Sunday, March 20, 2016

Blockchain Travel Apps

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and blockchain technology could have many useful and novel applications in the travel industry, for both individuals and business travelers, and also host destinations that are interested in attracting visitors.

1. Money - The first and most obvious blockchain travel application is money, taking advantage of Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies for digital payments. Foreign currency exchange is an expensive hassle, and it could be much easier to pay with Bitcoin directly from a smartphone, when possible. If it is not possible to pay with Bitcoin, another crypto money application is obtaining local currency through worldwide Bitcoin ATMs or converting money from Bitcoin to local currency through a crypto exchange. Loyalty programs could be another crypto application, where blockchains could track point-garnering activity as it occurs, possibly denominated in crypto token that could be easily fungible and readily convertible to awards.

2. Passport - Another crypto travel application is storing important documents on the blockchain such as passports, visas, permits, identification cards, and driver’s licenses. One benefit is that documents presented in person could be confirmed with an Internet look-up of their blockchain-registered version. Another benefit is having easily-accessible back-up copies in the event of loss. Other new ideas expand the traditional notion of identity, for example beyond nation state citizenship, world citizenship (projects proposed by Bitnation and Chris Ellis) and Estonia’s e-Residency program. Beyond identity documents, it could also be helpful to have immunization records and EMRs (electronic medical records) accessible by blockchain.  

3. Reservations - Managing all of the many details of travel - flight, accommodation, transportation, and tour reservations – can require a lot of coordination that might be managed seamlessly by a Travel DAC (distributed autonomous corporation). This blockchain-based package of smart contracts could track, orchestrate, and update changes in travel details and keep travelers on top of their schedules. This would be like having a more extensive version of TripIt (multiple travel reservations in one application including automated status-updating) with blockchain-based AI functionality. A Travel DAC for business travelers could feature expense-tracking and reimbursement. Other Travel DAC applications could include monitoring airline prices for optimal dates or routes, and suggesting vendors per user preferences, such as those that accept cryptocurrency (for example LaZooz as opposed to Uber, or decentralized alternatives to Airbnb).  

4. Insurance and Provenance - Travel insurance could be selected through decentralized peer-to-peer based alternatives to traditional insurance that might be cheaper and offer more certainty in the case of claims payout dates and amounts. Blockchain-based peer-to-peer dispute resolution mechanisms also might be employed to adjudicate travel claims. Another application when purchasing an item for example, could be validating the item’s provenance (origin) through a quick blockchain look-up using item-tracking functionality from Provenance (or in industrial use cases, SKU Chain).

5. Disaster - In special cases such as natural disasters, blockchain-based applications could be indispensable in coordinating and tracking aid donations and supplies to their end recipients. ‘Disaster chains’ could also be used to help in managing volunteers, facilitating rescue-tracking, and even possibly getting around the scalability issues of overly-taxed communications networks in the case of disasters (with lighter-weight communications messaging).

Monday, March 14, 2016

Satoshi Roundtable: Is Bitcoin Dead due to Scalability Issues?

Scalability was the most prominent issue discussed at the February 26-28, 2016 Satoshi Roundtable (the Bitcoin industry's annual technical meeting).

This is expected as scalability is an ongoing issue to be resolved for any cryptocurrency to achieve mainstream adoption.

Bitcoin as the most mature and liquid cryptocurrency is being pushed towards current limits which prompts urgency to attend to scalability and other issues.

Scalability is a hard problem, and needs to be resolved at some point if cryptocurrencies are to succeed, here with Bitcoin, or in future iterations of other cryptocurrencies.

There are different technical proposals for Bitcoin and it is not clear which might be best, or even if these are the right type of solutions.

However, it is also clear that we might not know without trying, so one or more solutions will need to be implemented.

One scalability design question for example is whether to knit together activity from large bodies of side chains, or have one monolithic processing architecture.

There could already be a split to industry-specific chains that implement different forms of scalability functionality.

A need for more robust prototyping environments and multiple core developer teams has been suggested, which could be good as cryptocurrencies are fundamentally new territory.

Whatever solutions arrive for Bitcoin may not be the final solutions for all cryptocurrencies and the bigger potential economic future of ubiquitous digital payments.

There are always a host of technical issues in the rapidly-evolving cryptocurrency space, and another concern is the reward structure for Bitcoin miners, which is due to change in July.

Compared to scalability, this is not as big of a concern impacting Bitcoin's overall viability as the mining market tends to resiliently resettle around different set points of miner demand, supply, and rewards.