Blockchain technology has brought about interesting and beneficial applications for the widest variety of industries. Ranging from healthcare data, trucking logistics, food supply tracking, freelancing, sending quick payments with low transactions, and much more, the ways we can apply this new and developing technology is quite vast and mind-boggling at times (even for me, and I’ve been thinking about all this for three and a half years now…).
People often hear blockchain and think of bitcoin which revolutionized transactions, and allowed people to send money much quicker and with lower costs than traditional institutions. But the technology is far more wide-reaching than making payments more efficient and cost-effective. Although, even that is a big innovation; nonetheless with scalability issues. (If you aren’t necessarily sure what a blockchain is, you can read our guide or watch our video, simply explaining the whole concept.)
In this article, I will overview just some of the ways blockchain technology can be used as an tool to build a better world and future — specifically the ones that I find extra interesting and enticing.
I won’t be discussing digital storage, or typical and generic applications like the finance industry. Rather I will try to touch upon the ones people don’t often think of when first beginning to know about and understand blockchain technology. But trust me, I won’t even get close to touching all of them.
Our societies are no longer limited by our geographical environments or borders, nor our money systems or languages. The world has changed more frequently in the past few decade than the last hundred years. The Internet kick-started this process, and now is the time to expand these concepts of the World Wide Web and build a protocol networkthat functions to meet the expanded uses of these technologies.
Blockchain has helped to evolve that. By building on the systems we currently have in place, such as the Internet, and decentralizing them, we can offer greater communities far more opportunities for interaction, growth, and prosperity; let alone safety, transparency, and privacy. Whether it is a blockchain or another technology that enhances the properties we’ve created in blockchains, the world is in need of these characteristics and networks.
Below are just some of the examples of applications of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies and the ways they will inherently change how we interact and use these systems. Please keep in mind, that I’m not getting to technical here. This is more philosophical, and if you aren’t really getting why these points are valid, feel free to reach out to me in the comments for more of an explanation, or at email@example.com.
For thousands of years, reputation has been an important means for people trusting someone for handling a job or task. Today, reputation is just as important, but the ways we are measuring and recording that is changing. We have resumes that overview our previous jobs, how long we’ve spent there, and our skill sets. We use references to get new jobs, to help us prove we have a reputable work background. Credit monitoring systems help prove our reputation of handling our finances appropriately. In business, customer reviews and ratings help show an institution or businesses reputation for providing good services or products.
To reliably prove and measure these wide varieties of reputation, we often rely on third-party systems, like TripAdvisor for hotels or restaurants, Credit Karma for our credit scores, and references from previous jobs or business associates. But what if we did not need these third parties because we had a personal reputation that we could maintain a history of in a singular place?
Blockchain technology offers new ways to maintain a verifiable digital identity, complete with personal documents, reviews and more. We could have different “documents” held on a blockchain, that show different parts of our reputation.
For our finances, we could have verified credit scores, loans, and more in a singular place which we could show to appropriate people, such as banks for lending, or brokers, or tax agents.
For jobs, we could have our resume, along with verified references from previous employers, held in a document. There would be no need to keep that paper with all the phone numbers and emails on it. The ledger would maintain that data, and be proven to not be fraudulent or falsified because it is tied to the other person’s or institution’s identity and reputable history and background. This could work the same way for degrees, certifications, and achievements.
We could even use these reputations as customers and reviewers. For example, if an individual gives a restaurant a bad review because he has a personal bias against the owner, but the review is not reflective of actual service or bad food, this review could be marked down or as less valuable than other reviews, because the reviewer has a bad reputation of falsifying information in reviews. The same could go for the restaurant, if they have a proven themselves to falsify reviews themselves.
These reputations could be built directly between people, and be maintained on the blockchain, so that third party services for accreditation or reviews are cut out as middlemen, and the individual parties themselves maintain their own ‘scores’ of reputation. This could sound like an episode of Black Mirror, but the benefits of these systems and networks could be quite beneficial for individuals and less reliance on third parties.
Trust is another interesting result of blockchain technology, and the networks we can use to enhance it. This goes hand-in-hand with reputation, but also builds upon it in a unique way. Especially as our current systems are digitized from a paper format and maintained electronically, but in systems that susceptible to hacks and system and server failures.
For example, when you go to your primary care doctor, you fill out a variety of medical forms, and you leave those with you primary doctor. But what happens when you need to go to a specialist, let’s say a spinal doctor. You need to fill out even more forms, often replicating the information your primary care doctor has. But each of these doctors now keep and maintain those documents for you. You can request a copy and keep it yourself, but the doctors pretty much own that data, and you have to trust that your private information will not be breached or stolen.
You are trusting these institutions to hold on to your very private information and keep it safe. But with blockchain systems you could keep that information on your own and in a sense ‘loan’ it out to these doctors for the time that they need it. And you then own your data! You can read more about the potential blockchain impacts to the healthcare industry here.
We also trust our governments to maintain our identities, using things like social security numbers, forms of identification — like birth certificates and passports -, but what happens when these governments have that information breached or stolen, or it is burnt in a fire, or a government is overthrown or collapses? We are trusting these institutions to maintain our identity, and not lose ours based on a mishap they may have.
