Keeping up with our ever-changing world can feel like a full-time job. Adapting to a never-ending stream of news, innovations, and societal shifts can be overwhelming but can also be a source of excitement. For futurists, change brings opportunities to lead, innovate, and build a better future.
In this new series, we will look through the lens of a futurist to explore some of the exciting technologies and trends bound to shape our future lives.
Ready to think like a futurist? First up: Blockchain.
Step 1: What is blockchain?
While blockchain is still relatively new and its adoption slow, it is a core component of most cryptocurrencies and a clear opportunity for innovation.
But what is blockchain, and why is it important?
Blockchain is a distributed public ledger technology (DLT) that allows users to record immutable transactions in a secure digital system. Unlike traditional ways of managing data and transactions, blockchain decentralizes its data instead of holding information on one central database. This is one of the reasons blockchains are so secure.
Most blockchains are public, adding transparency. All transactions on public blockchains are viewable by anyone with a blockchain explorer. This makes it extra difficult for hackers (though not impossible) to steal cryptocurrencies, as every transaction is traceable.
Step 2: Trendspotting
Let’s look at the current trends and use cases that paint a picture of the potential opportunities for blockchain.
Blockchain has predominantly enabled cryptocurrencies and updated banking in recent years. Now, thanks to the hyper-popularity of NFTs, increasing uses in supply chain, financial services, entertainment and other industries there is added legitimacy to blockchain-enabled innovations. According to a recent report, the blockchain market is expected to see exponential growth, from $4.9 billion in 2021 to $67.4 billion by 2026. In 2021, venture capital funding for blockchain startups increased by an impressive 713% from 2020, reaching $25.2 billion. With this increased investment and enablement, blockchain could continue to support everything from cryptocurrencies to NFTs to smart contracts. It could also enable asset transfers, remittances, supply chain monitoring, vaccine management, GameFi, and the Metaverse.
- Asset transfers: Did you know that the use of blockchain could also apply to tangible assets, like houses and cars? For example, suppose Person A wanted to buy a house from Person B. They could use the blockchain to verify ownership, transfer funds, and update title and deed records using the blockchain rather than through an escrow company. One example of this is startup Propy, a platform that uses blockchain to simplify and secure the home-purchasing process.
- Remittances and Payments: When it comes to making global payments, the current processes are less than ideal. Due to long processing times and expensive fees, people are seeking out better methods. By using blockchain technology, the remittance economy could remove the mediator and therefore eliminate fees and greatly reduce transaction times. Ripple is a great example of this opportunity, using the power of blockchain to shape an inclusive financial system and the future of global payments.
- Supply chain monitoring: Global issues surrounding the supply chain have been unrelenting since the start of the pandemic, but these issues present opportunities for several emerging technologies to provide solutions, including blockchain. Because the global supply chain generates huge amounts of data, it can be challenging to track down specific information. Blockchain’s transparency and traceability could help simplify supply chain monitoring, as exemplified by VeChain’s solutions. Using blockchain, IoT, and other solutions, VeChain helps to mitigate the many data issues that arise within supply chain logistics.
- Vaccine management: The distribution of COVID-19 vaccines presented several logistical challenges, such as temperature tracking. Because most COVID-19 vaccines needed to stay at specific temperatures, these British hospitals turned to temperature sensors paired with blockchain to ensure that any batches that experienced temperature disruptions would be removed from use. IBM has also stepped up and created a vaccine distribution network using their blockchain, making the process easier to control for manufacturers, distributors, and patients.
- GameFi: Gamers are exploring “play-to-earn” models that combine cryptocurrency, NFTs, and blockchain. This trend is known as GameFi, and earnings range from bonuses for gameplay to full-time income. By utilizing blockchain, GameFi projects allow users to earn crypto for gameplay and own and store their game assets on a public blockchain.
- Metaverse: Possibly the hottest topic right now, the Metaverse has opened numerous possibilities for emerging technologies like blockchain. Purchasing power within a Metaverse could rely on cryptocurrencies secured by blockchain technology, and user data could also be fully secured using blockchain. If our lives become intertwined with the Metaverse, security could prove essential. Similarly, the decentralized nature of blockchain has become an area of interest for people exploring Metaverse possibilities. Instead of hosting virtual worlds on corporate servers, some believe that a decentralized Metaverse could have more opportunities. Blockchain also empowers and secures digital real estate within the Metaverse, with everyone from PwC to Snoop Dogg buying virtual property.
Step 3: Opportunity knocks
As exciting as these trends may be, some issues hinder realization. When it comes to blockchain, the main problem is scalability. Because of its decentralized nature, using blockchain has certain limitations — storage, compute power, environmental impact, uptime etc. — which can lead to significant issues, like network outages, such as those recently experienced by Solana and Polygon.
Storage capacity is another big concern for blockchain because each node on a network holds a copy of its distributed digital ledger. As more users add information to that blockchain, scalability becomes an issue. In that same vein, response time slows down as more information is added to a blockchain, as each new transaction requires a network-wide verification process from all connected nodes.
Those large computing needs come at a cost. Because each transaction requires so much processing power, many are concerned about blockchain’s heavy energy consumption. Blockchain can also leave quite a carbon footprint because of its storage.
These issues may seem like difficult hurdles to overcome. But obstacles can also become opportunities.
Innovative thinking is required to develop strategic solutions or complementary technologies to solve blockchain scalability issues. Blockchain professionals are looking at several solutions, such as switching from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake consensus algorithms, improving capacity, and reducing computational energy.
To help address sustainability issues many new cryptocurrencies have emerged, aiming to use the most eco-friendly methods. One blockchain, Algorand, was specifically built with sustainability in mind and pledged to be forever carbon neutral. HP is also working to find ways to reduce the climate impact of the Metaverse, an emerging technology likely to be powered by blockchain. With Z by HP and its acquisition of Teradici, Metaverse creators will be able to turn to cloud-based alternatives. As consumer demand for environmentally friendly options grows stronger, blockchain creators are wise to pay attention and find viable solutions.
By looking at technologies and trends through the lens of a futurist, we can begin to shape an idea of how they will impact our futures. Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize how we manage and secure critical data, which is no simple feat in our increasingly digital world.
By keeping aware of trends and obstacles, futurists can explore and influence opportunities that could significantly impact our world. New technologies and trends contribute to a constant state of change, altering everything from how we do business to how we live our lives. By thinking like a futurist, you can become a part of that change.
Now that we’ve explored blockchain, how do you think it will have changed our world in the next ten years?