Blockchain Trends to Keep on Your Radar for 2018

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There were many significant strides forward for the blockchain industry in 2017, but where does that leave things looking ahead to 2018? Here are two areas to keep on your radar for the year to come.

The Merging of Blockchain, IoT and AI

After years of hype and expectations, 2018 looks to be the year of convergence, and the ecosystem begins with the blockchain. Blockchain technology is rebuilding the underpinnings of the internet. One of the fundamental issues that prevent the more widespread use of IoT and AI is security vulnerabilities inherent within the internet as it stands now.

Blockchain technology can be used to patch holes in trust within the ecosystem. With transparency and permanence inherently part of its operational model, providence of devices and data become possible at scale. This protects against the biggest threat -- outside usurping of device and record control. Such threats have appeared in many forms over recent years, from the mass Mirai DDoS attack driven by bots in 2016 to notable stories of children learning to hack into their smart toys. With IoT, every connected device is a vulnerable point of entry, and with AI making decisions for users, the risks have never been more significant. A scalable, secure, and easily vetted platform that blockchains create is a level of security that even has governments exploring it for official uses.

While the current focus is on smart refrigerators and TVs, the stakes become infinitely higher when we look into the future. Smart medical devices may represent a new way of saving lives by being driven with AI capable of making on-the-fly life-saving decisions through biometric data. Yet, consider the power of that device should someone hack into it -- such a threat creates a new form of terrorism. Similarly, self-driving cars are already common enough that states are making laws for them as technology companies like Google evolve their capabilities. The goal of these vehicles is to make transportation more efficient and safer by taking the human element out of the equation. However, hacking into their systems creates a danger for all drivers on the road. Considering that hackers have already been able to demonstrate that they can take over control of Tesla vehicles, the need to secure data powering smart vehicle AI is literally a matter of life and death.

Thus, the most significant leap forward in connectivity and AI will not come from what the technology is capable of but instead, its success or failure matters solely on the security and dependability of the data powering it. Without the ability to have maximum secured data, any impressive uses of AI or IoT devices ultimately become nothing more than a glorified tech demo if it can't be trusted once released into the world and open to nefarious users. For the convergence of these incredible technologies to truly take place, they must be secure experiences. Because of that, 2018 marks the first time that these technologies can take advantage of the others’ capabilities, and together, they may form the foundation of an ecosystem that will change the way humanity lives, works, and plays. This could lead to all sorts of changes, from the marriage of RFID and NFC chips and blockchain as new personal identification to cryptocurrencies being used to power transactions between AI and IoT devices.

Regulated Investment: ICOs

2017 was the wild west of investing with the reemergence of ICOs enabled through the Ethereum platform and others. ICOs faced an unclear path for government compliance in 2017. Their unique properties that make them look like securities, commodities, or sometimes currency have made them difficult to put into a regulatory box. Many ICO fundraisers choose to ignore the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) and fundraise without abiding by any of the rules facing stocks and standard securities. This changed midway through the year when the SEC announced that it would start oversight of ICOs and even shutdown noncompliant and fraudulent ICOs. Some more wise companies took one of two paths -- either stumbling through to the finish line of compliance by shoehorning themselves into existing SEC regulations (usually indicating a sub-$5 million ICO or only taking investments from foreign countries).

However, ICOs are continuing to gain traction as accepted paths to investment, and if companies want to fundraise to massive levels via an ICO, they will have to start abiding by SEC regulations. As this is new territory for the industry, it means slowing down and simply taking 2018 to learn the best path forward to ensure regulation. By establishing a time-tested protocol, more and more companies will be able to have SEC-compliant ICOs, and thus breaking open the field for investment opportunities. In addition to pure technological advancements, the use of blockchain technology to power a new generation of investments will further move it into the mainstream.

by Tiana Laurence, Author of Blockchain for Dummies & Co-founder of Factom Inc.