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Blockchain


The blockchain is an undeniably ingenious invention, the brainchild of a person or group of people known by the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto. But since then, it has evolved into something greater, and the main question every single person is asking is: What is Blockchain?

By allowing digital information to be distributed but not copied, blockchain technology created the backbone of a new type of internet. Originally devised for the digital currency, Bitcoin, the tech community has now found other potential uses for the technology.

A blockchain is, in the simplest of terms, a time-stamped series of immutable records of data that is managed by a cluster of computers not owned by any single entity. Each of these blocks of data (i.e. block) is secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles (i.e. chain).

So, what is so special about it and why are we saying that it has industry-disrupting capabilities? The blockchain network has no central authority, it is the very definition of a democratized system. Since it is a shared and immutable ledger, the information in it is open for anyone and everyone to see. Hence, anything that is built on the blockchain is by its very nature transparent and everyone involved is accountable for their actions.

The reasons why the blockchain has gained so much admiration is that:

•  It is not owned by a single entity, hence it is decentralized.
•  The data is cryptographically stored inside.
•  The blockchain is immutable, so no one can tamper with the data that is inside the blockchain.
•  The blockchain is transparent so one can track the data if they want to.

How Blockchain Works



How Blockchain Works

How Blockchain Works.


Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared, and continually reconciled, database. This is a way of using the network that has obvious benefits. The blockchain database isn't stored in any single location, meaning the records it keeps are truly public and easily verifiable. No centralized version of this information exists for a hacker to corrupt. Hosted by millions of computers simultaneously, its data is accessible to anyone on the internet.

Key Characteristics Of Blockchain Architecture


Blockchain architecture possesses a lot of benefits for businesses. Here are several embedded characteristics:

•  Decentralization - each member of the blockchain structure has access to the whole distributed database. As opposed to the central-based system, consensus algorithm allows for control of the network.
•  Transparency - the blockchain system cannot be corrupted. This is very unlikely to happen, as it requires huge computing power to overwrite the blockchain network completely.
•  Immutability - any records made in a blockchain cannot be changed or deleted.
•  Cryptography - blockchain transactions are validated and trustworthy due to the complex computations and cryptographic proof among involved parties.
•  Provenance - refers to the fact that it is possible to track the origin of every transaction inside the blockchain ledger.
•  Anonymity - each blockchain network participant has a generated address, not user identity. This keeps users' anonymity, especially in a public blockchain structure.

We will explain the first three main properties of blockchain architecture which have helped it gain widespread acclaim are as follows:

New Networks


Decentralization

Decentralization

Distributed Ledgers

Distributed Ledgers

New Networks.

Centralized - Centralized systems have a core authority that dictates the truth to the other participants in the network. Only priveleged users or institutions can access the history of transactions or confirm new transactions.

Decentralized - Decentralized systems have no core authority to dictate the truth to other participants in the network. Every participant in the network can access the history of transactions or confirm new transactions.


So, what happens if we just take this centralized entity away? In a decentralized system, the information is not stored by one single entity. In fact, everyone in the network owns the information.

In a decentralized network, if you wanted to interact with your friend then you can do so directly without going through a third party. That was the main ideology behind Bitcoins. You and only you alone are in charge of your money. You can send your money to anyone you want without having to go through a bank.

As mentioned, logically, a blockchain is a chain of blocks which contain specific information (database), but in a secure and genuine way that is grouped together in a network (peer-to-peer). In other words, blockchain is a combination of computers linked to each other instead of a central server, meaning that the whole network is decentralized.

To make it even simpler, the blockchain concept can be compared to work done with Google Docs. You may recall the days of tossing over doc. documents and waiting for other participants to make necessary edits. These days, with the help of Google Docs, it is possible to work on the same document simultaneously.

The blockchain technique allows digital information to be distributed, rather than copied. This distributed ledger provides transparency, trust, and data security.

Blockchain architecture is being used very broadly in the financial industry. However, these days, this technology is employed not only for cryptocurrencies, but also for record keeping, digital notary, and smart contracts.

Before Bitcoin and BitTorrent came along, we were more used to centralized services. The idea is very simple. You have a centralized entity that stored all the data and you'd have to interact solely with this entity to get whatever information you required.