Another very interesting application of blockchain technology and trust systems is the invention of smart contracts, “computer protocols that facilitate, verify, or enforce the negotiation or performance of a contract, or that make a contractual clause unnecessary.” See the infographic to the right for an explanation of a smart contract. Using smart contracts, we can inherently trust transactions more, knowing that the fulfillment of the contract will not be fulfilled unless Condition A and Condition B are met. This means that we could remove people and institutions, like lawyers in legal agreements or banks in financial settlements, as a security against being taken advantage of through a transaction.
To get even deeper into trust and blockchain, this article explores the how digitizing assets and virtual content can be more trustworthy and valuable when applying blockchain: “Blockchain Will be the Foundation of Trust in the Metaverse.”
Ownership of data has already been touched upon above, as a means for building reputation and ensuring trust between parties. But the idea of digitizing ownership records and putting it on a blockchain expands in benefits.
What would happen if data ownership and property ownership were maintained on a blockchain network, and solely controlled by the person that information regards? Well, one result would be the removal of third parties to maintain that information. Secondly, it creates a greater security for the record of that information. Thirdly, you are in control of your private information, and you have the control to release that information.
For example, if you own a car but someone disputes that ownership, claiming that a year ago they owned the car, but it was stolen and they still have the title. The person you bought it from could have created a fake title. Rather than going to the city, and looking through the many files of records that they maintain on vehicle ownership, we could easily pull up a digital history of that cars ownership, and quickly dispute the true ownership of that car. We would be able to verify all of the transfers of the cars title, the current ownership, all the registration data, and a history of damage from storms or updates made to it.
This also makes transferring ownership much simpler. We could facilitate smart contracts to make the transfer for different products, services, or data. For example, if I go to Facebook trying to sell a car, and someone messages me to check it out. I can meet the person, after checking their reputation, and prove my ownership of the vehicle through my personal data file with my title to the vehicle. The person chooses to buy my car, so I create a smart contract, stating that when the person sends me amount A for the cost of the vehicle, that the title will be transferred into their name. This can all be done digitally, using our public keys to 1) send the money to the seller, and 2) transfer the title to the buyer. And the title will not be transferred until the payment in full is received by the seller.
A last example to ponder, how would your life be different if you owned all of you data? (Your medical files, passports, financial information, public persona’s and profiles — like Facebook -, and all the rest?) Just think about it…
The legal industry
When thinking about the legal industry and law people think of lawyers, judges, and court. But what if we did not always have to rely on these parties for mediating transactions or conflicts between parties.
What if we could create our own contracts that were initiated and completed based on the clauses we state, and a blockchain deploys that. Smart contracts are the biggest disruption to lawyers, because we will not always need them to write and maintain these contracts for us.
With verifiable digital signatures on a blockchain, we no longer need notaries. For evidence in court, we could pull up the blockchain, proving that person A owns the item in question, or Person B really did send this money to Person C, proving that the payment was made.
For more ways on how blockchain could disrupt the legal industry, check out this article by Tech Radar.
Open-sourced information & innovation
One of the possibilities I find most interesting is the idea of open-sourced information. A lot of projects in the world of blockchain technology are open-sourced, meaning the code is available for anyone to look at and use to an extent. The communities involved in this industry are often proponents for these types of systems and information. And by keeping information open-source, we offer many more opportunities for innovation and development.
It allows more parties to look at that information and build upon it, adding or removing parts of it that are important, and fixing errors or potential risks in them. If we move more towards a world where we can access all of this information and use it to continue creating better systems or networks or services, than we can help progress them quicker and make them safer.
To get more in-depth with the benefits of open-sourced information check out this cool article: “What is ‘open source’ and why is it important for cryptocurrency and open blockchain projects?”
Tracking systems are another very interesting application of this technology. With tracking systems, we can ensure the steps that food or products went through to arrive at a certain place, and we can ensure the time it took, what conditions it underwent, and that nothing was lost in that process. For food, this can be done much quicker (IBM and Walmarts test of this cut the tracking time of mangos from 7 days to 2.2 seconds), and makes food products more readily verifiable for safety and freshness! Read more in depth on food tracking supply systems here.
For products, you can prove where it came from, and that can be tied to whatever certifications it may have, for example being a verified organic product. If you are buying clothes, this could even track where the materials used to make the clothes came from (i.e. the cotton from Asia, the die from a flower in South America), and to go even further, who made the product (i.e. Eliza in California sewed it). For those organic-loving, homemade-only, corporate-hating hippies, this would be great. Then we could track when it left the processing plant, the location of the product on it’s way to stores, or where it is on it’s way to your home.
Other means of tracking systems can benefit machine learning and provide valuable data to people traveling. For example, in the trucking industry, if we apply blockchains to trucking logistics, we can maintain quite a record of the truck’s health, miles traveled, ownership, and much more. There is a whole alliance specifically for researching this, called the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA), and they have some big names working on researching this.
