2 out of every 3 banks are likely to be actively involved in the commercial production of blockchain (distributed ledger system) solutions by 2019, according a recent IBM report. The adoption of blockchain open ledgers has been rising rapidly – and by the next couple of years or so, nearly 30 proof-of-concept (PoC) use cases of the technology are likely to be tested. In the United States, ~43% business owners opine that blockchains have the potential to cause disruptions in their respective industries, and nearly 56% entrepreneurs are of the opinion that non-implementation of the technology would amount to a missed opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. Over here, we will take a peek at some of the industries where blockchain technology has started to prove itself useful:
Payments, banking and finance
The financial sector was the first adopter of blockchain distributed ledger systems, and by the start of 2018, 15% of all the large banks globally will be using the technology. The Corda platform, which is being created by the R3 consortium (with more than 80 members), warrants a special mention in this regard. Barclays and UBS are among other big players that have initiated blockchain testing for adding efficiency to their work processes. Last month, ‘Coinbase’ had the distinction of becoming the ‘first cryptocurrency unicorn’ (on the Global Unicorn Club). American Express has also recently embedded a new payments startup and blockchain wallet – named Abra – in its system. Blockchains and cryptocurrency transactions are gradually adding an edge to the overall business infrastructure of banking and payments.
Note: The implementation of blockchain technology can bring down the costs on intermediaries/middlemen in banks by up to $20 billion.
Supply chain management (SCM)
In July this year, UK-based blockchain startup Provenance raised a whopping $800000 as new seed funds. The company, which specializes in ensuring complete traceability and transparency of trade, is a classic example of the potential of blockchain-based smart contracts to revolutionize the supply chain management industry. Since these ‘smart contracts’ remove the necessity of centralized middlemen – additional overhead costs (along with the probability of manual errors) are removed, and the state of goods/assets can be tracked at any time by network members. Provided that the smart contracts are being managed, recorded and executed optimally, the technology can deliver a lot of value in this sector.
Note: The Port of Antwerp (Belgium) revealed a blockchain logistics pilot in June.
Vehicle and automation
Nearly every stage in the transaction cycle of automobiles – right from loan agreements and origin tracing, to interest calculations and repayments, distribution, confirmations and allocation – can be fully automated with the help of blockchain technology. Earlier this year, LBBW successfully collaborated with Daimler to launch a new, ethereum-based blockchain pilot (worth $110 million). In particular, blockchains are being viewed as useful tools for preventing transaction manipulations – thanks to the cryptographic signature requirements of the technology. It is still early days for blockchain technology, with it not expected to become mainstream before 2021 – but already, its effects on the automobile industry are becoming apparent.
Note: At this year’s Paris Air Show, the probable influence of blockchain systems in the aviation industry – within the next 2-3 years – was discussed.
Several months back, Sony first floated the idea of storing educational records (diplomas, test results, degrees, certificates, etc.) in the form of ‘digital transcripts’, by using blockchain technology (development of the digital system was completed in August 2017). Russian blockchain company BeOne has also revealed plans of combining online learning, course deliveries and blockchain benefits on a single platform (at present under alpha-testing). Apart from secure digital storage of credentialing data and facilitating smooth online learning, blockchains can also play an important role in verifying peer-to-peer knowledge transfers. Fraudulent claims of educational credits would, hence, be drastically reduced – and academia would evolve from its traditional, paper documentation-heavy structure.
Note: In June 2016, MIT Media Lab and Learning Machine came together to release Blockcerts – an open initiative for blockchain credentials.
Between 2002 and 2013, ~40 million travel-related documents (primarily, passports) were reported as either misplaced or stolen. Blockchain offers a technically upgraded way out from such tricky ‘identity-loss’ problems. The Dubai government recently got into an agreement with ObjectTech (a blockchain startup based in UK) to start the creation and issuance of ‘digital passports’. These ‘invisible’ e-passports would make the Dubai airport ‘borderless’, and would allow people to stay in control of all the information stored and shared about them. Iris scans, fingerprint data and facial recognition features would be stored in the digital passports, ruling out the risks of data thefts.