Another example of a centralized system is the banks. They store all your money, and the only way that you can pay someone is by going through the bank. The traditional client-server model is a perfect example of this:

Client-Server Vs. P2P Network


Client-Server

Client-Server

P2P Network

P2P Network

Client-Server vs P2P Network.


When you google search for something, you send a query to the server who then gets back at you with the relevant information. That is a simple client-server.

The traditional architecture of the World Wide Web uses a client-server network. In this case, the server keeps all the required information in one place so that it is easy to update, due to the server being a centralized database controlled by a number of administrators with permissions.

In the case of the distributed network of blockchain architecture, each participant within the network maintains, approves, and updates new entries. The system is controlled not only by separate individuals, but by everyone within the blockchain network. Each member ensures that all records and procedures are in order, which results in data validity and security. Thus, parties that do not necessarily trust each other are able to reach a common consensus.

To summarize things, the blockchain is a decentralized, distributed ledger (public or private) of different kinds of transactions arranged into a P2P network. This network consists of many computers, but in a way that the data cannot be altered without the consensus of the whole network (each separate computer).

The structure of blockchain technology is represented by a list of blocks with transactions in a particular order. These lists can be stored as a flat file (txt. format) or in the form of a simple database. Two vital data structures used in blockchain include:

•  Pointers - variables that keep information about the location of another variable. Specifically, this is pointing to the position of another variable.
•  Linked lists - a sequence of blocks where each block has specific data and links to the following block with the help of a pointer.

Blockchain Hashing

Blockchain Hashing.


Logically, the first block does not contain the pointer since this one is the first in a chain. At the same time, there is potentially going to be a final block within the blockchain database that has a pointer with no value.

Basically, the following blockchain sequence diagram is a connected list of records:

Blockchain Structure

Blockchain Structure.


Blockchain architecture can serve the following purposes for organizations and enterprises:

•  Cost reduction - lots of money is spent on sustaining centrally held databases (e.g. banks, governmental institutions) by keeping data current secure from cyber crimes and other corrupt intentions.
•  History of data - within a blockchain structure, it is possible to check the history of any transaction at any moment in time. This is a ever-growing archive, while a centralized database is more of a snapshot of information at a specific point.
•  Data validity & security - once entered, the data is hard to tamper with due to the blockchain's nature. It takes time to proceed with record validation, since the process occurs in each independent network rather than via compound processing power. This means that the system sacrifices performance speed, but instead guarantees high data security and validity.

Centralized systems have treated us well for many years, however, they have several vulnerabilities:

•  Firstly, because they are centralized, all the data is stored in one spot. This makes them easy target spots for potential hackers.
•  If the centralized system were to go through a software upgrade, it would halt the entire system.
•  What if the centralized entity somehow shuts down for whatever reason? That way nobody will be able to access the information that it possesses.
•  Worst case scenario, what if this entity gets corrupted and malicious? If that happens then all the data that is inside the blockchain will be compromised.

Transparency


One of the most interesting and misunderstood concepts in blockchain technology is "transparency." Some people say that blockchain gives you privacy while some say that it is transparent. Why do you think that happens?

A person's identity is hidden via complex cryptography and represented only by their public address. So, if you were to look up a person's transaction history, you will not see "Bob sent 1 BTC" instead you will see "1MF1bhsFLkBzzz9vpFYEmvwT2TbyCt7NZJ sent 1 BTC".

The following snapshot of Ethereum transactions will show you what we mean:


Ethereum Transactions

Ethereum Transactions.


So, while the person's real identity is secure, you will still see all the transactions that were done by their public address. This level of transparency has never existed before within a financial system. It adds that extra, and much needed, level of accountability which is required by some of these biggest institutions.

Speaking purely from the point of view of cryptocurrency, if you know the public address of one of these big companies, you can simply pop it in an explorer and look at all the transactions that they have engaged in. This forces them to be honest, something that they have never had to deal with before.

However, that's not the best use-case. We are pretty sure that most of these companies won't transact using cryptocurrencies, and even if they do, they won't do ALL their transactions using cryptocurrencies. However, what if the blockchain technology was integrated, say in their supply chain?

