Blockchain is a recent technology with revolutionary capabilities.

Blockchain has the potential to revolutionise banking, voting, shipping – and nearly everything else.

Blockchain exploded onto the technology scene in 2008 with the introduction of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. For six years blockchain was solely utilised for cryptocurrency applications, but since 2014 it has been used in a wide variety of sectors as a permanent, distributed, uneditable online ledger. These properties have led many writers to describe it as revolutionary, but some are skeptical.

IBM have been at the forefront of blockchain research since the unveiling of their Blockchain Innovation Research Centre in Singapore in July 2016. In a recent launch, IBM demonstrated their blockchain-based global food tracking network. In development for over 18 months, IBM’s Food Trust Ledger will track and trace food supply chain data from farm to shelf and will allow food retailers, distributors and growers to see supply chain data in real time. French supermarket giant Carrefour has announced its adoption of the Food Trust Ledger across its 12,000 locations to increase consumer confidence, and other retailers are quickly following suit.

US retail behemoth Walmart has been testing blockchain technology in its supply chain since 2016 and currently tracks 25 SKUs using blockchain. Walmart has reported that the time it takes to trace a food item from store to farm has been cut from seven days to just 2.2 seconds using blockchain. This incredible speed is a game-changer when it comes to the traceability of food and food-borne pathogens in the food supply chain.

IBM has also recently launched a blockchain based shipping platform with international shipping firm Maersk. Their new TradeLens system aims to record and track details of cargo shipments as they leave their point of origin, arrive in ports, are shipped overseas and eventually received. IBM already has 94 participants trialling the system and tracks almost one million events per day.

Blockchain technology isn’t just reserved for corporations, however. The state of West Virginia, USA will make records this year by allowing deployed members of the military and their families to vote in the midterm elections online by smartphone or tablet using a blockchain-based app. The app, called Voatz, will require three step verification of their state ID, face and fingerprints and the blockchain ledger will be verified by 8 nodes spread across the US in an effort to prevent voter fraud, but some critics are wary. Digital-voting opponents have argued that moving voting online will increase the risk of voter fraud and hacking, and point to the US 2016 election hacking scandal as a warning against wider adoption.

Democracy campaigners are not the only group sceptical of blockchain. International banks have generally stayed away from the technology as it is seen as volatile and a threat to traditional banking, and governments across the world have historically been wary. This is set to change though, with 11 of the world’s top 100 banks already signed up to Ripple’s XRP ecosystem to enable free international exchanges, and a significant amount of governments testing the technology for state-backed cryptocurrencies.

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