When we talk about the blockchain technology on this site, we’re usually talking about the Bitcoin blockchain and cryptocurrencies. However, many tech experts – even those who aren’t optimistic about cryptocurrency – are thrilled about blockchain. Here, we’ll talk about various blockchain applications and the ways industries and organisations use both public and private blockchains.
A Quick Blockchain Recap
The name “blockchain” is actually a helpful analogy that can help you to visualise what it is and how it works.
A “block” is composed of a large number of individual data sets. The first and last entry in each block relates that block to the previous block and the one that comes after it in the blockchain network. That’s where the “chain” comes in.
The open-source technology behind Bitcoin is a big deal for a number of reasons. For one thing, it is a convenient way of storing and sending large amounts of information. Further, thanks to blockchain’s immutability, when the data is a record of transactions or other events, it’s very difficult to falsify it. That’s because changing any piece of information in a block disrupts the chain. That makes it easy to spot deleted, edited, or added information in the blockchain database.
When talking about the digital currency, there’s a bit more that you need to know, particularly to understand things like tokenisation and mining. However, because we’re looking at other use cases for blockchain technology today, there’s only one other thing that we need to cover. That’s “the distributed ledger”.
A Quick Note on Distributed Ledger Technology
Having a distributed ledger, usually enabled by peer-to-peer networks, means that a large number of people can see the blockchain network. It might be everyone anywhere if it’s a public blockchain, or it might just be people who have a stake in the project, in the case of private blockchains. Either way, distributed ledger technology allows for transparent and secure record-keeping. That’s because the more people that can see the information the harder it is for a group of people to agree to falsify something.
There’s one other way that having a distributed ledger makes blockchain a big deal. The more people that can have access to it, the more people can be working on it simultaneously. Any time that one works with a large amount of data, a large amount of computing power and time is necessary. However, when that task is distributed, it becomes faster and less resource-intensive.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the blockchain system, let’s take a look at some blockchain projects and industries that are using it.
The Organisation Using Blockchain Voting
Last month, an organisation in Singapore claimed to be the first to implement a blockchain solution, built on the Ethereum blockchain, for on-premise voting. They used smart contract solutions for voting and code management and focused on things like the inability to tamper with votes, but there are other directions that this kind of technology could explore.
For example, this organisation decided to have anonymous voting – which blockchain technology allows for. While anonymous voting for citizens or in private groups is good, there are cases in which knowing how people voted is important. Namely, in the case of elected officials – when their constituents have an interest in knowing how their representatives voted.
By using this technology in places like government, votes could be more secure as well as more transparent.
A surprisingly similar example of using blockchain to confirm identities comes from the food industry.
These days, there is an increasing interest in the supply chain transparency, i.e. where our food comes from, how it is grown, and whether it is responsibly sourced. IBM Food Trust permissioned blockchain platform is a solution to this problem.
Information about food is collected at every step from production to the shelf. Retailers then have access to this information. This allows them to tailor things like how much supply they keep on hand as well as knowing what foods to recall in the event of an emergency.
Food isn’t the only commodity that gives us pause. Rare minerals are an increasingly important part of our lives. They go in everything from small appliances to vehicles. However, these resources are often difficult to mine in ways that are safe and responsible.
That’s why, about a year ago, IBM, LG, and Ford created a consortium for ethically mined cobalt.
Similar to the Food Trust, this supply chain blockchain solution works by tracking cobalt from extraction to use in a product to that product going to market. The process has never been so open or so secure.
A lot of the above examples have dealt with what can happen when a commodity struggles with scarcity. But, what happens when a commodity wants to prove scarcity, as in the case of collectable items?
Sneakers on Ethereum Blockchain
Toward the end of last year, footwear giant Nike was awarded a patent for blockchain shoes, dubbed CryptoKicks. That’s big news in the “sneakerhead” community, where counterfeit sneakers and even sneaker heist is a real problem.
Nike’s blockchain shoes could have a number of big benefits. By attaching digital assets to the actual shoes, the company could prove the scarcity – and therefore the value – of the shoe. Owners of that shoe could prove their ownership without having the shoe on hand. Further, those who acquire shoes could be sure that they are getting the genuine article in a legal fashion. Blockchain technology would even maintain a shoe’s provenance – a record of how many times the shoe has changed hands.
Art With a Digital Provenance
Are you more used to hearing “provenance” used in association with art or similar collectables than sneakers? Then Codex Protocol may be more your speed. Built on the public Ethereum blockchain, the Codex Protocol tracks artworks, making forgeries and thefts more difficult.
Rewarding Fans for Their Engagement
The use of blockchain technology is also present in the entertainment and gaming industry. NBA team, the Sacramento Kings, uses blockchain to understand how fans use their app. A token generated by the blockchain serves as a reward that fans can exchange for prizes.
Giving Migrants Their Due
Protecting commodities is one thing but protecting people is quite another. Around the world, migrants are taken advantage of by employers who break the law to get money from transient people. Because migrants are often afraid to involve the law, perpetrators often get away with it.
At the end of last year, the International Organization for Migration, a UN agency, partnered with the blockchain financial services and technology firm Diginex. Their platform can be used by recruitment agencies to prove that they are not making illicit profits from migrant labour.
Giving Victims of Abuse a Voice
Labour isn’t the only way in which people are exploited. An app developed in India uses blockchain to help and protect victims of sexual abuse and assault.
The app uses blockchain technology in two ways. First, to encrypt messages and obscure the identities of users. Second, to establish a rock-solid timestamp on entries that can be used to set up a timeline when working with law enforcement.
Governments Using Blockchain Technology
We mentioned above that governments aren’t using blockchain technology for voting (yet). However, at least some governments are using blockchain in other faculties.
Bavaria’s Blockchain Certificates
The government of Bavaria announced last year that it would start using blockchain to authenticate certifications.
Using blockchain to ensure the authenticity of documents is a huge step away from fraud. Since the authenticity of certificates could be checked in just a few clicks, the time-consuming tasks such as this can be simplified.
Tracking Oil and Land in Thailand and the UAE
Similarly, Thailand announced last year that it was looking into using a distributed ledger to prevent tax fraud in the oil industry. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi announced that it would put its land records on a blockchain. This makes land records more secure but also makes real estate transactions faster.
Do You Still Think It’s Just for Cryptocurrency?
Hopefully, this article has made you think twice about blockchain technologies. Cryptocurrency is, of course, great but there’s so much more to this emerging new technology. And this is probably just the beginning, as blockchain adoption around the world is on the rise.