5 Interesting Ways Blockchain Technology Is Being Used Right Now

Even if you don’t own any cryptocurrency, odds are good that you know someone who does. “Bitcoin” and “blockchain” have entered the modern vocabulary, and they seem to be here to stay – but are they good for anything besides speculation and impressing people at parties? Actually, they are already being used by several companies, and they could soon become a part of your life.

A blockchain is a ledger, or an accounting book, stored on a network of computers, usually dispersed across the world. These computers check each transaction against their records to ensure that it is valid, and if it is, it becomes part of the permanent blockchain. Think of it as a set of accounting books containing every transaction ever made. When a new book is written, each blockchain user gets a copy of the book. If anyone ever tries to change their book, all the other books will still show the correct values, so the change will be rejected.

If you are wondering how is this useful to you, here are some of the ways that Blockchain technology is being used right now.

five-blockchains-vechain

Counterfeiting is a big problem in Chinese markets – clothes, technology, and even alcohol can be cheaply copied and sold to unsuspecting buyers. That’s why Vechain Thor, a Singaporean blockchain startup that has partnered with China’s largest fine wine importer (D.I.G), is using a blockchain to track bottles. Here’s how it works:

  • I.G imports wine to China and puts a QR code or NFC/RFID tag on each bottle. Each one has a unique cryptographic ID that cannot be duplicated.
  • Each place that checks the bottle into their inventory is registered on the blockchain.
  • A wine buyer that wants to verify the wine’s legitimacy can look up the QR code or tag to see every stop it’s made.

If you want to see for yourself, just head to a wine shop in China and look for one of the million bottles currently on the blockchain.

five-blockchains-monero

Journalism is an industry with money problems – specifically, they’re having trouble figuring out how to make it online, especially with the rise of ad-blockers. The online publication Salon has a creative solution that might soon be commonplace: instead of seeing ads, you can let their site mine Monero on your computer.

If this sounds like cryptojacking, that’s because it is similar. Salon, though, promises that they won’t do it without your permission and that they’ll stop when you leave their site. Since they want people to keep visiting, it’s very unlikely that they’ll abuse their power.

five-blockchains-storage

Where do your files go when you put them in your Dropbox or Drive? Probably a large, warehouse-like structure with endless stacks of hardware – not much like a cloud. These are expensive to run, prone to data breaches, and not very private. But what if your files could be split up, encrypted, and sent to live in pieces on computers all over the world, unreadable to anyone who finds them? The four services listed above do exactly that, and though they’re not the most user-friendly, they have working products that are storing decentralized data right now.

five-blockchains-steemit

Aside from mining Monero, Salon is sticking to a pretty traditional publication structure. Steemit, on the other hand, is a fully decentralized media platform. You can sign up for the platform, create content, curate other people’s content, and get paid depending on your popularity.

But it’s not people paying you. It’s the blockchain, which measures your level of influence on the site and rewards you with cryptocurrency that can be exchanged for U.S. dollars. It sounds odd, but the website has been paying since 2016, and the developers are currently working on making “smart media tokens” into a solution that traditional publishers could easily implement.

five-blockchains-everledger

Theft, counterfeiting, insurance fraud, and ethical sourcing are all expensive, hard-to-verify problems in the jewelry industry. If you bought a diamond after 2015, however, it may already be listed on Everledger’s blockchain along with over a million others. The company uses over forty pieces of metadata and high-resolution photography to identify diamonds and track their movements via the blockchain. If a diamond is a known “blood diamond” or has been reported stolen, a simple blockchain check will show its past. Diamonds are forever, and so are blockchains.

Fans of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” may remember a revolutionary idea from one of the characters: create a decentralized Internet with all the data stored on peoples’ phones. Thanks to blockchain technology, that may be a reality sooner than we expected. The projects listed above are just a few of those with working models; many more are in various stages of development.

5 comments

  1. “2. Mining Monero instead of showing you ads”
    No way, no how!
    Mining is a CPU and GPU intensive activity. I will not let any site use my PC for their gain. If they want to compensate me for the use of my hardware, I might consider it. Otherwise they can go scratch.

    “3. Making the cloud cloudier with Storj, Sia, Filecoin, and MaidSafe”
    Whether they centrally stored or decentralized, once they are in the cloud, your files are outside your control. If it is easy to hold your files for ransom when they are centralized, it is much easier to do when they are decentralized.

    “4. Cutting out the media middleman with Steemit”
    Sounds like a great way to scam people. You expect some amorphous entity to pay you for your work? Don’t quit your day job, Bud.

    • Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough space to really get into #3 up there! Once you get into the nuts and bolts of it, the security potential get pretty interesting. The primary mechanism, which all the projects listed above use, is called erasure coding. Essentially, your file is split up into N unique fragments, any subset M of which contains enough common information to put the original file back together.

      Beyond that, each file fragment is encrypted–and I know that for at least two of the blockchains above, that encryption is end-to-end, meaning that the data is encrypted client-side, and can’t be read until it returns to the client and is decrypted with the private key. Currently, barring the rise of quantum computing, it is mathematically almost impossible to brute-force a lot of this cryptography. It’s definitely a weird concept, and it’s in its infancy right now, but the one thing it definitely has going for it is security. The nature of blockchains makes it very difficult for anyone to hold your data for ransom, as a blockchain with sufficient participation and security measures is basically invulnerable to alteration. If you want your data, the blockchain has 0 interest in keeping it from you; it’s a trustless system.

      Disclaimer for the above two paragraphs: some of those technical statements may apply to Filecoin, MaidSafe, Sia, or Storj without necessarily applying to all of them; their whitepapers tend to blur together.

      For Salon and Steemit, that’s pretty much an each-to-their-own kind of thing. I’m not sure how much computing power Salon is eating up–I tried their system out and while there was definitely a spike in CPU and GPU activity (Monero’s Cryptonight algorithm uses both to be ASIC-resistant), it wasn’t any worse than having a few Photoshop projects open, at least for me. Steemit is a strange concept with very abstract mechanisms underlying it–no denying that. It’s going to need a lot more time to prove that it works sustainably, and there’s always the issue of whether it can be effectively scaled beyond its cryptocurrency-enthusiast niche.

  2. Blockchain tech reminds me of an encounter I had near the beginning of my IT career. I can’t remember what triggered the event but here is the gist:
    Senior Tech: We have just created new technology. We call it ‘toad’.
    Me: What does it do? What can it be used for?
    Senior Tech: We aren’t sure (yet) but its really cool!
    Me: When you guys figure it out, send me a memo …

  3. Like the problems they are yet to solve, these technologies have yet to encounter the problems of stupids with fat fingers and those with malicious intent and capable minds. How many thousands of $ worth of cryptos gone missing over the years of existence? All written off!

  4. dragonmouth, you are of course entitled to your OPINION, but that doesn’t change that Blockchain technology are a good one to make up a ledger of data that are public and can be trusted. And that without everyone being able to understand how it works.

    So yes, they are ok, especially for sites that have trusts to loose if they don’t work as intended.

    2) You ARE getting value back from them by lending them some CPU/GPU rendering time. That as you don’t need to read the commercials they have to show you if you don’t pay them good money to read the paper. If you prefer to use read the commercials, that is up to you. But yes, you can’t demand to get peoples time for free. You pay with lending them your CPU while you read their articles.

    3) Read Andrew Braun explanations. No, it isn’t rocket science, and yes it is posible to make it work securely.

    4) Well, the same can be said with YouTube, even though there are some people that manage to make a living from posting YouTube material. By putting time on making good content.

    But yes, I would look into these before I put anything important in any of these. But they are still interesting solutions.

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