What use could the Swiss Railways have for blockchain? How do corn farmers use AI to repel grasshoppers? Can immersive reality help burns victims?
Tech trends such as blockchain, AI and immersive reality will change the wants, needs and desires of consumers, as well as the value chains, production methods and business models of organisations. Because these technologies are still in relatively early stages of adoption, it’s difficult to say precisely how they will play out over the coming years and decades.
Why blockchain is more than just Bitcoin
When we talk about blockchain today, most people think immediately of Bitcoin and maybe cryptocurrencies. People who know a little more about blockchain, and that it is the technology that underpins cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, will probably also know its uses will extend into almost any domain or industry where trust and verification processes are vitally important.
So what was the Swiss Federal Railways doing with blockchain? Well, aside from the fact it accepts Bitcoin payments for tickets, last year it also successfully ran a proof-of-concept of a blockchain-based credentials management system for workers employed at its construction sites.
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Swiss Railways worked with the blockchain startup Linum Labs, using the open-source technology of uPort, to see if it could improve on worker and system safety processes. As Linum Labs explained in a post on Medium: “Using uPort, railway workers, certification authorities and supervisors are able to have their own unique digital identities linked to their respective uPort ID’s, which is then anchored to an identity on the blockchain. A hash of the worker’s check-in and check-out activities is published to the blockchain so that the internal database can be audited.”
AI, corn and grasshoppers
Perhaps because most of us are so removed from agriculture and food production, we have a relatively sketchy view of how it all happens and the technology involved — tractors, crop sprayers, maybe some weather apps? What more could there be, right?
The reality is that agriculture is a very hi-tech concern. “Farming is on the cusp of a major change,” Gayle Sheppard, vice president and general manager of Intel AI, says. “The industry will be transformed by data science and artificial intelligence. Farmers will have the tools to get the most from every acre.”
According to an Intel case study, AI is set to play a significant role in protecting and boosting crop yields for farmers: “Not long ago, a farmer in Texas checked the direction of the wind and reckoned a swarm of grasshoppers was likely to descend on the southwest corner of his farm. But before he could check his crops, the farmer got an alert on his smartphone from the AI and data company he hires to help monitor his farm. Checking new satellite images against pictures of the same parcel over a five-year period, an AI algorithm detected that the insects had landed in another corner of the farmer’s field. The farmer inspected the section, confirmed the warning was accurate and removed the costly pests from his field of nearly ripened corn.”
The unreal limits of immersive reality
Immersive reality encompasses virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies. It has been around in various forms and models for decades now but is still yet to take off as a mainstream entertainment medium. However, while immersive reality is usually thought of in terms of video gaming, it is increasingly being trialled for education and training purposes, and even for psychological and medical treatments.
Virtual reality pain reduction sounds like a strange concept, but it’s something the University of Washington Harborview Burn Center, in partnership with the University of Washington Human Interface Technology Lab, has been exploring for the past decade with a program called SnowWorld.
Here’s what they have to say: “Our logic for why VR will reduce pain is as follows. Pain perception has a strong psychological component. The same incoming pain signal can be interpreted as painful or not, depending on what the patient is thinking. Pain requires conscious attention. The essence of VR is the illusion users have of going inside the computer-generated environment. Being drawn into another world drains a lot of attentional resources, leaving less attention available to process pain signals.”
That’s an amazingly powerful use for a technology we commonly associate with more trivial things like playing video games. It also shows that technologies like immersive reality are tools that can be used in different ways to achieve all kinds of outcomes.
The fluid disruption of technology
Consumers tend to twist and shape technology in all kinds of ways, and it’s up to smart entrepreneurs to create services and products that align with the needs of consumers. You may not think your business or the industry you are in will be affected by one or all of these technologies.
However, the uses for blockchain, AI and immersive reality are far from being set in stone. Just like the internet became far more than just email, blockchain will be more than only cryptocurrencies, AI is far more than just chatbots, and immersive reality has the potential to go well beyond gaming.
As a business owner and entrepreneur, it’s vital to watch for the links and possibilities between what you do with technology today and what consumers will expect you to do with it tomorrow.