It’s time to unchain blockchain
The technology – not to be lumped with bitcoin – is evolving to full potential as tool for consolidating data
I’VE said this before, and I’m saying it again: blockchain and bitcoin are not the same thing.
Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency, while blockchain is a revolutionary way to securely store valuable information.
Cryptocurrencies have gained negative publicity recently, due in large part to their wildly volatile prices, but also due to reports of cryptocurrency theft to the value of over $1 billion in 2018.
This is particularly alarming for a currency that was touted as being blockchain-based, and hence super-secure. I have nothing against cryptocurrencies; I believe they are great in theory, even though they do have some unresolved issues. But, in time, they might evolve to a point where theory becomes a practical reality.
The danger of lumping cryptocurrencies and blockchain together as if they are the same thing, is that when crypto takes a beating, so does blockchain, and people will fail to see its incredible potential as a stand-alone technology. Blockchain technology is also in its infancy, but it has already shown tremendous potential in a number of industries.
In my previous article, I described the blockchain-based concept app named National Vehicle Ledger, or NAVEL, that can transform the motor vehicle industry by removing the element of chance when buying a used vehicle. Although NAVEL doesn’t yet exist, there are a number of applications where blockchain is already providing solutions to age-old problems, such as in the health-care industry.
As an example of this, let’s say there’s been a serious car crash, and the driver is unconscious. He is in a serious condition and needs urgent attention; but to administer any first aid, paramedics obviously need vital health information such as his blood type, whether he suffers from allergies, and any other information that might help them to stabilise him.
Unfortunately, they do not have that information on the scene, and there is little chance of acquiring it. In fact, even identifying the victim is a challenge.
At the hospital, doctors face the same challenge because his vital information lies in a myriad databases belonging to various doctors and hospitals. This is an all too familiar scenario, and the delays could easily lead to a matter of life and death, as they often do.
Fortunately, there is a solution on the horizon.
Soon, doctors and EMR teams will be able to instantly identify patients and call up all their vital information. All they will have to do is to scan the patient’s retina or fingerprints and immediately get access to personal details, next of kin, and most importantly, vital medical records. With information like this at their fingertips, they will be able to save many more lives.
The technology to create this solution is out there, but the real challenge is the scattered data. Blockchain technology can solve this problem by consolidating the data into one highly secure place, making it easily accessible to authorised people.
A start-up called SimplyVital Health has already implemented a solution called Health Nexus that provides blockchain-based, decentralised patient records. This is a step in the right direction, and it will only be a matter of time before this concept gains traction.
Blockchain is also being used in the fight against hunger. The World Food Programme has implemented a system for tracking food rations in Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp using a combination of biometric scanning and blockchain technology.
The solution is pure genius: refugees “pay” for their allocated food rations at collection points by scanning their retinas. The transaction is then stored on a blockchain-based computing platform. This method has proven very effective in managing the 10000-plus refugees at the camp. It ensures that everyone is catered for, and speeds up the food transactions while lowering the chance of fraud or data mismanagement. It also removes the need for third-party intermediaries such as banks.
Governments are also seeing the value of blockchain. Dubai has launched the “Dubai Blockchain Strategy”, which aims to make it the first city fully powered by blockchain by 2020. Estonia is a step ahead. They’ve been using blockchain since 2012 in a number of different departments, such as national health, judicial, legislative, security, and personal medicine. Many other governments have plans in place to jump on this trend.
Will blockchain change the world? In some ways, it will. But blockchain technology is by no means a panacea for the world’s problems. Nor is it going to solve all our data woes. While blockchain may be great for some applications, it does have some limitations that make it unsuitable for others. Blockchain transactions are a lot slower than traditional database transactions, and furthermore they tend to be more energy-intensive. This means that high-speed, high-volume transactions such as those in banks, stock exchanges and point-of-sale systems will still rely on traditional databases.
Nonetheless, the evidence is clear that blockchain technology does have the potential to solve many of the problems we have been trying to solve for years and, more importantly, positively impact countless lives. But like most technologies, it just needs time to evolve to its full potential.