The micro-computer is a complete system-on-a-chip with a processor, memory, storage, and a communication module that can implement blockchain and act as a crypto-anchor.

By Jean-Jacques
DeLisle, contributing writer

IBM
released something huge for blockchains, but extravagantly small in size. The
company’s new computer, which is the smallest in the world, has a footprint of
only 1mm x 1mm
.
That is astonishingly small for a computer, considering that it’s smaller than
a grain of salt. The computers contain a complete system-on-a-chip (SoC) with a
processor, memory, storage, and a communication module and can analyze,
communicate, and even act on data. Used with blockchain technology with added
crypto-anchors, this new computer may revolutionize the way that shipping
companies track freight to fight fraud. 

This ordinary-looking chip
is actually an array of 64 SoCs, each containing a photocell and LED array for
optical communications, SRAM, and IBM’s salt-grain-sized processor. Image
source: IBM.

This
advancement in technology promises to offer a solution to a problem that has been
plaguing the shipping industry since its insurrection; counterfeit products.
When you think of counterfeit items being sold, you might imagine a fake
antique or watch trying to be sold by a street vendor, or a rip off of a famous
painting being sold as an original, but the problem can also be much closer to
home. Medications are commonly stolen and replaced with placebos, which can
lead to serious problems for those who count on those medications to survive.

 

Such
theft-and-replace is surprisingly easy. With millions of items being shipped
all over the world, day by day, it is nearly impossible to keep track of them
all. Some freight can travel through dozens of countries before reaching its
destination, and at any point, criminals could potentially swap a product for
something else in its place.

 

The
new tiny computer IBM has created may be able to solve the problem of
counterfeiting through the application of blockchain technology. Originally
created for use with cryptocurrency, blockchain technology is a distributed electronic
ledger that records all interactions that take place involving a particular
transaction, providing a secure copy to all stakeholders in the transaction
that includes links to records of prior transactions. Blockchains record every
time a Bitcoin changes hands, for instance, with the links providing a history
of its ownership. The secure, distributed ledger ensures that no one can
falsify a transaction without detection.

 

A
second element of the counterfeiting solution involves crypto-anchors, which
extend blockchain’s value into the physical realm. A crypto-anchor is a
tamper-proof digital “fingerprint” embedded into a device that
provides it with a unique identity. Coupled with blockchain, the presence of a
crypto-anchor allows secure tracking of the object’s ownership as it changes
hands. Counterfeits then become simple to detect as they will not have a valid
blockchain associated with them.

 

IBM
aims at applying its tiny computers as crypto-anchors to this method of
blockchain-based object tracking. By embedding the computers, each encoded with
a unique, encrypted identity, into goods intended to be shipped, the retailers
or customers who buy those products can then use blockchain to track products
back through the places that the items have been or even in real-time. At each
shipping stage a handler would use the light-powered computer’s optical
communications to interact with the device and register its presence as well as
create a blockchain entry. That information would go to a tracking computer in
the cloud as well as be stored in the computer. This onboard record of events if
compared to the cloud copy could allow people to determine, beyond the shadow
of a doubt, if a product is authentic or not. Would-be counterfeiters,  however, are possessed with no such luck. And
should someone try to re-sell stolen goods, a scan could immediately reveal the
goods are not where they should be, alert the authorities, and lead straight to
the culprits  in real time.

 

Forgery
and counterfeit goods cost the global economy up to 600 billion dollars a year,
so I suppose it is worth it for IBM to invest its time and money into the
production of these miniscule computers. With an expected price tag of fewer
than ten cents, you can bet these tiny chips will make a big splash in the
world’s transportation of goods.