Let’s talk about disruption, shall we? No, not the kind that feels a lot like innovation—the kind that literally sneaks up from behind and startles us so much, everything we were doing before somehow seems less possible and less important. Something truly disruptive in the tech world is a superhero-like force that emerges when people least expect it and changes things people didn’t even know needed to be changed. It literally “disrupts” us from the apathetic state of business as usual.
Although cryptocurrencies like bitcoin have achieved that status to a certain extent, the true underdog known as blockchain may, in fact, surpass the hype with a more methodical and effective approach to industry disruption. Scratch that—life disruption. As the underlying technology behind the brightest cryptos, like Ether, bitcoin, and Monero, blockchain innovation is poised to prove itself as something far more exciting than just a new way to buy and sell goods—it has become a symbol for freedom, transparency, and fairness, three things we could all use in the days ahead. Right now, data is considered the most precious asset of all, and yet it exists in an ephemeral state, capable of disappearing or changing at any time.
Blockchain technology has the power to change all that by solidifying data and putting it back into the hands of the those who really own it, namely the user. But oddly enough, there are still plenty of “naysayers in the industry who don’t understand that blockchain is more than just bitcoin,” according to Shawn Wilkinson, Founder and CSO at Storj Labs, a leading authority on decentralized cloud storage. And for the technology to soar to greater heights and reach its true potential, we will need to educate the haters about what it means to truly embrace change. Poetically speaking, blockchain has the potential to be so disruptive, folks aren’t even knowledgeable enough yet to recognize the possibility.
I know about blockchain—but, well… maybe I don’t.
Because blockchain can record information in a secure and transparent manner, it has the ability to strengthen a wide variety of industry systems such as financial transactions and health records. It is a public, decentralized ledge, which means all of its data resides under the control of the interlinked network and the users themselves. And a result, many fintech experts suggest its disruptive ability is far greater than the cryptos it was designed to support. To really understand the significance of this possibility, it’s worth considering how exactly its innovation can be applied to real-world situations, like cybersecurity, thereby improving the lives of millions and the many industries they rely on for their health, safety, and livelihood. You may shocked at the truly life-altering ways this technology could affect our society.
Record keeping will be revolutionized. The modern world has turned paper trails into digital ones, but this hasn’t changed much of the fallibility within the system. In many cases personal records and bits of transactional information exist in disparate locations which sometimes contributes to their inaccuracy, lack of consistency, and even worse, vulnerability to cyber attack.
As Chrissa MacFarlane, CEO of Patientory, a blockchain healthcare disruptor, reminds us, having distributed ledger through blockchain would render “data as priority so corporations and businesses could actually focus more on their services and less on becoming the next target.” Blockchain has the power to keep recorded information in one easily accessible place where it is protected from theft, tampering, and misplacement, and this technological strength could improve the inner workings of any industry that depends on information integrity.
Identify fraud will dwindle to nothing. One of the most exciting things about cryptos is the way they have employed encryption and the invention of the non-replicable “private key” as a way to improve authentication processes and remove the threat of human error. As a result, information cannot be hacked or compromised or stolen—it can only only be accessed by the owner using the key, a code that replaces weak or ineffectual passwords.
While Shawn Wilkinson from Storj Labs cautions us that the “blockchain currently doesn’t makes sense in every market and for every application,” there is no doubt its innovation would add tremendous value to overall digital security and help consumers regain control over their own personal data.
Cloud storage will thrive. Although many users are not entirely sure what the centralized cloud does or why they even need it, the truth is the majority of people today depend on the technology to store their data on remote servers easily accessed from the internet. As such, the cloud has become one of the most valuable online resources of today and the main strategy for managing the hefty amount of information we all face. In fact, experts say the “cloud shift” will affect more than $1 trillion in information technology spending by the year 2020.
So, what would it mean to create a decentralized archive for the internet using blockchain technology? It would mean users could submit information for storage using an immutable and decentralized system that would become the source of knowledge users deserve. Even though businesses have migrated to the cloud as a way to avoid hosting their own servers, data breaches and service interruptions are still common. With a blockchain approach, workloads will still be centrally managed and controlled, but information will be broken into encrypted fragments and intelligently distributed across dozens of nodes around the globe. This offers increased protection and enhances user privacy because the data and files are not accessible or controlled by a single third party—instead, they open only to the user who holds the private key.
People will save money. Whoo hoo! Through more instant and direct transactions comes less cost. An unchangeable ledger maintained by a number of decentralized sources eliminate the need for expensive third parties like banks. While these middle men traditionally ensured the proper execution of any transaction, they also slowed down the overall process and weighted it down with unregulated fees. Blockchain would remove this extra piece and “trim the fat” of online transactions while still transferring funds and digital assets with the utmost security and efficiency. And even more, these processes would become instant—no more waiting for transaction times and sluggish systems to work. As a leading force in decentralized cloud storage, Storj Labs already uses the Ethereum blockchain to handle payments to more than 90,000 addresses each month, something that could never be done through traditional payment methods.
Smart contracts will emerge victorious. “Already, the maturing cryptocurrency markets and growing blockchain technology have boldly impacted the technology industry,” says Mike Jones, co-founder and CEO of Science Inc., and this has never been more true than in the case of smart contracts. Since the beginning of civilization, contracts have existed as voluntary arrangements between people, outlining the overall agreement and the obligations of all parties involved. A smart contract is simply a streamlined version of the age-old understand, except they are fully trackable, immutable, and secure. They provide a level of security that is far superior to anything the world has ever seen, not to mention they lower transactions costs and remove the cumbersome relationship of the third party.
Information will return to the people. There was a time, not so long ago, when a person’s private information was considered a hallowed asset. Businesses and citizens alike would never dream of digging in to someone’s private records to make a buck or target sales—it was neither polite nor morally acceptable. These days, those beliefs are out the window as vendors around the globe vie for access to the sensitive data that lives on the internet. From Sony to Equifax to eBay, the phrase digital breach has become a national occupation.
The time is now to reclaim the power of personal information to those who really own it, and blockchain technology finally makes that possible. The healthcare industry offers a perfect example of just how impactful this movement could be for citizens. As Chrissa MacFarlane says, “we are literally taking health data and giving that ownership to the patient. So, regardless of what hospital you go to—you can walk out of that appointment with all of your own information, easily accessed via your mobile device.” What this means in the practical world is staggering, as people can now “hold” the node of their own data, which they control and use in a variety of situation. It is not accessible by outside parties, and it is not for sale. This technology will essentially force outside parties to respect the integrity of personal data, stop abusing it for profit, and regain their sense of digital boundaries.
What should I remember?
Of course, blockchain technology still suffers from some weaknesses, the “number one issue being its lack of skilled developers,” says Heidi Pease. Without them, Shawn Wilkinson reminds us that “blockchains are still too slow and cannot handle the volume needed for mass market adoption.” It is still a nascent technology in need of scalability and interoperability solutions. But given the unbelievable solutions it proposes to implement, for people and their precious systems, society cannot afford to decline the challenge. So, remember—when hear the word “blockchain” in the future, hold on tight—disruption is on the horizon!