Amusingly, Google search is replete with articles about the industries that the blockchain technology will disrupt. And, if you read such a title, you probably have images of a chaotic world and pandemonium running amok with the introduction of this technology in global infrastructures.
That is not really the case.
Think of the word ‘disrupt’ with a rather positive perception. Granted, it has (and may) unsettle a few things here and there, but doesn’t mean it hasn’t (and won’t) transform various sectors for the better.
As opposed to popular thought, Bitcoin, or even other cryptocurrencies are just the beginning. The method of storing data on chains of blocks to provide a decentralized, transparent and secure access has numerous use cases that have innovatively reformed several segments of the society.
In 2016, Moody’s Investor Service (MIS) enlisted 25 applications of the technology in a detailed report, and named around 120 blockchain projects currently in exploration phases to increase transactional efficiencies and record-keeping.
Many industries have jumped on the bandwagon to harness the powerful potential of blockchains, and here’s a look at a few of them:
1. Banking/ Finance
Blockchains could enhance the banking ecosystem by building a more digitized and secure ledger, further improving accuracy and sharing of information. Blockchain technology can mitigate fraud, and can also allow for more direct payment processing applications. Banks could thus provide better services at lower costs.
Where some think blockchains and Bitcoin a threat to the banking industry, many financial services are experimenting with the technology. Reportedly, Swiss Bank UBS and UK-based Barclays are already testing blockchains to speed-up office functions and settlements to cut down on costs. R3 CEV is a startup that is working with a number of banks, regulatory bodies, and technology partners to develop CORDA- an operating system for financial services. Blockchains could also widen access to aid and funds especially to refugees, a project which is currently being undertaken in a UN refugee camp near the Syrian border by Bernard Kowatsch and his team.
2. Messaging Applications
Messaging applications are also integrating blockchains into their infrastructures. For instance, popular encrypted messaging app Telegram is hosting an ICO for the development of a blockchain platform. Similarly, Kik has an ICO for an in-app currency, while Japan based messaging service Line is looking to expand into cryptocurrency trading.
Elections all across the globe have seen vote tampering in one form or another. Blockchains could serve as a secure and verifiable tool for record-keeping, tracking and counting votes to make the elections as transparent as possible, and minimizing foul play and illegitimacy.
Follow My Vote is one such blockchain startup that has released a promising alpha version as an online voting solution. Democracy Earth is another.
4. Internet Advertising
From scams to high costs, the world of digital advertising is often under fire. This is where blockchains can come into play. For instance, companies can verify if their ads are being viewed by the targeted audience instead of ‘bots’, and users customize their experience based on their attention and payments.
The Basic Attention Token works to improve the efficiency of digital advertisements, a sector that is often overrun by fraud, to compensate both the users and advertisers.
5. Music and Entertainment
Even the entertainment industry is turning to the blockchain solution in order to provide a fairer way of sharing content and automatically distribute creative work according to a licensing agreement after transactions. Numerous startups are trying to bridge musicians with their fans to get paid directly, rather than to resorting large sums of money to record labels or other platforms. Mycelia and Ujo Music are two such projects.
Ascribe.io keeps an attributable, verifiable and shareable record of ownership between artists/creators and their work. JAAK is developing an online platform to convert data and rights into “smart contents” that would be self-executing on the Ethereum blockchain.
6. Ride sharing
Blockchains could pave the way for decentralized ride sharing apps through which drivers can establish their own fares, building their own transportation and customer base, as well as providing other additional services. All transactions could then be logged on to a blockchain in a secure way without third-party corporations. Arcade City and La’Zooz are currently working on these ideas.
7. Car leasing
Credit-card giant, Visa, has partnered with DocuSign, a transaction management startup, to use blockchains to streamline the car leasing process- A process that is not only extensive but fragmented as well. Now, instead of papers and waiting, you just need to “click, sign and drive.” The partnership allows customers to choose the car they wish to lease, the transaction is entered on the blockchain, and then from the driver’s seat, the customer can verify the lease agreement and insurance policy.
8. Hedge funds
Numerai is a decentralized hedge fund built by data scientists, which employs traders and quantitative analysts (called as quants) that build predictive models on encrypted data sets sent to them. The best contribution is rewarded with Numeraire tokens. Numerai then uses this data for trading. In a nutshell, it’s a spinoff of Quantopian, but less competitive.
