The world's first blockchain-powered election just happened in a war-torn, poor country

There's a new, highly secure way to vote and count ballots, and it's just been tested in a real-world election.

Sierra Leone, on the coast of West Africa and with a population of about five million people, has had a number of problems across the country, including a 2014 Ebola outbreak that killed thousands, flooding and mudslides that left at least 1000 dead, as well as pretty severe poverty, violence at polling places, and much more. 


The country just had an election to replace outgoing president Ernest Bai Koroma, who’d served 10 years, the upper term limit for that office. 

The voting was done manually on paper ballots and recorded via Blockchain, a relative newcomer to the scene that is being dubbed Web 3.0. Developed to sell Bitcoin currency, its uses are broadening all the time to conduct secure transactions (much more secure than the regular Web) that can be verified as genuine.

How?

Three basic tenets make up this technology for elections:

1) The vote tally is stored via a distributed computing network, which means even if hackers managed to take out one or a dozen machines updating vote totals, the rest of the network just routes around them and keeps the real tallies going. In Sierra Leone, a permissioned blockchain was used, which means the ledger is visible to all but entries can only be made by authorized people—in this case, members of Agora, a Swiss digital voting foundation, entered the paper ballots into the ledger.

2) Biometric data combined with personal cryptographic keys ensure that voting is legitimate and not compromised. Agora hopes to introduce this function in future blockchain elections.

3) Hackable voting machines are eliminated, and eventually, paper ballots would be too—although they were used in the 2018 Sierra Leone presidential election. 

You can view the election tally from the West District blockchain trial here, although the final result from other districts has not yet been announced.

Image source: Agora.

The Swiss company that made this blockchain election happen, Agora, explained in a statement: “Results of the West Districts were recorded on an unforgeable ledger and are displayed here publicly. Safe storage of election data and public accessibility is opening a new age for voter confidence and democracy itself in Sierra Leone and in the rest of world.”

With the possibility in the Western world (as well as just about everywhere else) that voting machines from companies like Diebold can be hacked, this opens up not just a more secure balloting process, but it will also mean voting from home or via mobile device is that much closer to reality.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

Videos
  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
popular

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less