Our Views

Mumbrella: "Blockchain’s Big Promise"

This opinion-editorial written by Lucy von Sturmer on blockchain was originally published in Mumbrella and on Hacker Noon.

Until recently, my interest and understanding of blockchain was limited. I’m not a developer and I have little interest in cryptocurrency. But, over the past few weeks, some pretty interesting things have started to happen. These events have sparked my interest and expanded the promise, and potential, of blockchain beyond the world of finance.

Political Elections

Earlier this month, the world’s first ever blockchain-powered presidential elections took place. One of blockchain’s key offerings is that it creates a decentralized immutable record of all transactions. This makes it possible to track information across all steps of the chain.

In the case of Sierra Leone’s recent election, a blockchain solution was used to verify all votes cast manually and a record of these votes was made available to the public. This ensured an unprecedented amount of accuracy and transparency and the event was hailed as a global landmark. Business Insider reported:

“This could pave the way for blockchain technology to shape elections around the world.”

Transforming Education

Richard Maaghul, CEO of the newly created On-Demand Education Marketplace (ODEM), has used blockchain to create the first decentralized education marketplace. Speaking to CNN he said:

“We’re excited about creating a system of higher education that is more in tune with actually educating students, rather than protecting the status and privileges of the existing power structure.”

This open education marketplace uses blockchain’s decentralized ledger to create what is termed a ‘smart contract.’ This is a contract converted to computer code, stored and replicated on the system, and supervised by the network. ODEM uses smart contracts to enable students and professors to interact directly and like all blockchain solutions, proposes to “eliminate the middleman.”

Transparency in Fashion

You have to have been living under a rock not to be aware of the myriad issues plaguing the fast-fashion supply chain. While many brands have pledged to do more to protect workers and the environment, the industry’s long and complex chain is often pointed to as one of the key reasons why accountability is not (yet) ((really)) possible.

But what if blockchain could change that?

London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard has launched a pilot that tracks the journey of raw materials through the supply chain. The system works by using a unique digital token which verifies each step of production. By doing so, a digital history of information is created and this is directly presented back to consumers.

A Fundamentally New Development

To get some deeper insight into the current state of play, I reached out to Paul Sanderson, Senior Engineer at blockchain company Encrypt S. He said:

“Blockchain is an idea that’s only eight years old. It’s a fundamentally new development in computer science. Bitcoin proved that blockchain has real-world application and that it can be used in sensitive areas. But it’s impact will go far beyond that.”

Asking the lay(wo)man’s question — of how much I need to know and what I need to be doing to prepare, his answer was:

“Not everyone needs to know how the internet works, but almost everybody uses it and it will be the same with blockchain. Understanding how the technology works will allow new business to emerge, and older ones to adapt. But for many, blockchain will simply enhance their experience; its integration will be seamless.”

Uniqueness On The Web

The concept of uniqueness now provided on the web is pretty cool. Imagine what this could mean for contemporary digital artists who, for the first time ever, could protect their ideas or limit their work? (Spoiler alert: there’s already a market for that).

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google is pretty excited about this potential too. He said:

“The ability to create something which is not duplicable in the digital world has enormous value. Lots of people will build businesses on top of that.”

The Solution To Our (Digital) Problems?

Many moons ago, when I was studying what was then called New Media, my university peers and I were excited about the utopian possibilities presented by the web. We believed this new digital landscape would give more power to the little guy and that it would democratize the spread of (quality) information.

Many years have passed, and with it, our dreams have morphed into a reality full of fake news, endless cookies that follow us around, and increasingly fragmented audiences.

But, perhaps blockchain is the technology that will live up to the hype. Promises of ‘decentralization’, ‘greater transparency’ ‘cutting out the middleman’ and ‘power to the people’ certainly appeal and its application already proves promising. As the sector begins to mature, I’ll be watching with both intrigue and hope!

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