Artificial intelligence

Ant Financial sees blockchain as smart way forward for easy home rental contracts

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 1:57pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 4:33pm

It will soon be possible to rent a flat with a facial scan and pay automatically by locking the door when you leave, thanks to blockchain-enabled “smart contracts”, according to Ant Financial.

The financial affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group is developing applications that, when combined with biometric recognition, will make the home rental experience “more convenient and efficient”, said Geoff Jiang, the company’s vice president and head of Ant Technologies Lab.

“Ant Financial is building a smart contract platform which can be applied to industries such as the industrial, finance and leasing markets,” Jiang told the South China Morning Post on the sidelines of the Alibaba Computing Conference in Hangzhou, where the company is based.

A “smart contract” is a self-executing agreement stored on blockchain, where the executions are triggered automatically when certain terms have been met. It is believed to be one of the most promising applications for business-related blockchain technology.

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One of Alibaba’s initial projects included working with the Hangzhou Realty Administrative Bureau in developing a leasing regulation and service platform that came online last month, where property agents, tenants and landlords register using facial scan and all transactions are recorded to prevent fraud.

The interest in blockchain by the real estate industry coincides with the central government’s effort to boost the residential leasing market to counter endless price rises of homes in the country’s first and second-tier cities.

Cities including Beijing, Chengdu and Hefei have announced plans to increase land supply for rental housing and encourage the setting up of more property leasing firms.

Jiang said the key to success lies in finding “killer applications” that are both practical and suitable for smart contracts.

“Ant Financial has confidence in blockchain. With distributed ledgers, internet of things and data sharing, a lot of [technology] revolutions await Alibaba,” he told the Post.

Blockchain, together with artificial intelligence, security, internet of things and cloud computing – collectively known as BASIC – are the five technologies Ant said it will focus on.

Such optimism is despite China’s ban one of blockchain’s most popular applications – cryptocurrencies.

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“If big data and cloud computing in the era of fintech 1.0 are like the motor vehicle engines, BASIC in fintech 2.0 is the capability to manufacture cars or even autonomous driving mobiles,” said Hu Xi, vice president and chief architect of Ant Financial.

Currently, the financial unicorn has applied blockchain technology to its charity platforms and for tracking the source of products to increase supply chain transparency, Jiang said.

He cited cooperation with Moutai, one of China’s most luxury liquor brands, as an example of how blockchain helps eliminate counterfeits from the market.

Known as the technology behind bitcoin, blockchain is a secure transaction ledger database shared by all parties participating in an established and distributed network. It irrevocably records and stores every transaction or exchange of data that occurs in the network, essentially eliminating the need for a central authority.

Alibaba Group owns the South China Morning Post.