With every venture capitalist vying to get in on the ground floor of the next AI-powered startup, there are other technologies still waiting in the wings. Maybe they're not as buzzy as some of their machine learning counterparts but they are worth a second look for the discerning trend watcher. Blockchain has been around, but it's always been that next big thing that's never quite arrived. Whether it's because the tech never really outgrew its cryptocurrency roots or because its potential investors struggle to see…well the potential.
In essence, blockchain is a distributed ledger system that stores information about transactions. The data is stored in discrete sections and is both highly secure and very difficult to alter once a "block" becomes part of the information chain. The design makes these systems challenging to hack because making a change to one segment means that all following sections must also be altered. For example, a customer makes an online purchase and a block is created that generates a number of following transaction blocks as the product flows through the system from a website order all the way to delivery to the customer.
In terms of real-world applications, blockchain has much to offer. Supply chains are large, complex sprawling affairs that cross the globe – often multiple times. The systems can be inefficient and often lack transparency and blockchain can go a long way in solving these problems. Each node, or block, represents a transaction that is copied and carried on through the following segments – building a consensus of events as they happen. All stakeholders have access to the same chain of facts contained within the chain. Walmart, for example, uses blockchain technology to track the pork it ships in from China. There are records for where each cut of meat originated from, processed, stored, and complete with its sell-by date.
Another use for blockchain comes into play when it comes to immigration. For example, the Windrush generation – those who emigrated from Caribbean countries to the UK between 1948 to 1971 – came under fire regarding their legal status to stay within the state. Several people were threatened with deportation despite living and working in the nation for decades. The proper paperwork proving their residency was sometimes misplaced or destroyed – a common problem for those who had emigrated during this period. Moving forward, a distributed ledger system for storing immigration information not solely under the government's purview could ensure all parties have access to it when required.
Blockchain also safeguarded one of democracy's fundamental principals in Thailand back in 2018. A cryptocurrency firm called ZCoin tapped into the technology so the Thai Democrat Party can cast digital votes for their next leader in their 2018 election. Over the course of ten days, 127,479 votes were cast to elect the Party's next leader and is likely the first blockchain application used in a political election at this scale. The Party believed it was important the results to be tamper-proof and Zcoin’s platform offered that security.