The same is possible for aviation (in fact, I am personally surprised this industry hasn’t jumped on blockchain technology more). When maintaining a plane, it is critical to keep a detailed record of the plane’s maintenance at all times. From engine checks to replaced parts, and more, the FAA requires pilots to maintain this information. Today, a lot of these records are kept on paper… But this can get lost along the way between plane owners or even in accidents (for example, the documents get burned in a fire). By having a digital copy of this information, on an immutable ledger, it provides a safety net for pilots and the FAA when needing to access this information, and prove records on that plane. Further, you could use blockchains to maintain and record traffic data, giving com towers and pilots a wealth of information on traffic, but also things like weather, which are crucial for pilots traveling, and currently is relied upon by weather data systems that report this information, and pilots in the air reporting to com towers. I could dive deeper into tracking systems for planes, but I will not, because I could go deep!
Charities, non-profits, and donations
Another unique application of blockchain technology is in charities and nonprofits. Because blockchains can offer transparency for nonprofit organizations by being able to more readily track and show where donations are going within these organizations, we can create more security in the organizations we trust to do good deeds for us through our donations.
For example, if I donate $30 to the Red Cross, today I have no real idea of how my donation is being used. I don’t know if it is being used to pay the CEO, or if it going to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico. I trust this organization to be using my funds wisely and appropriately, but I have no effective way of really proving that. But if this system were blockchain-ized, I could see when and where my donation was received, and follow that money to see where it is going to help other people.
Applying blockchain to nonprofits would also greatly increase accountability for these organizations. Rather than trusting their data reports and budgets, I could readily check them on the blockchain when I want to, and trust that information is less likely to be manipulated or changed after the fact, and the transactions used to spend that budget money could be traceable, therefore proving that the Red Cross only sent their CEO his salary, and not some extra money thrown in on the side. I could ensure that the Red Cross actually spent $40,000 on blankets, hygiene products, etc. for people in need somewhere where there was a natural disaster.
Here is another article by Blockchain WTF more specific to corrupt charities and remedying this with blockchain.
Underprivileged people: the homeless and refugees
An awesome application of this technology is helping homeless people and displaced people, like refugees, retain an identity. There are already some projects taking on this great effort.
By holding personal identity records on a blockchain, regardless of the circumstances of these people, they could easily show their digital identity simply by entering their private key into a global database. For someone who has no home keeping hold of things like birth certificates, passports, and medical records can be a challenging feat. But if we had a digitized copy of this tied to a public and private key, there would be no need for them to keep a physical copy safe.
Refugees could use it to prove their refugee status and ensure their identity when entering new countries and trying to establish themselves there.
Homeless people could use this digital identity to gain access to shelters, earn money, and keep track of important information, such as finances and budgeting, how many shelters they’ve stayed in, medical data, and more. Blockchain for Change is an awesome New York startup that has gifted smartphones to 3,000 homeless people in New York to help them manage their identities, and it uses blockchain! You can read more about the project in this article and find Blockchain for Change’s site here.
Finally, governance is the last application we will talk about. If you haven’t heard of them already, there are these things called Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, or DAOs. The first one had quite the falling out… But these hold more promise than we may think based off the first iteration of one. Using things like DAOs and other community-based protocol blockchains, we can allow people in communities a simpler way to vote on policies, interact about ideas and problems in their communities, and track things like taxes.
Today, our local counties, as well as state and federal governments, release budgets for the year. But this is just a single document saying “this is how we will spend this money.” Today, we have no way of really showing that money was spent where it was said it would be spent, other than suing… If these were kept record of in a blockchain, local citizens could check whenever how their public tax dollars are being spent. To go even further, we could totally cut out some elected officials, and have citizens directly vote on certain issues, like whether or not our tax dollars should be used to provide a new playground or whether or not a public school should get a revamp to their classrooms.
Another interesting application of blockchain-izing government is the idea of voting. Today, and as we saw in the last election, voter fraud is a real issue. But because of the systems we currently have in place, it takes a long investigation, an assessment of the voter machines, and checks on a bunch of voting locations, to come to a conclusion about voter fraud.
This is in part due to the issue with identity fraud we have, but it shows an inherent problem that is time for a resolution. If we could ensure our digital identities with blockchain technology, we could eliminate one of the primary problems in voter fraud. We could also use the technology to ensure that the voting machines data is recorded appropriately, and not lost. We could much more quickly determine the amount of votes per candidate or proposal, too, without forfeiting the validity.
If you are a skeptic about government like me, you may be interested in this article exploring governmental trust of our data and identities. It explores the possible negative outcomes of trusting our government with this critical data, and how we can remedy some of that with blockchain technology as a means for digital identities. “Is blockchain the key to trusting government with our data?”
I personally think blockchain technology could seriously influence our governance models, and give more power back to the people, allowing them to make more choices are affected citizens, and have those choices be more reflective of their wants and needs, and not those of the constituents elected to represent them. It could also really provide the safety net of accountability and transparency that is much needed in government today.
Someday this blockchain unicorn will touch all of our lives with its magic, and in many more ways than I listed here. Even if it is not a blockchain necessarily, this technology has opened the biggest door we’ve seen in a while. And it will allow us to continue innovating and working on ways to better these systems, creating more accountability, reliability, and trust in institutions that are losing that more and more every day.