It’s time to un­chain blockchain

The tech­nol­ogy – not to be lumped with bit­coin – is evolv­ing to full po­ten­tial as tool for con­sol­i­dat­ing data

Daily News - - METRO - THE blockchain-based con­cept app named Na­tional Ve­hi­cle Ledger, or NAVEL, can trans­form the mo­tor ve­hi­cle in­dus­try by re­mov­ing the ele­ment of chance when buy­ing a used ve­hi­cle.

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.

Bi­lal Kathrada

Tech­nol­ogy Watch

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