The best application I have seen recently is the voting systems. It seems like a very natural way of doing things: we want everyone to be able to verify that the election was not fraudulent, but the catch is that you don’t want everyone to know who you voted for. So you need to have some sort of API and interface to the blockchain that anonymises your vote, but you are still able to see that the vote was correctly registered.
One of the ideas we had in our research group was that you go to a voting machine, and you enter your vote, and you get a printout with a fake name, and that fake name has voted for you. Let’s say I, Mansoor, go to vote, and I get the fake name Jack Linden. And then, once the voting is over and the counting is done, the blockchain can have the votes, and I can see that yes, Jack Linden voted for the person that I actually wanted to vote for. That way everyone can verify that there votes were counted, and that way there is no debate about the election results anymore. That seems like an area we should explore.
There are not many live applications in the public sector. There are land registries in Sweden, Georgia, Ukraine, but the public sector is mostly still evaluating and testing.
For me, the most interesting application would be something that we haven’t seen yet, which is a blockchain-style voting system. I say ‘style’ because there are some technical questions over whether blockchain is the best approach for a new online electoral voting system. This is something we’re still evaluating.
But there are certain properties that blockchains have that would make them an excellent fit for an improved electoral voting system. One is the ability to preserve your anonymity, so you could vote without revealing your political preferences. The way this would work is as follows: each voter would have a unique alpha-numeric ID associated with the electoral blockchain that only you know.
You could also use your alpha-numeric ID to verify that your vote was counted. This is something that a lot of us don’t think about much: when we cast a vote, it’s largely an act of faith that our vote is counted. With a blockchain you can look at your ID and see, “here is my vote, in this column that tabulates the vote”. This would introduce crowd auditing into the electoral voting system.
In many countries, vote fraud is not an issue, but in many countries it is a huge issue, and this could be an absolute massive game-changer in many societies where there is serious tampering with elections and the legitimacy of governments.
That’s where blockchain could be a lot more transformative than in other areas. I don’t want to dismiss anyone’s blockchain project or make it seem small by comparison, but there are some important things in terms of everyday life and who we are, and honest elections of public officials to our public institutions is one of the most important areas where blockchain could make an impact in my view.
Garrick Hileman and Michel Rauchs released the 2017 Global Blockchain Benchmarking Study, which can be downloaded as a PDF here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3040224.
You can read the brief summary of their study here: https://insight.jbs.cam.ac.uk/2017/central-banks-are-trialling-blockchain/
The above interview was conducted on 12 December, 2017.