Cryptocurrency might be stealing all the headlines, but there are many more uses for blockchain technology beyond investing in digital coins. Indeed, blockchain has the potential to be just as ground-breaking as the internet was back in the 1990s.
But what exactly is blockchain technology used for, aside from cryptocurrency? Here are several real-world examples to wrap your mind around.
1. Protecting Endangered Species
A combination of global warming and habitat loss means the world has seen its vertebrate population more than half in the last four decades. It’s the first mass extinction since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Blockchain technology could be invaluable to people who are trying to protect endangered species. A Uganda-based NGO, Care for the Uncared, is working with blockchain specialists in London to create a new way to track and record species’ health, geographic location, and migration patterns.
2. Changing the Oil Markets
Perhaps ironically, given that many people blame the petroleum industry for the decline of biodiversity in the world, a blockchain is also working to help oil companies in the United Arab Emirates to become more efficient.
In February 2018, S&P Global Platts (a global provider of commodities information) announced it would launch a blockchain-based oil storage reporting system in the UAE’s Fujairah Oil Industry Zone.
Thanks to its data validation capabilities, the blockchain will significantly reduce the need for regulatory oversight of data and will help to eliminate human error.
3. Electronic Voting
Due to inherent issues with security and voting fraud, very few countries have made the switch to electronic voting machines (EVMs).
And that’s a shame. It’s hard to deny that EVMs make voting more accessible and thus have the potential to increase democratic participation. However, most countries have decided that the risks outweigh the positives.
Blockchain could offer a solution. A blockchain’s immutability means that issues such as double voting, vote altering, and vote deleting would be eradicated overnight. The blockchain would also remove the need for vote counting and lead to almost instantaneous results after the polls close.
One of the sectors in which blockchain technology is proving to be most transformative is the healthcare industry. Experts suggest it will improve everything from patient record-keeping to supply chain tracking.
In September 2018, IBM’s blockchain division even announced plans for a new app that uses a private blockchain to allow users to retain complete control over their healthcare data. The app possibly paves the way for them to sell it at their own discretion in the future.
For more information on how blockchain is changing the healthcare landscape, check out Gavin’s article on blockchain in healthcare.
With the rise of in-game purchases and microtransactions, many gamers now have vast repositories of “stuff” connected to their various accounts. Clearly, this creates security issues. What happens if a hacker steals it? What happens if the parent’s company’s servers go offline? And so on.
By deploying a blockchain, gamers will finally be able to own these items outright and enjoy complete control over their status. Transferring in-game items to other people will become easier and more secure, and no one can maliciously replicate them.
Here’s how Ubisoft’s Lidwine Sauer told IGN about the security benefits of the upcoming gaming revolution:
“Thanks to the blockchain, we can now have the equivalent of a digital Picasso, with the advantage that it’s a lot more difficult to steal something on the blockchain than to steal a Picasso.”
6. Smart Contracts
Smart contracts allow companies and individuals to create secure digital relationships. For example, a blockchain smart contract could underpin a complex legal transaction or an insurance agreement.
The hope is that a blockchain can reduce the need for intermediaries and consequently make such processes both more secure and cheaper.
I’m not going to dwell on the technical inner workings of these things, but if you’d like to learn more, read our article on how smart contracts work.
7. Fighting Fine Art Forgery
Art forgery has existed for almost as long as art itself. But could blockchain technology finally help to beat the criminals definitively?
US company Verisart certainly thinks so. By using a blockchain, it has allowed both artists and owners to create museum-standard verifications online from their own home. At the moment, the app is invite-only. It should soon become available to everyone.
8. Tax Collection
Look, we can’t have it both ways. While blockchains provide individuals with greater transparency and control of their data, they can do also do the same thing for governments. And that can only mean one thing—tax collection!
In China, authorities are now using a blockchain for both taxation and issuing electronic invoices. The project was put in place in 2017, with the first blockchain-based invoice on the system being created in August 2018 by a local restaurant.
9. Food Safety
There is a litany of cases whereby a bad batch of food produce shut down an entire sector of the industry. The UK’s BSE crisis of the 1990s, China’s infant milk scandal in 2008, and the 2006 E. coli outbreak in North America all spring to mind.
Blockchain technology can help to reduce these types of instances by creating a massive database of the provenance of food, always with all the associated details. The transparency will improve food safety, cut costs, and reduce waste.
10. Computer Security
Barely a week goes by without a news story about a data breach at a large organization. Hackers can react to exploits faster than companies, leading to an endless game of cat and mouse.
Blockchains might finally make the cat victorious. The technology has three key traits that lend themselves to cybersecurity: data that cannot be tampered with, decentralization, and cryptographic security.
One example of blockchain-based cybersecurity can be found at Guardtime.
The company, which is headquartered in Amsterdam, provides a keyless signature infrastructure via a blockchain. It decentralizes all the cryptographic keys, thus making them unhackable. Most companies use a public key infrastructure system. The keys are maintained by a central body where they are considerably more vulnerable to theft.
The Ongoing Revolution of the Blockchain
These examples of companies using blockchain technology and other real-world blockchain applications only scratch the surface of a sector that’s ready to explode. Millions of dollars of research money are being invested—it’s only a matter of time until blockchains play a role in every aspect of our daily lives.
To learn more, check out our articles on how a blockchain works and how cryptocurrency isn’t the same thing as blockchain.