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"The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value."
Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016)
Picture an Excel spreadsheet that is duplicated thousands of times across a network of computers. Then imagine that this network is designed to regularly update this spreadsheet and you have a basic understanding of the blockchain.
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.
Distributed ledgers enable the coding of simple contracts that will execute when specified conditions are met.
By enabling peer-to-peer payments, the blockchain opens the door to direct interaction between parties – a truly decentralized sharing economy results.
Blockchains take this interest to the next level, potentially creating crowd-sourced venture capital funds.
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.
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.
Decentralizing file storage on the internet brings clear benefits. Distributing data throughout the network protects files from getting hacked or lost.
Prediction markets that pay out 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.
Smart contracts can protect copyright and automate the sale of creative works online, eliminating the risk of file copying and redistribution.
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.
Blockchain technology enables the buying and selling of the renewable energy generated by neighbourhoodmicrogrids.
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.
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 labour 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.
In the 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.
AsPublicly-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 labour intensive to administer.
When executed peer-to-peer, trade confirmations become almost instantaneous. This means intermediaries – such as the clearing house, auditors and custodians – get removed from the process.