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Technology > Blockchain

8 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are just the beginning of how Blockchain can be used for transactions and tracking.
peshkov | Getty Images

Hacking and fraud have in some cases become more difficult to prevent and track as people have moved more of their lives online. But certain innovations, such as blockchain, show promise for cracking down on dishonest behavior, insecure transactions, contractual breaches and even unintended human and computer errors.

The technology that powers bitcoin can be difficult to comprehend. Blockchain is a digital ledger platform that verifies identities and transactions through a secure digital network of records. It’s especially secure because it generates multiple records stored in a decentralized manner.

Related: It Was Fun for a While, But Elon Musk Denies Theory He Created Bitcoin

In turn, blockchain empowers people to trade and transact more, because they can be sure who they’re trading with, as well as the origins of the thing they’re trading, dating back to its inception. They can even generate new things to securely trade, from their time to virtual cats.

Because it’s such an amorphous concept, read through the following blockchain use cases for a more tangible idea of what the technology can do -- or what people envision it will do in the near future.

8 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

1. Keeping a record of sexual consent.

Peter Zelei Images | Getty Images

In January 2018, Amsterdam-based startup LegalThings, which specializes in digital contracts, launched a beta version of an app called LegalFling, which uses blockchain technology to verify sexual consent. Its creators were inspired by the #MeToo movement, which has brought to light numerous accounts of sexual assault.

The app goes beyond recording whether a user has consented to having sex. A user can specify requirements and whether certain practices are OK with them, from sharing photos and videos to using a condom to being STD free to using explicit language. Then, they send a message request to a sexual partner, who decides whether to accept or decline the terms of the interaction. The person’s acceptance gets recorded on the blockchain, so neither party can tamper with that record after that time.

Related: A 2013 Letter From Uber's Travis Kalanick Lays Out Sex Rules for Employees at Company Party

Some have expressed concern that LegalFling cannot comprehensively reflect complex interpersonal dynamics. Someone could use the app on behalf of another person without the account holder’s knowledge, or someone could provide consent initially but later change their mind, then have to reflect that updated decision in the app. Some legal experts have warned that additional contractual protections would be required for agreements made via the app to hold up in court, Fortune reports.

8 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

2. Addressing voter fraud.

Hero Images | Getty Images

Reports of voters casting multiple ballots or votes being counted incorrectly call the validity of entire elections into question, prompting lawsuits and recounts. Palo Alto, Calif.-based nonprofit Democracy Earth has built an app called Sovereign with the goal of eliminating electoral corruption and fraud. Follow My Vote is another solution in development.

Blockchain software produces tokens within Sovereign, which are analogous to cryptocurrency, except they represent votes instead of money. The idea is that voters within an organization, be they citizens of a government or board members of a company, are issued a set number of votes through Sovereign to cast for the issues at hand.

Related: Why Bitcoin Is the MySpace of Cryptocurrencies, But the Blockchain Is Here to Stay

In addition to boosting security, the Sovereign system is designed to empower organizations to create more granular elections. An “unofficial digital referendum” in Colombia used Sovereign in 2016, according to New Scientist, and it asked voters to divide 100 votes across seven aspects of what would have otherwise been a yes-or-no issue. The app’s developers hope that one day, voting will occur across national borders, and that their app will be able to facilitate such a practice.

8 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

3. Trading commodities, from oil to soybeans.

kuangLiu | Getty Images

Blockchain has the potential to streamline paper trails in business transactions and trade finance. It eliminates the slow and inefficient process of sending paper back and forth while adding a layer of error protection.

In December 2017, global trading house Louis Dreyfus Co. conducted the world’s first agricultural commodity trade via blockchain, with help from Dutch and French banks. It sold a cargo of soybeans to Shandong Bohi Industry Co. The parties exchanged digital contracts, letters of credit and records of government inspections and certifications to complete the deal.

In a statement to Bloomberg, Louis Dreyfus Co. estimated that document processing time was shortened to one-fifth of what is normal for a deal of this magnitude, while a representative from Dutch bank ING Groep NV told the outlet that the transaction took one week, rather than the standard two.

Blockchain-based energy (crude oil) trades have already occured, and metals trading could be next. By late 2018, a blockchain-based physical commodity transaction platform formed by BP, Shell, ING and other entities is expected to be fully operational.

