One of the great advantages of blockchain technology has been its ability to enable secure collaboration among multiple parties from a set of decentralized data. Some have called this the “democratization” of data because everyone with the proper permissions has access to that data on a blockchain.
Blockchain's unique characteristics include:
• Decentralized trust via data transparency which enables collaboration
• Verifiable identities of participants and goods to authentic items and prevent fraud
• Business processes automated in virtually real-time
• Highly-secure data that is tamper evident, meaning if a bad actor tampers with a set of data, then all blockchain participants will be aware of that.
Recently, I spoke with Dr. Sally Eaves about the benefits of Blockchain technology and where the tech is headed in the future. She shared some easy to understand insights about the state of the tech today, and where it is headed.
“In the early phases of blockchain, there was an awful lot of hype, a lot of conceptualization, but not much on the tangibles,” says Eaves. “But now, some of the early pilots have come to fruition, so we can actually talk about those real-world examples. There's definitely a threshold that's been crossed.”
“We're in an extended global crisis of trust that affects all sectors, not just financial services,” explains Eaves. She believes the fact that blockchain actually embeds trust has been missed in many conversations, and the press tends to move to the darker side about what technology might take away rather than what it can enable.
Protecting Our Most Sensitive Data
“I think there's a lovely opportunity for a marriage between blockchain and AI technology. Healthcare is the one that most excites me,” notes Eaves.
She explains that our DNA is the most sensitive data we have in many respects, and we can use blockchain to share that data with complete security and control. There are many populations, particularly around ethnic groups, where there's a real lack of data around certain medical conditions.
“With blockchain, we can encourage more people to feel safe donating their DNA data where it can then be mined using the advances in AI and machine learning to get nuanced data insights,” says Eaves. “It’s a powerful combination in terms of security, control, and then insight generation.”
Blockchain Takes a Leading Role in Ethical Supply Chains
Supply chain is one of the most advanced applications for blockchain technology. It’s a natural fit because of the ability to build transparency into the supply chain so that all participants across the chain can see where goods are at any given point in time. With blockchain, even though supply chains are often complex, we can effectively track and trace goods from point A to point Z in real-time.
“For things like ethics and fair trade, you can literally go from farm to fork and verify provenance at every stage with blockchain technology,” notes Eaves.
“In my opinion, and my research backs this up, people want to buy and work with organizations where there's a values alignment. With blockchain, organizations are able to say, ‘This is where everything has come from.’”
One company that has done this successfully is Certified Origins Italia. The Grosseto, Italy-based company implemented Oracle Blockchain Platform for shipments of its Bellucci Premium extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) from Italy to the U.S. By using blockchain technology, Certified Origins has implemented smart contract conditions such as matching purchase orders, invoices, and shipping information prior to triggering a payment. This greatly improves collaboration between all parties, adds an extra layer of transparency for consumers, and helps Certified Origins support the excellence of small farms.
Helping Individuals Access Financial Resources
Another example relates to financial inclusion. In Africa, blockchain, combined with AI, can provide identity and a financial credit history where individuals have never had this before. This allows people that have never been able to establish credit or bank to be able to use financial services.
“Often, people haven't got a way to show that they've got financial credibility to get access to traditional financial institutions or loan mechanisms,” explains Eaves. “But with AI, because it's so appropriate to use with unstructured data, we’re doing very pragmatic things where, for example, using SMS text messages and different forms of evidence, we can use that to form a credit history and digital identity. Over time, people can move into more traditional finance mechanisms.”
Volvo Cars Partnership Drives Sustainability and Traceability of Electric Vehicle Battery Components
Volvo Cars has a long-standing commitment to sustainability and environmentally responsible automobile manufacturing. This year, the company has implemented a world-first blockchain traceability system for tracking the cobalt used in its electric vehicle batteries with technology from Circulor and the Oracle Blockchain Platform. With a lack of adequate supply for cobalt to meet all the demands for Volvo’s use in batteries, this initiative marks not only an environmentally prudent model, but also a smart business model.
Volvo partner Circulor has developed a platform that uses the Oracle Blockchain Platform to create an immutable chain of custody record in the supply chain. They combine this with adaptive intelligence algorithms to ensure compliance and detect problems in provenance. Read more about Volvo Car’s Blockchain implementation.
Obstacles Holding Back Blockchain Innovation
In many cases, legacy systems become a complicating factor for blockchain projects due to integration challenges. Most businesses have centralized infrastructure and processes in place that aren’t compatible with a distributed ledger structure. To overcome this, Eaves recommends running a pilot project as a standalone entity. It allows the ability to experiment before you go full in.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, according to Eaves, is getting cultural buy-in before a blockchain project begins. Business cultures have processes and values with which they feel comfortable. Unless the people involved understand the business opportunities and the reason for pursuing a blockchain project, which may be a major disruption to the established culture, they will not throw their full support behind it. It's all about the human and tech partnership.
“That is always where IT project failure comes from, when you don't have that alignment,” she notes. “And if users don't have trust in the new technology, that's a massive problem. Hence why I talk about the need for education.”
What Lies Ahead for Blockchain?
In our conversation, Eaves gave us some intriguing hints about the future potential of blockchain. She cited ongoing projects such as eliminating human trafficking by identifying individuals involved in the practice; using perceptive media to create a media experience that adapts and is personalized for the individual using AI and VR; and identifying and eliminating child slavery, underage workers, and poor factory working conditions in the fashion industry. The potential applications are limitless.
In her soon-to-be-released book, The Edge of Disruption: Ride the Wave of Digital Transformation, Eaves looks at everything from blockchain and AI to VR and AR and the future of work, both from an application point of view and around skills development. She calls blockchain the democratizer of data.
You can learn about how Oracle is helping develop innovative blockchain projects by visiting the Oracle Blockchain web page.
About Sally Eaves
Professor Sally Eaves founded Aspirational Futures to help teach, empower, and support the next generation of talent into careers yet to be conceived, along with scaling the application of emergent technology as an enabler for business transformation and social good. Prof. Eaves is also the Social Impact Lead for the UK Government Blockchain Association. She was an inaugural recipient of the Frontier Technology and Social Impact Award; she presented at the UN in 2018 and now leads major initiatives in technology and social impact, including presenting at Davos and organizing events worldwide. She also brings a depth of experience from both CEO and CTO roles, and she is a member of the Forbes Technology Council. Prof. Eaves graciously sat down with me to talk about the surprising ways that blockchain is shaking up the business world and beyond.