In December 2017, all news channels went crazy with blockchain’s poster child Bitcoin (BTC). Everyone was hooked on the new cryptocurrency, seeing it as the perfect solution for transaction security and decentralization. Now that the height of the hype is somewhat behind us, we can look more closely at how blockchain creates value beyond cryptocurrencies.
In a previous article, we explained what blockchain is and how it’s pushing us to change our mindset around transactions, trust and freedom. We know that private blockchains, like Hyperledger, have already proven to be fast and easily scalable. Public blockchains, on the other hand, are still slow, do not scale easily enough and use up a lot of power, due to the proof-of-work system they entail. The long-term focus is to move the blockchain in public areas and implement it in enterprise-level organizations so that they can also benefit from the high level of trust, traceability and transparency it provides.
In this article, we’ll review 3 non-financial blockchain use cases inspired by the “Beyond the Blockchain” Future Horizons show. In case you missed the LIVE stream, scroll down to watch the video and discover more blockchain applications in the land of supply chains, creative industries, marketing and voting.
Digital identity – Taking ownership of your data
Blockchain provides a higher degree of trust to anyone who questions your identity, while enabling you to have full control of your identity data. Basically, blockchain can store and process digital identity data, thus vouching that you are who you say you are. With this higher degree of trust, time-consuming and frustrating security-check operations often experienced at customs or while interacting with banks get much simpler.
For example, Microsoft and the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF) are working on a blockchain solution that allows you to manage your identity and personal data digitally, while improving your privacy and security across the physical and digital world. Instead of granting broad consent to a myriad of apps and services and thus having your identity data spread across countless providers, you can use a secure, encrypted digital hub where you can store your data and easily manage access to it.
At the same time, in certain parts of the world, especially Africa, blockchain solves the problem of little or no standard system of documentation for residents and assets. This is a double-edged sword, as lacking an identity doesn’t give you access to medical services, doesn’t let you vote, buy or sell anything. Swiss company WISeKey has built a Digital Identity Blockchain solution that enables African governments to digitize their land registry and to ensure control of authenticity.
Medical research – Sharing your medical history for the common good
The main problem in medical research is getting access to massive quantities of relevant data. What’s more, sensitive medical information is generally off-limits due to privacy constraints. Blockchain, however, comes in handy as it lets you anonymously offer your health records for medical research. At all times, you have full control over your records and identity.
Imagine it as having all your medical history stored into a medical digital wallet. Researchers can only access it with your permission, and they will use your data in their studies without affecting your privacy. It’s always up to you what data you make available and to whom.
Physician and computational biologist Dexter Hadley and his team at the University of California recently built a blockchain-based system that lets healthy women and those with breast cancer anonymously share their mammograms. The researcher’s team aims at gathering data from 3 to 5 million US women, who can give or drop access to their data through an online portal. The researchers need huge volumes of varied data so that they can feed their AI algorithms and efficiently train them in detecting breast cancer. The larger the data, the more accurate the algorithm.
Blockchain equally allows for broker data exchanges between individuals and companies, while facilitating payment. For instance, geneticist George Church at Harvard University launched Nebula Genomics – a startup that enables people who want their genomes sequenced to connect with companies that want to purchase access to the resulting data. Nebula also lets those who pay for their own sequencing sell their genetic information. They get paid in digital tokens that can be exchanged for US dollars.
Energy – Increasing market efficiency
In the energy sector, blockchain solves a lot of problems. On the one hand, blockchain-based smart contracts coupled with smart meters lead to better prediction of energy consumption patterns. On the other hand, in areas still running in analog ways, smart contracts for electricity add an extra layer of trust and reduce administration costs for energy transitions and, implicitly, utility costs for consumers.
Blockchain also increases visibility over the energy infrastructures allowing entities in the grid to locate the demand and surplus of energy. This way energy devices can harness the extra power in the network and the distribution flows can be adjusted so that, for instance, areas lacking in large-scale power plants can benefit. Basically, through the higher level of trust it creates, blockchain enables entities to be better aware of the energy supply-demand ratio and manage it more efficiently.
Since the first blockchain energy transaction in 2016, over 100 energy organizations adopted the blockchain technology, deploying it in 40 projects. With $300 million invested in less than a year, 2017 was a turning point in global recognition of blockchain for its potential applications in the energy sector.
Japanese energy giant TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) recently partnered with Ethereum startup Grid+ to develop a platform that allows consumers to pre-pay for power. TEPCO also invested in UK-based blockchain startup Electron in order to build a decentralized blockchain platform for energy transactions, which relies on the current centralized infrastructure.
Because of the cryptocurrency hype, we often fail to see the countless upgrades that blockchain offers in so many industries. If you want to discover more blockchain applications, how supply chains, creative industries, voting and marketing can benefit from blockchain systems, check out the Future Horizons show below featuring QUALITANCE Chief Innovation Officer Mike Parsons and SupplyBlockchain CEO/Founder Sebastian Cochinescu.