8 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

4. Sharing solar power.

Blend Images | Michael DeYoung | Getty Images

In Brooklyn, people with solar panels can monetize the renewable electricity they’re generating by selling some of that power to their environmentally conscious neighbors via blockchain.

Startup LO3 Energy, in partnership with Siemens, is testing this capability though an app called Brooklyn Microgrid. Consumers with solar panels can sell environmental credits to other residents who wouldn’t otherwise have access to solar power, without going through a middle man (other than the app itself) or utility company. Consumers control their transactions and the meters are directly connected for the power trades to register.

The startup foresees the potential to build a energy system independent of the grid, with the ability to store excess for use during large-scale outages.

8 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

5. Buying virtual cats.

CryptoKitties

In late 2018, a game called CryptoKitties debuted and generated more than $1.3 million in transactions of virtual cats in just over a month. A studio called AxiomZen created the phenomenon, powered by the Ethereum cryptocurrency blockchain, and on Dec. 3, 2017, TechCrunch reported that the price of one CyrptoKitty ranged from the equivalent of roughly $12 to $113,000.

Cat breeding also occurs in the game, which influences pricing. As of Jan. 22, 2018, there have been 268,341 sales of CryptoKitties and 210,469 unique kitties sold, with sales totaling $19,160,337. Axiom takes a cut.

Related: 3 Things Entrepreneurs Need to Understand About Blockchain Technology

The publication compared the craze to Beanie Babies in the 1990s, as well as Neopets, but made the distinction that because no centralized entity owns or manages CyrptoKitties -- those who own them will have access to them forever, even if they don’t have much value down the line.

The game’s complicated, but you can read the FAQ here.

8 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

6. Chronicling the lives of Thanksgiving turkeys.

Jim Cumming | Getty Images

For Portlandia types concerned about the origins of their food, international food conglomerate Cargill presented a solution this past Thanksgiving. Turkeys distributed from select farms featured packaging printed with a tracking code, and buyers could go online, type in the code and learn about their individual bird.

The online profile was complete with photos, information about the farm where the turkey was raised and even a message from the farmer. While it's a cute idea, it has some utility -- it also helped the company with tracking in the event of a food safety incident such as the need for a pinpointed recall.

Other food companies have begun to view blockchain as a way to track products throughout their supply chains as a means of quality control. Last year, IBM announced plans for a blockchain food safety project in partnership with companies such as Dole, Driscoll’s, Kroger, Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Walmart, according to Buzzfeed.

8 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

7. Converting a person’s time into a special currency.

Mario Gutiérrez | Getty Images

Startup founder Evan Prodromou came up with a solution to keep all of the people at bay who asked if they could “pick his brain” -- he created a cryptocurrency called Evancoin on the Ethereum blockchain platform.

The Fuzzy.ai co-founder spearheaded an initial coin offering (ICO) for Evancoin on Oct. 1, 2017, selling 20 hours worth at $15 each. But Prodromou didn’t commodify all of his time, just professional time. Fortunately for his family, they don’t have to pay to get him to join them at the dinner table or anything like that.

Basic economic principles govern Evancoin, as Wired reported -- the cryptocurrency’s value could theoretically shift along with supply and demand. Two weeks after the ICO, those in possession of Evancoin could also sell it for $45 per hour -- which was less than Prodromou’s hourly consulting rate, but he was mostly in it to see what would happen upon making his own blockchain-based currency.

“I’m really serious about exploring how cryptocurrency is changing what we can do with money and how we think about it,”  Prodromou told Wired. “Money is this sort of consensual hallucination, and I wanted to experiment around that.”

8 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

8. Tracking dental records.

yoh4nn | Getty Images

Given that blockchain is an ultra-secure record-keeping system, a logical application for the technology is medical records. Several companies and healthcare organizations have delved into this idea, but it can get extremely niche.

Dentacoin, for dentists and dental records, is one example. It’s not only a blockchain network, but a globally universal token, called ERC20, designed to facilitate the exchange of information within the dental industry. Whether between dental offices or between providers and their patients, the network is designed to make sure information is exchanged only between the intended parties. It also could be used as a compliance tool, making sure that dental tools and materials are properly sourced and used on the correct patients. Thinking globally, it could allow for a more efficient exchange of tools when and where they’re needed.

In terms of payment security, patients could use Dentacoin to pay for their dental procedures. The Dentacoin website also explains that the goal of the exchange is to make dental care more affordable. As of Jan. 22, 2018, there are 325.2 billion dentacoin in circulation.