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Beyond Bitcoin: What will Blockchain do for you?

Afraid you missed out? All that crypto talk left you behind? Don’t worry, the revolution has only just begun. The really exciting stuff is coming soon, if not here already. You are lucky: you are witnessing the total transformation of your digital life. And, if you are one of those who feel that the Internet has become a corporate takeover, then you are luckier still – the future is decentralized and peer-to-peer (P2P). Come along to the Leeds Digital Festival event on Blockchain to find out more.

Now, I could talk to you about price bubbles, ICO scams, money laundering…yes, that does all happen, but it’s so far removed from the original aim of the Cypherpunk movement.

Instead, consider an application of Bitcoin technology that is not obvious at all: land rights for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet such as the Rohingya. Their land rights could have already disappeared. How could Bitcoin have helped here? Well, the technology stack of Bitcoin includes Blockchain, and in turn provides us with Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT): an immutable ledger of transactions with no central third-party trusted notary. The state of the ledger is maintained by a community, secured using cryptography.

The idea is that the ledger can be added to, but not historically amended: there is always a record itemising who owns what and when. If at some point in time you lost your land rights through force, you can always show you did once own it, and in time you may be able to legally claim what was once yours. This is just one of the many projects you can read about: Blockchain Business Council to Help Secure Property Rights for World’s Poor.

If that doesn’t convince you, let me encourage you to consider ethical supply chains. People are becoming more aware of the products they buy, and whether they use child labour, fair trade, or sustainable sources, even ‘is this really what it says it is’. Current labelling will only provide so much information, but the social enterprise Provenance intends to revolutionise this with their ‘product digital history’, itself based on DLT, combined with mobile technology and smart tagging. The key here is that the blockchain is open, and can be explored and navigated. There are plenty of case studies from fashion to fishing to check out, showing how producers and end-consumers can be directly linked and informed about the full history of the product.

Wait, there’s more! Bitcoin is known as a digital currency first and foremost. Bitcoin’s original purpose is to provide a means of exchange of value, peer-to-peer. If you lived in Greece when the banks were closed, or India when the government recalled all cash, Bitcoin was used as a viable alternative. It is not issued by a central entity, such as a government, and the rules to issue the currency are well defined and supply is known in advance. Governments can still make rules about the use of cryptocurrencies, all the same, and any aspiring legal experts may want to read up about the forefront of regulation and follow some of the industry pioneers.

Outside of these ominous scenarios, do cryptocurrencies still have a role to play? With modern payment methods such as tap-to-pay, mobile transfers, and the revolutionary M-Pesa system, is there really any point inventing payments all over again? Surprisingly, even in the United States, this report highlights the level of ‘unbanked and underbanked’ at 25%. For many people, the current financial system is failing. The difference between conventional methods and cryptocurrencies is distributed versus a centralized trust. No one has to apply to use Bitcoin, and no one can be rejected. Bitcoin also offers ‘money without borders’, which has major implications for the remittance market. Fees can range from 8% to 24% using money transfer services, whereas cryptocurrency fees can be a fraction of this, and the transfer almost instantaneous. Similar to the internet removing high-cost barriers between consumers and producers, cryptocurrencies are stripping away fees during an exchange of value and improving the lives of the least well-off in our societies.

The news may have been recently dominated by those enormous crypto-gains (and losses) being made, but if you dig a little deeper there are plenty of philanthropic opportunities to get involved in as this new technology enters the mainstream. A chance to shape the future, and not just for coders, but anyone who can spot that missing application that no one really knew they needed until you invented it. The sheer pace of innovation is remarkable, as the new technology moves on to exotic-sounding Hashgraphs and Tangles, and then what happens when Quantum Computing becomes readily available? The Leeds Digital Festival can be your starting point.

Everyone feels like a newbie in cryptocurrencies: it changes every day.