9. Internet identity and verification
In the Digital Age, it’s a bit tricky to establish a verifiable identity, and other central servers storing your personal information have little interoperability with other applications. Projects like Blockstack and uPort are working to build a potable identity where a user can carry it easily around. Another platform is Velix.ID, which aims to provide seamless identity verification around the world. It stores data on the blockchain and allows for an exchange of information with other business and companies, accordingly to the user’s consent.
10. Academic verification
Likewise, verification of academic credentials is an exhaustive and manual process, and unfortunately, rampant with deceit. In an effort to transform this process, Sony Global Education joined IBM to build a blockchain to securely store and share student records. MIT Media Lab is collaborating with Machine Learning to launch Blockcerts toolset, which verifies blockchain-based official records such as academic credentials or civic records, to name a few.
11. Decentralized cryptocurrency exchanges
Ironically, many of the cryptocurrency exchanges are fairlycentralized thereby going against the very ideology of cryptocurrency. However, some projects are trying to change this. Engima is the developer behind Catalyst, a decentralized exchange and investment platform. Ethereum-based 0x is another example.
Other ways in which exchanges are being integrated on the blockchain is the use of smart contracts to estimate the amount of ‘gas’ a transaction may require- a solution developed by Zen Protocols. This is because, more often than not, cryptocurrency platforms fizzle out due to the excessive computational power required for mining. Hence, if a contract requires a lot of gas, it won’t run.
12. Cyber protection
The robust architecture of blockchains could minimize hacks, especially when it comes of Internet of Things (IoT). Xage is employing blockchain to share security data across industrial device networks. Blockchains could also validate the integrity of data- An application that is being utilized by Guardtime, which tags and verifies transactions as authentic, through the blockchain enabled Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI) feature.
13. Internet of Things (IoT)
ADEPT (Autonomous Decentralized Peer-to-Peer Telemetry) is a concept that IBM and Samsung are working on together. It connects a network of IoT devices to a blockchain allowing them to communicate with each other to manage bugs, software updates, and energy management without a central hub. Filament, too, aims to provide a decentralized network for IoT devices to connect and interact on the blockchain over a long range, all the while allowing companies to monitor their assets.
Augur is a platform that elegantly combines the power of prediction with the security of blockchains to reward users for predicting events accurately. Although it is still in beta testing phases, it is a great example of how blockchains could transform the forecasting industry with research, consulting and analysis built within the blockchain.
15. Cloud storage and Cloud Computing
Data stored on the cloud is maintained by a central server, making it highly susceptible to cybercrime, data loss and human error. A blockchain-based cloud storage system could be a potentially robust solution to the problem since data would be saved in a tamper-proof, transparent and a decentralized manner. This could also mean lower costs of storing information. For instance, Filecoin, developed by Protocol Labs, is a venture that rewards users for hosting files. Other projects also include Storj, where people can even rent out free storage space, and Siacoin.
Calling itself as the ‘world-wide supercomputer’, Golem uses the same approach to let users rent their CPU capacity, and be rewarded with tokens.
Blockchain technology provides a promising tool to revamp healthcare systems through better data collaborations and a more secure storage of patient data. This could effectively increase the accuracy of diagnosis, transparency of hospital transactions, and the cost-effectiveness of treatment. In addition this would allow doctors, hospitals, or other healthcare related parties to universally access the network by automatically syncing the data, without a compromise on security and integrity.
Gem Health Network is a blockchain network for healthcare companies, while Tierion has created a platform to store and verify data in healthcare. In recent developments, both startups partnered together with Philips Healthcare to bring better healthcare through technology.
17. Supply Chain Management
‘A series of transaction nodes that link a product from its production to final sale’ defines what a supply chain is. All these transactions can be stored on a blockchain to digitize and organize the manual process thereby reducing delays, costs and human errors, and increasing transparency and traceability.
Provenance is one such innovation that gathers information from suppliers along the supply chain, thus substantiating product claims in real-time. Honorable mentions also include Hijro (formerly Fluent), Blockverify, and Skuchain that leverage blockchains with supply chains. IBM and Walmart joined hands to improve their supply chain practices, to provide product information which would not only guarantee safety, but also improve trust between vendors and customers.
