim to build the interconnected infrastructure of tomorrow, and with that, make the technology accessible to a larger audience. In the near future, we may be living in co-existence with these systems.

Bitcoin with its Proof of Work blockchain (Proof of Work refers to cryptographically signing transactions together in tree-like structures) was only the first generation (or iteration) of this important tool. Ethereum (with its “smart contracts”) heralded the 2nd generation, and now we are looking at a 3rd generation, the future of blockchain tools. If we compare this to our internet-metaphor, we could see this generation as the ‘Wi-Fi routers among blockchains’.

Looking at the current environment, though, it’s sometimes hard to envision this 3rd generation of future infrastructure, because it is yet to be built and mapped out in concrete terms. We can, however, explore a direction the ECO-coin is hoping this future of money may take. Namely, to minimize the energy usage of this money-system, and to ensure a human inclusion in this future technology.

Towards a lesser energy-intensive coin

In all this talk of the ‘technology of tomorrow’, sustainability consistently flies under the radar. The world genuinely needs ecological technologies, and it definitely needs ecological cryptocurrency technologies. Next Nature Network has asked itself the question: can we build a coin that is ecological by design?

A promising glimpse of this future, may come from the proposed IOTA token, which is an example of such a 3rd generation blockchain. IOTA offers an important inspiration to the ECO Coin project, because it is thinking thoroughly about the energy usage of blockchains.

IOTA is a token that will be distributed within all the Internet of Things (IoT) devices that will probably be added to our homes in the coming years. The IOTA token would make it possible for IoT machines to award each other for the data that they generate. So the thermostat could award the security camera for registering that one of the house owners walks into the house.

This token has yet to prove itself worthy. But this doesn’t mean the platform or token is worthless. We may derive a valuable goal and means from it.

The IOTA token, if it succeeds, is able to use less energy and therefore leverage different infrastructure technology than Bitcoin and Ethereum miners are able to. Small computers within our IoT sensors could potentially keep the IOTA ‘blockchain’ (which is actually not a blockchain) afloat and running, whereas Ethereum and Bitcoin mining can only be done with expensive, dedicated mining computers that can’t be used to do anything else than mine cryptocurrency.

There aren’t many ways to connect a product to a blockchain yet., The most common approach to use the blockchain is the earlier mentioned Proof of Work. The most important feature of this way of confirming transactions is that every historical transaction ever done is recalculated within every new transaction that is made. This process is there to prevents corrupt money transfers. However, it is very power-intensive, as you need masses of calculating power to recalculate every single transaction every single time.

Therefore, the IOTA protocol is not only a hype: it can really solve a very persistent problem in the blockchain space; that of energy usage.

We think there is a need for more players in this emerging market of energy efficient blockchain services, so that these projects together can inform us about a safe blockchain-connected future that is also responsible towards our living environment.

Let’s put humans back into the equation

Talking about infrastructure projects, Next Nature Network has set up the ECO Coin project as a way to explore a social confirmation tool as an alternative for power-intensive Proof of Work systems. The ECO Coin proposes to include human 'checks' within a blockchain network. This would save power on the one hand, and invite users to interact with the technology on the other hand.

In this new framework, questions can be set out for the network of computers to solve, just like within a Proof of Work blockchain network. In addition, humans will also have to visually confirm and check a transaction off before any transaction can go through on the blockchain. Once the transactions goes through, it will still be cryptographically signed and thus stored.

With this human-addition, the ECO Coin envisions a new network role of ECO Inspector, which means that there are certified human inspectors that confirm sustainable actions, procedures and transactions, thereby leveraging the data that the network generates and adding failsafes so that there is a double protection against bad actors.

The ECO Inspector will have a symbiotic relationship with the technological platform: in dialogue with the ECO Coin app, they will confirm and reward ecologically sound behaviour. The one can never go without the other.

So far, there are no systems combining cryptocurrency technologies with active user rewards on the root level of the technology. Because miners (Proof of Work blockchain computers) will be non-existent in the ECO Coin network, the mining fees that incentivise Bitcoin mining computers and their owners to continue their work can go to these ECO inspectors, a role that incentivises users to be active participants in the network and which gives them agency over the network itself.

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