By James Lawrence - Knowledge - 4 months ago

Blockchain beyond Bitcoin

In 2018 it’s hard to find a sphere of influence which hasn’t been infiltrated by the term ‘blockchain’, it can be exhausting, I know, a friend of mine has filtered out the terms ‘blockchain’, ‘bitcoin’ and ‘crypto’ from his Twitter feed. So why should we care about the new buzzword that promises to change everything from insurance to governance? Why does the word blockchain conjure images of Guy Fawkes mask-wearing cyber villains? Isn’t it just something to do with Bitcoin and scams and digital black markets? While some interpretations and uses of blockchain can be dubious at best, I’m here to tell you blockchain is more than the buzz, more than Bitcoin, it’s here to stay and its influences will reach far past our current understanding.

First and foremost let’s explore what is meant by ‘blockchain’. Blockchains can be defined as an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. Transactions can range from me buying a camera online, to you receiving your grades from university to aid money being received by those in need. Put simply, a blockchain is a digital list of information, secure by design, protecting privacy while transparent, decentralized and immutable. Although invented by Satoshi Nakamoto to serve as a ledger for Bitcoin, and has been the basis, with a few tweaks, to every succeeding cryptocurrency, blockchains go far beyond currency. A technology with the power to share information securely and instantly, circumnavigating middle-men, has applications in nearly every facet of our society.

An ecosystem that a single entity has control over is doomed to fail. Centralization of control of information is fallible to corruption or hacking, especially in our digital world. Blockchains are built around decentralization of information, a democratization of control. Failures of centralized systems have inspired a plethora of blockchain based solutions. Just last year The United Nations used the cryptocurrency Ethereum to send aid to 10,000 Syrian Refugees. The UN’s World Food Programme used blockchain to remove a staggering 98% of bank fees. Implementation of blockchain technology enabled Syrian refugees to buy food from local retailers using a biometric eye scans where each transaction was recorded onto the blockchain. The use of cash, bank cards or paper vouchers was rendered obsolete as refugees needn’t share sensitive data with banks or mobile operators. Instead, refugees benefitted from greater security and privacy through an immutable, secure blockchain.

As the UN plans to rely more and more on blockchain technologies in aid and relief programs, another influence and one of the most exciting possible applications of blockchain right now is voting. Voting is an expensive, slow and vulnerable process. It’s sad how often one reads about a candidate of a supposedly democratic country getting 104% of the vote, or the knowledge that it’s an all too common reality for citizens to be unable to vote freely or live in fear of their voting choices. Agora, a Swiss-based voting technology company aims to bring voting to the 21st century, to quote their mission statement; “Agora endeavors to spread fair and transparent elections around the world with end-to-end verifiable blockchain voting technology.”

Traditional voting methods such as Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) or paper ballots have a variety of shortcomings. EVMs rely on third-party and non-transparent coding, they are at the mercy of nefarious actors as their opaque nature is unable to be checked in real time against threats. Paper ballots have high fiscal and environmental costs, needing million of papers to be printed, voted with, counted and registered. Paper votes are also vulnerable to human error and tampering.

Agora’s team have been developing cryptographic and blockchain technology since 2015 to accommodate the evolving needs of modern voters and mitigate threats to a free and fair electoral process. Under free and fair elections, Agora have set five requirements for themselves; transparency, privacy, integrity, affordability and accessibility. Blockchains trustless, digital and decentralized method of generating cryptographically secure records make these requirements within reach.

The Agora token presale began May 1st, with mainsales beginning on the 30th of August. Individuals and non-politically aligned institutions (universities for example) are incentivised to purchase tokens, not only to receive rewards when elections take place on the Agora network but to also be involved in the auditing of the blockchain, to directly contribute to elections from around the world. Perhaps a future without voter fraud and manipulation isn’t too far away, Agora has already participated in Sierra Leone’s elections in March this year. Paper ballots were digitized, logged and verified by their blockchain, a step towards free and fair voting worldwide.

From voting to healthcare, blockchain realizes solutions to a system “[that] is neither healthy, caring or a system.” While the influx of treatment and payment options for patients in modern times is unarguably a good thing, the scale, complexity and difficulty to navigate current healthcare and insurance systems is a major issue. Rising life expectancy and ageing populations create increased demands on our healthcare systems, it’s projected by 2050 there will be 2.1 billion people over the age of 60. - now is the time for rapid innovation in healthcare.

Health FX aims to streamline, simplify and decentralize the healthcare community. From over eight years of experience and success in healthcare, Health FX is creating “quality-optimised healthcare for everyone”. Demonstrating capabilities from Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning and blockchain technology, the Health FX platform provides decision-making capabilities, in-time validation, and predictive capabilities all while eliminating frictions to today’s healthcare ecosystem.

A blockchain and AI treatment to healthcare by eliminating manual and human processes would reduce costs, increase speed of treatment and reduce risks of medical errors (the third leading cause of death in the US after cancer and heart disease.) Not to mention the cryptographic security and privacy of an immutable medical history protected on blockchain.

Health FX tokens (HFX) presale will begin on the 1st of September with the main sale beginning a week later. HFX will give user access to features such as AI-driven service matching recommendations, as well as a medium to pay for care services from providers on Health FX.

While Health FX has been successful in the Asian market it faces competition in expanding into a global market. This being said, Health FX is a terrific addition to healthcare, with an inspired team behind a project vision of a decentralized, transparent and secure healthcare system, it will be very interesting to watch their progress.

As the effects of climate change are felt around the world and concerns about carbon-footprints grow, more people are switching to renewable energy resources . While numerous attempts have been made to incentivise corporations and individuals to reduce carbon emissions, create a global carbon tracking market and reward those who make conscious efforts for the environment, none have been truly successful. Swytch, a US blockchain based energy platform looks to change this.

The Swytch mission is to “accelerate a sustainable and equitable energy future.” This mission, they hope, will be achieved through an incentivised token system that rewards switching to, and the use of, renewable energies. Through “Oracle”, Swytch’s blockchain, Swytch Energy Tokens (SET) will be distributed to those making meaningful and measurable differences in their emissions. Blockchain will enable consumers to audit their energy use precisely and know exactly where their energy is coming from, in real time. Corporations, energy providers and governments would benefit from a standardized, decentralized system mitigating competing incentives and objectives as well as limiting market friction. When it comes to a borderless issue such as climate change, we need a borderless solution. We need to pool and decentralize our resources, not squander them, fragmenting investments and technologies.

Although our climate future may seem bleak, the possibilities within a blockchain based carbon emissions system are anything but. With the adoption of blockchain technologies to carbon emissions, greater insights would be gained while both consumers and producers would be empowered and encouraged to be more active in their adoption of renewable energies.

To vote, to age, to fall sick and to feel the impacts of our environment are a part of all our life journeys. Up until very recently the control of these processes and systems have been out of the very hands they are affecting, blockchain technologies and decentralization would put an end to this. We live in an ever globalising community and our issues reflect this, so why are we not implementing solutions that do too? When thinking of blockchain I urge you not to immediately jump to Bitcoin or something existing exclusively in a digital realm. Blockchain, right now, and ever increasingly in the future, make possible truly representative and dynamic differences in the real world.