We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.


Five industries that blockchains could—maybe—revolutionize

And we emphasize “maybe.”


Why you should buy in: Energy trading is a byzantine process riddled with middlemen taking cuts (the name “Enron” may ring a bell). Making energy resources into digital assets that can be traded on a blockchain could open new investing and trading opportunities, letting little guys in. Like, really little: down to an individual apartment building that generates excess solar power, or an electric vehicle with battery storage capacity to spare. For larger companies, a blockchain could streamline trading and record-keeping. The result could involve whole new asset classes, like crypto-tokens backed by oil or renewable resources.

The fine print: Of late, the power grid has become a target for state-sponsored hackers. Securing all that transaction data will be a complicated cybersecurity challenge.

This story is part of our May/June 2018 Issue
See the rest of the issue

Players: Power Ledger, Grid Singularity, Grid+, the Energy Web Foundation, the Enerchain project 

Internet advertising & social media

Why you should buy in: If you could easily control your personal data and decide whether the likes of Facebook, Google, and others get to exploit it for profit, you would, right? Put it on a blockchain, which will encrypt and store your data in a decentralized network, instead of on company-owned servers. You can surf the internet anonymously, manage your own sensitive and identifying data, and control which sites can access it. Ahhhh, the internet as it was meant to be.

The fine print: Despite revelations that big tech companies are pulling all manner of shenanigans with user data, people have yet to #deletefacebook or abandon web services in large numbers. The vision of a decentralized web could be a tough sell.

Players: Blockstack, Protocol Labs

Food & Agriculture

Why you should buy in: How do you know if that meat you bought is really grass-fed, organic, and free of antibiotics and has never been anywhere near a cage or feedlot? You don’tunless a blockchain tells you so. Having a digital ledger that no one can mess with means everything from turkeys to chocolate to mangoes can be tracked literally from farm to tableor at least to the grocery store shelf. And if something does go wrong, a blockchain can cut the time it takes to track, and stop, the spread of a foodborne illness.

The fine print: A few pilot projects have been tried, but that’s it so far. A large-scale system would probably mean giving farmers, distributors, and others keys to access and modify the blockchain, and we’d have to trust that they wouldn’t misuse them.

Players: IBM, Walmart, Nestlé, Unilever, Cargill 


Why you should buy in: Sharing x-rays, blood test results, and other intensely private medical data is no easy task, and there are piles of regulations, differing data formats, and other hurdles to contend with besides. A blockchain could provide a tamper-proof record of important events like prescription refills, while smart contracts could give patients precise control over who can access which parts of their medical record and when, without all the red tape.

The fine print: Hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, insurers … the list of who may need access to your medical records is long. Who should be allowed to change the record? Who will run the computer network that runs the blockchain? How will the system be governed?

Players: MIT’s MedRec project, Massachusetts General Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, IBM, the Mediledger Project, SimplyVital Health 


Why you should buy in: The proliferation of electronic voting systems and the practice of keeping sensitive information like voter rolls in internet-connected databases translate to one thing: risk that an election could be compromised. Distributed ledgers could, in theory, make electronic voting as secure as any physical paper trail.

The fine print: There are many more tough questions than easy answers. Will votes be recorded on a public blockchain like those used by Bitcoin or Ethereum? If so, how will ballots be kept anonymous? If it’s done on a permissioned system, how do we make sure people don’t misuse their access?

Players: Agora, Voatz, Democracy Earth

Keep up with the latest in Bitcoin at Business of Blockchain 2019.

May 2, 2019
Cambridge, MA

Register now
More from Connectivity

What it means to be constantly connected with each other and vast sources of information.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.