Things to Look Out for in 2019
When one mentions the word “blockchain”, cryptocurrencies and particularly Bitcoin is the one thing that comes immediately to mind to most people. However, Bitcoin is but one single application of the foundational technology known as blockchain. Many other applications exist beyond cryptocurrencies and fintech services, and not just hypothetical – many have already seen some form of development in the previous years and are steadily gaining traction. Here are just a few examples to look out for this 2019 – from the food you buy, to the way you contribute to crowdfunding campaigns.
1) Know where your food is from
Good food is truly important to us for mind and body, but what happens if the food you eat is bad?
Food safety is something that most developed societies in general take for granted, until things actually takes happen. Several incidences have rocked the industry, such as a recent global recall for romaine lettuce in late November 2018 after several cases of E.coli food poisoning. The contamination was eventually traced to romaine lettuce growing in three California counties: Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Barbara.
No doubt the root of the problem was traced; however this tracing process currently takes far too long. There are simply too many links along the supply chain to investigate, which takes time to do so. In the meantime, one can only assume that all instances the food – in this case, romaine lettuce – is contaminated and unfit for consumption. This leaves society no choice but to discard all affected foods in the interest of personal health, creating an enormous amount of food waste. Even after the origin of contamination is traced, romaine lettuce will still be discarded because it is unlabeled and therefore of unknown origin. An additional amount will also be thrown out because of a lack of awareness of latest developments, or even shaken confidence.
Could a blockchain solution help to improve the current supply chain management process? With its tamper-proof and transparent nature, anybody can trace the source of their food with a high degree of confidence. Some organisations already have this in use. US retailer Wal-Mart for instance has already started using blockchain to track all lettuce shipments to its stores. It has also mandated all its lettuce suppliers to register on a blockchain tracking system by the end of January 2019. In China, which has had its own share of food safety issues, benefits expand to the everyday supermarket buyer, people like you and I. Just fire up a phone app, scan a QR code on the product label, and you are able to see where your product originated from. This video from Channel News Asia shows the process in action – indeed something to look forward to seeing in the year ahead.
2) Store your health records
Your health records are likely to be fragmented and scattered across all kinds of different providers. For example, data at a government hospital is not accessible to a private family clinic; this puts the onus upon you to fill in all the gaps that your doctor at the clinic may require – but could you remember all of it? A blockchain could be used to store this data on a decentralized, standardized platform.
However, blockchain implementation is not without its own share of challenges. A 2016 Deloitte report outlines issues that need to be overcome when implementing blockchain as a solution. Tradeoffs may need to be made between transactional volumes in light of available computing power. Additionally, organisations need to consider the information that is actually stored on the blockchain. This can be a point of contention for many different stakeholders such as healthcare providers, everyday individuals, and even governments, in light of data privacy and protection. Actual operational costs need to be factored into consideration as well.
Still, a number of organisations have become interested in the use of blockchain to store health records. Financial Times reported in June 2018 on MedRec, a project from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was a prototype proof of concept at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. A smart contract on the Ethereum network pulled patient data and allowed separate medical practitioners to see it once permission was given by the patient.
The same report also covered healthcare start-up Iryo, which deployed blockchain-based electronic health records in refugee camps in Jordan. This enabled people to store health data on their mobile phones and take it with them. It plans to expand in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Djibouti. We see this as a promising development for healthcare not just in developed societies, but also in environments where medical records are difficult to maintain. After all, no one should be denied healthcare simply because they are unable to afford it.
As blockchain grows and develops, you may one day find your health records on a blockchain. But don’t panic yet – this doesn’t mean your information is out there for the world to see. On a blockchain, each participant has a secret private key in addition to an openly visible public key. Identification is possible in only one direction using the private key, giving people like you and I the control to share health information as needed. Additionally, the information once stored is not alterable. Even if an attacker were to gain access to the database, like in the case of an attack on healthcare SingHealth, the information available to the attacker would be at a minimum without access to private keys, with no threat of data modification.
This however does means you need to practice good cyber-security habits, which you should be doing anyway. In this case, it would be to store your private key offline. If any of your passwords are “P@ssw0rd”, change them now!
3) Safeguard your crowdfunding contributions
TheSkully AR-1 – Augmented Reality Helmet was marketed as “the first motorcycle helmet with a built-in computer and a rear view camera to eliminate all blind spots for a safer ride.” It raised a total of 15 million USD, including 2.5 million from crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, until a lawsuit filed by their former bookkeeper put the brakes on the project in 2016. The lawsuit claimed that the two founders used their company’s money for personal use, such as vacations to Hawaii, rent payments for their personal apartments, and a visit to a strip club. A notice on the company’s Indiegogo page informed backers that they would have to go through bankruptcy court to try to reclaim any money.
In 2015, six leaders of megachurch City Harvest Church in Singapore were found guilty of misappropriating 50 million SGD of church funds to bankroll the secular music career of the pastor’s wife Sun Ho. This case was described in the local media as “the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore.”
The above two examples illustrate how the power of crowdfunding can be misused, however many more cases of “under-delivery” rather than “non-delivery” go unnoticed. In fact, it can be said that crowdfunding as it is today provides little to no recourse or protection for both parties if the project fails for any reason. Platforms try to implement their own safeguards to reduce project failure. Major crowdfunding platform Kickstarter for instance requires project creators to show a working prototype , while PledgeCamp, an upcoming crowdfunding platform currently receiving ICO funding, provides an “insurance payout” from that reimburses project backers a percentage of their contribution if the project fails.
Crowdfunding is a large market (US$5,250m worth of transaction value in 2018 alone) with many different players, however none of these platforms have addressed the proverbial elephant in the room – backers have no control of their funds throughout the crowdfunding process once it leaves their hands. This leaves both backers and founders in a vulnerable position for disputes – backers have no guarantee of getting their funds back, while project starters are accountable for the full amount of funds in their hands, even if they have not been used yet. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, Black Lotus holds funding in escrow instead of wiring it directly to project starters. It places the onus on both parties to arrive at a mutual agreement akin to one made between two people for a mutual benefit.
What does this mean? For the founder, this means clear communication and accountability is needed. For backers, they need to believe in the project that they are funding and express it through collective voting to provide founders with the funding they need – or recover their remaining funds in escrow if the agreement falls apart. Theoretically, a founder could request for the entire amount in the escrow, but founders still need the agreement of their backers. Black Lotus thus works out to be safer for backers and even founders, since there is a clear record of consent, and a safeguard for backers.
As these processes are executed through transactions on the blockchain, the records are transparent – all transactions and historical activity manifest as a score and cannot be changed. Someone who wished to do so would need absurd amounts of computational power and hardware at their disposal in order to modify the entire ledger undetected. This virtual impossibility safeguards the crowdfunding process and requires both parties to build trust in order to keep the process going.
These developments are but the tip of the iceberg – there exist many more ideas, many in their theoretical stages. While adoption is still slow, it is definitely underway. Blockchain has already advanced enough to give rise to various solutions and even actual implementations, should someone ever come up with them. However, there is one tenet that we believe in, regardless of whether the solution runs on the blockchain or not – at the heart of every solution should be the needs of the everyday person.
This 2019, the biggest thing to look out for may just be all the different solutions that will appear on the market to solve the myriad of unmet needs in our society.
What other developments do you foresee this 2019? Let us know in the comments!