Opinion

Beyond the buzz: Blockchain’s real world applications

With so many think pieces and LinkedIn posts heralding the new era of blockchain without actually explaining what blockchain is, Lucy von Sturmer decided it was time to set the record straight. Here, she lists several real world applications for the technology, some of which are already happening.

Until recently, my interest and understanding of blockchain was limited. I’m not a developer and I have little interest in cryptocurrency. But, over the past few weeks, some pretty interesting things have started to happen. These events have sparked my interest and expanded the promise, and potential, of blockchain beyond the world of finance.

The solution to our (digital) problems?

The concept of uniqueness provided by blockchain is pretty amazing. Imagine what this could mean for digital content creators who, for the first time ever, could protect their ideas or limit their work. (Spoiler alert: there’s already a market for this within the art industry).

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, is pretty excited about this potential too. He said: “The ability to create something which is not duplicable in the digital world has enormous value. Lots of people will build businesses on top of that.”

Greater transparency for fashion brands

You have to have been living under a rock not to be aware of the myriad issues plaguing the fast-fashion supply chain. While many brands have pledged to do more to protect workers and the environment, the industry’s long and complex chain is often pointed to as one of the key reasons accountability is not (yet) ((really)) possible.

This makes it almost impossible for a brand to legitimately forge a reputation as environmentally friendly, and has resulted in many a PR disaster.

But what if blockchain could change that?

London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard has launched a pilot that tracks the journey of raw materials through the supply chain. The system works by using a unique digital token which verifies each step of production. By doing so, a digital history of information is created for all to see.

 

More accurate political elections

Earlier this month, the world’s first ever blockchain-powered presidential elections took place. One of blockchain’s key offerings is that it creates a decentralized immutable record of all transactions. This makes it possible to track information across all steps of the chain.

In the case of Sierra Leone’s recent election, a blockchain solution was used to verify all votes cast manually and a record of these votes was made available to the public.

This ensured an unprecedented amount of accuracy and transparency and the event was hailed as a global landmark. Business Insider reported: “This could pave the way for blockchain technology to shape elections around the world.”

A fundamentally new development

To get some deeper insight into the current state of play, I reached out to Paul Sanderson, senior engineer at blockchain company Encrypt S. He said: “Blockchain is an idea that’s only eight years old. It’s a fundamentally new development in computer science. Bitcoin proved that blockchain has real-world application and that it can be used in sensitive areas. But its impact will go far beyond that.”

Asking the lay(wo)man’s question — how much I need to know and what I need to be doing to prepare, his answer was: “Not everyone needs to know how the internet works, but almost everybody uses it and it will be the same with blockchain. Understanding how the technology works will allow new business to emerge, and older ones to adapt. But for many, blockchain will simply enhance their experience; its integration will be seamless.”

The “new internet”

Many moons ago, when I was studying what was then called New Media, my university peers and I were excited about the utopian possibilities presented by the web. We believed this new digital landscape would give more power to the little guy and that it would democratise the spread of (quality) information.

Many years have passed, and with it, our dreams have morphed into a reality full of fake news, endless cookies that follow us around, and increasingly fragmented audiences.

But, perhaps blockchain is the technology that will live up to the hype. Promises of ‘decentralisation’, ‘greater transparency’ ‘cutting out the middleman’ and ‘power to the people’ certainly appeal and its application already proves promising. As the sector begins to mature, I’ll be watching with both intrigue and hope!

Lucy von Sturmer is founder and communications director at The HumbleBrag.

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