You can see why something like this can be very helpful for the finance industry right?

Immutability


Immutability, in the context of the blockchain, means that once something has been entered into the blockchain, it cannot be tampered with.

Can you imagine how valuable this will be for financial institutes? Imagine how many embezzlement cases can be nipped in the bud if people know that they can't "work the books" and fiddle around with company accounts.

The reason why the blockchain gets this property is that of the cryptographic hash function. In simple terms, hashing means taking an input string of any length and giving out an output of a fixed length. In the context of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, the transactions are taken as input and run through a hashing algorithm (Bitcoin uses SHA-256) which gives an output of a fixed length.

Let's see how the hashing process works. We are going to put in certain inputs. For this exercise, we are going to use the SHA-256 (Secure Hashing Algorithm 256):


Secure Hashing Algorithm

Secure Hashing Algorithm.


As you can see, in the case of SHA-256, no matter how big or small your input is, the output will always have a fixed 256-bits length. This becomes critical when you are dealing with a huge amount of data and transactions. So basically, instead of remembering the input data which could be huge, you can just remember the hash and keep track.

A cryptographic hash function is a special class of hash functions that has various properties making it ideal for cryptography. There are certain properties that a cryptographic hash function needs to have in order to be considered secure. You can read about those in detail in our guide on hashing.

There is just one property that we want you to focus on today. It is called the "Avalanche Effect."

What does that mean? Even if you make a small change in your input, the changes that will be reflected in the hash will be huge. Let's test it out using SHA-256:


Secure Hashing Algorithm Test

Secure Hashing Algorithm Test.


Do you see that? Even though you just changed the case of the first alphabet of the input, look at how much that has affected the output hash. Now, let's go back to our previous point when we were looking at blockchain architecture. What we said was:

The blockchain is a linked list that contains data and a hash pointer that points to its previous block, hence creating the chain. What is a hash pointer? A hash pointer is similar to a pointer, but instead of just containing the address of the previous block it also contains the hash of the data inside the previous block.

This one small tweak is what makes blockchains so amazingly reliable and trailblazing.

Imagine this for a second, a hacker attacks block 3 and tries to change the data. Because of the properties of hash functions, a slight change in data will change the hash drastically. This means that any slight changes made in block 3, will change the hash which is stored in block 2, now that in turn will change the data and the hash of block 2 which will result in changes in block 1 and so on and so forth. This will completely change the chain, which is impossible. This is exactly how blockchains attain immutability.

Types Of Blockchain Architecture Explained

Nodes in Public vs. Private Blockchains
Can both intiate/receive and validate transactions

Nodes in Public vs. Private Blockchains
Can only intiate/receive transactions
Nodes in Public vs. Private Blockchains.


All blockchain structures fall into three categories:

Public blockchain architecture

A public blockchain architecture means that the data and access to the system is available to anyone who is willing to participate (e.g. Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin blockchain systems are public).

Private blockchain architecture

As opposed to public blockchain architecture, the private system is controlled only by users from a specific organization or authorized users who have an invitation for participation.

Consortium blockchain architecture

This blockchain structure can consist of a few organizations. In a consortium, procedures are set up and controlled by the preliminary assigned users.

The following table provides a detailed comparison among these three blockchain systems:


Property Public blockchain Consortium blockchain Private blockchain
Consensus determination All miners Selected set of nodes Within one organization
Read permission Public Public or restricted Public or restricted
Immutability level Almost impossible to tamper Could be tampered Could be tampered
Efficiency (use of resources) Low High High
Centralization No Partial Yes
Consensus process Permissionless Needs permission Needs permission


As mentioned, blockchain is a distributed journal where all parties hold a local copy. However, based on the type of blockchain structure and its context, the system can be more centralized or decentralized. This simply refers to the blockchain architecture design and who controls the ledger.

A private blockchain is considered more centralized since it is controlled by a particular group with increased privacy. On the contrary, a public blockchain is open-ended and thus decentralized.

In a public blockchain, all records are visible to the public and anyone could take part in the agreement process. On the other hand, this is less efficient since it takes a considerable amount of time to accept each new record into the blockchain architecture.

In terms of efficiency, the time for each transaction in a public blockchain is less eco-friendly since it requires a huge amount of computation power compared to private blockchain architecture.

