In the last few years Blockchain has been a buzzword in technology and companies have rushed to launch their own blockchain solution in the same way apps exploded with the advent of smart phones in the mid 2000’s. For many people not in the technology space, Blockchain is only synonymous with Bitcoin and wild price volatility (as we saw before Christmas 2017 when it reached almost $20k, an unprecedented rise from just under $1k in 12 months). In my opinion, financial value is the least interesting part of the technology and it has the potential to disrupt so many traditional paradigms such as banking and medicine that the general public have lost faith with in recent times.
In short, blockchain is a ledger of records organized in ‘blocks’ that are linked together by cryptographic validation. It is decentralised and distributed which means that this validation occurs across multiple nodes (participants) through proof of work (POW) in most cases. This requires the service requester to complete a computational problem to deter cyber attacks such as DDOS.
The real issue at present is the lack of viable use cases being implemented coupled with any sort of regulation and as a result a lot of ICO’s (Initial Coin Offering) have been used to raise quick capital with limited roadmap/ long term vision. However, there are a few projects that offer solutions to existing problems that are not being addressed by conventional means.
WaBi is a platform focused on tracking consumer products and using the blockchain to store and communicate information about it’s safety and authenticity. Using RFID and anti-tamper labels to track data, their aim is to reduce counterfeit products in the supply chain such as medications and food sources. WaBi tokens are used as loyalty points to incentivize scanning of anti-counterfeit labels on Walimai protected products.It is primarily focused on the Chinese market where there have been a number of recent scandals around the authenticity of baby formula, most notably the 2008 Baby Formula scandal (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7720404.stm) that was reported to have affected over 300000 infants. As part of the Walimai company, this company already has a market and immediate use case.
Due to the plethora of blockchain solutions out there, it is only natural that there would need to be a way of connecting them and transferring data/ logic (or value/ smart contracts) across multiple networks which may otherwise become isolated silos. Aions mission is to provide a scalable and interconnected solution rather like Cisco connected disparate networks in the 1990s. This could potentially lead to mass adoption, accelerating the easy development of DAPPS (decentralized applications) that create bridges from one blockchain protocol to another. Put simply it will develop a blockchain protocol that will act as a “router” connecting these networks. Validation of blocks/ transactions will eventually use Proof of Intelligence(POI) which unlike POW requires a unique puzzle to be solved using the POI algorithm. The intent is to motivate the creation of AI-specific or specialized hardware that could be used for machine learning and neural network training in the future.
Even within the NHS, there are so many disparate hospitals trusts and groups, it makes sharing patient data using a generic Electronic Health Record (EHR) very problematic. This can lead to unnecessary delay in referrals and diagnoses, reducing the effectiveness of medical practitioners that have limited and sometimes inaccurate data at their disposal. Medicalchain uses blockchain technology to securely store health records and maintain a single version of the truth. The different organisations such as doctors, hospitals, laboratories, pharmacists and health insurers can request permission to access a patient’s record to serve their purpose and record transactions on the distributed ledger. Ultimately it is the patient that has control over their own health record
Medicalchain provides solutions to today’s health record problems. The platform is built to securely store and share electronic health records reducing the time to access potentially lifesaving patient data. In the first instance it is providing a telemedicine solution so that patients will be able have online medical consultations secure in the knowledge that their records will not be compromised. This is in response to the multiple cases of high profile patient data breaches in the recent past – https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/17/security-breach-fears-26-million-nhs-patients/
Medicalchain has recently partnered with The Groves NHS practice consisting of four GP practices, supporting over 30,000 registered patients and 1,000 private patient families with system launch in early July.
New technology is only worthwhile if it improves/ iterates on what we already have and this is especially true of blockchain. Simply duplicating existing systems via a different platform will not encourage innovation or lead to ubiquity. There has to be a unique reason or problem identified that traditional methods cannot solve for it to be a worthwhile investment in terms of money and time. The examples above show that there is certainly potential for blockchain technology to be a game changer but in my opinion there are still too many projects that can be classed as vapourware, all style and hype but no discernible product. While these still exist, they will act to distract/ detract newcomers from the benefits and slow down mainstream adoption. Even so, I still believe the winners emerging from this space can revolutionise and transform existing systems like banking, we have for so long afforded a permanence in our modern society.
Jisc Futurist Martin Hamilton has written a horizon scanning report for Blockchain that is available at https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/blockchain-in-research-and-education covering the potential impact in Research and Education.