Whenever we think of the word blockchain we automatically think of “bitcoins”. In fact, chances are that more people know of bitcoins than blockchain. Though cryptocurrencies are the most significant and widespread application of blockchain technology, it has a lot more versatility than that. In fact, the potential of a distributed ledger is such that it can shake multiple industries to its very core.
What is the blockchain technology?
Let’s do a quick refresher on what blockchain technology is:
A blockchain is, in the simplest of terms, a time-stamped series of immutable record of data that is managed by cluster of computers not owned by any single entity. Each of these blocks of data (i.e. block) are secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles (i.e. chain).
So, what is so special about it and why are we saying that it has industry disrupting capabilities?
The blockchain network has no central authority — it is the very definition of a democratized system. Since it is a shared and immutable ledger, the information in it is open for anyone and everyone to see. Hence, anything that is built on the blockchain is by its very nature transparent and everyone involved is accountable for their actions.
Over the last few years, many industries have slowly started understanding the true scope and power of the blockchain. Industries from extremely diverse categories have found a common ground in the fact that they think blockchain is the future. For the first time, we have a computer network that promotes honesty by the simple fact that the entire system itself is a Nash equilibrium i.e. it is in a state where deviation from the equilibrium will not result in any gains.
Which industries can use the blockchain technology?
So, which industries are going to be disrupted by the blockchain technology? Let’s go through some of the examples one-by-one.
The Food Industry
Not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of “blockchain technology” now does it? In fact, many big shopping chains like Walmart are teaming up with IBM to incorporate the blockchain in their food management system.
But, what is the purpose of doing so?
One of the most important questions that we concern ourselves when we consume any food product is: “Where is my food coming from? Is it safe?” More people are increasingly aware that being indifferent to the source of their food and can cause a lot of problems.
Let’s take an example.
Back in October 6, 2006 multiple states in the US suffered a major E-Coli outbreak. The culprit? Spinach — Around 199 people were affected of whom 22 were children under 5 years old. 31 of the 199 developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome and 3 people died.
As a result of this, the entire food industry went into pandemonium. People were desperately trying to trace the source of the infected spinach. Everyone stopped selling spinach immediately from the market. It took the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a total of 2 weeks to find the source of the contaminated spinach.
Can you guess as to what the source was? It was one supplier. One farm. One lot.
That one farm locked up an entire industry for 2 weeks. For that period, farmers whose entire livelihood depended on spinach were left broke and penniless. All this would have been avoided if there was a better way to trace the spinach.
As we have already seen before, tracing food is a very slow process. It usually takes a long time, during which entire industries and livelihoods may be shut down. So what is the best way to tackle this?
What if we were to make each and every step of the process — from the time the food grows on the farm to the time it reaches the marketplace — transparent?
Now, obviously this can be implemented by keeping all our food records in a centralized open database that anyone can use and access at any given time. However, this solution still has problems:
- The data can always be tampered either by the central authority or by an external force like hacking.
- A central authority may still impose its own set of red tape, which would defeat the purpose of achieving transparency in the first place.
Instead of that, what will happen if the blockchain gets implemented here to maintain all the food records?
Remember that the blockchain is an open ledger and there is no central authority taking charge of the records. This greatly reduces the time that may have been wasted going through endless red tape and hierarchy. In fact, having these data on the blockchain will reduce the waiting time from weeks to mere seconds.
More importantly, using blockchain technologies, we can aim higher than traceability and instead can look for complete transparency.
Walmart has already done two test runs with IBM, one with Chinese pork and the other with Mexican mangoes. Walmart and IBM used the “Hyperledger Fabric”, a blockchain originally built by IBM and now housed under the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger group for these tests. Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety at Walmart had this to say about the results of the trials (As told to Fortune):
“We were so encouraged that we really quickly started reaching out to other suppliers and retailers as well”
As the blockchain gets integrated into the food industry it will make the whole process more transparent and safer. The advantages of a transparent food system are manifold (Taken from Frank Yiannas’ speech):
- Greatly enhances food safety.