18. Energy management
Energy management is a highly centralized sector. But, as with other industries, the blockchain technology could minimize the need for third-parties. Transactive Grid, a joint venture between LO3 Energy and Consensys, is a project that is altering the conventional energy exchange process- People can generate, sell, and buy energy in a decentralized manner. Other developments by LO3 Energy also include Brooklyn Microgrid, and Project Exergy.
Another pioneering solution to the inconvenient way of charging electric cars is being built by slock.it and Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk (RWE), an energy company, involving the use of blockchains. Smart contracts will enable car users to only pay for how much they use using inbuilt e-wallets, instead of renting a charging station by the hour.
There are a number of platforms that allow people to share and exchange assets for monetary value. However, due to an absence of public record there are no insurance policies in place. Yet.
LenderBot is the result of a partnership between ‘Stratumn’, a platform for building trustworthy applications on blockchains, ‘Deloitte’, a professional services firm, and ‘Lemonway,’ a payment service provider. LenderBot bridges the insurance gap between two individuals by serving as a third-party in the contract of sharing high-value assets.
The blockchain can also incorporate the use of oracles to gather real-time data with smart contracts to enable insurance firms to estimate and process claims, such as crop damage by flooding. Aeternity is currently establishing blockchain tools for the insurance industry.
20. Real Estate
Buying and selling property is a cumbersome and arduous task, complete with tedious paperwork, errors in record, possibility of fraud, and lack of transparency. Blockchains can make the entire process more efficient, accurate and verifiable to track, document, and transfer land deeds through smart contracts. This could also lower the exorbitant fees charged by realtors. Ubitquity is currently offering a software-as-a-service blockchain for real estate record-keeping as an alternative to manual and paper-based systems. Deedcoin is another platform backed by its own cryptocurrency token that decreases real estate agent fees to just 1%.
21. Sports Management
A decentralized public ledger making it possible for fans to be directly involved in the future of sports stars is another idea floating about, although not on a significant scale. However, ‘The Jetcoin Institute’ is encouraging fans to use ‘Jetcoins’ to invest in their favorite athletes. For this, they will receive a portion of their earnings, as well as other favors like VIP events or seat upgrades. A soccer team in Italy, Hellas Verona is experimenting with the Jetcoin approach.
A blockchain-based charity enables donations to become completely transparent and accountable; not only can one visibly track where funds are being utilized, but also how, and by whom. This also mitigates financial misconducts or organizational inefficiencies.
BitGive Foundation has used the blockchain technology to launch the beta version of GiveTrack, a donation platform that aims to build a trustworthy donation process.
23. Human Resources
Verification procedures for hiring are time-consuming and wrought with false or misplaced data. Employment histories, including criminal records, on a decentralized framework can simplify the procedure by many folds.
Chronobank.io offers a blockchain revolution for the recruitment industry by improving short-term recruitment for on-demand jobs to make it easier to find employment, and be paid in cryptocurrencies via the decentralized ledger.
The Learning Machine, a company also mentioned previously, also authenticates professional credentials.
24. Stock trading
Stock trading often relies on middle-men or brokers. And, although many companies have been working to automate the trading procedures, there’s always room for improvement.
TØ.com, pronounced T-Zero, is a subsidiary of Overstock.com which was subsequently the first to sell its stock through the blockchain technology. TØ.com is an online trading platform that combines existing trading processes with a cryptographically secure blockchain, to increase auditability and transparency, all the while reducing costs and settling times. Another blockchain startup, Chain, successfully connected NASDAQ’s stock exchange with Citi’s banking network.
Slock.it has revamped the concept of sharing assets by developing physical locks with a digital existence. Through a smart rental contract, you can browse the object of interest on the app, transfer the necessary funds, and use it.
26. Law enforcement
A tamper-proof blockchain network could be the ideal solution when it comes to evidence handling in police investigations, thus maintaining the integrity of the data. Chronicld uses Smart Labels to develop sealable and tamper-proof containers with chips that record the contents on the blockchain. The blockchain technology could also be used to flag suspicious and illicit financial activities and patterns to provide information to the appropriate agencies and institutions, as is the case with the Elliptic system that continuously scans bitcoin transactions.
A large number of images are used without permission or license from the copyright owner. Building upon this fact, Kodak released the KODAKCoin that integrates the public blockchain ledger with an image rights platform called KODAKOne. This way photographers can register and share their work in a protected manner, and be paid their rightful royalties.
