This article was written by Max Kordek, co-founder and President of the Lisk Foundation.
Applications developed using blockchain technology – the digital ledger underlying cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum – right now may seem like a distant possibility.
The reality, though, is that this technology has already begun to sneak into some of our lives, from the way we transmit payments to how our financial system is running securely and efficiently. And soon, this buzzword will become the backbone behind some of the world’s most common applications – perhaps without users even realizing it.
Today, the use of a blockchain to develop applications – desktop, mobile, and for other devices – is only at its inception. Much progress still needs to be made. It will take time for the industry to develop to the extent that some of our favorites – apps similar to Facebook and Uber – are backed by a blockchain; and without the user noticing it.
The same applies to industry apps we might not be that familiar with, such as real estate, supply chain or governance.
The world wide web was invented in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners Lee, yet it took more than a decade to gain mainstream acceptance and global momentum. To this day, the internet continues to be improved with new and emerging technologies, with the biggest advancements made in recent years.
Therefore, it is important to understand that blockchain technology, although still in its infancy, is evolving and innovating every single day and gaining more users by the hour, whether it’s individuals, small businesses, enterprises or government departments.
In fact, blockchain has already attracted the attention of those beyond the development space. For instance, shipping giant Maersk recently announced a partnership with IBM to use blockchain technology to manage and track freight transactions, with the goal of implementing the system by the end of the year.
Major universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devoted significant resources to researching its potential uses. In terms of government recognition, Australia recently announced a financial commitment to developing blockchain standards in the country, while a new roadmap for the initiative has also been released.
Blockchain technology enables assets to be transferred directly from user to user, removing any middleman – one of its many advantages. These assets could be anything from cryptocurrencies to data such as invoices, insurance documents, or shipping receipts.
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To take the simplest example, a person can directly transfer a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin to family members, without the backing of a financial institution or by owning a banking account. Both parties can trust that the transfer is secure and forever recorded in the cryptocurrency’s blockchain.
Thus, with the understanding that a blockchain can also transfer and process arbitrary data, it’s easy to see how blockchain technology can be leveraged to build secure applications without any middlemen or manipulation.
Blockchain is a word for a technology with many implementations; there are lots of different blockchains. The blockchain behind Bitcoin is a different one than the many others – securing various cryptocurrencies.
As blockchain research progresses, it’s safe to assume that blockchain based applications will develop into more diverse directions than what we see today.
The world might be a while away from seeing blockchain underpinning everyday applications, but the potential opportunities are endless, with possible use cases in the pipeline including public election voting systems, supply chain logistics, and insurance policies.
In terms of consumer applications, the first area in which we might see its adoption is social media. Social media is one of the most rapidly-growing fields; the number of active social media users has jumped by 21% over the past year, with Facebook leading the pack as the most popular platform.
And by its nature, social media is a sphere that lends itself well to blockchain use; people’s relationships and interactions with one another could be recorded through the digital ledger, perhaps eliminating the need for a middleman to serve as the virtual link between us all.
Once blockchain technology becomes a widespread phenomenon, its implications could be endless. Imagine, for instance, a future where every human being has records on a public blockchain which are accessible – after approval – by third-party applications. This worldwide ledger provides an excellent infrastructure for an evolving, connected planet.
Metadata, like interests, relationships or activities, can be analyzed and used to enhance everyone’s lives. Anonymous movement profiles can be created which track the influence of this metadata and uncover significant conclusions
Efficient, on the fly payment channels can be established which will revolutionize ‘as-a-service’ models. Pay only for the exact time you are using a service, even if it’s just 10 cents for a decentralized, autonomous driving cab that transports you 20 meters.
So, as your future self goes about your daily business, from banking to connecting with people to taking a cab, the technology you use to do so might be completely different – thanks to a virtual record-keeper that most people have not even heard of yet.