There’s nothing quite like a Sunday roast with the family. In these extraordinary times, the occasion is perhaps even more precious, rare and cherished. Sitting on the train on the way to Hampshire, I wondered how blockchain might be working in the background to make my Sunday simpler, safer and more enjoyable.
Everything would have started last night when I made my reservations for the train. Using the standard mobile app that I already know and love, I would have purchased a ticket for myself and my partner. As part of the process, I would have declared that I possessed a valid two-together railcard to benefit from a family discount.
The train service would have checked that I have a valid card and then issued the tickets. But how would blockchain have made this process any different?
First off, at no point would I have needed to share my name, email, mobile number or any other personal information with the train company. In today’s privacy-conscious world, consumers don’t want to lose control of their data, and indeed many enterprises are considering personal data to be more and more of a liability.
Next, payment for our tickets would be sent to a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain. Only upon our on-time arrival would the amount be sent on to South Western Railway (SWR). If we needed to cancel our trip (because someone suddenly had a fever!), then our funds would be returned to our digital currency wallets immediately.
Tickets are typically issued as QR codes on SWR. With the latest technology from blockchain, our tickets would be published as tokens on the blockchain and sent to my wallet. In the world of blockchain, we would call these tickets non-fungible tokens, and they would be associated with the smart contract holding the funds for our tickets.
The best part: Throughout this process, I haven’t known – or needed to know – that anything is happening on the blockchain. All of this is entirely invisible to me. What I know is that my personal data is safe and that the transaction is secure. SWR knows that my tickets are valid and SWR has verified the legitimacy of our Two-Together Railcard (which means we don’t need to produce some odd piece of plastic on the train).
The best part of this is that I haven’t known – or needed to know – that anything is happening on a blockchain. All of this is completely invisible to me.
Hurray! The train begins to roll and we’re on the move!
When the guard comes to check our tickets and when we leave the train at Hook, our tokens would have been validated and our arrival time confirmed. With no action on our part, the funds from the smart contract would have been released to SWR, thus completing the transaction.
After a short walk (My sister-in-law is lovely, but she often forgets we are coming, forcing us to walk from the station to her home. I mean – how rude?!) we arrive to the smells of roast beef in the oven and the bashing and crashing of bowls and pans readying the Yorkshire puddings.
Sitting on the side of the counter is the wrapping from the family-sized piece of top-side beef for today’s main event.
On the corner of the beef, I could in my ‘blockchain Sunday’ spot a QR Code next to the Red Tractor logo (No. Red Tractor isn’t doing this – yet…). Being the curious sort that I am, I wander over and take a photo of the QR code.
In seconds I am transported to a web page where the history of this gorgeous piece of beef is revealed to me. I can see the farm where the cow was born and raised. I can see the trucking company used to transport the cow. I can see the abattoir where the meat was butchered. And I can see the name of the local village butcher Daniel has been working since he was just 15.
Throughout the life of the beef, there have been various certifications. The cow was indeed grass-fed and only on organic pastures. The trucking and abattoir services are certified for the hygienic and humane treatment of animals. I can even see that the farmer has paid their emissions credits towards the environmental impact of their herd.
My apologies to any pescatarians, vegetarians, vegans, pollotarians, flexitarians, fruitarians or others with different dietary habits. The great news is that blockchain can record every manner of transportation, transformation and accreditation for your chosen food group(s) too!
Regardless if tracing food, clothing, electronics, digital currency, tickets or other, all of this information is stored in various databases throughout the world. The data has been digitally signed, and these signatures recorded on the blockchain. Any tampering of the data would be easily detected, giving me confidence that I can trust the data. In blockchain speak, we would say that the data has become immutable or tamper-evident.
The best technology – is invisible.
With all this cooking and just a hint of chill in the air, the family are using a fair bit of electricity and natural gas.
My brother-in-law is a bit of a technology geek. And my sister-in-law is a very conscious environmentalist. This creates a fantastic combination for not just the latest tech, but also for explaining how blockchain can support their family goals.
On the roof is a broad solar array harnessing the power of the sun and is either using the electricity immediately or storing it in a large battery in the garage. (Oh – and it’s not just any battery, it’s a flywheel style mechanical battery. Super geeky.)
In the corner of the house are the gas and electric meters. These devices have their own unique identities and are registered on the energy blockchain. Each also has their own wallet so that they can send and receive digital currency depending on how energy is being consumed – or in the case of the solar array – how energy is being created and shared back through the neighbourhood grid.
Prices for both the consumption and contribution of energy are negotiated based on demand utilising smart contracts and without intervention from any specific energy company or government regulator. Energy remittances operate in a distributed and decentralised manner using digital currencies.
My brother-in-law owns governance tokens giving him a voice in how the grid operates, how the marketplace decides pricing and how energy is shared outside of their town, county and country. Everyone who participates in the network is part of a distributed autonomous organisation or DAO – another outstanding concept from the world of blockchain.
And yet, despite all of the genuinely extraordinary benefits from the energy system, my brother-in-law doesn’t see, deal or engage with any of the underlying technology. He never knows or needs to know that the core of the entire system is a decentralised database and a series of computer programs (smart contracts) are running on a blockchain network.
As I wrote last week, blockchain technology, networks and protocols are infrastructure. The value is in the systems and data built atop blockchain: identity systems, supply chain records, digital currencies, automated contracts, tickets and tokens, decentralised marketplaces and so much more.
Blockchain will slowly expand into people’s lives, reaching a critical mass. Ideally, no one will notice, and everyone will benefit. As a technologist of some 30+ years, blockchain will hopefully live up to one of my core principles:
The best technology is invisible.
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Troy Norcross, Co-Founder Blockchain Rookies