Core Components Of Blockchain Architecture


These are the core blockchain architecture components:

•  Node - user or computer within the blockchain architecture (each has an independent copy of the whole blockchain ledger).
•  Transaction - smallest building block of a blockchain system (records, information, etc.) that serves as the purpose of blockchain.
•  Block - a data structure used for keeping a set of transactions which is distributed to all nodes in the network.
•  Chain - a sequence of blocks in a specific order.
•  Miners - specific nodes which perform the block verification process before adding anything to the blockchain structure.
•  Consensus (consensus protocol) - a set of rules and arrangements to carry out blockchain operations.

Any new record or transaction within the blockchain implies the building of a new block. Each record is then proven and digitally signed to ensure its genuineness. Before this block is added to the network, it should be verified by the majority of nodes in the system.

Let's have a closer look at what is a block in a blockchain. Each blockchain block consists of:

•  Certain data.
•  The hash of the block.
•  The hash from the previous block.

The data stored inside each block depends on the type of blockchain. For instance, in the Bitcoin blockchain structure, the block maintains data about the receiver, sender, and the amount of coins.

A hash is like a fingerprint (long record consisting of some digits and letters). Each block hash is generated with the help of a cryptographic hash algorithm (SHA 256). Consequently, this helps to identify each block in a blockchain structure easily. The moment a block is created, it automatically attaches a hash, while any changes made in a block affect the change of a hash too. Simply stated, hashes help to detect any changes in blocks.

The final element within the block is the hash from a previous block. This creates a chain of blocks and is the main element behind blockchain architecture's security. As an example, block 45 points to block 46. The very first block in a chain is a bit special - all confirmed and validated blocks are derived from the genesis block.

Any corrupt attempts provoke the blocks to change. All the following blocks then carry incorrect information and render the whole blockchain system invalid.

On the other hand, in theory, it could be possible to adjust all the blocks with the help of strong computer processors. However, there is a solution that eliminates this possibility called proof-of-work. This allows a user to slow down the process of creation of new blocks. In Bitcoin blockchain architecture, it takes around 10 minutes to determine the necessary proof-of-work and add a new block to the chain. This work is done by miners - special nodes within the Bitcoin blockchain structure. Miners get to keep the transaction fees from the block that they verified as a reward.

Each new user (node) joining the peer-to-peer network of blockchain receives a full copy of the system. Once a new block is created, it is sent to each node within the blockchain system. Then, each node verifies the block and checks whether the information stated there is correct. If everything is alright, the block is added to the local blockchain in each node.

All the nodes inside a blockchain architecture create a consensus protocol. A consensus system is a set of network rules, and if everyone abides by them, they become self-enforced inside the blockchain.

For example, the Bitcoin blockchain has a consensus rule stating that a transaction amount must be cut in half after every 200,000 blocks. This means that if a block produces a verification reward of 10 BTC, this value must be halved after every 200,000 blocks.

As well, there can only be 4 million BTC left to be mined, since there is a maximum of 21 million BTC laid down in the Bitcoin blockchain system by the protocol. Once the miners unlock this many, the supply of Bitcoins ends unless the protocol is changed.

To recap, this makes blockchain technology immutable and cryptographically secure by eliminating any third-parties. It is impossible to tamper with the blockchain system; as it would be necessary to tamper with all of its blocks, recalculate the proof-of-work for each block, and also control more than 50% of all the nodes in a peer-to-peer network.

Who Will Use The Blockchain?


As a web infrastructure, you don't need to know about the blockchain for it to be useful in your life.

Currently, finance offers the strongest use cases for the technology. International remittances, for instance. The World Bank estimates that over $430 billion US in money transfers were sent in 2015. And at the moment there is a high demand for blockchain developers.

The blockchain potentially cuts out the middleman for these types of transactions. Personal computing became accessible to the general public with the invention of the Graphical User Interface (GUI), which took the form of a "desktop". Similarly, the most common GUI devised for the blockchain are the so-called "wallet" applications, which people use to buy things with Bitcoin, and store it along with other cryptocurrencies.

Transactions online are closely connected to the processes of identity verification. It is easy to imagine that wallet apps will transform in the coming years to include other types of identity management.

