Travelling in a blockchain enabled world
13 APR 2017 VB
Image Credit: Pushish Images/Shutterstock
I was on my way home from work when I received a notification on my smartband. It was Pat, the bot from my firm’s travel management company (TMC), saying now would be the ideal time to book to get the best flight price for my regular trip to our office in London three weeks later.
Pat sent me the recommended itinerary, which included flights and hotel. When calculating the best fare for me, the TMC takes our travel policy as well as my past trip history and personal preferences into consideration. And they nail it every time. Happy with the suggestion, all I had to do was confirm the trip.
Pat told me my hotel reservation was my company’s 200th room night booked more than one week in advance at the hotel this year. This triggered one of the clauses in the smart contract between my company and the hotel to execute, bringing the agreed room rate down by 20 percent. The flights and hotel were instantly charged to my company’s account. I’m still getting used to the feeling of not having to do expenses anymore! Being a good employee who follows travel policy and books through the right channel sure isn’t the hassle it used to be.
Remembering that my London flight more often than not is delayed, I accepted Pat’s offer to add a flight delay insurance to my trip. Better safe than sorry. I’m paying for these types of services from my personal wallet, so the funds were transferred immediately.
As I had finished my booking and lowered my hand, my band again joined the billions of other connected devices, donating its idle processing power to mining. Whenever I’m not using it, it’s serving the peer-to-peer network and the running of the blockchain where I keep most of my assets and information.
My flight was delayed. The airline announcement sent to my band said the aircraft had a defective part, and even though supply chains these days are better than ever — apparently the airlines now simply download the blueprint for the part that needs replacing, with the blockchain verifying that the file hasn’t been tampered with, and then they 3D print it — it was still going to take them a while to replace the old part, so a new aircraft was brought in.
Two hours later I could finally walk up to the facial recognition scanner and enter the plane. As the plane took off, I received a notification from Pat, telling me my delay insurance policy had been activated and the premium added to my wallet. Easy money.
Another notification, this time from the airline confirming that my reward points for the flight had been credited to my wallet. I decided to spend some of the points on in-flight shopping and the rest on a suite upgrade for my hotel stay that night. Not sure how we ever managed without interoperable loyalty programs.
As I landed at Heathrow and walked towards border control (the blockchain hasn’t erased borders yet, but we might get there one day), I was thinking how great this universal ID thing is. Using the same digital ID to book my trip, board a plane, and cross a border is just really convenient. And the best thing is, my data isn’t stored in any central databases or owned by any corporates. It sits on the blockchain, verifiable and immutable. The suppliers that have touchpoints throughout my journey are all able to connect to the same database and access my data when they need it. The TMC, for instance, usually needs my contact details and travel preferences. The airline, on the other hand, needs to authenticate my identity to verify my booking, while border control could require my passport or visa.
The beauty of it is, I decide which data is shared, to whom, and when. I can explicitly share different data sets with different suppliers, only displaying the information they need at that exact moment. I can also set up specific permissions using smart contracts — conditional logic coded into the ledger — that define who can access my information and documents and when. The information is right there in my wallet, always available when needed. It’s freedom, privacy, and security in beautiful unity. And no more big data about me floating around in corporate databases. My data is private, thank you very much.
Outside the terminal in London I needed to catch up on some of the lost time, so I messaged Pat to get me a ride. A couple of minutes later I was sitting in a self-driving car booked through the company’s preferred decentralized ride-sharing service. On my way to the office I couldn’t help but think there really wasn’t a true sharing economy before these distributed autonomous organizations came along. A few years ago there were corporations that claimed to have enabled “sharing,” but in reality they were just aggregating the services of others and charging fees for it, acting as intermediaries between consumers. Then when these new types of organizations emerged, existing only in code, and the laws finally were revised, the once so disruptive startups, by then evolved into powerful multibillion-dollar companies, became ripe for disruption themselves. Nowadays, all revenue goes directly to the vehicle owner. No fees to a centralized company mediating the orders, because there isn’t one. And payments are processed in minutes and seconds instead of days and weeks.
After a productive day at the office, I walked over to the hotel. My room door unlocked as the smart lock connected to my band via near-field communication. This triggered the payout of my loyalty points, which I transferred to my wife’s wallet. Finally we had enough points to book our summer holidays.
On my way to the airport the next day I was a bit careless and a car bumped into me as I crossed the road. I injured my leg. Nothing serious, but I was taken to the emergency room for a checkup. It’s not only travel that is enjoying the blockchain, healthcare is now more efficient and secure as well, and sharing my medical records and getting patched up only took a couple of hours. I had missed my flight, though, something Pat had already picked up on, rebooking me to the next available one the next morning.
I needed to get a room for the night so Pat arranged an apartment for me close to the airport, booked through a distributed lodging service organization. I was never quite comfortable using these services before, but ever since the reputation of the homes and their owners became guaranteed by the blockchain, it feels secure and I’m no longer worried I’ll get any unpleasant surprises. Oh, and my reputation as a renter gets stored as well, so that’s my incentive for being a good person. … And I can carry my reputation with me over to other vendors and services if I wish to, benefitting from continuity as a good person.
OK, maybe my story is a little contrived, but I hope it provides some inspiration. When we overcome all the impediments (technical, regulatory, security, privacy, cost, social/cultural …) and services really start getting integrated with the blockchain, these could be some of the innovations we’ll see.
These words from Bart Suichies become clear when looking at other emerging technologies. One example is IoT. Without the trust that the decentralized nature of the blockchain offers, it’s going to be difficult to ensure the security, efficiency, and interoperability that has to surround these devices. IoT needs the blockchain to mitigate risk. If we look at 3D printing, the blockchain could be used to prevent double spend, helping to realize the true potential of the technology and move from just using it to print “toys” to storing and printing unique, exclusive items and intellectual property. In short, blockchain can help other technologies and some of them can help blockchain too.
For more on some of the use cases I’ve outlined here for blockchain, I recommend Don Tapscott’s book Blockchain Revolution. Much of my inspiration comes from it.
[A version of this story originally appeared on the author’s personal LinkedIn blog.]