How will blockchain technology be used in the future?
Welcome back, once again, to the third and final instalment of Digital Cabinet’s series all about blockchain technology. It’s been a fun (and hopefully informative) ride, hasn’t it?
Previously, in part one, we talked about how blockchain technology works as a distributed ledger system, while in part two we built on that foundation to flesh-out how and what makes blockchain technology so secure.
This time, let’s talk about what blockchain has in store for us in the future. Or, in other words, what other uses does blockchain have the potential to revolutionize?
Money isn’t everything, but property is
Cryptocurreny is an interesting use for blockchain technology for sure, and is currently the most popular, but there are other areas that blockchain technology is set to change absolutely everything.
While blockchain technology exploded onto the scene in 2009 when Satoshi Nakamoto adapted the previously-existing idea of blockchain and used it to create Bitcoin, it’s always good to remember that “crypto” is only one implementation of blockchain technology.
Remember, a blockchain is a decentralized cryptographically linked public ledger or chain of information that is encrypted and secure, transparent and immutable. What this culminates in is the first instance of property on a digital sphere.
Until now, having something on the internet does not defacto prove that it is yours. But, with blockchain, because the process of adding blocks to the chain, i.e ‘mining’, creates blocks for specific assets that are unique from each other, they can also easily be traced back to who it belongs to by what information is stored in a block.
This is an invaluable use for copyrights for things such as books, music and films because it means that every instance of the property is unique, but most importantly, it is intrinsically linked back to its source or owner.
Two copy-wrongs don’t make a copyright
The film and music industries have been battling with piracy from almost the very start of the internet age. As long as the internet has existed, there has been a means to share content; if a file exists on a computer—be it a song, book, or movie—it is possible to copy it and put it on another computer for free.
This dynamic is detrimental to entertainment companies, let alone the authors, musicians and filmmakers that put blood, sweat and tears into expressing themselves.
However, blockchain technology could change all that and bring things back to the pre-internet era where one copy sold meant one copy bought. Blockchain platforms will allow creatives to sell their work directly to their audiences and at the same time prevent the illegal distribution of any product bought, because only that purchaser has access to that particular song or films that they bought.
Similar to how cryptocurrencies can make a token that is unique and unable to be copied (thanks to encryption and the previous instance having being recorded in every new block or token created) each purchase of a product sold can be assigned directly from the source to only the purchaser.
The blockchain will also allow copyright holders to keep control of their intellectual property. Since the nature of blockchain is immutable, having a record of their content on the public ledger means that there would be no possibility of ever losing control of their own copyright as it provides a transparent record of distribution and artist ownership. Instances of duplicates/forgeries can always be traced back to what version was first uploaded to the blockchain and by whom—the person with the public key to that wallet is the person who owns it.
Smarten up your contracts
Along with Bitcoin, you might have also heard about another cryptocurrency that has exploded in value, known as Ethereum.
While ‘Ether’ is merely another digital currency, much like Bitcoin and hundreds of other currencies, what makes Ethereum as a platform interesting is its use of blockchain technology for things called ‘smart contracts’.
Smart contracts are essentially “self-executing contracts”, or, to put it another way, they’re contracts that are coded to automatically carry out an agreed-upon action when certain conditions are met.
Smart contracts are often labelled as an inherently ‘trustless’ system because they eliminate the need for any third-party to validate an exchange. They are embedded with an ‘if-this-then-that’ code that ensures that if—and only if—a certain condition is met, then the next stage will occur. The contract itself will act as the intermediary, meaning that no trust is needed between two parties that have an accord: because the smart contract itself is infallible and will carry out exactly what was agreed if the conditions are met.
Such a system would be invaluable to any purchase because it means that if the contract is to receive a product in exchange for payment until the payment is made the product will not be able to be handed over. Instead of grabbing a new kettle from an aisle and then being trusted to go to the cashier to hand over your money, or paying for the new kettle on an online store and then trusting that it will be delivered, both sides can rest assured that when the item is handed over or delivered, the payment will automatically be executed.
Smart contracts could also be a way for governments and politicians to be held in check and accountable for what is expected of them by the public that they represent. If your salary or budget is directly tied to achieving an agreed and expected goal and automatically paid when your goal is reached, there is far more motivation and incentive to keep things running smoothly and to stick to your word.
One person, one vote
Blockchain technology can also be invaluable in the realm of a person’s identity. Having an unchangeable and enduring record of everything from birth certificates, education certificates, diplomas and degrees, to marriage and death certificates and even health records, means that there is certifiable proof of existence—both in real life and on the internet.
Everything from medical and criminal history to taxes and voting could be stored on a distributed public ledger that can be accessed by only those that have the key and those that have been given permission to do so (and, even then, access can be monitored).
Paramedics having access to your medical history can be life-saving in the case of an accident, while proof of your identity and taxes is vital for know-your-customer (KYC) practices and running a business. Having all that information on a decentralized system speeds up any process; verification can occur in mere minutes instead of weeks—just ask Estonia.
In addition, voting for government elections could be entirely handled by a blockchain platform—ensuring that only one person can vote and that the results are completely transparent, unmodifiable and verifiable by any member of the public or media.
Just as we mentioned earlier, with keeping track of copyright holders, the same idea can be applied to real estate property holders: all this information can be unalterably and securely stored and can be searched for and transferred with ease as there is an unimpeachable record of previous ownership, etc.
These are only some of the possibilities of blockchain. Other areas like the Internet-of-Things and file storage could also be revolutionized by blockchain technology. Entire smart cities could revolve around distributed public ledgers, which would make access to goods, services and data easier, more secure and better than ever.
While actually seeing some of these implemented might only happen a little further in the future, when they do, they are still set to change how our world works entirely.
While staring into the horizon could end up making you lose sight of the present, it certainly couldn’t hurt to take a few quick glances now and then. It always helps to keep an ear to the ground, because you never know how much easier and efficient life and business will become.
And that’s exactly what Digital Cabinet is here to do.
You can find out more about Digital Cabinet at www.digitalcabinet.co.za