A blockchain carries no transaction cost. (An infrastructure cost yes, but no transaction cost.) The blockchain is a simple yet ingenious way of passing information from A to B in a fully automated and safe manner. One party to a transaction initiates the process by creating a block. This block is verified by thousands, perhaps millions of computers distributed around the net. The verified block is added to a chain, which is stored across the net, creating not just a unique record, but a unique record with a unique history. Falsifying a single record would mean falsifying the entire chain in millions of instances. That is virtually impossible. Bitcoin uses this model for monetary transactions, but it can be deployed in many other ways.

But the key here is this: it's free. Not only can the blockchain transfer and store money, but it can also replace all processes and business models that rely on charging a small fee for a transaction. Or any other transaction between two parties.

Here is a example. The gig economy hub Fivver charges 0.5 dollars on a 5 transaction between individuals buying and selling services. Using blockchain technology the transaction is free. Ergo, Fivver will cease to exist. So will auction houses and any other business entity based on the market-maker principle.

Even recent entrants like Uber and Airbnb are threatened by blockchain technology. All you need to do is encode the transactional information for a car ride or an overnight stay, and again you have a perfectly safe way that disrupts the business model of the companies which have just begun to challenge the traditional economy. We are not just cutting out the fee-processing middle man, we are also eliminating the need for the match-making platform.

Because blockchain transactions are free, you can charge minuscule amounts, say 1/100 of a cent for a video view or article read. Why should I pay The Economist or National Geographic an annual subscription fee if I can pay per article on Facebook or my favorite chat app? Again, remember that blockchain transactions carry no transaction cost. You can charge for anything in any amount without worrying about third parties cutting into your profits.

Blockchain may make selling recorded music profitable again for artists by cutting out music companies and distributors like Apple or Spotify. The music you buy could even be encoded in the blockchain itself, making it a cloud archive for any song purchased. Because the amounts charged can be so small, subscription and streaming services will become irrelevant.

It goes further. Ebooks could be fitted with blockchain code. Instead of Amazon taking a cut, and the credit card company earning money on the sale, the books would circulate in encoded form and a successful blockchain transaction would transfer money to the author and unlock the book. Transfer ALL the money to the author, not just meager royalties. You could do this on a book review website like Goodreads, or on your own website. The marketplace Amazon is then unnecessary. Successful iterations could even include reviews and other third-party information about the book.

In the financial world the applications are more obvious and the revolutionary changes more imminent. Blockchains will change the way stock exchanges work, loans are bundled, and insurances contracted. They will eliminate bank accounts and practically all services offered by banks. Almost every financial institution will go bankrupt or be forced to change fundamentally, once the advantages of a safe ledger without transaction fees are widely understood and implemented. After all, the financial system is built on taking a small cut of your money for the privilege of facilitating a transaction. Bankers will become mere advisers, not gatekeepers of money. Stockbrokers will no longer be able to earn commissions and the buy/sell spread will disappear.

Blockchain Applications


The blockchain gives internet users the ability to create value and authenticates digital information. What new business applications will result from this?

1. Payment Processing And Money Transfers


Arguably the most logical use for blockchain is as a means to expedite the transfer of funds from one party to another. As noted, with banks removed from the equation, and validation of transactions ongoing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, most transactions processed over a blockchain can be settled within a matter of seconds.

With companies like Uber and Airbnb flourishing, the sharing economy is already a proven success. Currently, however, users who want to hail a ride-sharing service have to rely on an intermediary like Uber. By enabling peer-to-peer payments, the blockchain opens the door to direct interaction between parties, a truly decentralized sharing economy results.

An early example, OpenBazaar uses the blockchain to create a peer-to-peer eBay. Download the app onto your computing device, and you can transact with OpenBazzar vendors without paying transaction fees. The "no rules" ethos of the protocol means that personal reputation will be even more important to business interactions than it currently is on eBay.

2. Smart Contracts


Distributed ledgers enable the coding of simple contracts that will execute when specified conditions are met. Ethereum is an open-source blockchain project that was built specifically to realize this possibility. Still, in its early stages, Ethereum has the potential to leverage the usefulness of blockchains on a truly world-changing scale.

