By using blockchains in the food supply chain, we would not only be able to track and trace where our food is coming from, but also how it is produced, how it has been stored and transported. We could also be able to track and check all players in the value chain, and whether they have been compensated fairly for their contribution. For example, if we are in a restaurant eating some amazing lobster from a local fisherman in Lofoten, we could choose to tip the fisherman, not only the server. How cool is that!
We’re not there yet, but this is a possible scenario and application of blockchain technology that represents what blockchain technology is all about; democratization, trust and having a less biased and fairer world.
Blockchains should solve real problems
At SXSW this year, there was a dedicated track for blockchain, with three days of talks about the technology and its applications, opportunities, and risks.
A number of interesting use-cases were shown from different industries; health (e.g. medical journals and doctors credentials), journalism (e.g. protecting IP and avoiding fake news) , ads (e.g. verification of real views and identify sources of content), finance (e.g. crypto and block chains for insurance), and the food industry, as mentioned above.
As a designer, I was happy to hear that all speakers and experts agreed that trying to solve a real problem was the best approach to explore blockchains. Not chasing cases that will fit the solution but finding the right use cases where an application of blockchains would create value for people, business and society - and that way contribute to the so-called triple bottom line.
The trust revolution
Blockchain is about trust; and expressions such as "automation of trust," "shared source of trust" and "shared truth" frequently come up when blockchain is discussed.
The technical concept of blockchain is multifaceted and complex, but for the sake of argument could be simplified; It consists of a timestamped record on a distributed ledger and could contain any set of data and metadata. The most known example is Bitcoin, a form of digital currency implemented as a blockchain. It gets more interesting considering that this record could also be a contract, an intellectual property, a share, etc. The value proposition of the blockchain is that this record is stored in a distributed network, not by a centralized authority such as a bank, government or private business. This is what makes it democratic, transparent and a foundation of trust.
For several years people have been talking about the present time as the 4th industrial revolution, where the physical and cyberspace melt together but is this perhaps also The Revolution of Trust?
Magnus Nevstad, our Creative Director of Technology and a fellow blockchain Firesoul, believes trust to be one of the possible key advantages with blockchain over conventional systems:
“Thanks to the decentralised nature of blockchains, you no longer have to rely on intuition and probability to make judgement calls on trust and risk. For instance, if you want to make sure all the resources you require come from sustainable sources, using a blockchain as the ledger for verified transactions would solve the problem of possible corruption. Trust is also about the security of your data and resources, and while one actor such as a bank could get hacked, a properly distributed and decentralised blockchain is by its very nature immutable and censorship-resistant.”
Designers can add meaning to blockchains
So, what did I learn about blockchains?
#1 There is definitely a need for the designers to capitalise on the benefits of blockchain technology. Finding real and relevant and important problems is essential to creating meaningful products and services using blockchains.
#2 The technology is an amazing tool for building trust! We know from experience that people will not adopt product and services we don’t trust.
#3 Blockchains can’t be used to solve every problem, and it’s still in an early stage - We’re now in its the third wave of enthusiasm. As the opportunists who were in it for short-cuts to fortune have calmed down, maybe this wave could be the one were blockchains could be used for sustainable value at a larger scale, and in a long term perspective.
#4 To have a real impact, blockchains need to change existing business models, if not it’s just digitalisation of existing business.
Magnus also warns of not buying too much into the hype:
Understanding blockchains is complex. I believe the focus should be on understanding the possibilities and limitations of the blockchain - and discovering where it can create real value. Unless you’re trying to solve real problems that blockchain is specifically suited for, you’re likely just buying into the hype.Magnus Nevstad, Creative Director of Technology, EGGS
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