Blockchain Beyond Cryptocurrency: A Brief Guide to the Future Part II

Using blockchain technology apart from its original application, cryptocurrency, isn’t news any longer. Numerous projects around the globe come up with new ideas as to how distributed ledger technology may be applicable beyond just transacting values.

Even though most experts agree that the novelty is at premature phase as yet, those projects that have already emerged may provide a rough and tentative view of what the future world might be like.

Possible implications of blockchain technology might bedazzle those unprepared for emotional shock. They span from making modern-day red tape procedures futile and invisible to creating a brand new world where your pillow tells your coffee machine you woke with a thought of having a nice good cup of latte macchiato.

In a series of features, we’ll attempt to describe what developments in blockchain revolution are underway, and what can they result in over the course of next decades.

In Part One of the series we reviewed blockchain applications in the realm of paperwork:

Blockchain Beyond Cryptocurrency: A Brief Guide to the Future Part I

Part Two focuses more on disruptive applications of blockchain technology in the sci-fi realms of smart houses, the internet of things, and artificial intelligence.

THE INTERNET OF THINGS AND SMART HOME SYSTEMS

As one may read in Wikipedia, the internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data. The ‘thing’ in that concept may be a person with a cardiac pacemaker control system, a cow with embedded bio-chip, or a driver-less bus running along a predetermined route. In other words, it may be any physical object that can be attributed with an IP, and that is capable of broadcasting data into the network.

One of the biggest problems for the IoT is not in making appliances smart or adjusting the interaction between a smart home system and the user’s smartphone; the problem is integration of all those micro-systems into one. It is necessary in order to make the interaction global, safe, scalable, and fast. Nobody wants to wait for six transactions to be confirmed just to turn a kettle on.

The IoT’s implementation with blockchain opens the door to automation of household and routine tasks, or labor robotization. IoT-based solutions may be used on a global level, including those for making management decisions and establishment of autonomous economic models.

According the report by International Data Corporation released in late 2015, the IoT market will rise to nearly $1.3 trillion by 2019. The company predicts that aggregate market expansion rate will comprise 17% annually.

There are several notable examples of blockchain technology’s application in the emerging realm of the IoT and smart home systems.

The most prominent of them is possibly the project of Germany-based startup Slock.it, which provides IoT-related services and being involved into failed for now project of The DAO.

Last year, the company developed a smart lock using Ethereum blockchain. The system employs digital money as autonomous keys. The company believes their development will promote the further propagation of so-called shared economy.

“With Slock.it, Airbnb apartments become fully automated, wifi routers can be rented on demand and unused office spaces get a new lease on life. It’s the future infrastructure of the Sharing Economy,” the startup’s website reads.

The technology implies that the object’s owner may set up the deposit amount and the cost of lease/sale. Having placed the lock on an object, the owner may give it to another person being totally sure the deal will work as agreed.

The smart lock technology may eventually kill off service providers like Airbnb, as they would remove the need for an intermediary. Similarly, one may park a car anywhere, and those who have paid for the rent, can use a smartphone app to unlock and start it.

According to some predictions, driverless cars will become a routine fact by 2020. If so, smart locks could be of a great use here.

Another notable instance of using blockchain in the IoT devices is the smart socket developed by Belarusian bitcoin enthusiast and blockchain developer Valery Litvin.

“The socket sells power for Ether, and also may sell WiFi, or, later on, even share it free of charge for some specific services, like mobile account replenishment and so on. It would enable creation of an entire platform, and make installation of those sockets a profitable business for everyone!” Konstantin Lomashuk, Litvin’s colleague from Cyber.fund, wrote on his Facebook page.

Essentially, the socket is an Internet of Things (IoT) device that acts as an autonomous agent charging users for its services. Potentially the device will be able to pay for its own operating expenses, be it power or internet bills, or payments for repairs and other human-rendered services. Currently, the socket supports two kinds of connection: a standard 220V socket and a USB port. The device is also equipped with a display to show QR codes of payment addressees and other relevant information (like Wi-Fi password).

Finally, in late 2015 AIRA developers announced their projects for drone controlling with smart contracts in Ethereum network. The system allows a human to hire a drone for a job. The robot would act as an autonomous agent executing the contract on its own accord, and would receive payments for the rendered services.

According to the developers, this simplest integration of the IoT with Ethereum will allow a person to directly interact with a bot and enter a two-party contract therewith. The video below demonstrates an example hiring process for a bot. The job is to reach predetermined GPS coordinates with no control maintained by an operator.

Initially the drone employee is at the base. Creation and adjustment of the hiring contract incorporate stating the base’s coordinates and a transaction in the Ethereum network. Following the contract instrumenting, the drone receives coordinates in order to calculate the flight’s distance and cost. As soon as they become known, the user sends the payment, and the robot flies away to do the job.

“This is a real-life example of interaction between a human and a smart appliance in the form of a contract with direct payment effected to the drone to pay for its services. That’s really cool, it makes me believe in some futurist scenarios notwithstanding everything happening in the world,” developer Sergei Lonshakov commented.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Blockchain technology, as it may seem at the first glance, has little in common with artificial intelligence. However, there are some notable developments in this realm using advantages of both fields of technology.

“In fact, it’s about two primary things: multiagent systems and blockchain. Multiagent systems create a competitive environment that may test different implementations of artificial intelligence in terms of their efficiency. However, such environment requires data exchanging, and such data have to be equally understood and interpreted by all members of the system, regardless of their individual differences and possible ‘conflict of interests’. In fact, it’s about the need for a consensus algorithm for interpreting some facts in a trustless multiagent system. Blockchain technology provides such algorithms. I believe, they may function like a language for data exchange between competing artificial intelligences,” Dr. Maxim Orlovsky, Ukrainian complex systems and neuroscience expert told ForkLog.

Speaking earlier at Blockchain Conference Kyiv, he said:

“The artificial intelligence found in Siri and personal assistants is a singular artificial intelligence. It’s an artificial intelligence based on technologies from 1950’s and 60’s that can now be commercialized due to the computational technology’s progress. However, that AI is far from human’s. Blockchain might become the technology enabling us to reinforce and transfer AI development on a completely different level.”

An idea like that must have crossed minds of IBM top managers, as the corporation has launched an accelerator named Watson Centre for startups interested in creating prototypes that use blockchain technology and AI toolkit Watson. The accelerator focused mostly on Asia Pacific region will host around 5,000 coders.

Resided in Singapore, Watson Centre will also host local office of IBM Garage, a lab specialized in creating blockchain-based apps. Apart from Singapore, such centers will also open in New York, London and Tokyo. Their main purpose is to test their own blockchain protocols.

Finally, IBM joined efforts with Cisco to develop the Internet of Things applications, promote the technology’s acceptance and create joint business solutions.

As one might have noted by now, the boundaries between blockchain applications in artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and smart home systems are more than conventional. Eventually, one may expect, all those developments will merge to create the hi-tech world described in old sci-fi novels.

With your pillow telling your coffee machine you’d like a cup of latte macchiato this morning, a drone with a pizza hovering by your window, your apartment paying your bills, and your own version of Tony Stark’s Jarvis convincingly lying the landlord you’re away for a business trip, this future must be a really nice place to live, unless you’re the landlord.

by Jenny Aysgarth