The Many (Other) Uses of Blockchain
There’s a lot to appreciate about blockchain. It’s anonymous but completely traceable, and thanks to a decentralized ledger that’s stored on every computer on the network, it’s really hard to cheat. Those features are part of what make the crypto space so unique and exciting—and they’re just too good not to share with the rest of the world. That’s why, for a little while now, people have been dreaming up other applications for blockchain technology. Whether it’s the way your doctor looks up your health information or how you invest in real estate, blockchain can improve so many things. Here are some of the most promising.
Better Ways to Track Lettuce (and Everything Else)
In crypto, the blockchain tracks everything—who got how much and when, who they got it from, and when that person got it (and from whom). It’s a whole lot better than what we use for traditional record-keeping, which ranges from a spiral-bound notebook to an endless scroll of numbers in an Excel doc. Information also often has to be hand-entered, sometimes multiple times, upping the chances of mistakes—possibly on a major scale. And when it’s time to find something specific, those systems can be tedious to work through (if they work at all).
Blockchain technology could improve nearly every tracking system we have. Take, for example, the lettuce you buy from the grocery store. Right now, when produce is discovered to be tainted by something like E. coli after it’s been distributed, there’s no way to track who purchased items from the tainted batch, so any similar lettuce has to be thrown away. That’s a lot of wasted romaine. But with a blockchain, we could reliably track where every bit of lettuce was shipped—and we could know exactly which ones needed to be tossed.
No More Blood Diamonds
You already know about NFTs, which allow a particular piece of art to have a detailed travelogue: Oh, Bored Ape #9678, in his dapper sailor outfit, spent some time with Nabito, then made a few pit stops before finding his way to johnquad, then headed directly to LoserHK. And you know that travelogue—which traces the art piece from its creation through all of its owners over time—is accurate, because it’s in the blockchain. Now, picture that same system used with potentially problematic purchases like diamonds. Instead of wondering if your engagement ring contains diamonds mined in war zones, you’ll be able to consult a blockchain to see every step that diamond took before getting on your finger.
Continuous, Secure, and Accurate Health Records (That Any Doctor Has Access to)
By putting your medical history on the blockchain, you could allow doctors to see every procedure you’ve ever had—without having to ask a single GP or pulmonologist to fax your records to you. The anonymity of the blockchain means that, while everyone can see everyone else’s medical history, only your doctor (and the people you authorize) knows which history is yours.
Medical Research That Doesn’t Invade Your Privacy
With that anonymity, medical researchers could also examine the health of entire populations, rather than the far-smaller pockets of opt-in patients they currently use. This could lead to new levels of discovery that do not require sacrificing any privacy.
Mortgage Applications That Don’t Suck to Put Together
Think about all the documents you have to collect for a mortgage application: W-2s, savings account statements, investment balances, explanations and receipts for every deposit the bank might consider income. They come from dozens of sources and are a headache to collect. With a blockchain, however, people could keep verified information in a single location—and send it directly to whoever requires it.
A Little Privacy from Amazon, Netflix, and Kroger
For years, digital privacy advocates have been talking about how to untangle all the ways companies track users: like a streaming service knowing exactly what you watch, your phone knowing exactly where you go, or your grocery store knowing exactly how much you love Raisinets. Instead of trying to bar companies from collecting that data, a blockchain would allow them to collect it without associating it directly with you. So they can still know how many people in their 40s watch The Challenge on MTV, and you can be a little less ashamed of what you do on Wednesday nights.
Musicians Who Are Paid Fairly
Instead of trusting Spotify to report accurate figures, with blockchain technology, musicians could easily track how often their songs have been played—and, therefore, how much money they’re owed.
A Better Future (for Everything and Everyone)
It’s true that a lot of this stuff is still very much in its early stages—and plenty of it may not actually come to pass. Blockchain technology has a lot to figure out about scale and speed, and it has a lot of competing tech to outlast. But change is on the way. For now, beyond crypto, much of how blockchain technology is used is to back up preexisting systems. That’s how IBM has been using it with its clients, building things like “shadow ledgers” that operate in unison with the legacy ledgers they may one day replace. These efforts not only improve existing systems, they get more people acquainted with blockchain technology. Because if we’re going to start doing big things with blockchain, one thing is certain: People are going to have to know what it is. Or, at the very least, they’re going to have to understand it enough to trust it.