28. 3-D Printing
Highly technology-driven processes like 3D printing and ‘additive manufacturing’ can induct the blockchain technology to easily and securely transmit digital files, track products, protect intellectual property, enhance supply chain management, or automate production to name a few functions. The Genesis of Things is a project working in this area with an aim to lower the cost of 3D printing using printers, blockchain and IoT technologies to develop a more advanced manufacturing process.
29. Commodity-backed currency
Real world currencies are often tied to physical commodities with an intrinsic value. In a resource-extensive region, one could use this concept to create a digital currency in the same manner. And, that’s exactly what the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro did when creating the ‘Petro’ cryptocurrency backed by the oil reserves in his country. Even Vladimir Putin is devising a blockchain-based Russian currency. Though many criticize it as being a ruse to circumvent US sanctions, it is nonetheless a revolutionary idea. For instance, BananaCoin is based on the international market price of a kilo of bananas. It’s a bit like crowdfunding since token holders are supporting an organic banana farm in Laos to export the production to China.
30. Gun tracking
The blockchain technology could be a resourceful tool to log information about gun ownership and usage; the network could then identify and track weapons in the event of an illegal use, or prevent unlawful gun purchases. Blocksafe is a startup that is working to track weapons, and to provide information about their location or whether lost weapons had recently been fired.
Decentralized retail is an attractive idea to both buyers and sellers since it connects both directly instead of the need of middlemen or third-party services, and all the underlying fees.
Open-Bazaar is doing just that- It is an open-source, peer-to-peer marketplace that offers merchants a platform, without any additional charges or restrictions, to sell goods. Buyers can make purchases using cryptocurrencies, in a secure and transparent way.
32. Will and inheritance
The genuineness of wills and inheritances is surrounded with a history of debates, disputes, arguments and legalities. Since a will is just like a contract, Blockchain Technologies Corp is developing a self-executing will system that would automatically verify a person’s death, and then distribute assets to all the beneficiaries as initially programmed. Safe Haven offers another solution to digitize wills and assets to securely pass down the legacy.
33. Credit histories
Lenders evaluate small businesses through their credit histories to minimize the risk when handing out loans. Most of these business credit reports are issued by third-parties that may be assessing outdated information.
Lumeno.us is a blockchain startup that is providing the tools to business owners to build their credit profiles in a more accurate, transparent, and shareable way to secure a loan. Other features include finding trusted partners, or managing a portfolio through the network.
34. Gift cards
The process of blockchain enabled gift cards makes the system more efficient and self-sustaining, and increases fraud prevention by cryptographically verifying and securing the information.
Gyft, an online platform for buying, sending, and redeeming gift cards, has partnered with the blockchain provider, Chain, in a new initiative called ‘Gyft Block.’ This would effectively power gift cards to run for thousands of businesses on the blockchain. Loyyal, a loyalty and rewards platform, is leveraging blockchains and smart contracts to make incentives more easily exchangeable between sectors.
35. Government and public records
Blockchains can play a key role in the management of public services by increasing accountability and transparency, in addition to digitizing the entire process and making it less prone to corruption/fraud.
The Delaware Blockchain Initiative is currently working to build such an infrastructure, and several others are following suit. In Europe, the BitFury Group is working with the Georgian government to store government records.
36. Business and corporate governance
Businesses can employ blockchains to avail the benefit of the technology in the form of transparent accounting, build decentralized organizations, and use smart contracts to deploy tasks automatically.
The Boardroom app provides the system to manage smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, and to use the application for shareholder voting. Aragon, another similar startup, takes the concept on a global level to facilitate a company’s workforce through decentralized organization.
With the introduction to cryptocurrencies, crowdfunding has gained a popular foothold in upcoming startups. Although crowdfunding platforms still existed before for creating trust between the supporters and project creators, they charged high fees. However, with blockchain-based crowdfunding, smart contracts can hold the funds, which can then distribute it back to the supporters in case of project failure. Tokens amounting to certain value, assets or cash have raised thousands of dollars through Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). And though it is not without its own risks and scams, blockchain-based crowdfunding is a promising venture.
38. Public benefits
Blockchain technology can also circumvent the bureaucracy and time-consuming processes, to distribute welfare and unemployment benefits in a more efficient manner. GovCoin, a UK based company, is one example that is using blockchains to help the government to distribute public benefits. Circles is another cryptocurrency project developing an implementation of a universal basic income.