If you think that blockchain technology is just a passing meteor shower; think again! Blockchain applications are the Gutenberg Press of our time. The Gutenberg was not the first printing press, but it applied the available technology for mass printing in a more effective way than its predecessors. The Gutenberg made possible the proliferation of information and communication, and with it followed the sweeping changes of the Renaissance. And just as the Gutenberg made the proliferation and democratization of knowledge possible, so blockchain applications have the potential to do the same.
You had better believe that we are in a technological Renaissance, and blockchain enterprises deserve credit for much of it. At present, there is an ever-increasing amount of systems and institutions that are benefiting from decentralized networks and public ledgers; and there is a niche for everyone. This is the age of information, and we all deserve no less than to have access to the best and most reliable sources of information. And that is not all that blockchain tech and public ledgers have to offer.
Whether it is the food we consume, accessing our own medical records, or transparency from elected officials, more and more people are demanding transparency and accountability from every facet of our lives, and that is just what blockchain technology is heralding in.
Blockchain tech is hailed for its successful move to decentralize information as well as increase transparency and access to important data. With many decentralized networks, Blockchain functions as a public ledger. Records (or blocks) are shared on multiple networks and are approved by concurrent networks. So information is no longer siloed in a single location on a centralized network.
This article takes a close look at a few major projects that are demonstrating how blockchain applications are changing the world. I go through some examples of from the financial industry, private and public health care, tech giants and even government initiatives that are using blockchain to take us further along in our technological rebirth.
Key Features that Blockchain Applications are Capitalizing on:
- The reduction of error-prone paperwork.
- Improved accuracy through automation.
- Increased accountability through distributed networks.
- Immutable public ledgers.
- Improved production and manufacturing.
Who’s Using Blockchain:
- Cryptocurrencies and Traditional Financial Industries
- Public and Private Healthcare Systems
- Governments and Bureaucratic Processes
- Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM and more
Blockchain applications store digital transactions as individual blocks in a decentralized network. Each block or transaction is added to the ledger after its hash and the digital signature are verified. By relying on multiple networks, the chance of double-spending or fraudulent transactions is nearly impossible, making the system safe, trustworthy and efficient.
Blockchain works as an effective and nearly infallible mediator and recordkeeper. The digitization of the financial industry is becoming more appealing not only because of the accuracy and reliability that an automated system offers, but because the essence of blockchain tech offers a new level of security that centralized networks and error-prone paperwork are not capable of.
Another feature of blockchain tech is the use of smart-contracts. With a smart-contract, the conditions of the contract get automatically enforced. By relying on a code, smart-contracts can be automatically validated based on the terms of an agreement. They can determine where or to whom the assets should go, or if the transactions should be returned or refunded.
Decentralized ledgers store and replicate documents, providing an efficient transaction as well as providing failsafe documentation storage. Blockchain does not require third parties and automatically ensures that all ledger participants know the contract details. Smart contracts have many possible applications: financial derivatives, insurance policies, property contracts, to name a few.
Blockchain’s public ledger is making access and control over one’s personal data a sustainable reality. Consumers and citizens alike continue to demand greater transparency and accountability from bureaucracies and private enterprises, and this is how blockchain technology is increasingly proving its worth.
At present, the fastest and most successful applications of blockchain are taking place in the financial sector. But blockchain tech is not simply being used of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Etherium. The technology has been applied in traditional financial markets as well.
Many sectors of the financial are capitalizing on blockchain applications. These applications are aimed at improving the following: asset management, safe and efficient cross-border third-party free payments, as well as smart-contracts. Both public and private healthcare institutions are beginning to use blockchain’s transparency and error-proof capabilities to settle insurance claims quickly, efficiently and correctly. And naturally, tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM are all developing their own blockchain niches.
HedgeTrade and Blockchain Finance
HedgeTrade is a brilliant example of a blockchain application. The platform is designed to improve trading predictions for cryptocurrencies work with a social platform. Cryptocurrencies are digital coins used for electronic transactions and work in a decentralized system. Currencies like Bitcoin, Dogecoin, or Litecoin, use an electronic coded address (called a hash) to make the transaction. Using a decentralized platform, HedgeTrade is optimizing trade predictions by increasing transparency and accountability for crypto investment.
In a traditional market setting, there is little recourse for poor trading advise or inaccurate predictions. HedgeTrade’s platform offers a revolutionary social platform that offers a win-win solution by rewarding quality predictions.
By relying on smart contract-powered Blueprints, experienced traders can benefit from sharing their quality knowledge with other users of the application. In order to maintain accountability, a trader must stake their own tokens to back shared predictions. Successful predictions are ranked higher on the trading platform and are therefore more valuable. The new investor benefits from gaining access to quality predictions from experienced traders.
Read more about HedgeTrade and the future of cryptocurrencies here: Reshaping the Future of Trade.
