The internet was the last revolutionary idea that birthed entire economies and sectors, and with them a generation of entrepreneurs. When I look at the blockchain now, I can’t escape a sense of deja vu — that we’re on the cusp of witnessing another paradigm shift. The blockchain has already spawned a whole new set of tools, ideas and entrepreneurs, but we’ve barely begun.
If I were to ask you to think of the blockchain, the first thing that’d naturally come to mind would likely be Bitcoin. But just as Bitcoin is not the only cryptocurrency out there, the concept of cryptocurrencies is not the only use case of the technology. Since what the blockchain essentially does is store and process encrypted data in a transparent manner, the possible use cases are vast.
Several entrepreneurs and tech firms are already realising the vast applicability of blockchain. According to a report by CB Insights, businesses are expected to spend $ 2.9 billion on blockchain technology in 2019, up 90% from 2018. The applications of blockchain are far and wide — from insurance to gaming to even cannabis. It is, of course, Bitcoin’s popularity which brought technology to the forefront. But the use cases for a transparent, verifiable repository of data which is decentralised and thus resistant to fraud, are practically endless.
Several applications of this phenomenal technology have been discovered, and entrepreneurs around the world are already working towards harnessing the power of blockchain. As someone seeing the industry as an insider, here are some of the sectors I’m personally most excited about:
Autonomous vehicles and cybersecurity
Self-driving cars are not a fantastical concept anymore. They are being tested and prepped amongst us as we speak. Of course, they bring with themselves a whole new set of challenges — such as that of security. The massive connectivity and data exchange required for autonomous cars is likely to be vulnerable to cyber-attacks much like any other tool. While such attacks may be limited to causing loss of large amounts of money in other applications, the threat, in this case, is to life itself. Security against remote attacks is one core aspect automakers will need to emphatically guarantee.
This application can be expanded to the wide umbrella of cybersecurity. Blockchain, though public, uses advanced cryptographic techniques to send and verify data. It thus ensures that data is shared between the intended parties without an interception. Startups harnessing this use case include Xage and Guardtime.
Autonomous cars could also do with better optimisation on how they use data, and what better way to indulge in that than the blockchain? Earlier this year, BMW and GM officially backed blockchain data sharing for their cars.
One Blockchain identity for Everyone
You’re probably not ‘woke’ enough if you aren’t concerned about individual data privacy in 2019. As we continue to discover the extent of use of our data by large corporations, data privacy is quickly turning into some sort of public crisis. Enter the blockchain, a decentralised and secure mode of storing data. There would be no likelihood of data leaks because there is no central server which stores all the data. Instead, with the blockchain, data-collection can be decentralised and its verification and dissemination could be based on a secure consensus mechanism. Government records, trust scores, medical records, employment records, etc. can all be stored in a comprehensive blockchain platform, accessible to organisations who request it with the consent of the owner of the data. Some companies already working on this are BlockV, Microsoft, TheKey, and many more. But the market is still wide open for aspiring entrepreneurs.
There is nothing more critical to good governance in any democratic setting than a reliable voting system. Elections require secure record-keeping of votes, reliable authentication of voters’ identities and trustworthy tallies to determine the winner fairly. The system is susceptible to tampering at every juncture, and significant amounts of capital is poured into making sure our democracies are safe. But the blockchain really seems like the most obvious solution to a whole bunch of problems in our voting systems:
- The blockchain could serve as a secure database of not only the voters’ identities but also the votes.
- A transparent ledger would make it much easier to detect fraud, and hence, make it almost impossible to add, remove or change votes unfairly.
- This would potentially eliminate the need for recounting votes as it would take fraud off the table completely.
- Follow My Vote and Agora are two of the startups working on this technology, and I’m fairly excited to see what they come up with.
Today’s insurance industry is still almost as archaic and complex in its functioning as it was several years ago in the pre-internet era:
- Policies are still marketed by sales representatives through calls,
- Claims settlement is still complex and time-consuming, and
- The verification process often still depends on a paper trail which is not digital.
Take a closer look, and it’s easy to spot the source of all these issues — there is no comprehensive database of all records of the claimants. Perhaps due to the fear of security breaches? An insurance database will contain a tremendous amount of confidential information, which, unless necessary, should not even be accessible to insurers themselves. The blockchain comes to our rescue again here. Being a decentralised encrypted database, it can store all records and all related transactions in a single place, making the entire process much simpler.
Supply chain management
The supply chain sector in particular, has been in the middle of quite a lot of buzz from the blockchain. By maintaining a permanent record of all the transactions that happen from start to finish on a distributed ledger, blockchain tech is certain to make the entire chain of the product easier to track. There’s potential for a lot more than just logistics here — from tracking product health and characteristics to identifying bottlenecks and speeding up deliveries. Naturally, all this will translate into reduced costs and human errors by a large margin. Blockchain startups already working on this include Hirjo, Skuchcain and IBM’s Food Trust Network.
Of course, the list of these use cases is by no means exhaustive. In fact, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the vast innovative potential of blockchain we may unleash upon ourselves. While I’ve focused on non-banking use cases, the untapped potential of blockchain in world trade and economics remains massive, and will probably be the one hogging most media attention for a long time. I’m as excited as any of my peers for the technology, and look forward to joining other entrepreneurs in tapping into its tremendous applications.