In my first article on the blockchain I listed some random ideas for non-financial blockchain applications based on my own preliminary vision of the technology. The post received a lot of attention. Many people messaged me saying that I was overestimating the potential or misunderstanding the technology.
Some of the reactions were constructive criticism. In particular I’d like to thank blockchain expert and budding futurologist Vijay Michalik who pointed me towards some interesting applications of the non-financial blockchain already in development.
Of these, the most interesting and novel is the use of blockchain for voting. Despite what some responders to our original post claimed, this is not science fiction. It’s already happening. The patent-pending election system process uses the blockchain for an extra level of security. “Because blockchain-based records are time-stamped and signed, post-election fraud is rendered virtually impossible, it’s inventors claim. The system allows for “a transparent, independently-verifiable audit trail that enhances and backs up the paper ballot records.” This of course is a just a test and in the future you will see paper ballots gone. Existing electronic voting technology will also have to adjust.
Blockchain voting is exiting enough, but I was even more surprised to find out that you can already get a blockchain ID online. Of course I had to get one immediately. Try it here: https://onename.com/ This is not yet the kind of ID I envisaged in my original post, where I spoke of blockchain as a way to replace real ID cards and passports. But in time they hope to expand their decentralized identity system into something like the Domain Name System (DNS) which will be a radical new foundation for digital services and Identity 3.0. Governments will love this and embrace it more quickly than most people think, because it can save millions by eliminating paper, stamps, biometric options, and everything else traditionally associated with personal identification.
Nasdaq plans to initiate a blockchain-based e-voting system for shareholders in Estonia, one of the most advanced countries when it comes to digital technology. And to show just how fast things are moving, just a day after I posted my first ramblings on the blockchain, Australia Post became the first postal service in the world to announce that they will store identities using the blockchain technology.
Building trust, combating fraud and eliminating corruption — Utopia?
Some responders to my original post made fun of the idea that blockchain could be used to build trust, combat fraud and eliminate corruption. We beg to differ. Everledger is just doing that, specifically for the diamond trade. As for corruption, the brightest minds in the field of anti-corruption are already looking into blockchain as an “incorruptible” solution. The Economist thinks so too, arguing that “The technology behind bitcoin lets people who do not know or trust each other build a dependable ledger. This has implications far beyond the cryptocurrency.” A complete move of all ID and payments systems onto blockchain technology will make tampering impossible and fraud inconceivable.
As for land registry, factom.org are working with the Honduran government on a proof-of-concept to secure one region’s land registry using the bitcoin blockchain. Although it has recently received a setback, it will not be the only trial to start in the immediate future. Separately, Alex Mizrahi has published a proposal that is worth a read even if you are not into land registries. It really opens the door to a million other applications for the blockchain, especially in the public sector. The Swedish government is one of the first to use blockchain for land registry.
Besides land registries, the blockchain is also being adopted for supply chain management. One of the the more promising startups here is UBIMS. It is building a decentralized supply chain model based on Blockchain technology which according to its founder can “democratize global logistics and supply chain management and change the way businesses manage data, adapt to shifting consumer demands, and coordinate the flow of goods around the globe 24.7.365”
The medical industry too is way ahead of me. When I wrote the first blockchain article I expected medical records to be one of the last fields of adoption, due to the conservative nature of the medical industry. Boy was I wrong. There are already trials well under way for medical record blockchains.
“Ride sharing is predestined for blockchain adaptation. And so is much else in the sharing economy.”
Finally, here is the coup de grâce: I mentioned that sharing economy services like AirBnB and Uber could be threatened by blockchain technology at one point. Imagine my surprise when Vijay pointed out to me that a blockchain ride-sharing service already exists. Go have a look. It’s exciting. It’s not exactly what I had in mind, because the blockchain itself could be managed by drivers and passengers without an intermediary; nevertheless, Uber & Co really should watch out, because their entire business model is now under threat. Meanwhile, if you own an electric car, you may want to recharge it using blockchain technology. A German company has come up with that idea.
The massive impact of distributed verification is the reason why big names are getting behind it. IBM is spearheading the Open Ledger Project. The Hyper Ledger aims to foster blockchain adoption by identifying and addressing important features for a cross-industry open standard.
The startup Open Chain is promoting an open source solution of the blockchain in business applications that looks extremely promising. It allows of maximum flexibility and will facilitate rapid adoption by businesses. It’s simple 4 rules are:
- Anyone can spin up a new Openchain instance within seconds.
- The administrator of an Openchain instance defines the rules of the ledger.
- End-users can exchange value on the ledger according to those rules.
- Every transaction on the ledger is digitally signed, like with Bitcoin.
This is exactly the framework needed for wide and rapid adoption. As the Hyper Ledger Project puts it: “Blockchain is a peer-to-peer distributed ledger technology for a new generation of transactional applications that establishes trust, accountability and transparency while streamlining business processes. Think of it as an operating system for interactions. It has the potential to vastly reduce the cost and complexity of getting things done.”
“2016 will be the year of some killer proof-of-concept work. Blockchain technology, like the internet, is exponential and we’re only at the very beginning.” – Vijay Michalik
“Blockchain technologies have come far since the genesis block of Bitcoin in 2009” says blockchain expert Vijay Michalik “There are a number of different blockchains with different opportunities now and huge breakthroughs every month in fundamentals as well as new applications. 2015 was the year the ‘business blockchain’ took off, but 2016 will be the year of some killer proof-of-concept work. Blockchain technology, like the internet, is exponential and we’re only at the very beginning. It’s an exciting time to witness!”
Despite all the reservations one might have – and futurologists are always impatient and predict that things will happen faster than they actually do – blockchain isn’t just a concept anymore. It is taking off now, right under our eyes, and the impact it will have is mind-boggling. The blockchain is alive, and it’s here to stay.
The original article outlining possible non-financial uses of the blockchain can be found here.