Thomas Müller

Blockchain: From touch points to trust points

People’s first introduction to blockchain is often courtesy of a passionate techie who just loves getting into the weeds of how it works, which can be daunting enough to make their companion relegate it to a “stuff I’ll never get around to” list. What’s missing in this introduction is the fact that blockchain is about life. It’s about how it can change – no – how it can improve people’s lives. And that’s something that should be on a top priority list.

If you’re unfamiliar with blockchain, the simplest comparison is a spreadsheet on Google Docs – a shared system that records exactly what’s been edited, when, and by whom. It allows you to trace back to discover how the document evolved into what you see on your screen. Nothing is hidden, nothing is edited in stealth, and the system doesn’t allow anyone to conceal their changes.

Our trust crisis

In today’s digital world, it’s hard to judge what’s authentic, where information has come from and who’s had a hand in changing it. We have no practical way to know what to believe, and our trust in the institutions that govern our lives is crumbling.

We’re regularly told that we’re being duped by the very people or organizations we should be able to rely upon, whose word we may even have respected by default at one time. It seems like it’s up to us as individual to make our own investigations and, frankly, who has the time?

We’re also asked to place our faith in the machines and bots that increasingly contribute to our daily routines, collecting our data and using it to decide what we want to buy, do or read about next. With legislation struggling to keep up with developments, we have to take a chance on those who design and run such systems in the hope that they’re making decisions in our best interests, and using our data responsibly.

Can blockchain restore our trust?

Well, yes, because it allows you to see exactly where information has come from so you can verify its provenance, which is why it’s already being used in financial services and a growing number of other industries. The theory is fascinating, but let’s take a look at how organizations are already using blockchain to bring transparency to their businesses and show citizens/customers exactly what they’re up to.

e-Residents (powered by the Republic of Estonia)

Estonia’s government has used blockchain technology to issue its citizens with digital proof of identity that enables them to conduct their business 100% online from anywhere in the world. Whether they’re handling business banking, declaring taxes or authenticating documents, they can do it online because their activity is verifiable and traceable.

ID2020

On a similar vein, Microsoft, Accenture, Fjord and Avanade worked with ID2020 to develop a blockchain-powered system that enables 1.1bn people in distressed situations (including refugees) to create a legal and permanent identity.

FollowMyVote

Platforms like this use blockchain to facilitate secure, anonymous voting that can be monitored in real time. This could eliminate doubts about the legitimacy of democratic elections worldwide.

Smart Contracts

Blockchain technology could change lawyers’ jobs by powering smart contracts that enable people to exchange funds, property, shares or valuable assets in a transparent, conflict-free way.

Smart City Services

Nokia has designed a portfolio of smart city services including blockchain-based analytics that can detect environmental anomalies like illegal construction or burning of waste.

SimplyVital Health

Designed to empower both healthcare providers and individuals to access, move and share health-related data, SimplyVital Health is a blockchain-enabled ecosystem on which all changes and transfers of data can be easily traced.

The Aventus Protocol

There are brilliant applications for blockchain technology in culture, like The Aventus Protocol, which allows event organizers to give each ticket a unique identity connected with its owner so that tickets cannot be faked, and prices can be controlled.

Spotify and Mediachain

The streaming giant acquired blockchain startup Mediachain to solve the enormous attribution problem in the music industry. This should pave the way for musicians and producers to automatically get the royalties they earn through streaming services, without having to resort to the extreme measures we’ve seen in the press.

KodakOne

Similarly, those who own the copyright on images can now use blockchain to manage the use of their images and to ensure their rightful income, thanks to KodakOne.

Haiti’s Cotton Project

Haiti’s once abundant cotton industry collapsed in the 1970s due to government corruption, economic mismanagement and US embargoes. Thanks to a blockchain project between thousands of farmers and brands like Timberland, the industry is set for a resurgence.

Now what?

These examples show with absolute clarity that there are numerous practical applications for blockchain technology, which will actively improve people’s lives in diverse ways. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where we could trust the organizations that run our lives, by default?

While the technology may be difficult for the average consumer to understand, its value is plain to see. That should be reason enough to motivate organizations to look seriously at how blockchain technology could transform the services they offer to their consumers—and, by extension, the quality of their relationships with those consumers.

If you haven’t investigated it yet, what’s holding you back?

Thomas Müller

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