At the technology's current level of development, smart contracts can be programmed to perform simple functions. For instance, a derivative could be paid out when a financial instrument meets a certain benchmark, with the use of blockchain technology and Bitcoin enabling the payout to be automated.

3. Crowdfunding


Crowdfunding initiatives like Kickstarter and Gofundme are doing the advance work for the emerging peer-to-peer economy. The popularity of these sites suggests people want to have a direct say in product development. Blockchains take this interest to the next level, potentially creating crowd-sourced venture capital funds.

In 2016, one such experiment, the Ethereum-based DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization), raised an astonishing $200 million USD in just over two months. Participants purchased "DAO tokens" allowing them to vote on smart contract venture capital investments (voting power was proportionate to the number of DAO they were holding). A subsequent hack of project funds proved that the project was launched without proper due diligence, with disastrous consequences. Regardless, the DAO experiment suggests the blockchain has the potential to usher in "a new paradigm of economic cooperation."

4. Governance


By making the results fully transparent and publicly accessible, distributed database technology could bring full transparency to elections or any other kind of poll taking. Ethereum-based smart contracts help to automate the process.

The app, Boardroom, enables organizational decision-making to happen on the blockchain. In practice, this means company governance becomes fully transparent and verifiable when managing digital assets, equity or information.

5. Supply Chain Auditing


Consumers increasingly want to know that the ethical claims companies make about their products are real. Distributed ledgers provide an easy way to certify that the backstories of the things we buy are genuine. Transparency comes with blockchain-based timestamping of a date and location, on ethical diamonds, for instance, that corresponds to a product number.

The UK-based Provenance offers supply chain auditing for a range of consumer goods. Making use of the Ethereum blockchain, a Provenance pilot project ensures that fish sold in Sushi restaurants in Japan have been sustainably harvested by its suppliers in Indonesia.

6. File Storage


Decentralizing file storage on the internet brings clear benefits. Distributing data throughout the network protects files from getting hacked or lost.

InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) makes it easy to conceptualize how a distributed web might operate. Similar to the way a BitTorrent moves data around the internet, IPFS gets rid of the need for centralized client-server relationships (i.e., the current web). An internet made up of completely decentralized websites has the potential to speed up file transfer and streaming times. Such an improvement is not only convenient. It's a necessary upgrade to the web's currently overloaded content-delivery systems.

7. Prediction Markets


The crowdsourcing of predictions on event probability is proven to have a high degree of accuracy. Averaging opinions cancels out the unexamined biases that distort judgment. Prediction markets that payout according to event outcomes are already active. Blockchains are a "wisdom of the crowd" technology that will no doubt find other applications in the years to come.

The prediction market application Augur makes share offerings on the outcome of real-world events. Participants can earn money by buying into the correct prediction. The more shares purchased in the correct outcome, the higher the payout will be. With a small commitment of funds (less than a dollar), anyone can ask a question, create a market based on a predicted outcome, and collect half of all transaction fees the market generates.

8. Protection Of Intellectual Property


As is well known, digital information can be infinitely reproduced, and distributed widely thanks to the internet. This has given web users globally a goldmine of free content. However, copyright holders have not been so lucky, losing control over their intellectual property and suffering financially as a consequence. Smart contracts can protect copyright and automate the sale of creative works online, eliminating the risk of file copying and redistribution.

Mycelia uses the blockchain to create a peer-to-peer music distribution system. Founded by the UK singer-songwriter Imogen Heap, Mycelia enables musicians to sell songs directly to audiences, as well as license samples to producers and divvy up royalties to songwriters and musicians, all of these functions being automated by smart contracts. The capacity of blockchains to issue payments in fractional cryptocurrency amounts (micropayments) suggests this use case for the blockchain has a strong chance of success.

9. Internet Of Things (IoT)


What is the IoT? The network-controlled management of certain types of electronic devices - for instance, the monitoring of air temperature in a storage facility. Smart contracts make the automation of remote systems management possible. A combination of software, sensors, and the network facilitates an exchange of data between objects and mechanisms. The result increases system efficiency and improves cost monitoring.

