Dubai: The world’s first blockchain-run city?

Dubai is a well-beloved city. People all over the world visit Dubai for anticipated fun. Nigerians who have gotten hold of some serious money – in the usual manner that Nigerians come across big money – go to Dubai to splurge and “enjoy.” The international atmosphere in the city is unmistakable; though, for me, I am usually not able to shop in the malls of Dubai because the merchandise tend to be highly overpriced compared to how much we get them in the U.S. So, I usually leave Dubai empty-handed anytime I layover in the city. I am obviously an odd one out, here; watching my every hard-earned Kobo.


But truth be told, many parts of the city are beautiful, especially if you don’t go too far away from the center and hit desert land a few miles away. There are beautiful buildings and all. Even though I don’t like to think like this, but the automatic thought of a fake city always comes to my mind, with the notion of fakeness coming from the contradictions in terms of what the city looks like vis-à-vis what it could have looked like without conscious human intervention. After all, this is a desert. Also, the realization that the infrastructures and the associated knowhow are imported is always in my consciousness. But some parts of the city do look modern. This has not happened by accident.

Far from it! In fact, Dubai has been referred to as the “city of the future,” where it’s hoped you’ll soon have robot cops (policemen), flying taxis, and self-driving (autonomous) cars plying the roads. There is even a Ministry of Artificial Intelligence (AI), with a minister to boot!  Of course, the Burj Khalifa, built in Dubai in 2010 and standing 828 m tall, with 163 floors, is the tallest building in the world. Early last year, apartments (real estate) in a development in Dubai started selling for Bitcoin! The city is ranked fourth in the world with the biggest inflow of high net-worth individuals, according to Knight Frank’s 2017 Wealth Report.

As the model city of the future, Dubai wants a quarter of its fully driverless road transport to use AI by 2030, and rooftop solar power will also be mandatory in the UAE in the same year. The city will attain 25% of its goal to generate 75% of its energy with solar power by 2050.

Dubai has also become known for its “Smart Palm Trees,” or 3D-printed copies of trees with fiber-reinforced plastic that are community tech hubs throughout the city. The city has also started building the first 3D-printed skyscraper, and is already home to the first 3D-printed office.

Dubai wants to add to the foregoing portfolio and move further towards its goal as a futuristic city: to become the world’s first blockchain-powered government. By 2020, the emirate wants all visa applications, bill payments and license renewals, which account for over 100 million documents each year, to be transacted digitally using blockchain. The Smart Dubai Office launched the citywide “Dubai Blockchain Strategy” in October 2016, with the objective of executing all applicable government transactions using blockchain by 2020. In October of last year, the emirate also launched its own blockchain-based cryptocurrency, called emCash, that you can use to pay for government and non-government services. The motivation for this includes faster processing, improved delivery time, less complexity and cost; thereby simplifying business and improving quality of life in Dubai.”

Dubai’s motivation in adopting blockchain-run governance is to “keep data secure and optimize business decisions.”  Blockchain will help secure data and therefore reduce costs associated with fraud, compliance and financial reporting; as well as adding extra layers of security for banking, medical records, ownership records, invoices and other assets that contain sensitive information. As described in a few previous articles in this column in Daily Trust, blockchain is based on distributed ledger technology, and a framework for sharing, replicating and updating data on a network that comprises thousands of devices, without a central control. The technology can keep data secure, visible, trackable and tamper-proof, and enables real-time transactions across multiple parties.

Dubai’s comprehensive blockchain-powered project has the overall goal of streamlining the process of establishing and operating a business in the city, enabling efficient digital trading of licenses and documents covering all facets of a business and ensuring regulatory compliance with city’s rules.

Dubai has partnered with IBM to launch a Blockchain Registry that will help businesses operate under the city’s jurisdiction. The latest step in the city’s 2020 Blockchain Strategy was announced in an official press release on Tuesday, 1 May 2018. According to the press release, “The Registry will store registration information from companies, as well as keep track of changes, and thus will streamline the process of setting up and operating a business, roll out digital exchange of trade licenses and related documentation for all business activities, and ensure regulatory compliance across Dubai’s business ecosystem,” 

You know what they say, “If you can dream it; you can have it;” at least some of the time.


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