Blockchain | How It Works
As we now know, blocks on Bitcoin’s blockchain store data about monetary transactions. Today, there are more than 10,000 other cryptocurrency systems running on blockchain. But it turns out that blockchain is actually a reliable way of storing data about other types of transactions as well.
Some companies that have already incorporated blockchain include Walmart, Pfizer, AIG, Siemens, Unilever, and a host of others. For example, IBM has created its Food Trust blockchain to trace the journey that food products take to get to their locations.3
Why do this? The food industry has seen countless outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella, and listeria, as well as hazardous materials being accidentally introduced to foods. In the past, it has taken weeks to find the source of these outbreaks or the cause of sickness from what people are eating. Using blockchain gives brands the ability to track a food product’s route from its origin, through each stop it makes, and finally, its delivery. If a food is found to be contaminated, then it can be traced all the way back through each stop to its origin. Not only that, but these companies can also now see everything else it may have come in contact with, allowing the identification of the problem to occur far sooner and potentially saving lives. This is one example of blockchain in practice, but there are many other forms of blockchain implementation.
Healthcare providers can leverage blockchain to securely store their patients’ medical records. When a medical record is generated and signed, it can be written into the blockchain, which provides patients with the proof and confidence that the record cannot be changed. These personal health records could be encoded and stored on the blockchain with a private key, so that they are only accessible by certain individuals, thereby ensuring privacy.
If you have ever spent time in your local Recorder’s Office, you will know that the process of recording property rights is both burdensome and inefficient. Today, a physical deed must be delivered to a government employee at the local recording office, where it is manually entered into the county’s central database and public index. In the case of a property dispute, claims to the property must be reconciled with the public index.
This process is not just costly and time-consuming—it is also prone to human error, where each inaccuracy makes tracking property ownership less efficient. Blockchain has the potential to eliminate the need for scanning documents and tracking down physical files in a local recording office. If property ownership is stored and verified on the blockchain, owners can trust that their deed is accurate and permanently recorded.
In war-torn countries or areas that have little to no government or financial infrastructure, and certainly no Recorder’s Office, it can be nearly impossible to prove ownership of a property. If a group of people living in such an area is able to leverage blockchain, then transparent and clear time lines of property ownership could be established.
A smart contract is a computer code that can be built into the blockchain to facilitate, verify, or negotiate a contract agreement. Smart contracts operate under a set of conditions to which users agree. When those conditions are met, the terms of the agreement are automatically carried out.
Say, for example, that a potential tenant would like to lease an apartment using a smart contract. The landlord agrees to give the tenant the door code to the apartment as soon as the tenant pays the security deposit. Both the tenant and the landlord would send their respective portions of the deal to the smart contract, which would hold onto and automatically exchange the door code for the security deposit on the date when the lease begins. If the landlord doesn’t supply the door code by the lease date, then the smart contract refunds the security deposit. This would eliminate the fees and processes typically associated with the use of a notary, a third-party mediator, or attorneys.
As in the IBM Food Trust example, suppliers can use blockchain to record the origins of materials that they have purchased. This would allow companies to verify the authenticity of not only their products but also common labels such as “Organic,” “Local,” and “Fair Trade.”
As reported by Forbes, the food industry is increasingly adopting the use of blockchain to track the path and safety of food throughout the farm-to-user journey.4
As mentioned above, blockchain could be used to facilitate a modern voting system. Voting with blockchain carries the potential to eliminate election fraud and boost voter turnout, as was tested in the November 2018 midterm elections in West Virginia.5 Using blockchain in this way would make votes nearly impossible to tamper with. The blockchain protocol would also maintain transparency in the electoral process, reducing the personnel needed to conduct an election and providing officials with nearly instant results. This would eliminate the need for recounts or any real concern that fraud might threaten the election.