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A (mostly) non-technical introduction to IOTA’s mana

The National Physical Laboratory of India

For India’s third national election in 1962, the National Physical Laboratory of India developed a proprietary violet ink formulated from silver nitrate, a light-sensitive compound common in photographic chemicals. Once a voter’s finger has been painted with this ink, any exposure to UV rays will leave an indelible mark which remains until the body generates an entirely new layer of skin. Because this form of voting authentication is produced by the sun itself, the simple act of showing one's hand proves whether one has voted or not. The election ink’s formula remains a closely guarded state secret.

A purple finger

This ingenious Sybil protection mechanism, which India still exports to countries across the world, relies on the fact that hands are hard to come by. If you can find an unmarked left hand, you can prove you have permission to vote. Through a simple certification process, every citizen gets one vote, and no one can vote twice without shedding some skin. Without some process of identification – ID cards, voter registration, election ink, e.g. – no voting system would be secure against double votes.

Every distributed ledger needs a solution to resolve conflicts and therefore needs to allocate a finite number of votes to network participants to prevent anyone from voting as many times as they please. In the Bitcoin network anyone with a winning lottery ticket – the solution to a cryptographic puzzle defined by the protocol – has the right to vote on conflicts. Miners are more likely to win in proportion to the amount of electricity poured into computational “work” to solve the cryptographic puzzle, which is why the winning “lottery ticket” is called “proof of work” (PoW). Proof of work, like the unmarked hands of an Indian voter, demonstrates to every node in the network that a miner has an unexercised right to vote, which they can use to select the so-called longest chain. As a reward for doing this ...

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