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Blockchain, blockchain, blockchain. If you read tech news these days, you’ll see that word everywhere. Most people don’t even know what blockchain is, but there sure is a lot of hype about it. Blockchain is how some crypto currencies such as Bitcoin keep an ongoing and ever-increasing record of monetary transactions. If you pay for something with the crypto currency or otherwise give some crypto currency to someone else, that transaction will be added to a blockchain ledger. That ledger does deploy cryptography and each ledger item is a block which is “chained.”
These days Silicon Valley is excited about all the ways that blockchain technology can be used for purposes other than crypto currency. While I’ll explain some of those new and novel applications, there are so many that this post will only cover the tip of the iceberg. Here are some of the blockchain applications I personally find the most interesting.
Chronicled: an open source blockchain application for Ethereum
I’m not a lawyer. But as a professional freelancer, I get legal documents emailed to me, such as work contracts and NDAs. I usually fill them out with a PDF editing application and my written signature, then email back the edited PDF to the party which emailed me the contract in the first place. But I don’t see anywhere near as many legal documents as an attorney or a paralegal does.
Legal documents usually contain sensitive data. Chronicled has their own technology for securing data with a blockchain implementation. Not only can legal documents be recorded and secured through Chronicled, but also supply chain, IoT tracking, and various other sorts of data. They provide a whole system which implements IoT, mobile applications, NFC, Bluetooth and blockchain.
Here’s an interesting writeup from CoinDesk:
“In an effort to build a standard for the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), Chronicled is open sourcing a tool for registering connected devices on the Ethereum blockchain.
Described as a ‘cross between Wikipedia and Carfax’ for consumer goods, the platform will register the identities of near-field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth low energy (BLE) chips, components of IoT that today allow smartphones to ‘talk’ with other devices.
While the IoT has been hailed as an inevitability, technology experts argue that a fragmentation of standards have held back its adoption. Today, industry companies are each developing their own way for devices to communicate, but Chronicled's founders want to use the Ethereum blockchain to make private IoT database registries interoperable.”
Ethereum blockchain for refugee aid
Millions of people worldwide become refugees every year. Being a refugee is a dangerous and scary experience for most. And usually refugees are poor and desperately require financial aid. The turmoil in Syria is an unfortunate example of a massive humanitarian crisis. Enter blockchain.
One of the largest-ever implementations of the Ethereum blockchain for a charitable cause has just concluded a successful trial.
Completed on 31st May (2017), the project run by the United Nation's World Food Programme (WFP) was designed to direct resources to thousands of Syrian refugees by giving them cryptocurrency-based vouchers that could be redeemed in participating markets.
As revealed exclusively to CoinDesk, the platform was successfully used to record and authenticate transfers for about 10,000 individuals. The platform was implemented by Parity Technologies, a startup led by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood, and blockchain big data firm Datarella.
Alexandra Alden, a WFP innovation accelerator consultant who helped oversee the implementation, told CoinDesk:
“All funds received by the refugees from WFP were specifically used to purchase food items such as olive oil, pasta and lentils.”
The WFP is now in the process of gathering more detailed analytics, such as exactly how many transactions were conducted.”
Follow my vote - blockchain application for elections fraud
There’s another matter which probably gets as much buzz as blockchain does. Elections or voter fraud is an issue that a lot of people misunderstand and overestimate in some ways. For instance, pretty much everyone who likes Bernie Sanders is not a “Russian bot.” Plus, individuals are extremely unlikely to engage in voter fraud. But the voting machines which are used in the United States are very insecure, and foreign elections interference is a definite cyber security risk.
The developers of Follow My Vote have found a way to use blockchain to make election voting more secure.
“Voting today is filled with accusations of illegitimacy. This is mostly due to the current systems and methods in use, which can be extremely vulnerable.
Follow My Vote is solving this voting crisis with innovative technologies. A voting platform that can gain transparency into elections, without compromising voter privacy, will ensure that election results are accurate. Follow My Vote is accomplishing this by using blockchain technology and elliptic curve cryptography to build an open-source platform that is secure and truly verifiable from end to end.”
MedRec - blockchain application for medical records
Pretty much all of us have digital medical records. They contain very sensitive, very personal data, and they are vulnerable to cyber attack. MedRec has found a way to use blockchain to keep our medical records more secure.
“Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) crave innovation. Years of regulation have stifled tech development in medical data management, while an array of incompatible back-end systems and fragmented data trails limit patients' ability to engage with their medical history.
We demonstrate MedRec as a solution tuned to the needs of patients, the treatment community, and medical researchers. MedRec applies novel, blockchain smart contracts to create a decentralized content-management system for your healthcare data, across providers.
The MedRec authentication log governs medical record access, while providing means for auditability and data sharing. A modular design integrates with providers' existing, local data storage solutions, enabling interoperability and making our system convenient and adaptable.
As a key feature of our work, we engage the medical research community with an integral role in the protocol. Medical researchers provide the ‘mining’ necessary to secure and sustain the authentication log on a private, Ethereum network, in return for privacy-preserving, medical metadata in the form of ‘transaction fees.’”
Even for those of us who are skeptical of the benefits of cryptocurrency, blockchain shows a lot of promise for a variety of useful applications. Cybersecurity will only become more challenging as technology advances. Blockchain’s unique implementation of cryptography and record keeping is sure to become a necessary tool in order to keep track of data and secure it. I look forward to seeing what computer scientists and developers will do with blockchain in the coming years.