Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the emergence of blockchain technology over the last few years is the fact that all of us stand to gain from its implementation. This is not just a trend that is going to benefit a handful of geeks or make a few mega corporations even richer than they already are. In this game, we all have a stake at the table.
Nowhere will this be more welcome than in the sphere of public services – those vital, commonplace and frequently infuriating interactions with the authorities and governments that run the societies we live in. To anyone who has ever applied for a passport, had to pay a utility bill or their taxes or voted in an election, the prospect of these processes becoming more streamlined and efficient is an enticing one.
Bureaucracy has become a feature of societies everywhere and the more advanced the society, the more convoluted and impenetrable the bureaucracy that underpins it. Blockchain technology is threatening to change all that.
It’s important to look beyond the areas where blockchain has already established itself and grasp its wider potential.
We’re all familiar with its impact upon the financial sector and the hype around Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies which first brought it to our attention. It’s not just financial data which can be stored on a blockchain however – anything from health records to property deeds or electoral details can be logged securely and immutably. The possibilities here are endless.
Improving Voting Efficiency
A good example of this potential can be seen in relation to elections. 2016 was full of them and, as we have seen with the US presidential poll, they have been the cause of huge controversy and upheaval. All elections present massive issues of coordination and organisation.
Voter turnout is frequently disappointing and the systems used to count the votes and guard against electoral fraud are cumbersome and unreliable. Although the idea of voting online has been around for a while, the security concerns around it have prevented mass adoption.
But with a blockchain-based system of voting, these issues can be overcome. Citizens can be issued with a digital ID secured with a cryptographic key. This ID stores their data, enables them to vote online and ensures the complete security of the whole process.
With the vote logged permanently on the blockchain, it cannot be tampered with in any way, nor can the voter illegally re-use it. The vote can also be instantly counted without the need for electoral officials to sort through mountains of paper and thus the results of the election would be available far more quickly.
Turnout would almost certainly be higher if people were able to vote securely and quickly from the comfort of their own home. If this all sounds impossibly futuristic then consider the fact that they’ve been doing it in Estonia since 2005.
Blockchain in Daily Life
You can apply these benefits to numerous other spheres of public life and unlock a wealth of potential for maximising efficiency whilst dispensing with needless waste and expense.
Current tax systems are notoriously labour-intensive and open to abuse or error.
The process of filling out millions of individual tax return can easily result in mistakes (intentional or otherwise) and requires the processing of vast amounts of data by tax authorities. Once again however, blockchain offers some intriguing solutions.
If a citizen could opt for having their tax records linked via blockchain to their banking records, then there is the potential for their tax returns to be calculated automatically. The immutability of the blockchain means that neither the taxpayer nor the tax office will be able to pay less or claim more than is owed and the process will be fully transparent. The need for third parties to process or scrutinise the data produced would be drastically reduced and revenues could be collected faster and more accurately.
A system like this would need to be optional in order to build public trust, but once its benefits became clear then mass adoption would follow in due course.
Government Adoption Increasing
Fortunately, governments are waking up to these possibilities and taking steps to ensure they don’t get left behind. China and Luxembourg are considering blockchain-based tax systems and Estonia’s pioneering use of blockchain technology has helped it get 99% of its public services online, saving a claimed ‘800 years of working time annually’. In a larger country like the UK or the United States, this potentially amounts to several millennia being freed up for better use – a pretty mind-boggling prospect.
Blockchain’s impact is going to be enormous across the entire spectrum of daily life. Whole industries are going to benefit from the security, transparency and increased efficiency that it offers.
Some people are going to get very rich off the back of it and its adoption is going to affect us all in some way or another. But its appeal really lies in the potential it has to make all our lives easier, fairer and safer. The ordinary man or woman in the street has much more to look forward to than they may think.
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