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Charting The Disruptive Future of the Blockchain

Reading Time: 6 minutes by on July 24, 2017 Blockchain, Business, Commentary, News
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While blockchain technology has seen a massive uptick in interest since 2015, rarely have we taken a step back to assess its true power and potential impact on our society — people, infrastructure, design, commerce and more.

So how immersed could this technology become within our lives? Given the current trajectory, it is clear that from smart homes to blockchain-enabled future cities, the potential is huge.

For example, consider the following:

  • Autonomous Logistics: Intelligent, self-driving delivery vehicles shuttling products and materials to their destinations, using blockchain technology to execute and verify every transaction. This could make the current centralized model of warehousing and logistics obsolete.
  • Distributed Commerce: Combining the blockchain with virtual reality, 3D scanning, printing, and more could create immersive, personalized shopping experiences anywhere consumers want to have them.

Frankly, these examples just skim the surface for the more that distributed ledgers are utilized as a framework, the more value we can derive. We know that the disruptive potential of already exponential technologies multiplies significantly when they can intersect and combine. With blockchain technology creating the framework for that to happen, the potential economic transformation could be on par with the Industrial Revolution.

For an in-depth look at the disruptive future of blockchain technology, we turn to two experts at SAP SE, a German multinational software corporation that makes enterprise software to manage business operations and customer relations.

Raimund Gross, the Innovation Manager for Blockchain Projects, has been working with new technologies and trends for over 20 years. He is part of the SAP Innovation Center Network and evaluates emerging technologies and trends for a living. His belief is that change – be it digitization or other – needs to be driven mindfully within existing structures to be successful. Raimund enjoys working across silos, topics, and cultures to build creative, novel solutions.

For more than two years Gross has engaged cross-industries and lines of business to find synergies, detect patterns and shape the future SAP direction around blockchain technology. He is part of the core group that incepted the blockchain within SAP and one of the SAP experts and spokespersons on the topic.

The other expert, Dan Wellers, is the SAP Marketing, Global Head of Digital Futures. In this role, Dan’s charter is to build actionable visions for the future inspired by the transformative potential of digital technology. He believes that to build a better future we first have to imagine it and that the stories we tell today will determine the kind of outcomes we create for ourselves tomorrow.

Dan’s 30-plus years of experience include management, business strategy, marketing, consulting, and sales. He has held myriad U.S. and international roles with Information Technology organizations, from start-ups to mega-cap global firms.

SAP has recognized that distributed ledger technology is not just accelerating, but spreading far beyond financial services. Businesses across the globe, including SAP, are considering all the ways the blockchain could remove friction and risk in business transactions. The ability to maintain distributed, tamper-proof ledgers that permanently and transparently record transactions creates a multitude of possibilities.

SAP views the blockchain as a promising way to simplify complex multi-party processes and create trust among participants. SAP Leonardo Blockchain lets companies experiment with distributed ledger technology in the cloud. By eliminating the need for a large upfront capital investment, SAP Leonardo Blockchain is perhaps the easiest, lowest-risk gateway to enterprise blockchain adoption.

Figuring out where the benefits and values are in an enterprise context, so our customers are faced with less complexity, and more clarity is an ongoing process at SAP. But the goal ultimately is to figure out how close blockchain scenarios can be moved towards enterprise requirements. Ideally, the company can play an active role to shape the future of the blockchain based on its experience in enterprise requirements, business process understanding and operating mission critical systems, providing solutions that have a marked impact on global economies and GDP.

Emerging Trends In Blockchain Technology

Gross and Wellers believe that as the physical world becomes ever more quantified, being able to guarantee the integrity and provenance of digital and physical assets and the transactions in which they’re involved will become a core competitive advantage — and that the blockchain is deliberately designed to embed that guarantee in every transaction. Distributed ledgers, smart contracts, and other blockchain technologies, they say, could form the foundation on which other exponential technologies combine and scale.

They point to the potential impact of IoT sensors in drones, autonomous vehicles, 3D printers, and augmented/virtual reality gear that will collect and record data in decentralized ledgers. This data, they say, would be immediately verified and could be made instantly available for use by any application. Smart contracts programmed into the blockchain would then execute business processes by drawing on these vast repositories of live data. Everything could be further automated by adding artificial intelligence into smart contracts to make decisions without human involvement.

