What to expect from blockchain in 2019

Blockchain is expected to head in new directions this year. Read some predictions from insider experts.

What are the biggest benefits of blockchain? At the 2018 Gartner Symposium, Gartner's David Mahdi explained blockchain and its potential enterprise benefits.

The blockchain industry involves a distributed electronic payments system, which utilizes virtual currency (known as a cryptocurrency) to facilitate the commission of online anonymous transactions. This entails a public record, which contains the details of all transactions.

Dawn Song, CEO, Oasis Labs

I spoke to Dawn Song, CEO of Oasis Labs, a privacy-first cloud computing platform that uses blockchain, to get her thoughts on where blockchain is headed in 2019.

"While 2018 was focused on scalability, 2019 will be the year of privacy," said Song. "We have seen an unfortunate and consistent pattern of misuse, abuse, and attacks of sensitive user information. This will come to a tipping point in 2019 where customers begin to 'vote with their data' and look for applications that won't violate their privacy.

SEE: How blockchain will disrupt business (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

"This will push advancements in privacy-preserving techniques for blockchain that will usher in a new era of privacy-first applications, providing unprecedented transparency and control for users and fostering the development of new data-driven applications that put user privacy first."

Dr. Song stated that privacy-preserving techniques combined with blockchain can enable new decentralized applications that protect data while providing users with transparency and control over how data is used. "These privacy-first applications will help restore consumer trust that fosters the development of data-driven applications," she said.

Examples provided by Dr. Song of such techniques included zero-knowledge proofs and homomorphic encryption, which saw increased research and development activity from the blockchain community in 2018.

However, these techniques are not yet practical for general applications because of the slow way in which they operate, "often ranging from thousands to more than millions of times slower than native execution," she said.

Hardware-based approaches

Instead, Song's view is that hardware-based approaches are a more significant factor and that 2019 will see the rise of these techniques for secure computing, including hardware-based acceleration of cryptographic techniques as well as trusted hardware.

"Trusted hardware provides a secure execution environment called a secure enclave that allows execution of code at near-native speeds while isolating data and code from other software running on the machine, including the operating system," she said. "Trusted hardware will enable a broad range of new applications on blockchain by allowing complex workloads to execute at scale while protecting privacy."

SEE: Research: The current state and predictions for the future of blockchain in the enterprise (Tech Republic Premium)

GDPR initiative

Furthermore, Song believes privacy regulations will become a reality and cited the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as an example of an initiative intended to enhance consumer privacy protection. "This trend is expanding into other countries and individual states in the US. The California Consumer Privacy Act is among the most stringent state-level protections, requiring companies who collect user information to use it responsibly and provide transparency to consumers on data use," she said.

Other predictions Song mentioned were enterprise companies deploying blockchain at a serious scale, the promise of blockchain to decouple from the hype of cryptocurrency, and after data breaches involving tech giants like Facebook and Google large data companies will look to adopt privacy-focused blockchain technology to secure data.

SEE: EU GDPR policy (Tech Pro Research)

Matt Moravec, CTO, Thor

I also checked in with Matt Moravec, CTO, of Thor, a payments and management platform provider for blockchain-powered gig economy solutions.

"As the blockchain world barrels headlong into 2019, people are realizing that the fantastic visions of 2017 and 2018 we're a little ahead of schedule," said Moravec, who thinks next year will be focused more on pragmatism.

"You can still transfer money more cheaply and easily than using old systems, especially across borders," Moravec continued. "Last month, Binance transferred $680 million, and it only cost them $7 to do it. This has been and will remain the most apparent value for the technology. It takes 15 minutes to send money from here to Frankfurt on ETH, and you can send as much USD as you want."

Blockchain not only reduces the cost of these types of transactions, but it also enhances audibility. Moravac states that it made audits at Thor much more affordable and transparent.

SEE: Quick glossary: Blockchain (Tech Pro Research)

Digital credits

One major change, Moravec believes that you will begin seeing in 2019, is a proliferation of digital credits on the blockchain.

"Companies will begin to store, for example, their airline points or Starbucks stars on the blockchain," he said. "At Thor, we have a similar system. Thor credits entitle you to services bought on our platform at a cheaper rate. A major difference between this and previous systems of rewards points is that you have real ownership over them. They are yours, you can sell them, or use them however you see fit."

Further, another realistic place to start seeing blockchain expansion is in the world of video games. "Gamers are very inclined to join the industry--if they haven't already--and they are many of the folks still sticking around the space after a rough 2018," said Moravec.

"Imagine you're playing World of Warcraft, but you can store your warlock shield in a device you own and trade it wherever you see fit. If the gaming company says an item is rare, that claim can be verified on the blockchain. The system is open and transparent. It allows for a more vibrant marketplace for those goods, and while the impact seems small the adoption rate should be high," he continued.

It's definitely an exciting time in blockchain, as Moravec noted, "much of last year's hype is fading, and now the real value will have to shine through."

Also see

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Image: peshkov, Getty Images/iStockphoto