Note: International travels should become quicker (no passport check queues) and safer with digital passports in particular, and blockchain technology in general.
The Aeternity blockchain project is showing the way in which the crucial ‘trust management’ factor in insurance agreements can be effectively managed through ‘smart contracts’ and ‘trustless, direct communications’. In order to feed actual data (preferably, on a real-time basis) to these ‘smart contracts’, oracles can be used. A wide range of data verifications – including, of course, personal identifications – can be done via the distributed ledger platform, delivering additional security layers to each individual insurance contract. It has already been more than a year since the arrival of LenderBot – the blockchain insurance bot application created by Deloitte, Lemonway and Stratumn. The technology can solve the long-persisting need for maintaining secure, immutable public records of asset/insurance transactions.
Note: Marine insurance has become the latest sub-domain to adopt blockchain technology, with Maersk being the company to deploy it. The world’s first blockchain-based insurance policy was launched by AIG in June 2017.
The KSI (Keyless Signature Infrastructure) blockchain platform by Guardtime offers highly scalable and reliable cybersecurity solutions to users. With reports of cyber hacks and data attacks growing at an alarming rate – the need of the hour is to make the existing legacy systems more robust, with blockchain-powered solutions. The fact that all communications on a digital open ledger are examined/verified through complex cryptographic methods ensures proper identification of data source points – while minimizing chances of interception by unauthorized, malicious third-party agents. Once again, the removal of the human ‘middlemen’/intermediaries help in cutting down on a) corruption, and b) human mistakes. The large-scale data authentications involved in blockchains make cybersecurity much stronger than ever before.
Note: In the very recent Equifax data breach case, more than 140 million people were affected. Blockchain technology has the potential to tackle such risks effectively in future.
Predictions and forecasting
From election results and outcomes of sports matchups, to stock market movements – distributed ledger technology promises to bring in a never-witnessed-before accuracy and sophistication to the so-called ‘predictions market’. The secure storage of transaction records (blocks) on the open ledger ensures more insightful data analysis – and that, in turn, should ideally lead to better predictions and forecasting performances. The open-source and decentralized Augur platform – which recently got into a collaboration with IDEO CoLabs – also brings in a system of rewarding users for faster, more accurate predictions. As the disruptions caused by blockchains in other industries grow bigger, the impact on the ‘forecasting industry’ will become more pronounced.
Note: The ethereum-backed Gnosis platform is also growing in popularity for applications to be used in the ‘predictions market’.
Music and entertainment (intellectual property)
Illegal downloads have plagued the global music industry for a fairly long time now. According to conservative estimates, a massive 85% of artist royalties are lost because of this activity. Blockchain technology has already started to help music and digital entertainment asset creators to protect their ownership and compensation rights. The ascribe.io platform tracks how digital assets are used and shared, and helps in locking in attribution rights – thereby protecting the intellectual property rights of the original owners. Distributed ledgers and cryptocurrencies also form the backbone of the MYCELIA music-streaming platform (created by Imogen Heap). The need for record labels (which serve as intermediaries) is done away with, and artists can finally get just rewards for their creations.
Note: In February 2017, the META decentralized platform (powered by ethereum) for protecting rights in the music/entertainment industry, was announced by JAAK.
10. Land registration and use
The processes of land registration and checking proofs of property ownership have traditionally been long-drawn and often problematic (due to the significant chances of overlooking some details while going through piles of property documents). The fact that blockchain technology can be used to seamlessly track land registries and ease out the overall procedure has been shown by Sweden – where the Lantmäteriet blockchain is officially being used for registrations (since July 2017). Implementing the blockchain system should significantly speed up the processes, and make things more transparent and confusion-free. Accessing and checking pertinent information on the distributed ledger would also be easy.
