Ever since blockchain burst onto the scene it’s been a technology surrounded by hype and expectation, but the last year seems to have seen this grow to a whole new level, with initial coin offerings (ICOs) receiving almost as much hype as their namesake the initial public offering (IPOs).
To date, there’s a sense that many of the cryptocurrencies built using blockchain technology have been only really good as an investment rather than a currency that can be used to actually buy things, and so long as this is the case it seems inevitable that the risk attached to Bitcoin, Ethereum and their like will be incredibly high.
There are early signs however that cryptocurrencies will slowly become something of practical use to its owners. For instance, the co-living company The Collective recently announced that residents in its facilities will be able to pay their deposits in Bitcoin, whilst they plan to allow rent to be paid the same way by the end of 2017.
“The rise and adoption of cryptocurrency globally, particularly Bitcoin, is a fascinating development in how people store value and transact for goods and services worldwide. With many savers and investors now choosing and becoming more comfortable with cryptocurrency, people will expect to be able to use it to pay for life’s essentials, including housing deposits and rent,” The Collective say.
They remain very much in a minority however, with small and niche vendors typically the only ones that currently accept Bitcoin, or any other cryptocurrencies, as a form of payment.
That is much less the case with blockchain as a technology however, where a wide range of early forays have been made that capitalize on the technology’s ability to provide secure and accountable data management.
The growth in blockchain
For instance, earlier this year Danish shipping giant Maersk announced the early results of their trial with IBM to utilize blockchain to more effectively track containers as they navigate the globe.
“As a global integrator of container logistics with the ambition to digitize global trade, we are excited about this cooperation and its potential to bring substantial efficiency and productivity gains to global supply chains, while decreasing fraud and increasing security,” Maersk said. “The projects we are doing with IBM aim at exploring a disruptive technology such as blockchain to solve real customer problems and create new innovative business models for the entire industry. We expect the solutions we are working on will not only reduce the cost of goods for consumers, but also make global trade more accessible to a much larger number of players from both emerging and developed countries.”
Or you’ve got the green energy startup Power Ledger, who are making use of Ecochain, which claims to be a greener form of blockchain, to make it easier for people with renewable energy installed on their properties to sell it on to other users.
“Presently, if you’ve got surplus solar electricity you sell it back for a low feed-in tariff and buy it back (from the grid) for a high rate. Using (Power Ledger), you can sell it to your neighbor at somewhere between the two,” they say.
The potential is arguably greatest in healthcare however, where a number of projects have emerged that utilize the technology. For instance, earlier this year Alphabet’s AI division DeepMind announced the launch of a blockchain like ledger for managing healthcare data. The aim is to automatically record every interaction with patient data in a secure manner.
Or you have healthcare startup Patientory. Their mission is to connect digital medical records without compromising privacy. They recently announced the first token sale of its kind in the industry.
The tokens, known as PTY, will be traded via a secure, closed loop ledger system that aims to connect up all parties in the healthcare ecosystem to allow for the exchange of health data within a highly-secure, blockchain powered health information exchange (HIE).
HealPoint operate along similar lines, and aim to utilize blockchain technology in their telemedicine platform.
The company is building a repertoire of doctors who will be providing second opinion services upon request to form a consensus on the patient’s diagnosis, thus incorporating risk analysis into diagnostics. The platform can be used to validate a diagnosis, but it can also provide a professional consensus to support a patient’s decision to change the course of their suggested treatment option.
It’s a technology that has attracted the attention of government, with a report published last year by the U.K.’s Chief Scientific Advisor bigging up the potential of blockchain in healthcare.
“In the NHS, the technology offers the potential to improve health care by improving and authenticating the delivery of services and by sharing records securely, according to exact rules,” Sir Mark Walport said.
It coincided with the launch of a new laboratory within Philips Healthcare to test out blockchain in a controlled setting. The lab hopes to provide the company with a technological, strategic and legal framework for the use of blockchain. It will provide them with an environment to develop prototypes built both in-house and by selected partners.
All of which suggests that blockchain has a fairly strong future. As for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, I’d say the jury is still very much out.