General view of apartment blocks consisting of private and public housing, in Singapore, Sept. 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lam

Blockchain, big data and smart cities are terms that seem to be everywhere. But what do these buzzwords really mean, and how will they affect people’s everyday lives?

It can be hard, for someone who doesn’t spend his or her work day thinking about these concepts, to visualize the concrete ways these lofty-sounding ideas will reshape the world around them. But the reality is that the combination of blockchain and big data has the capability to effect transformative improvements across many aspects of our daily lives. In fact, it already is.

As an expat living in Singapore, I am an eye-witness to one of the most technologically forward-thinking municipalities in the world, and I am privileged to be able to work with the government here to help deliver on that future. So how can the blockchain take all of the data generated in a modern city and turn it into a force for good? To answer the question, I am going to use the example of location data.

In the same way that navigation apps can aggregate user data to devise the quickest routes and understand traffic patterns, cities can use data to better understand the needs of their citizens and optimize the way they operate accordingly. They can use information, for example, to optimize their public spaces - to determine where and how wide to create bike lanes, transit routes, or particular zoning requirements. And the advent of the blockchain adds a whole new dimension to the power of technology to make our cities safer, friendlier, and more efficient.

In the past, the placement of amenities such as transit routes and stations, parks, sanitary facilities, and other essential facets of urban life amounted to an educated guess. City planners could identify broad contours - commuting patterns from suburbs to city, peak rush hour, high-density zones - but their limited technological options forced them to paint with broad strokes. Place subways beneath arterial streets; run more trains into town in the morning and out of town in the evening. Special circumstances were sometimes taken into account: buses to and from sporting events, or a highway changed to run in only one direction during a storm evacuation.

Now, with the leadership of cities like Singapore, technology is letting us pinpoint urban planning and decision-making with much greater granularity and responsiveness to the demonstrated needs of citizens. Using the aggregate of all the tiny data points created by people as they go about their day, cities can target resources exactly where they are needed. Buses could be rerouted more efficiently, bike-share stands more effectively placed, hours for parks and recreation centers optimized. In theory, private businesses like coffee shops could use this information to locate and operate themselves more effectively. Big data allows planners to see the true needs and habits of the people they serve and to design accordingly.

But there is one more piece to this puzzle. The blockchain, when combined with big data technology, can allow multiple parties to interact cooperatively using data. Blockchain facilitates broad collaboration by guaranteeing that all parties must play by the same transparent set of rules. For example, when a person pays for a metro ride with a smartphone, multiple parties – the transit authority, the cellular network, the credit card company and the individual – must interact with a set of data to verify the identity of the passenger and the completion of payment. With blockchain and big data, this information can be shared and verified seamlessly and transparently without putting the actual information at risk. This framework creates trust without the need for manual verification and ensures that individuals, businesses, and governments can all enjoy maximum benefits of their data.

Mike Davie is CEO of Quadrant Protocol, a blockchain-based protocol that enables access, creation, and distribution of data products and services with authenticity and provenance at its core.