The build-up of Blockchain

From dismissed dark web tech to potential mainstream juggernaut

When did this happen?

Every morning I grab my coffee, load up my kids, drop them off at school, and make my way to the office. When I get there the first thing I do is read 2–3 articles on my tech feeds that cover a wide range of subjects. Lately, that feed has been flooded by new articles subjected to the tech world’s latest hotness — Blockchain.

Credit: — circa 2014

It seems like not too long ago we were hearing about, not even Blockchain as we read it now, but this crazy electronic currency called Bitcoin. I remember the first article I read and how you could use it to secure payment for *ahem* dark web transactions. At the time, I’ll admit, I remember making fun of a colleague for buying in on the idea and completely dismissed the concept as a fad that would surely die off the way of QR codes and the Bump app.

Breaking through the hype

But here we are today, Bitcoin has a market cap of $114 billion (as of this writing) and we’re seriously having discussions about how Blockchain can become a true disruptor on the magnitude of when the internet was introduced. This means it’s more than just how we handle online banking transactions, but expanding to more complex transactions, record keeping, supply chain, and even how we handle voting in elections. Suffice it to say Blockchain talk is pretty hot right now and it’s getting to be just about that time that we’re coming over the hype hill. In the recently released Gartner technology hype cycle we’re heading into the proverbial trough of disillusionment.

Credit: Gartner Blog Network

Now that might sound bad, but I think it’s actually good news. This is where the promises and hype will settle and go from some magical concept to delivering actual solutions and innovation.

Why Blockchain now?

As I was thinking about the premise of this article, I found myself wondering what exactly started the movement towards Blockchain. I thought Bitcoin had been steadily gaining recognition, but anyone who was paying attention to it was already paying attention and this argument doesn’t account for the mass new interest. There had to be some event that led people to rethink the security and integrity of their data. Then it hit me.

You might have noticed this, but data security has been in the news lately. Data breaches have been a particularly large and public thorn in the side of data based businesses the last couple years and particularly in 2017. Whether it’s exposed vulnerabilities or best practices in protection being overlooked, there is a push unlike any point in the tech history for secure and reliable data. This is, in part, one of the catalysts for why we’re seeing a lot of interest in Blockchain. By its very nature, you’re provided security and data consistency.

When you hear “ready for enterprise” you’ve made it

Given enough time and continued popularity, tech will find its way to the enterprise and Blockchain is no different. We’re at the point where companies are starting to invest in Blockchain beyond the cryptocurrency platform it was founded on. While Bitcoin and will continue to thrive, the future will be on other types of transactions based on smart contracts, as introduced by Ethereum in 2015.

Credit: Blockchain Technologies

At their core, smart contracts act like contracts as you and I know them now, except the terms and conditions are codified into programs that have the ability to self-execute and self-enforce the terms of the contracts on the Blockchain. With this in place, you have the ability to execute some pretty complex transactions on the Blockchain which are immutable, non-coercive, immediately verifiable, and don’t require a third-party verification.

Looking ahead

So now we’ve gone from a concept on the edges of obscurity, to hype on overdrive, and are starting to settle into the true innovations of Blockchain. As a parting thought, and thinking back to my hype list earlier, here are the two markets I predict will be seeing an impact from Blockchain technologies in the near term.

Record keeping for extremely sensitive data such as medical records. Think about what happens now whenever you switch your physician or medical group. Way back when, you had to run over to your old practice and pick up a folder with your records copied in it and bring it to your new practice. In addition to being a true pain in the butt, this was an extremely error-prone process. What if the administrative assistant that prepared your folder missed a page of your surgical history? Or your prescription list got cut off? Even in modern days, you sign off on a waiver to electronically transmit your data to the new doctor. Which takes care of the pain in the butt aspect, but still begs questions around:

  • What if they used a different system?
  • How will my information map to the new one?
  • If they had to manually enter something, was it input correctly?

When I submit my medical history to a Blockchain standard that is widely distributed and secure, this problem goes away. When I change practices the doctor is provided with a private key that can access my records then it doesn’t matter what program or interface they’re using so long as it knows how to interface with the Blockchain. They’re ready to see me.

The important thing here is the data isn’t handled or transferred or manipulated in any way but kept in a consistent incorruptible state that can only be seen by who I authorize to see it. The data goes in on a contract and goes out according to the contract.

Look for insurance companies to participate in what startups like MediBloc are currently getting ready to go to market with.

“Blockchain’s credibility, transparency, and security have already been proven by the crypto-currencies currently being used throughout the world. MediBloc is developing a next-generation medical data system that fully utilizes Blockchain’s benefits.” — Dr. Allen Koh
Credit: Ubiquity

Chain of custody or ownership. Another industry, think about when we buy property. We bring a seller and a buyer together, they agree to terms and the deal is done. Now we wait for multiple rounds of paperwork to process and several middlemen to process it. When it’s all said and done you’ve waited anywhere between hours and days to complete the transaction.

Using smart contracts you can program the entire process up to and including the verification of title change, which is instantly verifiable. The benefits here can be many. To start, a drastic reduction of wait times for completed transactions. We’re talking about going from hours and days to minutes. Also, by automating the process, you’re looking at fewer, if any, costly mistakes being made. And perhaps most beneficial, by removing the need for middlemen to process paperwork you’ll save money on overall closing costs.

For a more in-depth look at the technical aspects of Blockchain look for my article — The anatomy of Blockchain.