Most people are more or less familiar with Bitcoin and what it can do, but when it comes to the lesser-known Ethereum, it’s not uncommon to hear a pin drop in the room.
All about Ethereum
Ethereum is a public, peer-to-peer network or blockchain with its own cryptocurrency called Ether. It was created in 2014 by Vitalik Buterin, with the purpose of being a platform on which smart contracts can be built and run. Simply put, Ethereum is intended to be a world computer.
Where Bitcoin stores a list of balances and transactions on its blockchain, the Ethereum blockchain is designed to store different types of data.
This data can be accessed and used by computer programs running on the
Ethereum blockchain. These programs are called decentralised apps, or dApps. Another significant difference between Bitcoin and Ethereum is that the supply of Bitcoin is capped at 21 million to ever be produced, while Ethereum is not capped to any specific quantity.
Developers around the world can build and run decentralised applications on the Ethereum blockchain.
The purpose of these is to improve the finance, personal information storage, governance, and other industries by using the transparent nature of blockchain.
Unlike the pseudonymous creator(s) of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, we know quite a lot about the man behind Ethereum. Vitalik Buterin was a developer working on Bitcoin around the time Ethereum was first mentioned in a whitepaper in 2013. He believed Bitcoin should have been made to be more customisable and should go a step further than simply being a store of wealth.
Ethereum pioneered the ICO (initial coin offering), selling initial investors about 60 million Ether tokens while the project was still in development. Since then, Ethereum has grown substantially with multiple other projects having been developed and launched on the platform (with varying degrees of success).
More than just ‘money’
If we’re talking about what unique benefits Ethereum holds, we need to consider smart contracts. Ethereum aims to make everyday life more efficient and cost-effective by automating daily processes and removing the middlemen from the systems we use. These systems range from legal to financial, medical, and more.
So, why does this matter to you?
Let’s take a look at a practical example. Consider that someone has their personal documents: identity documents, a last will and testament, and a title deed for their house stored on the Ethereum blockchain. When they pass away, their death certificate will also be uploaded to the blockchain.
The processes that need to take place after a person’s death are highly admin intensive and take a significant amount of time due to the number of different parties involved in the process (i.e. legal professionals, the government, tax authorities, etc.). But, because all of these documents are stored on the Ethereum blockchain, the last will and testament can automatically be put into action.
Whichever next of kin the deceased chose to bequeath their house to will receive the transfer automatically, with no involvement from a legal professional (and no extra costs, either). Imagine the amount of time and resources saved due to the automation of this common and extremely stressful occurrence in life.
Smart cases for smart contracts
There are a whole host of other ingenious conceptual use cases for Ethereum. For instance:
Manage your digital identity
Identity theft and the unlawful use of personal data are some of the most rampant and concerning issues in the technology age. Through smart contract-based identity management programs, it’s possible to store and link your personal documents (identity documents, passports, etc.) so that the required details are made available to the trusted party when needed.
In this way, your information cannot be forged or copied and is always stored on the Ethereum blockchain for a specific purpose
— Wouldn’t that be nifty?
There are a number of blockchain startups leveraging the Ethereum blockchain to make accessing medical details and prescriptions easier and safer than ever. This allows for a single point of truth to exist on a public, decentralised network allowing doctors to access your accurate medical records with ease and making it harder for fraudsters to use your information nefariously.
Thinking back to the 2017 ransomware attack that affected around 16 hospitals in the UK and it helps us truly understand how a decentralised network could have prevented the entire ordeal
— Doesn’t that just make so much sense?
You know how when you spoke about the latest Adidas shoes to your friend last night and woke up to a flurry of Adidas shoe adverts on your social media platforms this morning? Although it may seem a scarily intuitive marketing ploy, it’s also the unethical harvesting of your personal data (and personal conversations). And if that doesn’t bother you, it might bother you slightly more to know how much money big corporations are making of off your personal information without you even knowing about it, let alone having your consent.
Ethereum’s blockchain technology could drastically decrease the possibility of data collection by logging every time a search engine or third-party application uses your data. These logs would be kept public on the blockchain, meaning it would be a lot more transparent (and riskier) for these multi-billion dollar companies to essentially steal your data.
— Only then would we able to truly choose who to share our data with.
To infinity and beyond
It’s still early days and we haven’t yet witnessed any practical use of Ethereum in the mainstream. Again, there are a whole host of other ingenious conceptual use cases for Ethereum. But no matter who you are, at least one of these possibilities should matter to you (unless you’re a cat or something). It’s encouraging to see the number of talented people working in this space, and we’re very interested to see how the Ethereum blockchain develops, and for when and how it becomes more prevalent.