Money transfer and other transactions still slow. Ripple and other respective companies working in the online world desire to fix that with a technology distributed ledger. Its possibilities are anything but dull, however, Mr. Larsen imagines that the technology could go far beyond accommodating financial transactions among people and eventually enable self-driving cars to pay for tolls, parking and fuel without the help of humans. Home energy meters with ledgers might buy different sources of energy. Jet engines could record the installation of new parts and pay for maintenance on the spot. Like many things in tech, a distributed ledger is a seemingly complex idea that is actually built on a very simple one.
Since the dawn of record-keeping, ledgers have been where receipts and disbursements of cash and goods are recorded. The money you carry to pay for it registers a slight deduction on your personal ledger. In a world where every business has its own books, payments tend to stop and start between different ledgers. An overseas transfer leaves the ledger of one business, then goes on another ledger at a domestic bank. It then might hit the ledger of a bank in the international transfer system. It travels to another bank in the foreign country, before ending up on the ledger of the company being paid. Each time it moves to a different ledger, the money has a different identity, taking up time and potentially causing confusion. For some companies, it is a nightmare that can’t end soon enough.
In other words, what if one ledger could be shared among all the people in a transaction, who would agree on a common database of value that would do away with the need for currency exchanges? The actions would be recorded securely, with each participant able to see only the parts he needed to see. None of the middlemen would be needed, and payments could happen much faster. That is the idea behind a distributed ledger. Seagate has invested in Ripple and is testing the technology. Seagate Technology is a major manufacturer of computer data storage devices.
The distributed ledger is best known as the underlying system that makes possible Bitcoin, the stateless digital currency. Bitcoin got a bad name as a wildly fluctuating currency for drug dealers and tax cheats, in part because its participants remained anonymous. But many banks and businesses say the underlying ledger technology, if it is safe and clear, can be more dynamic than our ongoing practice.