The biggest players in manufacturing, tech, and telecommunications are all vying for IoT dominance. Think Samsung, IBM, and AT&T. A natural extension of existing infrastructure controlled by incumbents, IoT applications will run the gamut from predictive maintenance of mechanical parts to data analytics, and mass-scale automated systems management.

10. Neighbourhood Microgrids


Blockchain technology enables the buying and selling of the renewable energy generated by neighborhood microgrids. When solar panels make excess energy, Ethereum-based smart contracts automatically redistribute it. Similar types of smart contract automation will have many other applications as the IoT becomes a reality.

Located in Brooklyn, Consensys is one of the foremost companies globally that is developing a range of applications for Ethereum. One project they are partnering on is Transactive Grid, working with the distributed energy outfit, LO3. A prototype project currently up and running uses Ethereum smart contracts to automate the monitoring and redistribution of microgrid energy. This so-called "intelligent grid" is an early example of IoT functionality.

11. Identity Management


There is a definite need for better identity management on the web. The ability to verify your identity is the lynchpin of financial transactions that happen online. However, remedies for the security risks that come with web commerce are imperfect at best. Distributed ledgers offer enhanced methods for proving who you are, along with the possibility to digitize personal documents. Having a secure identity will also be important for online interactions, for instance, in the sharing economy. A good reputation, after all, is the most important condition for conducting transactions online.

Developing digital identity standards is proving to be a highly complex process. Technical challenges aside, a universal online identity solution requires cooperation between private entities and the government. Add to that the need to navigate legal systems in different countries and the problem becomes exponentially difficult. An E-Commerce on the internet currently relies on the SSL certificate (the little green lock) for secure transactions on the web. Netki is a startup that aspires to create an SSL standard for the blockchain. Having recently announced a $3.5 million seed round, Netki expects a product launch in early 2017.

12. AML And KYC


Anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) practices have a strong potential for being adapted to the blockchain. Currently, financial institutions must perform a labor-intensive multi-step process for each new customer. KYC costs could be reduced through cross-institution client verification and at the same time increase monitoring and analysis effectiveness.

Startup Polycoin has an AML/KYC solution that involves analyzing transactions. Those transactions identified as being suspicious are forwarded on to compliance officers. Another startup, Tradle is developing an application called Trust in Motion (TiM). Characterized as an "Instagram for KYC", TiM allows customers to take a snapshot of key documents (passport, utility bill, etc.). Once verified by the bank, this data is cryptographically stored on the blockchain.

13. Data Management


Today, in exchange for their personal data people can use social media platforms like Facebook for free. In future, users will have the ability to manage and sell the data their online activity generates. Because it can be easily distributed in small fractional amounts, Bitcoin, or something like it, will most likely be the currency that gets used for this type of transaction.

The MIT project Enigma understands that user privacy is the key precondition for creating of a personal data marketplace. Enigma uses cryptographic techniques to allow individual data sets to be split between nodes and at the same time run bulk computations over the data group as a whole. Fragmenting the data also makes Enigma scalable (unlike those blockchain solutions where data gets replicated on every node). A Beta launch is promised within the next six months.

14. Land Title Registration


As Publicly-accessible ledgers, blockchains can make all kinds of record-keeping more efficient. Property titles are a case in point. They tend to be susceptible to fraud, as well as costly and labor-intensive to administer.

A number of countries are undertaking blockchain-based land registry projects. Honduras was the first government to announce such an initiative in 2015, although the current status of that project is unclear. This year, the Republic of Georgia cemented a deal with the Bitfury Group to develop a blockchain system for property titles. Reportedly, Hernando de Soto, the high-profile economist, and property rights advocate will be advising on the project. Most recently, Sweden announced it was experimenting with a blockchain application for property titles.

15. Retail Loyalty Rewards Programs


Blockchain could further revolutionize the retail experience by becoming the go-to for loyalty rewards. By creating a token-based system that rewards consumers, and storing these tokens within a blockchain, it would incentivize consumers to return to a certain store or chain to do their shopping. It would also eliminate the fraud and waste commonly associated with paper- and card-based loyalty rewards programs.

16. Stock Trading


The potential for added efficiency in share settlement makes a strong use case for blockchains in stock trading. When executed peer-to-peer, trade confirmations become almost instantaneous (as opposed to taking three days for clearance). Potentially, this means intermediaries, such as the clearing house, auditors and custodians, get removed from the process.