- Ensures fresher food since no one will risk sending “non-fresh” food in an open system.
- There is less food waste because every single piece of food is accounted for.
- Stops food fraud because the system is open for everyone to see.
- Promotes responsibility among the food producers since they now know that they can’t get away with underhand dealings.
- Gives the customer trust-able information about their food and empowers them to make better buying choices.
Voting is an essential tool for any democratic process — It is what makes a government “for the people and by the people”. In fact, if it wasn’t for voting than the concept of democracy might not even exist. Having said that, it is really fascinating and shocking that many countries have still not moved on from the traditional paper ballot system of voting.
The paper ballot system has long been used by countries around the world. The concept is simple, you put your vote on a piece of paper and put it in a ballot box. At the end of the election, the votes are counted and whoever gets the most votes is the winner. However, as simple as it may sound, there are a lot of issues that can happen because of traditional paper balloting system:
- The system is extremely labour intensive — from physically going to the venues where the ballot boxes are kept to waiting in long lines to cast your vote, the entire process is extremely time-consuming.
- The amount of time taken to count the votes is too high.
- Manual errors in counting the vote cannot be avoided and the system to verify the counting of the votes is not systematic or transparent.
- The election can be hijacked via the insertion of bogus ballot papers.
- Powerful parties can use intimidation tactics on the venues to rig the election in a certain way.
- The amount of paper wastage can cause harm to the environment.
- The cost of expenditure of paper ballots is very high.
- It is impossible to keep track of your vote.
- Once you have casted a vote you cannot change it.
To counter this a digital voting system was employed by countries like Estonia. As The Economist reports, Estonia has had electronic voting since 2005. In fact, during the 2015 parliamentary elections 30.5% of the votes were done digitally.
However, there were some possible issues in the system that were pointed out (data taken from The Economist).
- Firstly, the client side machine could develop a malware and can change your vote to the other candidate.
- An attacker can directly infect the servers through malware placed on the DVDs used to set up the servers and transfer the votes.
While these issues were criticized and contested by the Estonian Information Systems Authority, the fact remains that having a centralized server taking care of the votes can be susceptible to multiple attacks and hacks.
The Blockchain Solution
Companies like “Follow My Vote” are using the blockchain technology and Elliptical Curve Cryptography to bring voting into the 21st century. Their goal is simple, make the election process as transparent as possible. What exactly happens to your votes after you cast it? Hardly anyone knows that.
What Follow My Vote is planning to do is that any potential voter can securely login using their webcam and government issued ID. After they are done voting, anyone can use their voting ID to track their votes and check that it has been cast correctly. On top of that, they are give have the ability to change their votes any number of times till the deadline.
They use Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC) to secure these votes. ECC is a form of asymmetric cryptography which differs from traditional cryptography because it uses two keys (a public key and a private key) to encrypt and decrypt data instead of one. ECC is what bitcoin and ethereum use for their cryptography.
So how do Follow My Vote use this technology to create their votes?
During Voter Registration, the voter creates two ECC key-pairs. The voter reveals their identity to a verifier who certifies the first key pair. Once that is done, the voter registers their second key pair anonymously as belonging to the first pair. The first key-pair is called “identity key-pair” while the second is called “voting key-pair”.
The voter can then create a transaction which is basically their vote and sign them off with their voting private key. This vote is recorded on the blockchain anyone can verify whether the signature is valid or not using the voter’s public key. However, since it is encrypted using ECC who the voter voted for cannot be read without the private key of the person voting. Once the vote is done, the votes can be tallied by the verifiers who have one of the key pairs.
Blockchain technology was introduced by Satoshi Nakamoto in his bitcoin whitepaper and since then it has had several applications outside the world of finance. As we have seen, many companies have cleverly used the blockchain technology to disrupt various industries and activities.
We, at SpringRole, are also using the blockchain technology to disrupt the recruitment industry. You can read draft White paper: here