Blockchain is often mentioned in the same breath as the universally familiar bitcoin. Yet blockchain has more applications than just bitcoin and can be structured in a number of ways. Here are seven examples of how blockchain is changing the world:
Blockchain brings new meaning to the phrase “farm to table.” It can transform the agricultural supply chain and gift us a safer and sustainable food system i.e., enhanced food safety, reducing food waste, preventing scams and facilitating proper disbursement of subsidies to farmers. Carrefour launched Europe's first food blockchain for free-range chickens and eight more animal and vegetable product lines. Following this, Nestlé and Carrefour gave consumers access to blockchain data for Mousline purée through their smartphone or other device to scan a QR code on the Mousline packaging. That lets them follow the journey of the product from the Nestlé factory in the north of France to Carrefour stores. More recently, Starbucks announced that they are developing a feature for their mobile app that shows customers information about where their packaged coffee comes from, including where it was grown and what Starbucks is doing to support farmers in those locations, where and when it was roasted, tasting notes and more.
When two parties sign a legal agreement, it doesn’t mean both parties will always deliver. Smart contracts allow users to create self-enacting agreements based on whatever terms the parties agree to. It can also trace intellectual property rights and payments. For example, let’s say you sign a contract to pay £150 for digital photographs. Using blockchain technology, you can verify the seller has the authority and right to sell the photographs. At the same time, the seller can pre-verify that you have enough cash to pay for them. Thus, the exchange of the photographs and cash can occur simultaneously, with both you and the seller receiving exactly what you were promised.
Is Blockchain the answer to election tampering? The technology encrypts votes and allows private individuals not only to confirm who they voted for, but also to verify that all votes were properly counted. And this isn’t voting in 2050. Sierra Leone ran the first blockchain-based election for their national elections in March 2018 and West Virginia, a state in the US, followed two months later, piloting online voting through a mobile app to tally votes in their primary elections.
Blockchain can help governments improve process and budgetary efficiencies. Using the same ideas that underpin smart contracts (see number 2), governments aim to digitize official records such as licenses and visas. In the US, Delaware is already moving forward with this idea, and states like New York considered similar action in 2018. The city of Austin, Texas also aims to put identification information – including ID cards, social security numbers and medical information – on a blockchain system. Their goal is to help homeless individuals who may have difficulty proving their identity. Even more boldly, Dubai has committed to putting all visa applications, bill payments and lease renewals on blockchain-based systems by 2020.
Stock market trades
Blockchain could reduce costs for trading on the stock market. A 2016 Goldman Sachs report says the industry could save up to $12 billion (USD) in fees by using blockchain to clear and settle cash securities. “Despite the relatively low transaction costs for securities such as equities, up to 10% of trades are subject to various errors, leading to manual intervention and extending the time required to settle trades,” the report states. Blockchain could virtually eliminate those manual errors.
Imagine needing to visit the hospital while on vacation. You walk into a waiting room you have never visited before, but you don’t fill out any paperwork. Why not? Because your medical records are stored on a secure blockchain that only medical personnel can view. The doctors and nurses in this far-away place immediately have access to information about your vaccination record, previous surgeries, allergies and prescriptions. This blockchain use could prove life-saving in cases where a patient is unconscious and without loved ones able to provide life-saving information to doctors. MIT is already looking at this type of blockchain application.
Blockchain technology is replacing the current centralised business model of the financial services industry. In a world where payments are sent automatically once agreed-upon terms are met, separate invoices and receipts may no longer be necessary. Employers could automatically manage and track payroll and benefit expenses. Banks and financial institutions like Barclays are exploring ways to implement the technology to reduce transaction costs, increase transaction speed, eliminate multiple transactions and mitigate fraud.
If you’d like to learn even more, check out the second part of our "A-E" of digital disruption learning series on Blockchain.
And don’t forget to test your knowledge and see how you stack up to your peers by taking our Blockchain quiz.