Gross and Wellers offer a few examples of the blockchain as a framework for technology convergence include democratized design and manufacturing, autonomous logistics and distributed commerce. Democratized design and manufacturing is a blockchain-enabled design and manufacturing platform that would allow individuals and small businesses to play a larger role in the digital economy. Products designed from scratch in virtual reality, as well as copies of existing objects, scanned with machine vision, could be easily bought, sold, shared, or even digitally remixed, at an affordable cost while protecting intellectual property rights.

They go on to note that with autonomous logistics, intelligent, self-driving delivery vehicles could shuttle products and materials to their destinations, or even use onboard 3D printers to create them in the location where they are needed, using blockchain technology to execute and verify every transaction.

Combining distributed ledgers with virtual reality, artificial intelligence, 3D scanning and printing, autonomous vehicles, Gross and Wellers explain, could create immersive, personalized shopping experiences anywhere consumers want to have them, leading to distributed commerce.

The two say that overall, blockchain technology promises to increase economic participation and inclusion worldwide, especially at the bottom of the financial pyramid. The blockchain could enable billions of people who currently lack access to the global economy to perform financial and legal transactions with nothing but a mobile device and a network connection – and that would open markets and possibilities that could be measured in trillions of dollars or more.

The Blockchain of Smart Cities and Homes

Gross and Weller say to imagine that a city has a digital ledger in which every house or apartment has a presence containing all relevant information about the home, from property ownership and mortgage balance to transactional data like utility use, property tax assessment, and past and current contractor relationships.

The city could access this “digital twin” to coordinate services and perform administrative tasks related to the property more efficiently and with greater accuracy. The property owner would have a verified, trustworthy way to perform transactions like renting a room, hiring contractors to do lawn work, or selling power generated by solar panels back to the grid.

The city utility company could feed power consumption data into AI to generate energy-saving recommendations and leverage smart contracts that automatically manage power consumption between smart appliances and the grid to lower costs and improve energy efficiency.

The Blockchain and Self-driving, Autonomous Vehicles

According to Gross and Wellers, the convergence of the blockchain and IoT may lead to a whole new way of travel. For example, a business traveler hops into an autonomous electric taxi at the airport and tells it to take her to a meeting in the city center. Knowing from traffic sensor data that there’s been an accident on the highway, the car automatically chooses an alternate route that ends at the parking lot nearest its destination with an available outlet for charging.

As the car parks itself, it connects to an outlet that bills the taxi company in real time for the amount of electricity needed to top up the car battery. As the traveler leaves the parking lot and connects to the city’s public WiFi via a social media account, she immediately receives a push notification with a discount at the nearby coffee shop. She stops for coffee and heads for her destination, where the elevator recognizes her phone and automatically takes her to the correct floor for her meeting, right on time.

Blockchain and Distributed Commerce

Distributed ledger technology, say Gross and Wellers has the ability to revolutionize the shopping experience completely. Shoppers could grant permission for vendors to access their purchase history, preferences, and other data stored on a distributed ledger. Vendor AIs could then generate more accurate recommendations and interact with e-commerce bots that complete purchases automatically.

Customers would receive promotions for new styles, medication refills, or replacement parts without even having to think about it. Critically, the blockchain would allow buyers to limit access to their personal or proprietary data to specific organizations over a defined period of time, for example, until the end of their shopping experience or the close of their fiscal year.

The Roadmap Ahead

Gross and Wellers conclude by saying that the disruptive potential of already exponential technologies multiplies by orders of magnitude when they can intersect and combine. With the blockchain creating the framework for that to happen, it is not entirely hyperbole to put the potential economic transformation on par with the Industrial Revolution, note the two.

Organizations they say need to start right now to think through the likely impacts in a disciplined and proactive way, and have to be part of the change to learn, understand and even influence what is happening. They closed with:

“If organizations only stand on the sidelines and watch, they miss the opportunity to shape how the future will be. Only through immersion and participation can companies ensure to benefit from what is now developing.”

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