All that noise has obscured the bona fide efforts involving the underlying technology, blockchain. Of all the manifestations of crypto, it’s the most seemingly mundane applications of blockchain that could lead to the biggest and most concrete changes in all of our lives.
These applications can’t be found on a coin exchange, and they aren’t going to turn anyone into an overnight billionaire. But they could bring much-needed change to some of the world’s most critical, if unsexy, industries. This means new ways of transferring real estate titles, managing cargo on shipping vessels, mapping the origins of conflict materials, guaranteeing the safety of the food we eat and more. Using blockchain, you could prove that a particular diamond on sale in a Milan boutique came from a particular mine in Russia.
What is blockchain? It’s essentially a secure database, or ledger, spread across multiple computers. Everybody has the same record of all transactions, so tampering with one instance of it is pointless. “Crypto” describes the cryptography that underlies it, which allows agents to securely interact — transfer assets, for example — while also guaranteeing that once a transaction has been made, the blockchain remains an immutable record of it.
Blockchain has the power to transform all these industries for three reasons. First, it’s genuinely well-suited to transactions that require trust and a permanent record. Second, blockchain typically requires the cooperation of many different parties. In cases where it’s implemented as open source software, it avoids the collective-action problem — the disincentives that prevent individuals from adopting something that would benefit them collectively — that occurs when a single company tries to push, and benefit from, a new standard.
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