Can blockchain really be “social”?

When talking about blockchain technology and its uses across various industries, many are those who will, on the first instance, think “What even is blockchain?”, will wonder for a bit, then declare that “it’s all computer stuff and I don’t get it”; and that’s when the thought ends.

Others will by default relate in their minds that blockchain means “cryptocurrencies”, and “cryptocurrencies means money laundering”, which consequently means its something bad, evil, illegal; and that’s when that thought ends.

For others it just might spark some curiosity as to the capabilities of this new technological advancement, far beyond its use in cryptocurrency mining (yes — it does have something to do with cryptos too) and seek to discover where else can blockchain be used, so much as bringing a positive impact in society.

That’s where my “curiosity” lies.

As much as blockchain has made news due to its ability to reward the keen miners with cryptocurrency tokens of Bitcoin, Ethereum or any other crypto coin, the capabilities of the underlying technology of blockchain are far more numerous than just mining. In fact, blockchain is revolutionizing almost every industry and indeed, it can go as far as having a positive social impact.

“Yes, but what is it?”, you might still be thinking.

Very briefly, blockchain is a database operating via distributed ledger technology in which data is recorded on computers based on pre-agreed consensus algorithms in the network.

It is a form of a database where data is stored in the chain in fixed structures called ‘blocks’, hence the name “blockchain”.

It is a decentralised solution, meaning no third parties are required to verify transactions other than the users themselves. Once a transaction is codified and added on the blockchain it is permanently stored, can be traced all the way back to its origination and cannot be modified or erased.

This makes blockchain exceptionally accurate and secure. *

Other than its use in the financial services industry, innovators are discovering ways to utilise this new digital ledger to record anything of value to human kind. In a move towards a “smarter” and more efficient governance blockchain can be used to record, save and store everything from birth and death certificates, to marriage licenses, deeds and titles of ownership, rights to intellectual property, medical history, citizenship and voting rights.

For a more trustworthy business experience blockchain can be used to speed up insurance claims, develop employment contracts and record managerial decision rights.

To enhance provider reliability for consumers and give answers to questions such as “where does my food really come from” blockchain can be used to trace provenance of food, or to even trace your precious diamond’s journey from mine to retail. For a more transparent charity and donation ecosystem, blockchain can help with tracing charitable donations tied to specific outcomes; to anything else that could be coded.

Can you imagine a scenario where doctors have full disclosure on a patient’s medical history, enabling them to (a) avoid putting the patient through unnecessary examinations which are often time consuming, costly and a “search in the dark” and (b) know exactly the medication/procedures/health issues a patient has faced in their life before they came to them so as to diagnose and give their medical advise more accurately?

Or a case where the title of the property you are in the middle of purchasing isn’t hidden away in some Land Registry back office and you know exactly the ownership trail of that property?

How would you feel if your rights over your intellectual property were (finally!) being correctly identified and you are rightly rewarded for what belongs to you, as it is being used on the world-wide web or the music and entertainment industry?

It can all even go a step further — towards a world of self-sovereign identity systems, of an interplanetary governance empowering community stewardship over centralized ownership — just like CULTU.RE is aiming to achieve.

I had the opportunity to listen live to Toni Lane speak about cultu.re and the vision and utilisation of blockchain technology in the re-incentivisation of individuals to “form interdependent marketplaces which enable self-sovereign, self-organising, voluntary networks to co-opt and complete with traditional infrastructure for the benefit of humanity”. Cultu.re defines itself as “blockchain governance and self-sovereignty for an interplanetary society”. Via Cultu.re individuals can put together their own “universal love agreements”, register their tangible property on the “universal housing network” and create cultures by participating in different communities.

Companies which are discovering and developing new methods for utilising blockchain include, among many others, Spotify, De Beers, Accenture, and Loyyal, all of which are reinventing the potentials of this new technology to solve crucial problems.

Spotify — has acquired the Mediachain Labs start-up and together they are on using blockchain technology to develop IT solutions for connecting artists and other rights holders with the tracks hosted on Spotify. Following the license dispute that Spotify recently faced and for which it was forced to pay over $20 million to settle, the company has now turned to blockchain technology to help them solve problems of attribution and rights ownership.

De Beers — the world famous diamond suppliers announced that they are planning to use blockchain for tracing diamonds from the mine all the way to the customer purchase. The company is looking to create a digital trail through a platform called Tracr™ for a selection of rough diamonds as they move from the mine to cutter and polish, and then to a jeweler.

Accenture — the company has developed blockchain solutions for its clients that can substitute manual business processes of insurance claims for handling, payment, subrogation and assessment and as such boost efficiency and productivity against the current cumbersome and fragmented processes being used.

Loyyal — a loyalty and rewards platform that is using blockchain technology to bring together loyalty programmes from around the world, from travel & hospitality and credit card rewards to employee incentives, unlocking billions of dollars in value “held captive in legacy loyalty programmes today”.

Medicalchain — the innovative platform set up by Medicalchain is a decentralised platform that enables secure, fast and transparent exchange and usage of medical data. It creates a user-focused electronic health record and maintains a single true version of that user’s data. The company is also looking in developing two more applications to work alongside the platform — the telemedicine application which will allow users to consult a real doctor remotely (i.e. by using their mobile phone) for a small fee payable to the doctor; and a health data marketplace through which users will be able to negotiate commercial terms with third parties for alternative uses or applications of their health data (i.e. allowing their data to be used in medical research).

Overall, for some it might indeed feel daunting that blockchain is revolutionizing almost every industry we have known so far. The potential of this technology is enormous and it depends on the innovator to put this technology to good use and create unique solutions.

In fact, blockchain can have a tremendous impact on societies and it can be used to solve problems that have troubled countries and governments for years. If we really do want to get to these solutions is a different story, but it cannot be ignored that blockchain is disrupting the way we do things going forward, from today to tomorrow.

*(If you want to read a bit more on Blockchain check out my co-authored article for the DLA Piper Global Financial Markets Insight “Can blockchain live up to the hype?”).


Can blockchain really be “social”? was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.