Thanks to its ever-fluctuating valuation, Bitcoin dominates the headlines. Whether it’s a bubble or a world-changing currency is a topic of constant, heated debate. Until recently, speculation about Bitcoin’s legitimacy overshadowed discussions of blockchain, the technology on which Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are built. However, innovators in a broad range of industries have begun to see blockchain’s potential, and the technology is coming out of the cryptocurrency shadows once and for all.
Blockchain in action
Before we dive into some of the ways blockchain is being applied to data security, poverty reduction, smart energy, and other areas, let’s review what exactly it is. Blockchain is essentially a digital record of transactions that anyone can access. However, no one can easily alter past data entries and it’s very difficult to hack, hence its use in cybersecurity defenses. Additionally, new items only get recorded after all of the computers on the blockchain network verify their accuracy and authenticity, which is why the technology is useful for reducing fraud and corruption.
In short, blockchain holds widespread appeal because it is decentralized, encrypted, and auditable. These attributes make it extremely applicable to efforts to secure data, streamline information systems, and improve public and private services.
Let’s take a look at 5 examples of blockchain at work:
- Distributing diplomas. There’s something deeply satisfying about crossing a stage and receiving a physical diploma that you can hang on your office wall for years to come. However, paper diplomas fade and they’re susceptible to damage and deterioration. But diplomas issued via blockchain will survive virtually forever. Blockchain isn’t just useful for saving diplomas for posterity, however. By issuing virtual degrees, schools enable graduates to submit this information to employers who may want to verify their application information or delve into their academic histories. Through the use of private-public encryption keys, students would have full control over their data and would be able to decide which prospective employers should gain access.
- Improving shipping logistics. Everyone knows the frustration of ordering the perfect birthday gift for someone and then not having it arrive on time – or at all. And if you’ve ever shipped a meticulously crafted care package across the country, you know that shipping costs can seem staggeringly high. Fortunately, such issues may become concerns of the past, thanks to blockchain. UPS and other members of the Blockchain in Trucking Alliance have indicated that blockchain, in combination with artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, will help shipping companies reduce costs and improve delivery times and methods. The transparent nature of blockchain infrastructures will streamline order fulfillment and help companies operate more efficiently. Using high-quality market data and blockchain-secured platforms, shipping businesses will be able to decrease errors and lower labor costs.
- Tracking farm-to-table food. Agricultural manufacturer Cargill served up a novel use of blockchain for Thanksgiving 2017. Its Honeysuckle White brand used the technology to document and record the journey of each of its family-farm-grown turkeys. Honeysuckle White catalogued the process so that customers could trace their birds directly to the farms on which they were raised. The pilot program provides a model for how other companies can deliver on growing demands for transparency, education, and ethics in how food is grown and distributed.
- Reducing voter fraud. Every election carries with it the risks of voter fraud and discrimination, and until recently, even the most well-intentioned attempts to alleviate these problems sometimes fell short. Requiring voters to show photo identification at polling stations helped reduce fraud, but it marginalized people who didn’t have qualifying IDs. Blockchain’s use to defend against voter fraud circumvents both problems by allowing voters to use data stored on their smartphones to verify their identities and vote privately and securely. Remember that encryption is a core feature of blockchain technology and that it’s very difficult to alter previously-recorded transactions. By allowing people to verify their identities through their smartphones, both by using personal encryption keys and through biometric measures such as facial recognition, governments could engage a greater number of voters and reduce the chances of fraud and ballot tampering.
- Securing medical records. There are few greater risks to your personal data security than having your medical records stolen. Yet most hospitals and medical providers are highly vulnerable to cyberattacks. Criminals who gain access to your medical data can sell it, use it to hack your bank accounts, or bill costly medical procedures to your insurance. Beyond security concerns, obtaining your medical records can be a cumbersome and irritating process, and the lack of centralized access can lead to gaps and inefficiencies in care. Fortunately, blockchain offers a better way. In addition to providing a much more secure alternative to standard electronic record databases, blockchain affords patients more control over their information. Instead of chasing your records from provider to provider, all of your information would be stored in one secure, up-to-date location and you would have full control over what to share with different doctors via public and private encryption keys.
These use cases are but a sampling of how blockchain is transforming industries. Although many companies are only just exploring the ways in which blockchain can help them innovate and deliver better products and services, we can expect to see the technology increasingly take center stage – and perhaps even eclipse Bitcoin in the public conversation.