While it seems pretty obvious that the financial industry would cotton onto a technology aimed at increasing access to wider markets and improving the accountability of contracts and records, it may be less obvious what blockchain has to offer in terms of Global Health Care. However, there is a great deal of potential for the improvement of access and accuracy of health data that both the private and public sectors are currently taking advantage of.
Applications of blockchain are increasing access and efficacy to medical records. Privacy and patient confidentiality are at the forefront of attention when we talk about personal data and electronic record keeping. However, using blockchain’s public ledger has the potential to reduce bureaucratic overhead and more importantly, increase the power that the patient has over her own data.
At present, patient data does not typically belong to the patient but is often the intellectual property of insurers, hospitals, and governments. This segregation makes the necessary sharing of information between parties slow and error-prone. By returning the patient’s data to the individual, and giving her the capabilities to access, manage and share personal health information, the individual can be granted more control over her health and the treatment.
Moreover, as the population continues to grow, so does the cost of distributing healthcare, and the need to dispense healthcare effectively becomes an increasing concern. Chief amongst those concerns is the rising cost of healthcare expenditures. Global health care expenditures are expected to increase at a rate of 5.4 percent annually between 2017-2022; an estimated increase from USD $7.724 trillion to USD $10.059 trillion.
Blockchain applications have the potential to unify the labyrinth of medical processes that an average citizen faces when attempting to access healthcare and personal health records. A statistic from Synaptic Health Alliance estimates that USD $2.1 billion alone is spent annually managing data between providers.
Not only are we looking at a future of a more efficient and accurate system of recordkeeping and patient-professional communication, but at improved treatment as a result of improved accuracy and record management. A cooperative and unified system can cut down on a myriad of issues from the loss of medical records, to patient misdiagnosis.
In his paper A Blockchain Ecosystem for Digital Identity: Improving Service Delivery in Canada’s Public and Private Sectors, Greg Wolford argues for the implementation of blockchain in Canada’s healthcare system. The necessary sharing of patient information and the maintenance of medical accuracy are serious concerns facing the current system.
Citing Stats Canada, Wolford estimates that if blockchain application improved user accessibility, there are potential savings of CAD $572 million annually. This estimate is derived from the 2016 average administrative cost at call centers. These calls are to manage and administer a lost, forgotten, or stolen password. At an estimated $31 per incident, and with one incident a year per working Canadian, (approximately 18.454 million people); $572 million is lost annually to call center password management services.
By relying on decentralized networks attackers have a much lower success rate. In 2017, the ransomware “WannaCry” crippled the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom, taking effect in over 150 countries. Similarly, in 2018 hackers broke into Singapore’s government health database and in 2019 the HIV status of over 14,000 people leaked online.
The current goal for multiple American medical insurers is aimed at supply chain inventory coordination. For now, this means using blockchain to keep track of inventory and drug recall, as well as making insurance claims more efficient and reducing fraudulent claims.
E-Bureaucracy in Estonia
While the private sector is moving quickly to find applications for blockchain tech, perhaps the most impressive example of e-bureaucracy is in the former Soviet state Estonia. Estonia began its shift to e-citizenship back in 2002, spearheaded by Taavi Kofta.
Using X-Road has made filing accident reports a simple 30-minute process. Doctors, lawyers, and forensic specialists use the platform to share sensitive information. With X-Road, e-ambulance paramedics have instant access to necessary medical records upon arrival at the site of an incident.
In the earliest stages, Estonia implemented physical ID cards that were paired with digital signatures. Currently, Estonians use their digital signatures to pay taxes, vote, bank and gain access to healthcare records and even file for a marriage license, as well as apply for divorce.
Central to the success of X-Road is Estonia’s commitment to building and maintaining the trust and privacy of its citizens in the security of their blockchain application. X-Road uses KSIA Blockchain is making public and private exchange possible. X-Road is neither completely decentralized nor a completely public ledger, however, the platform relies on similar technology using cryptographic hash functions, as well as a system of multiple networks.
The implementation of Estonia’s X-Road saves 2% of their GDP annually. What’s more, with liberal regulations and a low business tax, Estonia is successfully encouraging the growth of tech research and inviting international companies inside their borders.
The good news is that Canada is one among many governments that are currently participating in both public and private research into blockchain applications. Canada’s federal government is involved in several research projects aimed at increased government contracts’ transparency.
The National Research Council of Canada launched the first live trial of blockchain in January 2018, targeting the transparent administration of government contracts. The program publishes information on new and amended Contribution Agreements with firms in real time using the Ethereum blockchain.
Big Tech and Blockchain
From former Soviet-state to the tech giants of Silicon Valley; it is doubtful that anyone is surprised to learn that Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are racing to be the leader in blockchain technology applications.