Note: According to estimates, the Lantmäteriet blockchain should help in generating annual savings of close to $107 million.
Activities in the online retail industry have been revolutionized by the decentralized Openbazaar platform (developed by OB1). Over here, the method of working is a far cry from those in a traditional marketplace (say, Amazon) – with buyers and sellers being connected directly (P2), and no intermediary websites (the ecommerce website) involved. In Openbazaar, the sellers get remunerated with bitcoins, while customers have the option of buying stuff with as many as 50 different cryptocurrencies. All types of important retail information, like shipment details, information on the actual products, purchase bills/invoices, and even records of crypto payments, can be stored on the ledger. The technology would bring about a scenario where buyers and sellers would be able to ‘trust’ each other, instead of having to rely on a centralized depository.
Note: To ensure food safety, IBM has announced a blockchain collaboration with a consortium of retailers (members include biggies like Golden State Food, Nestle, Dole and Walmart).
Over the years, national elections and rigging accusations have almost happened hand-in-hand. Things are, thankfully, set to change with the adaptation of blockchain-powered online voting platforms – which would make sure that votes are cast only once, only the valid votes are counted, and records of voting are securely stored (without any chance of modification/deletion). At the start of 2017, ‘Follow My Vote’ became the first-ever company to launch a full-blown online voting software, with the robust Bitshare blockchain built into it. Voting should always be (and unfortunately, is often not) completely democratic – and the availability of voting records on a public and immutable ledger would go a long way towards achieving that.
Note: The ‘Sovereign’ application, created by Democracy Earth, has been created to express the power of true ‘liquid democracy’ with the support of blockchains.
13. Legal and governmental affairs
A powerful open IoT registry was launched by Chronicled last August, paving the way for everyone to see and understand the importance of blockchain technology in law enforcement. The immutability of the distributed ledger makes sure that the chain/trail of evidences cannot be tampered with by any particular entity. The Chronicled platform also has NFC (near-field communication) chip support, for better evidence management. The network can also send notifications to concerned parties, as and when any suspicious activity is detected. Public service management is yet another field where blockchain technology is starting to make its presence felt. In the US, Vermont, Delaware and Illinois are some of the states that have already launched blockchain initiatives to make legal infrastructure systems stronger.
Note: The blockchain technology is being exploited by Bitfury Group to secure land titles (land title registry) in Georgia.
14. IoT and networking
The Internet of Things (IoT) revolution continues to pick up momentum – and blockchains are becoming mighty important tools in the ‘connected ecosystems’. With tools like ‘Autonomous Decentralized Peer-to-Peer Telemetry’, or ADEPT (built by Samsung and IBM), the need for a centralized portal/gateway/hub for mediating between two smart devices has been removed – and objects can now directly communicate with each other. As a result, things like bug-detection, energy monitoring, performance tracking, and software update management will become less time-consuming and complicated. The condition of any particular IoT device/asset can also be tracked with the help of the records stored in the distributed ledger. Establishment of autonomous ‘connections’ will build on the efficiency factor.
Note: In March this year, $15 million was raised by the Filament industrial network, for the creation of high-power blockchain IoT networks.
From human resources to ride-sharing (Arcade City working on a ‘decentralized Uber’ system), and from corporate governance to real estate and share trading – blockchain technology is disrupting many other industries, albeit in varying degrees. On the medical and healthcare front, the arrival of the Gem (ethereum-powered) and Tierion platforms have been major recent developments. Earlier in 2017, Storj started a token sale – indicating the arrival of the technology in the domain of cloud storage. Even in charity activities, blockchains have started to make a difference (the BitGive Foundation for bitcoin donations was founded in 2013).
It took more than three decades for the internet to cause an overhaul in the global economy. At present, 1 out of every 2 big firms is driven by web resources and technology. Blockchain tech is growing at a rapid pace, and it has – as is evident from our analysis – potential for large-scale adoption in practically every important industry. Internet 2.0 is being ushered in…and soon!