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Blockchain: Just FinTech right?


April 8, 2016


Wrong!

I spent a great day at the Digital Catapult in London. The whole theme for the day being “Blockchain : Beyond FinTech”. The event itself was oversubscribed and the room was full of SMEs, Corporates, Start-ups, Researchers and some members of the UK Government. It’s this cross-section of the tech scene that makes the events at the Digital Catapult so exciting – as you can just see the ideas bounce around.

Who better to kick off the event than Simon Taylor who heads up R&D at Barclays Bank? Even though the day was about beyond FinTech the reality is that the financial houses have been looking at this tech the longest and so are in a great position to explain the concepts. He introduced a model to help traditional thinkers accept that “Blockchain” is a multi-layered thing.

  • Application: The interface: like a Bitcoin wallet
  • Middleware: Smart contract: like unspent Txn Output
  • Database: shared Ledger: like the Blockchain

We spent more time breaking each of the above down even further – which goes to prove you really need to dig a little deeper as one “blockchain” can mean very different things to different people.

But the real value in the day was hearing the various use cases for the technology in very different industries:

The Arts

  • How big data and Blockchain might support new opportunities for the arts
(a brilliant example of a project called Plantoid: from an artist collective called Chaos. Using Bitcoins an individual member of the public can “tip” the art structure of a plant. If the plant gets enough tips it can hire an artist to replicate the plant. It is based on autonomous agents. Human aided reproduction)
  • Music industry (Ujo Music) providing a shared ledger of rights and then automated licensing and payments of royalties etc. with smart contracts.

UK Government

  • Forensics – to prevent fraud and error.
  • Track payments reliably- e.g. the distribution of International Aid
  • State Benefit payments: For citizens who are not good at budgeting could receive their state benefits weekly, rather than monthly etc.
  • Simplifying Business registration, or IP registration: removing paper intensive processes, which require 4 or 5 actors etc.

IOT

  • IOT: to provide access to personal data – so and individual can sell their data in an anonymous way
  • Help overcome problems in smart city space – to provide data sharing between entities that don’t trust each other e.g. Utilities, underground infrastructure maps. Data belongs to the citizens.

Both the Supply Chain and Security verticals represented examples around identity; either the identity of a person, or even a piece of free-trade food.

The day ended with a vision of the future for Blockchain from a Millennial who started his pitch quoting the WEF (World Economic Forum) “10% GDP will be in Blockchain by 2025”. Some snippets of what the future might be.

  • Rentals: you will be able to rent almost anything to the network – so someone else can use your goods when you don’t need them e.g. your car or TV for advertising space.
  • Decentralised trading platforms; distributed research 
agencies, real-time crunching of IOT data.
  • A Trading “Bot”: the more it earns, the smarter it 
gets.

So yes, it is relatively early days for this technology, but there are certainly lots of smart people around working through the possible benefits to society at large.

What are thoughts on any winning use cases for Blockchain? I’d love to hear them.

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