Links in the chain grow

It began as a permanent, reputedly hack-proof bookkeeping system to record Bitcoin transactions. But it quickly was seized upon by lawyers as a way to guarantee the authenticity of contract signatures; by medical care providers to ensure the integrity of electronic medical records; and by jewelers to prove that a particular diamond didn’t come from an African war zone, among other uses.

Now blockchains are making their way into more new areas.

For example, some day you might be turning to a blockchain to guarantee the used car you’re buying.

The nation of Belarus has hired the Estonian company HashCoins to create a blockchain-based registry not just of vehicles, but also of their parts and history. Serial numbers of engines and other parts will be stored on the blockchain so you can tell if original equipment has been replaced. The registry also would hold an indelible history of any accidents the vehicle has been involved in.

Brendan Eich, who created the programming language Javascript, is building a blockchain to clean up your Internet experiences. His blockchain is a new browser called “Brave.” It blocks ads, cookies, and other interlopers designed to track your on-line behavior. But if, for example, you choose to download music or an ad and decide you like it enough to pay for it, Brave will make sure that most of your payment goes to the musicians or product makers, not to the companies that try to litter your screen with banners and pop-ups.

KodakCoin, created by the camera company, is a blockchain protecting photographers’ livelihoods.

Many photographers make a portion of their incomes selling the same image several times. But, in the Internet age, it’s easy to see that image hijacked and used by someone who doesn’t pay. Picture-takers have no way to know when that happens or who to send a bill to.

The KodakCoin blockchain keeps a record of who bought rights to use a photo. It also sends bots out to find unauthorized uses of the image and helps the photographer learn who owes him money.

There’s even talk of landlords in any given area creating a blockchain to record details about tenants — who paid the rent on time or who disappeared, leaving a broken lease and trashed apartment behind.

But blockchains aren’t all about business. The Texas city of Austin is testing a blockchain that stores the identities of homeless people.

When their identity or Social Security cards are stolen or lost, people living on the streets have no way to prove who they are, leaving them unable to get needed services or to replace the missing documents. Austin’s blockchain could store a person’s photo or fingerprint to prove identity. In addition, the ledger can track the public services the person has used.

In the Middle East, the UN’s World Food Program is trying out a blockchain that lets Syrian refugees in a Jordanian camp pay for food using credits recorded in a blockchain. TJ


Think of something and you can bet that someone’s fashioning a blockchain for it.

Corporations have been slow in adopting blockchain technology, in part because it requires rethinking business models. But any process that requires the storage or transfer of information will be testing blockchains sooner or later. Not all will endure, but enough will to make blockchains a building block of the future.

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