Blockchains aren’t just for Wall Street. While the financial services applications have gotten the lion’s share of publicity, there’s lots of work going on in other areas. Take for example the art market. Blockchains are extremely well suited for documenting and maintaining the provenance of artwork. Blockchains could be used to track the chronology of ownership, custody and location of works of art. Deloitte recently developed a proof-of-concept along these lines, called ArtTracktive, at its Luxembourg office. Another new venture, Berlin-based Ascribe, uses the blockchain to allow artists to upload their digital art, lock in attribution and securely track how and where it is used.
Or consider the music industry. In a business where the middlemen have historically captured the bulk of the revenue, artists are very interested in exploring ways to cut them out of the picture and pocket more of their revenues. Mycelia, a company founded by Grammy-winning artist Imogen Heap, is seeking to evolve the music industry to where those who actually make the music lead the future of their own business and help others to work efficiently and effectively with them. Mycelia has developed the concept of intelligent songs with smart contracts built in, enabling artists to sell their works directly to consumers without the need of any intermediaries.
Then there are diamonds. The value of diamonds is very much linked to their provenance. Stopping the flow of blood diamonds and establishing the proven value of stones is one of the highest priorities for the industry. London-based Everledger has developed a blockchain-based permanent ledger for diamond certification and related transaction history, enabling authenticity verification for insurance companies, owners, claimants and law enforcement.
Speaking of insurance, John Hancock and other insurers are making sizable investments in blockchain technology. Meanwhile, London-based Eris Industries has been delivering smart contract distributed ledger systems to many of the world’s best companies, ranging from bulge bracket banks to insurance conglomerates.
In the legal field, developers are working on embedding less complex legal transactions, like wills and property title transfers into smart blockchain platforms like Ethereum, creating contracts that automatically execute when all of the parties have fulfilled their obligations.
Another area getting a lot of attention is the healthcare industry. California-based Gem Health is developing applications and shared infrastructure for healthcare, including global patient ids, wellness apps and electronic medical records. Dubai is working with Estonia-based Guardtime to use the blockchain to improve the security of medical records.
In the energy sector, Nevada-based Filament is enabling solar panels to be connected to the Internet with blockchain-based technology. Brooklyn-based LO3 is focusing on building tools and developing projects to support and accelerate the proliferation of distributed energy. In Vienna, Grid Singularity is developing a blockchain-based decentralized energy data exchange program.
One area that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention yet but which holds enormous promise is voting. The equipment used in the current voting process is often quite dated and poorly maintained. Voter participation is low, often less than 50% for off-year elections and the cost of elections places a multi-million dollar burden on state and local governments. Blockchain-based voting could change all of that. While it’s too late to do much of anything about this year’s elections, it’s not so farfetched to imagine that all could change by 2018 if the states act proactively to make it happen. On March 22nd, the State of Utah selected its Republican presidential nominee using a U.K. based system developed by Smartmatic. Nearly 90% of the eligible voters registered to vote online and participated in the election, marking an extremely high turnout rate. Voters of all ages, from millennials to people in their 80s, chose to cast their vote online. Participation was strongest amongst voters aged 56-65. The online system also made the election more inclusive as eligible absentee Utah Republicans voted online from over 45 countries, including places as far away as French Polynesia, South Africa and Japan. That same Smartmatic system was used recently to conduct the Philippines presidential election, where over 55 million votes where tabulated in record time in the largest ever election in that country.
So it’s pretty clear that blockchains and distributed ledgers will have impact far beyond Wall Street. With blockchains, anything of value, not just money and financial securities, but also art, precious gems, patents, music, property titles, deeds, health records and even votes can securely and privately be maintained on distributed ledgers. It’s an exciting time as the promise of this technology is just beginning to be tapped. To many of us, it feels very much like the early days of the Internet with a plethora of uses and benefits we haven’t even thought of yet!