The most common use of blockchain, or distributed ledger technologies, is cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrency including Bitcoin has taken the world by storm, rocking traditional investment and a speculative investment which has worked out well for some, and disastrous for others.
The financial services industry is one that can benefit from blockchain technologies through streamlining Know Your Customer (KYC) procedures.
HSBC and the Singaporean government, among others, are testing out ways to improve KYC by allowing banks to securely share customer information without having to go through vetting processes every time there is a switch -- which should, in turn, speed up the process for both issuer and user.
While traditional institutions may not be keen on the idea of cryptocurrency removing funds from investments and standard accounting, in some cases, taking transactions out of corrupt systems or those in which individuals cannot easily secure a bank account, potentially through a lack of existing infrastructure, can control their finances.
In areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, blockchain technologies have the potential to improve businesses and individual finances, such as through microlending.
Smart contracts have the potential to revolutionize the legal tape which binds our financial and asset management systems. Decentralized ledgers can be used to store, irrevocably transcribe, and preserve contracts suitable for legal contracts and asset transactions such as the sale of real estate complete with preserved rules that are agreed at the time of a contract being 'signed.'
An interesting application of the blockchain is cloud storage and services. Companies such as Storj offer blockchain-based cloud systems which are encrypted and distributed, only allowing access to permitted users, and scalable up to the exabytes.
Tech giants including Microsoft and Accenture are among many exploring how the blockchain could be used to verify our identities in the future. ID cards, passports, and more could be a thing of the past if our identities. Current tests are focused on refugees and ways to give them an ID they can show to access services including education and healthcare.
As an extension to identity verification, the blockchain may also one day be utilized to make sure those voting have the right to do so. We haven't had the best of luck when it comes to electronic voting systems, but as distributed ledgers are extremely difficult to tamper with, it may be possible to come up with a system which removes miscounts and corruption.
Smart cities rely on connectivity, the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors, and analytics to improve the efficiency of urban areas. Blockchain technologies may also have a place by offering neutral and transparent ways to scribe government records and deals, as well as for information exchange and urban planning.