Blockchain explained

These days, we’re having a harder and harder time trusting each other.

Trust is an essential part of ordinary living, whether it’s picking mechanics based on Yelp reviews, sliding credit cards into gas station fuel pumps or heeding our doctor’s advice. But our trust has been eroding for years. In the US, only 33 percent of us felt we could trust our government in 2017 — a decline of 14 percentage points from 2016, according to Edelman’s annual trust barometer study. Trust in businesses dropped from 58 percent to 48 percent, too, while media (fake news!) and social networks also took a hit.

That’s a problem. The less trust you have, the harder everything becomes. Did that job candidate really graduate from college? Did your brother-in-law really repay that loan?

But there’s an unlikely solution that might help restore enough faith in strangers to make our lives a bit easier: an encryption technology called blockchain.

Blockchain is best known as the technology behind the cryptocurrency bitcoin — a digital currency whose value soared above $19,000 over the last year before slumping to half that when the frenzy subsided. But blockchain is so much more, potentially easing the doubts and uncertainties that dog so much of life — whether buying a used car from a stranger, having faith that a piece of fruit really is organic or knowing that a prescription drug isn’t counterfeit. Blockchain, in effect, hard-wires trust into transactions or data that we might otherwise be more cautious about.

“It’s revolutionary,” said Mark Siegel, an investor at Menlo Ventures.

Now playing: What the heck is blockchain? 1:49

Bitcoin’s value has soared and plunged over the last year, and it’s hard to separate the sensible from the scams among the 1,500 other cryptocurrencies. But blockchain has enjoyed more stable appeal.

Indeed, staid companies like IBM, Microsoft and Intel are offering blockchain as just another software tool to get business done. Other companies dabbling in blockchain include Goldman Sachs, Nasdaq, Walmart and Visa.

Because blockchains work as a secure digital ledger, a bumper crop of startups are hoping to bring it to voting, lotteries, ID cards and identity verification, graphics rendering, welfare payments, job hunting and insurance payments.

A lot of that revolution could be invisible to you, taking place inside and among businesses. But it’s potentially a very big deal. Analyst firm Gartner estimates that blockchain will provide $176 billion in value to businesses by 2025 and a whopping $3.1 trillion by 2030.

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