Crypto investors are mainly interested in one thing: money. There is nothing wrong with that, but sometimes a hyper-focus on financial returns can distract from the human impact of what is coming around the corner. Bitcoin etc have already proven their functionality as a method of transfer and a store of value, but the real impact will not be seen in just finance.
Beyond digital money, most people think of smart contracts as the area where blockchain will influence daily life - and while it is true that automated contracts will be standard in the near future, the capacity of blockchain to act as a single and irrefutable source of truth will leave the most profound ark on how we live and do business.
So while the likes of Bitcoin and Ripple will thrive as a method of payment, or Ethereum and EOS for smart contracts, the real area to watch is how crypto projects are helping to ledgerise all aspects of the economy, making fraud and deception impossible.
Here we will imagine how this might work with the example of a made-up company, BlockchainCompany101. Let’s imagine BlockchainCompany101 is a decentralised travel-insurance market, allowing travellers to seek better insurance costs and payouts in a peer-to-peer and blockchain verified scheme.
Ingredient 1: Contract Integrity
In the hypothetical example of BlockchainCompany101, you could insure your round-the-world backpacking trip cheaply on a peer-to-peer market, giving you peace of mind if some of your flights are cancelled, or you get sick and need medical attention, or you are a victim of theft, or adverse weather forces you to cancel all or part of your trip. Insurers would bid a premium on the open market to ensure you.
Instead of requiring a costly intermediary process of a notary or lawyer verifying the insurance agreement and keeping signed contracts on hand, BlockchainCompany101 could use a blockchain-based solution that would hold the details of the agreement and allow for all relevant parties to have access to the data to execute the insurance contract when needed. A project like Factom can do the job: Factom was designed to allow deeds, records, and contracts to be flexibly stored on a blockchain so that anybody anywhere can be given access to a record they can be sure is trustworthy.
Ingredient 2: Connected Data Collection
The BlockchainCompany101 customer would be able to rest easy knowing that in the event of a mishap on their travels, that the insurance contract will automatically pay out the required amount without the need for a time-consuming settlement process. This could involve a solution like ChainLink, which could involve triggers from a variety of data sources.
A ChainLink trigger could be set up to consult flight company API data and reimburse the customer if they missed their flight connections due to airline delays. Or if a hurricane struck, ChainLink could even pull data from sensors on weather stations and payout to the customer if your surfing holiday in Costa Rica gets cancelled in Costa Rica because of a hurricane (a situation that might be occurring right now).
With conventional travel insurance, this takes longer and would be impossible in a peer-to-peer market because it would rely too much on trusting the customer and the insurer to act in good faith. With the automation of project like ChainLink giving a single source of truth, it becomes feasible
Ingredient 3: Balancing Transparency and Privacy
One of the challenges of smart contracts has been privacy: if you want the business transaction to be transparent then what happens to the data that should be kept private? A public blockchain is not the best place for sensitive information that you might provide to a travel insurer (like health data, the actuarial calculations done by the insurer, or even your travel plans themselves which should not be broadcasted to the whole world).
An intriguing solution in this regard is the Enigma protocol. Enigma allows for obfuscated computation and data storage on the blockchain. What this involves is essentially encrypting some of the details of a smart contract or transaction so that only selected parties are able to view sensitive details. BlockchainCompany101 would use Enigma nodes to calculate and store the more sensitive aspects of the travel insurance policy without losing the decentralised value of their offering.
Ingredient 4: Decentralised Corporate Governance
The insurance industry is heavily regulated, and the companies in the industry are required to disclose a high level of auditable material. BlockchainCompany101 would also be a crowdfunded company with an ICO and token holders, which again requires a high level of transparency.
BlockchainCompany101’s leadership would be required to withstand a high level of scrutiny from regulators and their investors.
A solution like Traxalt, which is a corporate finance blockchain project, would allow BlockchainCompany101 to show how and what their finances are to the dozens of regulatory bodies that would need to know (remember that BlockchainCompany101 would be operating on a worldwide basis), while also allowing investors in the company to analyse how the platform is performing. In the future, annual reports delivered by PDF will be a thing of the past, and protocols like Traxalt will allow real-time transparency into how ledgerised companies are being run.
Toward Online Certainty
The internet seems established and reliable right now, with so much business and communication done online. But in reality, the vast majority of the data and transactions on the web are not cryptographically reliable and simply represent one party’s view on what reality is. All it takes is a database rewrite, and the owner of the data can claim that their version of the truth is the real one. This enables fraud and also prevent the kind of peer-to-peer economy you might see in a hypothetical use case like BlockchainCompany101.
The blockchain/ledger revolution is not just about smart contracts and digital payments, it is a complete change to the way we view data itself. The ones and zeros in a single database are no longer a source of truth in themselves, in the future, all online information will be expected to be independently verifiable. The examples of the projects outlined here are some ways we are getting closer to that future.