In 2014 blockchain was just a whisper on the coattails of mainstream consumers’ first exposure to bitcoin. Pockets of futurists and technologists were familiar with its role as the mysterious core technology behind cryptocurrency with the potential for so much more. Today, blockchain has erupted onto the scene, and while it is not an intuitive idea for most people, it has become an established piece of our next technological wave along with artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and autonomous cars.

Yet most people don’t understand blockchain the way they might these other technological waves. In my mind, this is because the conversation immediately goes into the abstract rather than the practical, and that’s a place you lose most people. After all, it’s not how the technology works that excites us, it’s how it impacts us.

So lets remove the abstraction and think about what blockchain does. At its core, blockchain is just a new way to store, transmit, and verify information so that it is both more secure and easier to access.

When put like that, it sounds pretty straightforward. Yet what makes it remarkable is that, much like the printing press in the 16th century, the adoption of blockchain will completely change the way we communicate and transact with each other. That’s why blockchain matters.

There are hundreds of ways in which blockchain will change the systems we operate in, but here are five noticeable ways Blockchain will noticeably transform the world around us.

Banking & Payments

 The financial sector is often the first sector mentioned when discussing the impacts of blockchain, and for good reason. Even the most technologically advanced nations have not fully cracked an efficient system to move money from one party to another. Whether it’s identity verification and fraud in more tech-enabled areas or security and transactions in regions with limited tech penetration, there is a major gap-to-goal of a seamless financial sector. Blockchain has the potential to monumentally improve each component of this sector.
 For instance, blockchain’s distributed ledger means that there is no single place in which data can corrupted or altered, making both fraud and cyber attacks exceedingly difficult. A distributed ledger means that the list of transactions on the blockchain is held on ledgers around the world rather than in a single place. When a change is made to one, it will replicate across the ledgers. Think of it like editing on Evernote offline and syncing with all the devices you have Evernote on when you go online. This greatly improves transaction accuracy and reduces identity fraud, data manipulation, and disagreements on whether and when transactions have been made for the purposes of contract verification.

Foreign Aid & Humanitarian Relief

 Foreign aid and humanitarian relief have long been viewed with skepticism from academics and policy wonks. It’s often unclear if the funding reaches the end beneficiary or instead props up an oppressive regime or is simply mismanaged. Recently, the United Nations World Food Program explored using blockchain solutions to mitigate this risk. Blockchain based solutions allow for far greater accountability, measurement, and reliability for deploying aid, whether in the form of fiat cash, food, or medical supplies.
The verdict is still out on whether this approach to aid is scalable on a global level, but the initial results from trials and progressive programs have been strongly positive.

Data Security

Privacy. In the world of big data privacy is a topic on everyone’s mind. With our Internet interactions constantly monitored, our phones perpetually revealing our locations, and artificial intelligence that can use our past to predict our future actions, privacy seems a thing of the past. What should not and does not have to be a thing of the past is the security of our data. That’s where blockchain comes in. Through the use of Public Key Infrastructure, a cryptocurrency used to secure messages and information, there is very limited risk of revealing personal data or for others to replicate your identity.

On a more societal level, blockchain based information infrastructure will make it much more difficult for hackers to shut down critical services. With the information for major infrastructure and networks hosted in multiple locations, there will no longer be  a central target to disrupt a system.

Voting & Elections

Our election system is one of our more inefficient systems. With massive lines on polling days, millions of absentee ballots potentially lost in the mail, and a lack of confidence in the system of counting votes, it seems this process is ripe for change. Blockchain can play a huge role in this transformation by enabling voters to either vote directly from home or potentially any commercial location. Imagine instant and accurate personal identification and vote tallying.

This would mitigate voter fraud on all levels. The unique identifying key would make it impossible for a voter to cast multiple ballots. The distributed ledger would ensure that a systemic breach to overwrite the data would be immediately captured.

Energy & Power Grids

Local energy grids are hardly a new concept. Since the early 2000’s and the shift toward environmental conversation, it has been highly sought after as a way to make an eco-friendly power grid and help communities manage power outages more effectively. However, blockchain could be the technology that finally makes this possible at scale. With smart contracts and transactions recorded on a self organizing and updating system, blockchain takes away a lot of the logistical pain of local energy grids. For instance, Brooklyn based startup LO3 Energy has a successful pilot program allowing individuals to transact locally generated social energy and has established itself as an early leader in this space.

Blockchain is not something we will physically see in the world around us, but it will become the backbone for many of the systems we interact with. Even if you don’t understand the technology, it’s important to understand why it’s important and how it impacts your life.

Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

Samir Goel
Samir is an entrepreneur, writer, and public speaker who focuses on bringing together the public and private sector to solve the world’s biggest challenges. Currently, Samir spends much of his time creating economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce at LinkedIn. In addition Samir is the co-founder of two social ventures: Transfernation and Esusu which tackle food waste and financial inclusion respectively. As a writer Samir has contributed to LinkedIn Pulse, Quartz, Mogul, Huffington Post, Startup Grind, and more.