Numerous stock and commodities exchanges are prototyping blockchain applications for the services they offer, including the ASX (Australian Securities Exchange), the Deutsche Borse (Frankfurt's stock exchange) and the JPX (Japan Exchange Group). Most high profile because the acknowledged first mover in the area, is the Nasdaq's Linq, a platform for private market trading (typically between pre-IPO startups and investors). A partnership with the blockchain tech company Chain, Linq announced the completion of it its first share trade in 2015. More recently, Nasdaq announced the development of a trial blockchain project for proxy voting on the Estonian Stock Market.

17. Food Safety


Yet another intriguing use for blockchain could be in tracing food from its origin to your plate. Since blockchain data is immutable, you'd be able to trace the transport of food products from their origin to the supermarket. What's more, should there be a food-borne illness, blockchain would allow the source of the contaminant to be found considerably quicker than it can be now.

18. Tax Regulation And Compliance


Have I mentioned how important transparency and immutability are yet? For example, marijuana companies can use blockchain as a means to record their sales and demonstrate to lawmakers that they're abiding by local, state, and/or federal laws. More importantly, these sales act as a clear record for the IRS that they've paid their fair share of taxes to the federal government, assuming they're profitable.

19. Workers' Rights


Another interesting use for blockchain is as a means to bolster the rights of workers around the globe. According to the International Labor Organization, 25 million people worldwide work in forced-labor conditions. Coca-Cola, along with the U.S. State Department and other partners, is working on a blockchain registry complete with smart contracts -- protocols that verify, facilitate, or enforce a contract -- to improve labor policies and coerce employers to honor digital contracts with their workers.

20. Medical Recordkeeping


The good news is the medical sector has already been moving away from paper for recordkeeping purposes for years. However, blockchain offers even more safety and convenience. In addition to storing patient records, the patient, who possesses the key to access these digital records, would be in control of who gains access to that data. It would be a means of strengthening the HIPAA laws that are designed to protect patient privacy.

21. Weapons Tracking


One of the hot-button topics on any news network at the moment is gun control and/or weapons accountability. Blockchain could create a transparent and unchanging registry network that allows law enforcement and the federal government to track gun or weapon ownership, as well as keep a record of weapons sold privately.

22. Wills Or Inheritances


Blockchain may also be able to put your end-of-life concerns to rest. Rather than creating a paper will, people may have the option of creating and storing their digital will on a blockchain network. When used with smart contracts, which could divvy out inheritances based on when certain criteria are met (such as when a grandchild reaches a certain age), wills should become crystal clear and legally binding, leaving no questions as to who should receive what assets when you pass away.

23. Expediting Energy Futures Trading And Compliance


Even the energy industry is getting in on the act. Similar to the benefits it could bring to equity traders above, blockchain offers the ability to help energy companies settle futures trading considerably faster than they currently do. It's also worth noting that blockchain could help energy companies with regard to logging their resources and maintaining regulatory compliance.

24. Securing Access To Belongings


Smart contracts within blockchain networks also have the ability to be customized to a businesses or consumers' needs. As a consumer, you could use blockchain as a means to grant access to your house for service technicians, or allow your mechanic access to your car to perform repairs. But without this digital key, that only you possess, these service technicians wouldn't be able to gain access to your belongings.

25. Tracking Prescription Drugs


Finally, blockchain could be a means of transparently tracking prescription medicines. In a world where prescription returns do occur, and counterfeit medications are a real thing, blockchain offers drugmakers the ability to track their products based on serial and/or batch numbers to ensure that consumers are getting the real deal when they pick up medicine from the pharmacy. Merck is currently testing such a system for prescription drug returns.

Final Thoughts


As revolutionary as it sounds, Blockchain truly is a mechanism to bring everyone to the highest degree of accountability. No more missed transactions, human or machine errors, or even an exchange that was not done with the consent of the parties involved. Above anything else, the most critical area where Blockchain helps is to guarantee the validity of a transaction by recording it not only on the main register but a connected distributed system of registers, all of which are connected through a secure validation mechanism.



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