At first glance, that title may sound a bit dramatic but blockchain is more than an evolution, it is a revolution. While everyone has been talking about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, these represent only a small aspect of the potential blockchain technology holds. Some of the leading minds, world governments, and largest companies are hard at work working on groundbreaking blockchain applications that will, quite literally, change the world as we know it.
Although the cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum and the many others (there are nearly 2 000 already) are getting all the limelight, do not be distracted by this. Apart from being one of the emerging technologies with the most potential, blockchain is often one of the most misunderstood. It is important to have a better understanding of what it is and what it can do.
Most of us can relate quite easily to robotics, virtual reality and even artificial intelligence. If nothing else, Hollywood has highlighted these technologies for decades. The blockchain is so fundamentally different from any historical technology that it can be difficult to grasp at first. Once broken down, it is fairly straightforward.
A man has always had a need to record and track property rights, be they physical, financial, intellectual or other rights. Early and even more recent systems have always had a number of flaws and vulnerabilities. The main one of these is that any system in place was centralized. Blockchain allows for a decentralized system that has outstanding security and allows for reliable recording and transferring of ownership.
The technology allows for secure transactions with decentralized trust. This means that no middleman or third-party is required. Transactions are fast, safe and economical. A peer-to-peer network manages secure data across a distributed ledger. Transactions are continuously updated and validated to prevent tampering.
The concept is best illustrated by looking at a few examples. It must be understood that the technology is still very much in its infancy but already, many large companies and governments around the globe are already using blockchain or developing blockchain applications.
Practical Blockchain Applications
As we have already seen with the popularity of cryptocurrencies, finance is an ideal environment for harnessing the power of blockchain. Financial transactions, transfers, payments, and savings can all be done on the blockchain. Fast and low-cost donations can be made. Secure online banking could become a reality and the millions lost to fraud every day could be a thing of the past. The same applies to online shopping or using other online applications.
The often inefficient insurance industry could improve exponentially through the use of blockchain technology. Efficiency will improve, fraud will be dramatically reduced and costs will come down.
Share trading could be completely revolutionized by a secure blockchain system and new markets and opportunities will open up. This will increase competition and improve efficiencies, boosting economies.
Asset management, a major issue in many sectors will be much better managed on a blockchain backbone. Land ownership, title deeds, title insurance (validating ownership of assets) could all benefit enormously.
There are opportunities for personal identification, marriage, birth, and death registration and even voting can be managed more efficiently at a fraction of the current cost using the technology. Tax can be managed and paid using blockchain.
Tertiary education records could be stored on a blockchain eliminating the fraud that is prevalent in this area.
Tangible assets such as diamonds could be tracked on blockchain and dramatically reduce issues such as blood diamonds.
In the legal industry, there are numerous valuable applications that will totally disrupt the profession. Immutable and secure wills and other vital information could reside on a blockchain. Just the use of smart contracts for ownership rights or agreements could vastly reduce disputes and speed the legal process up but there are many other applications.
Chain of custody is an essential element of law and needs to be meticulously managed and documented. Current systems are vulnerable to abuse or human error, two issues that blockchain could eliminate. This applies to traditional evidence but will be even more relevant to the growing area of law relating to the digital material.
Blockchain can also do away with the time and cost of notary publics that currently need to verify signatures on legal agreements, deeds, and contracts. These could all be immutable records stored on a secure blockchain.
Intellectual property (IP) has always been a legal challenge and fair decisions are often difficult to prove or enforce. As we move into an increasingly digital age, this challenge becomes even greater. IP can easily be recorded and stored on a blockchain.
Apart from the legal benefit of this last point, this also opens up opportunities for artists, musicians, designers and other creatives to manage and trade their own creative IP. They could safely and easily sell through a blockchain system without needing agents, record labels and other middlemen.
Sure these agents and labels do a lot of the marketing and promotion but they retain the lion’s share of the income and take forever to pay money over to the artists. Many up and coming artists have already found some form of success and income working directly through online platforms. The problem with the multiple platforms is that they are hard to manage and draw any meaningful insights from. Piracy is another very significant issue. Once again, smart contracts on the blockchain can go a long way toward solving these problems.
Healthcare is another area that can use blockchain for a wide range of applications. Patient records are one of the biggest issues that could be secured and streamlined. This would allow authorized healthcare professionals instant access to complete and accurate records anywhere anytime. This will reduce suffering and save lives. Other opportunities exist in medical payments or medical aid claims and medical research.
These examples are just a few of the highlights of blockchain applications. There are many more in almost every conceivable field or aspect of life.
None of the concepts or applications mentioned here are pie in the sky ideas. Many are already in practical use while others are in the advanced stages of development. The technology has more than proved its potential in many ways. New ideas and potential uses for the technology are discovered on an almost daily basis.
It has the power to radically transform the way in which governments, businesses large and small and the man in the street perform most significant functions. There is no doubt that blockchain will change the world.