Industry experts discuss the buzzy transactional tool.

While the world first came to know about blockchain technology through Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency and financial applications, the potential of the blockchain extends far beyond the realm of finance, promising to transform the way we think about security and authenticity.

Startup Socials NYC recently hosted a panel of blockchain experts from a variety of industries. They discussed the wide ranging applications of the technology, what the future of blockchain technology might look like, and how quickly we’ll see these innovations appear in our everyday lives. Here are some of the major takeaways from the panel.

What is Blockchain Technology?

Blockchain technology has been called “the Internet of value,” and new companies are exploring its potential to transform everything from healthcare and voting systems to supply chain tracking. Early in the panel, moderator Arthur Falls posed an important question for the benefit of the audience: in their own terms, how would the panelists define blockchain technology?

The panelists’ varied responses helped to convey the vast applications and implications that blockchain technology could have in relation to how our society conducts financial transactions. “It’s a construct that provides an immutable, real chain of information that can go all the way back through time, that can lead to the delivery of an asset, or rather of anything,” said Jock Percy, Founder and CEO of Perseus.

“It’s a technology that allows direct, peer-to-peer transactions, eliminating a third party,” said Rahilla Zahar, lead author and co-editor of The Internet of Women: Accelerating Culture Change. All of the panelists agreed on two important aspects of the blockchain: the technology offers the possibility of eliminating the transactional middleman — a bank or a third party server — and the system is autonomously trustable and authoritative. Each transaction is conducted using cryptographic tokens that are designed to be unique and unforgeable. Real world assets can be assigned to that token to denote ownership of the asset. The token then records its history of ownership and acquisition in perpetuity.

“That’s why blockchain adds an interesting element to so many industries — because it allows trust without money,” said Jesse Grushack, who works in strategy and product at Consensys. Blockchain, as Grushack defines it, is an “immutable, trustable, global network.”

Blockchain Can be Applied Across Industries

The panelists apply their work with blockchain across industries — Zafar focuses on humanitarian and nonprofit work while Grushack works to reform the music industry with blockchain. How, then, can blockchain remain applicable across such diverse industries?

“On the humanitarian front, what’s really interesting is [that blockchain] gives people an opportunity,” says Zafar. People who “maybe don’t have traditional bank accounts or IDs or systems of credit” can use blockchain to build a business or finance a home. “There’s a huge percentage of people in the world who don’t have passports or any sort of identification or bank accounts or access to things like PayPal,” she continued. Imagine if that significant population could begin participating in the global economy through the use of blockchain technology.

Blockchain Adoption is Inevitable

So what does all of this mean for the future of transacting? As the panel concluded, Falls identified an undercurrent of desired societal change in the panelists’ work with blockchain, and prompted them to help the audience visualize what a blockchain future could look like.

“There’s one thing that I think that blockchain could do, which would be to kill the world of settlement clearing, or to reduce it to a level where it would be instantaneous,” said Percy. In our lifetime, Percy said, we could unlock all the capital held up in settlement clearing and put it back to work, ultimately solving major global issues with the freed currency. “What we need to figure out is what problems [we are] going to solve,” Percy concluded, with this “dynamic level of new human efficiency.”

Grushack sees widespread blockchain adaptation as an inevitability: “We’re hitting the point where our current systems don’t align with the technologies that we’ve created. They don’t flow well…these systems are in place because no one wants to change them.”

Zafar envisions a world in which non-profits and humanitarian organizations can more easily assist displaced people: “We live in a world today of IDPs — internally displaced people,” she says. “A lot of the humanitarian issues that organizations [are facing have to do with] supply chain. A huge percentage of what they deliver gets lost, and a lot of them are beginning to track items on a blockchain.”

Another glimmer of hope, she says, has to do with the storage of information: “The ability to put certain data that different entities collect on a public blockchain so nobody owns it would be hugely helpful in an international community context.”

The Future of Blockchain is Here

The capabilities that blockchain presents are vast and exciting; given what we heard from these expert panelists, it’s clear that the blockchain future is upon us. While widespread adaptation of a universal blockchain system could still be lifetimes away, everything the technology requires to thrive is already here — from mobile phones to embedded sensors to machine algorithms.

For now, it’s up to individual innovators to creatively apply blockchain across disciplines and industries, and chart a digital future that decentralizes power from existing authorities in business, global aid, the arts, and beyond.

Author Grace Stearns

A graduate of Pepperdine University, Grace has worked in PR and brand communications at publishing giants like Condé Nast, Hearst Magazines Digital Media, and Simon & Schuster. She writes about content marketing, social media, and technology for L&T's blog. A reluctant West Coast transplant, Grace lives in Brooklyn and spends a majority of her free time curled up with a good book.

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