Cryptocurrencies are considered revolutionary by some analysts, while others see little substance in the entire field. Many boring, niche “blockchain” applications are operating in today’s world, mostly in niche markets few people notice between the extremes. Taking a survey of them could give us some idea of what the future could hold, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s a bright future. (Spoiler alert: a bright future awaits.)
As a digital database, blockchains act as a ledger for storing information and transactions in a collaborative manner. It has important advantages in terms of security and public trust, even though it is more complex and expensive to run than a traditional database.
Cryptographic private keys provide the only way for individuals or entities to alter or view any data on a blockchain. Despite the best efforts of companies, IT workers, hackers, courts, disgruntled spouses, and drug companies, your data is not accessible without your permission. Blockchains are the key component of almost all successful cryptocurrencies, but blockchains are not required to operate for them to be successful.
Information about personal health is one of its major applications. It is common for your medical data to be scattered across different providers, testing organizations, insurers, pharmacies, public health agencies, and other entities, causing frustration, security breaches, and mistakes.
MyChart, Nebula Genomics, BurstIQ and Medical Chain are among the blockchain competitors to traditional database solutions such as MyChart. Blockchain solutions operate peer-to-peer, so MyChart does not have to sign information sharing agreements with all possible entities. All participating parties – you and your doctor, your insurance company and your testing laboratory, your pharmacy and your urgent care facility – can securely and seamlessly communicate when using the service.
The elections sector has also grown rapidly. In the past, elections have been manipulated and stolen. Regardless of today’s technology, the outcomes of close elections can be difficult to predict. In addition, voting is a cumbersome process. Moreover, incumbent elected officials design and run the election process, which undermines trust.
Many states are turning to blockchain solutions because of this. West Virginia’s military personnel and travelers are provided with a blockchain platform by Voatz. Follow My Vote is another entrant. Secure voter registration information is made possible by a blockchain initiative run by the state of Illinois. The blockchain would provide voters with an accurate record of their vote – or not – and the opportunity to look for possible errors. The voter was the only one who could access that information.
It was up to losing candidates to ensure there were no missing, unaccounted for, or fraudulent votes in their totals. After the polls close, totals would be immediately available. Recounts would be unnecessary. Whether you use ballot machines, ballot paper, mail ballots or electronic voting, blockchains are naturally suited to biometric voting via mobile devices.
With MediaChain (acquired by Spotify in 2017), MadHive, Steem, Civil, and Open Music Initiative, as well as others, you can pay creators, editors, and advertisers without relying on centralized media companies as dotcoms. A second big sector is logistics, so companies like DHL Worldwide Express (yes, the big shipper), Block Array, Maersk (yes, the big shipper, also working with IBM) and ShipChain are tracking and managing supply chains with blockchains.
Blockchains are even available for non-humans. The three companies, Fitament, Hypr, and Xage, enable you to securely connect everything with a chip and a signal – your car, your refrigerator, your video doorbell, Alexa, etc. Neither you nor anyone else can see your data, but you can aggregate and distribute it as you please. Video doorbells can be connected to the police, refrigerators to InstaCart, cars to mechanics.
Blockchains are just scratching the surface of what is currently possible. It is inevitable that cryptocurrency use will grow as blockchain adoption increases, regardless of whether some applications use cryptocurrency and others do not. Public ledgers secured with cryptography are becoming a powerful tool, replacing centralized private ledgers with tremendous effects on business models and society.