In terms of cloud computing, Google is far behind Amazon and Microsoft. In 2017 Google pocketed an estimated $3 billion in revenue from cloud services. While Amazon and Microsoft generated about $27 billion and $10 billion, respectively.
Amazon’s AWS is designed with an eye on supply chain management. This application is designed with a precision for manufacturing and product distribution that would make Henry Ford’s head spin. AWS tracks and monitors every step of product movement. AWS blockchain ledger is poised to cover all the bases from the factory to the consumer; both for big and small business.
AWS aims to make life easier for producers by increasing efficiency and reducing costs. It will also give consumers access to all of the details of a product they plan to buy. AWS gives the consumer ultimate control over where and how her products are sourced and dispensed.
Walmart has teamed up with IBM with a similar vision for food product transparency. Presently the company is work with farmers and manufacturers to build a system that tracks their food products at every stage, with a primary concern for ensuring health and safety.
By creating an electronic record of every stage of the process, Walmart plans to become more efficient at isolating and managing contaminated food and issuing recalls promptly and effectively. The challenge is getting all facets of production on board with electronic ledgers, as many companies and farmers have idiosyncratic record processes.
With an automated system, Microsoft’s blockchain app Costa Ledger hopes to make record keeping and management faster, easier, and error proof. Microsoft is targeting the financial industry and commercial insurance offering solutions to error-prone manual contract processing and access to formally siloed data. Coda promises to increase the accuracy and efficiency of data exchange, track assets in real time, and promises to maintain customer privacy and autonomy. The blockchain ledger reduces error by encrypting the records, as well as simplifying processes while eliminating the need for intermediaries.
Before the release of Day and Medvedev’s application, searching a blockchain required specialized software called “block explorers.” Users could only search for specific transactions, each labeled with a unique 26-plus alphanumeric function. Google’s Blockchain ETL, by contrast, lets users make more generalized searches of entire ecosystems of transactions, with the goal of making transactions as searchable as anything else.
In an interview with the lead of ETL Allen Day, Day emphasizes that rather than building new blockchain applications, his work is focused on understanding who is using blockchain and how they use it. Day believes that the future of blockchain lies in letting go of a certain amount of anonymity, as building trust in the technology relies on knowing who you are interacting with.
To read about what blockchain tech means to JP Morgan, read: JP Morgan Cryptocurrency -7 Takeaways.
IoT, or The Internet of Things, makes communication between objects possible. The benefit of machines having IP addresses is an overall increase in effectiveness and efficiency. Rather than waiting on a human to notice that the dishwasher is leaking, the system itself acknowledges the malfunction and can even manage its repair.
By enabling machine communication we will continue to see a significant improvement in manufacturing and distribution, as it is a more effective check of the system. Issues are noted and returned to the manufacturer in order to implement the improvement.
For example, smart thermostats regulate temperature more effectively than a human, and as we move towards automated vehicles, we will also see greater communication between traffic infrastructure and the vehicles themselves.
Naturally, the IoT requires shared data so that machine communication is executed effectively. The needs of the human user are then tracked by the machine and sent to the manufacturer.
Security and Privacy in the Blockchain Era
Obviously, some more than others will be more stoked by the prospect of living the Real Life of George and Judy Jetson with the proliferation of blockchain applications than others. But no matter who you are, or how what blockchain platform you are using, everyone is concerned about privacy and data propriety.
Current traditional security solutions rely on federated authenticity from a centralized broker architecture. Most often this is a bank. So, presently secure transactions depend on access to a trusted third-party.
While blockchain applications become more and more sophisticated, so our trust in the inherent security of many of these platforms, as they are relying on a decentralized system. The DIACC is an example of the serious ongoing conversations that are concerned with privacy and security of personal data.
Using split key encryption offers further security. This basic architecture relies on two key holders, typically a data custodian holds one part of the encrypted key and the user holds the other. And as blockchain applications rely on public (or semi-public) ledgers, multiple endorsements for a single transaction maintain concurrency.
Unfortunately, there will always be someone ready to exploit the system. But blockchain is designed securely; with anonymity and decentralization at its core. But because such applications rely on decentralized networks no single authority exists; decentralization prevents a single point of failure. Still, a decentralized network demands that ethical standards are developed and adhered to. There are still improvements to be made in each application to guarantee the optimal application of the technology, as well as protect the privacy and property.
As the old saying goes, knowledge is power, and the more we all know about blockchain technology applications the better we will be able to harness its potential. Blockchain is a central part of the information and technology Renaissance, and those ready and willing to usher in a new digital era will be the ones who benefit most from it.
Not everyone was happy about the spread of mass printing either, as some believed information belonged to a select few; those in power feared a change of order. But there was no stopping the Gutenberg or the spread of the printed word, and it doesn’t look like there is a stop to the white pages of blockchain ledgers either.