Google’s Ethereum-Based Digital Book Uses Cryptography to Prove Ownership

By Joseph Young Apr 26, 2017 9:32 AM EST

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Google employee Tea Uglow-authored digital book A Universe Explodes developed by product design company Impossible Labs and Editions At Play was released on April 4, to demonstrate the concept of digital ownership.

The book is unique and different to most digital books in many ways. Started as an Ethereum blockchain-based experiment, the original copy of the digital book can only be owned by 100 people. The original owners can then send the book to their friends, and the book can only be shared 100 times per owner. Therefore, in the end, there will only exist 10,000 copies of A Universe Explodes.

However, the original owners cannot just simply pass along the book to their friends. Before an owner can send his copy to a friend, the owner must remove two words and add one to each page of the 20-page book. Each page of the digital book contains 128 words. The idea is that when the book’s ownership is transferred a hundred times, the entire book would be unreadable because every single word on the book would have been replaced.

The project of Uglow, Impossible Labs, and Editions At Play has very little to do with the digital book itself. Rather, it focuses on demonstrating how digital ownership can work with an emerging technology as such as the blockchain.

Developers at Impossible Labs, who were tasked to develop a web-based application on top of the Ethereum blockchain network by Google, focused on utilizing smart contracts and timestamps to record the transfer of ownership in an immutable and decentralized blockchain or ledger.

Such precise registry of ownership enables everyone within the network and each owner of A Universe Explodes to find out who made changes to which edition of the digital book at what time or day of the year.

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