What are the potential uses for emerging blockchain technologies?

What are the potential uses for emerging blockchain technologies?
Photo: Redpixel.Pl, Bigstock

When you say the word “blockchain” most people jump instantly to cryptocurrencies, but this is just one of the many uses for the new technology. Blockchain isn’t just a form of online currency, but in fact is a security and information storage system with a number of potential applications that are encouraged by incubator companies such as Block8.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a list of linked records (like blocks in a chain) that are linked through cryptography. A block cannot be modified, however new blocks can be added to the chain with new information. The chain thus contains a record of all modifications that have been made to the information contained in each block, so people can go back through the chain and find all changes as well as the original information.

The blocks are all timestamped as well, and contain data that reveals when they are downloaded and who by. This makes it very easy to track the chains, as well as reveal who has the latest version. This is why they work well as a currency, but that is just one potential use.

What can you use it for?

There are a number of potential uses for blockchain, particularly in the financial sector. Any organisation that can benefit from uncorruptible records can use blockchain, especially if the data needs to be easily transferable. Currency is the one that has gotten big so far, because it is easy to see who has bought each piece of cryptocurrency – in essence, the company uses blockchain as a token.

Another growing use of blockchain as a token is for the token to stand in place of shares for trading. This method can remove the need for stockbrokers to access the share market, which simplifies trading and makes it easy to track and sell shares in a company.

With the current and expected continual growth in solar panels and batteries for residential properties some enterprising companies are using blockchain to organise grassroots energy markets. The way this works again uses blockchain as a token, with people able to trade the tokens in exchange for energy from households with solar panels and batteries.

Apart from use as a token blockchain can also be used for contracting in ongoing relationships such as tenancy. In this context both the tenant and owner (or real estate agent) would have a private access key, and any modifications to the contract need to be agreed by both parties. When it is time to renew the lease, for example, the owner would get a notification and they can review the contract and send it to the tenant. The tenant can then accept or decline the new terms – all with the click of a button, from the comfort of their own home.

Finally, the technology can be used for securely storing records, such as election and census data. This prevents sensitive information from being corrupted, either maliciously or otherwise, while remaining easily accessible.