Blockchain technology is poised to dramatically transform commerce across every industry, including financial and legal services, agriculture, healthcare, and more.
Currently, the most prevalent example of blockchain technology is the Bitcoin blockchain. But the technology that underpins Bitcoin is finding applicability across a wide variety of use cases.
Here are eight innovative ways companies are using blockchain technology to pioneer new solutions to old problems.
If blockchain technology is capable of maintaining secure records of financial transactions, sensitive information of all types is likely to find a blockchain-based home eventually.
Until now, medical providers have faced numerous hurdles when it comes to the digital storage and exchange of patient records.
A 2013 paper published in the Online Journal of Public Health Informatics outlined three primary obstacles to effective digital record management, as follows:
- record accessibility (knowing where event records are and being able to access them),
- maintaining privacy (ensuring that only those authorised [sic] by the patient can access and extract meaning from the records),
- and assuring the functionality of the shared information (ensuring that the records can be shared in a non-proprietorial fashion across platforms without loss of meaning, and that their authenticity and trustworthiness are demonstrable)."
Fast forward five years.
With blockchain technology in the mix, all three obstacles are either reduced to an acceptable level or eliminated entirely.
First, a single decentralized blockchain database can be accessed by authorized individuals – whether healthcare providers, insurance carriers, or patients – anywhere, at any time, and in a format that all parties can work with.
An added benefit to such a system would be a transition in control. Tel Aviv-based Proof Work has introduced a concept that would put the power to share medical data in the hands of patients, rather than medical providers.
Second, blockchain technology allows for security measures that are unavailable via other digital sharing methods, making privacy concerns easier to address. (For a more detailed discussion regarding these security measures, see Vitalik Buterin's "Privacy on the Blockchain" post on the Ethereum Blog.)
Finally, blockchain technology reduces the number of intermediaries that handle each input and maintains permanent, timestamped records of each transaction, which reduces the opportunity for error, while simultaneously delivering a high level of transparency and trust.
In addition to using blockchain technology to improve healthcare providers' efficacy, some companies are betting that adding fitness and diet factors to the equation will give patients a more holistic view of their progress toward health goals.
Nokia announced in November 2017 that it has a pilot program in the works to store volunteer participants' fitness data, such as steps and hours of sleep, in a blockchain database to test the technology's potential for gathering real-time health data.
According to Nokia, the objective of their pilot is to "explore new opportunities in the rising field of Digital Health, with the aim of giving people more control over their personal health data – how it is shared, who can access it, and how it can be used – with a focus on privacy and security offered by blockchain technologies."
Another new blockchain-based platform, MintHealth, offers token incentives ("vidamints") to encourage participants to make healthy choices; the tokens may then be used to pay for healthcare-related expenses, such as health insurance premiums, co-pays, and prescriptions.
It's not just the healthcare industry that stands to be revolutionized by blockchain technology.
Sony Corporation, in collaboration with Sony Global Education, recently submitted a patent application for a blockchain-based repository that would house people's school records, including courses completed, test scores, diplomas, degrees, and more, like a digital transcript.
In an August 9, 2017 press release, Sony shared, "By using technology that makes mutual use of educational achievements and activity records in an open and safe way, this reliable system centralizes the management of data from multiple educational institutions and makes it possible to record and reference educational data and digital transcripts.
Such a system could allow teachers and students to access relevant data, while maintaining privacy. It could also provide subsequent educational institutions and potential employers a transparent, trustworthy location to acquire applicant credentials.
In addition to housing education records, Sony suggested that AI analysis of data in such a platform could be used by educational institutions "to provide suggested improvements to educational institutions' curriculums and management."
FinTech stands for "financial technologies," but unlike the platforms that support cryptocurrencies, FinTech is typically used by banks and other financial institutions to provide more efficient transaction options to businesses and consumers.
With FinTech, blockchain technology serves as a trustworthy and secure foundation for platforms that facilitate funds transfers. For example, the money-transfer platform TransferWise is able to provide same-day international currency exchanges for fees up to 90% less than those charged by banks for the same service.
Meanwhile, a payment platform based in Amsterdam called Adyen provides companies throughout the world an omnichannel checkout app that allows businesses to accept payments for goods and services in any currency and format.
Fundraising organizations and departments can also use FinTech-enabled apps to receive and track donations, and crowdfunding platforms gain an extra layer of insurance when supported by blockchain technology.
FinTech also makes it possible for consumers to use their mobile devices to pay for goods and services without the security risks they'd have faced only a year or two ago.
Blockchain-supported FinTech makes the global marketplace a whole lot smaller.
3. Food Inventory Tracking
For consumers, it is generally only when a foodborne illness outbreak occurs that we question the road our produce, meat, and other foods traveled on their way to the supermarket or restaurant where we consumed them.
Food suppliers must maintain records of the journey from farm to distributor to retailer, a journey that may include multiple stops and transfers, any of which could serve as a breakdown in the food safety process.
Blockchain Food Safety Alliance
Walmart and a coalition of food suppliers, including Unilever, Nestle, and Dole, have teamed up with Tsinghua University National Engineering Laboratory for E-Commerce Technologies and IBM to create the Blockchain Food Safety Alliance. Their mission is to use blockchain technology to help maintain better accountability of sanitation conditions as products travel to their final destinations.
The alliance has already performed successful tests with Chinese pork and Mexican mangoes. Record types include temperature, shipment and delivery dates, and each facility's safety certifications.
ripe.io is a blockchain application that aims to transform the fresh produce food supply chain by enabling data transparency and transfer from farm to fork.
This application collects and authenticates data, such as origin, shelf life, grow methods, and trade history, to increase visibility and encourage food safety.
