ding a new
ock to the chain
ock over time. Since each block
contains a reference to the pre-
us one, the blocks are mathemat-
ly chained together. Tampering
h an earlier block would require
eating the proof of work for all
subsequent blocks in the chain.
is about way
A whole host of industries could—
emphasis on the “could”—be
revolutionized by blockchains.
INTERNET ADVERTISING & SOCIAL MEDIA
Why you should buy in: If you could easily control
your personal data and decide whether the likes
of Facebook, Google, and others get to exploit it
for profit, you would, right? Put it on a blockchain,
which will encrypt and store your data in a decentralized network, instead of on company-owned
servers. You can surf the internet anonymously,
manage your own sensitive and identifying data,
and control which sites can access it. Ahhhh, the
internet as it was meant to be.
The fine print: Despite revelations that big tech
companies are pulling all manner of shenanigans
with user data, people have yet to #deletefacebook
or abandon web services in large numbers. The
vision of a decentralized web could be a tough sell.
Players: Blockstack, Protocol Labs
Why you should buy in: The proliferation of electronic voting systems and the practice of keeping
sensitive information like voter rolls in internet-connected databases translate to one thing: risk
that an election could be compromised. Distributed ledgers could, in theory, make electronic
voting as secure as any physical paper trail.
The fine print: There are many more tough questions than easy answers. Will votes be recorded
on a public blockchain like those used by Bitcoin
or Ethereum? If so, how will ballots be kept anonymous? If it’s done on a permissioned system,
how do we make sure people don’t misuse their
Players: Agora, Voatz, Democracy Earth
FOOD & AGRICULTURE
Why you should buy in: How do you know if that
meat you bought is really grass-fed, organic, and
free of antibiotics and has never been anywhere
near a cage or feedlot? You don’t—unless a blockchain tells you so. Having a digital ledger that no
one can mess with means everything from turkeys
to chocolate to mangoes can be tracked literally
from farm to table—or at least to the grocery
store shelf. And if something does go wrong, a
blockchain can cut the time it takes to track, and
stop, the spread of a foodborne illness.
The fine print: A few pilot projects have been tried,
but that’s it so far. A large-scale system would probably mean giving farmers, distributors, and others
keys to access and modify the blockchain, and we’d
have to trust that they wouldn’t misuse them.
Players: IBM, Walmart, Nestlé, Unilever, Cargill
Why you should buy in: Energy trading is a byzantine process riddled with middlemen taking
cuts (the name “Enron” may ring a bell). Making
energy resources into digital assets that can be
traded on a blockchain could open new investing
and trading opportunities, letting little guys in.
Like, really little: down to an individual apartment
building that generates excess solar power, or an
electric vehicle with battery storage capacity to
spare. For larger companies, a blockchain could
streamline trading and record-keeping. The result
could involve whole new asset classes, like crypto-tokens backed by oil or renewable resources.
The fine print: Of late, the power grid has become
a target for state-sponsored hackers. Securing
all that transaction data will be a complicated
Players: Power Ledger, Grid Singularity, Grid+, the
Energy Web Foundation, the Enerchain project
Why you should buy in: Sharing x-rays, blood test
results, and other intensely private medical data
is no easy task, and there are piles of regulations,
di;ering data formats, and other hurdles to contend with besides. A blockchain could provide
a tamper-proof record of important events like
prescription refills, while smart contracts could
give patients precise control over who can access
which parts of their medical record and when,
without all the red tape.
The fine print: Hospitals, clinics, doctor’s o;ces,
pharmacies, insurers … the list of who may need
access to your medical records is long. Who
should be allowed to change the record? Who
will run the computer network that runs the blockchain? How will the system be governed?
Players: MIT’s MedRec project, Massachusetts
General Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, IBM, the
Mediledger Project, SimplyVital Health