Data transferred through the ripe.io blockchain application is cryptographically sealed to ensure data security and ownership. Data recorded into the chain is hashed based on previous transactions, preventing alteration.
Access to this detailed data not only provides retailers confidence that foods have been handled properly throughout the supply chain, it also provides foodborne illness investigators with the data they need to instantly identify the weak link in the supply chain when an outbreak occurs.
4. Knowledge Sharing
Everipedia, the world's first encyclopedia on the blockchain, recently announced plans to build a new, open source wiki network that decentralizes the Wikipedia knowledge base by allowing every editor to become a stakeholder in the network.
Everipedia, for which Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger serves as Chief Information Officer, will rely on the EOS blockchain engine to make user contributors more accountable, beginning in January 2018. At that time, editors will begin earning tokens based on their "IQs" (points earned for making valuable contributions) that will represent virtual shares of the platform.
Theodor Forselius, co-founder and CEO of Everipedia, said, "The ability to be a stakeholder in the encyclopedia they edit and get real monetary value back, it's really exciting to me."
Users will be required to ante up before making contributions; if their edits are deemed to be inaccurate, they'll lose the token, while those who make approved edits will receive the original token back plus some.
Forselius also cited two additional advantages to moving Everipedia to a blockchain platform. One is that the data will no longer live on a centralized server, meaning it will live on, even if the central Everipedia organization someday ceases to exist. The second is that it will be uncensorable, meaning governments that currently censor Wikipedia (such as Turkey and Iran) will be unable to prevent users from contributing to the platform.
5. Cyberspace Interaction
The internet hosts billions of consumer-advertiser interactions every day, but the system that serves up targeted messaging – whether via search engines or social media platforms – has its disadvantages, primarily related to issues with transparency and fraud.
Brave, a blockchain-enabled internet browser, elevates the relationship between users, publishers, and advertisers to a whole new level.
Brave allows users to browse without ads or tracking. Instead, businesses reward users with tokens (BAT or Basic Attention Tokens) for interactions with their content, and users can reward content providers for providing value. The browser also applies BAT "tips" to Brave-verified websites and YouTube channels based on the amount of time users spend on them.
Another company, BitClave, delivers a similar decentralized search engine that directly connects businesses and consumers, eliminating the middleman (when you think middlemen, think Google and Facebook). Customers get more value from their search results, and businesses' ad spend reaches the right target.
By managing the buying and selling of ads through a blockchain platform, these companies provide a stable, market-driven economic foundation, as well as efficient and secure transactions for all parties, accurate, real-time data reporting, and a dramatic reduction in ad fraud.
6. Community in the Cloud
Ernest Cline's novel, Ready Player One, features a dystopian future in which people spend a majority of their time in a virtual world called OASIS. In addition to allowing avatars to travel from place to place and interact with others, OASIS has its own thriving economy.
While it was imaginative science fiction in 2011 when the book was published, advances in VR technology combined with blockchain capabilities are already hinting at OASIS-like possibilities on the horizon.
Visitors of DenCity find themselves in "a Blockchain and AI powered metaverse that provides a completely immersive experience [that allows them] to ... move out to a completely new place, world, universe or galaxy where [they] define the lifestyle and rules."
In DenCity's first phase, participants have the opportunity to join Homestead Nebula's virtual civilization, where they can buy land, build structures, purchase property, get jobs, and interact with other community members. According to the website, crypto-earnings within DenCity can be added to non-virtual wallets for spending in the real world.
DenCity is literally OASIS in its infancy.
Once your avatar is settled in the Homestead Nebula, you can send him shopping on High Fidelity's Avatar Island, an online shopping destination built using blockchain, where shoppers can purchase user-generated virtual goods for their avatars.
More than 300 items are currently available for sale on Avatar Island.
Collectible Card Games (CCGs) have been popular since Magic: The Gathering was released in the early 1990s, but until the advent of blockchain technology, developers offering digital CCGs have struggled with a fairly consistent set of obstacles.
Enter the Nova Token Platform, a blockchain-based trading card game platform that, not at all ironically, boasts Magic: The Gathering founder, Richard Garfield, as one of its advisors.
Blockchain technology allows players to buy and sell cards in a secure, transparent environment that provides an unalterable record of transfer and ownership. Simultaneously, the virtual economic platform allows for pure, market valuation, eliminating regional differences, as well as global currency adjustments.
Finally, it should come as no surprise that blockchain technology is being used to fulfill internet users' obsession with felines. (It's okay to laugh, but it's no joke!)
CryptoKitties is a blockchain-enabled platform in which users can "collect and breed digital cats."
According to the CryptoKitties website, "CryptoKitties are cryptocollectibles. You can buy, sell, or trade your CryptoKitty like it was a traditional collectible, secure in the knowledge that blockchain will track ownership securely."
In addition to buying and selling CryptoKitties, owners can breed the digital collectibles to create new CryptoKitties with their own unique, genetic codes.
CryptoKitties launched November 28, 2017, and within its first week, collectors spent over $2M on the digital cats, with the highest price paid for a single kitten a whopping $117,712.
One may argue that this application of blockchain technology is not necessarily world-changing. Even so, it illustrates the flexibility of blockchain technology and demonstrates its applicability to the entertainment industry.
We have barely scratched the surface of blockchain technology's potential. It won't be long before innovators in industries besides those mentioned above discover new and unique ways to tap into potential that has yet to be imagined.
If you're considering the benefits blockchain technology could bring your organization, we encourage you to contact us about our Blockchain Jumpstart Experience. We have been working with blockchain technology since its inception, and our software engineers have practical, real-world experience with its implementation.
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