Why Blockchain Is Great for Society As Well As Business

Blockchain’s Potential

I’m really excited about the potential of Blockchain, not only for its business benefits, but also its societal ones.

One of the biggest benefits of Blockchain is embedding trust. At the moment, we have a crisis of trust across the world. Not just in business but also in charities, NGOs, and in governments. Blockchain embeds trust within the system. Effectively, it’s a super secure database and everybody has to agree for anything to be changed. So, it’s a big audit of transactions. I’m also really excited about the benefits of security and also immutable data. It’s very difficult to hack at the current time.

You can have differences about permissioned or permission-less systems, so it gives flexibility around that too. There are some challenges we need to overcome, but the benefits really are embedding trust and taking away intermediaries. This is the biggest dis-intermediary mechanism we’ve ever seen.

Going Beyond Fintech

There’s a real wealth of coverage about Fintech being the natural adoption home for Blockchain. Indeed I was speaking at Texas only yesterday looking at the change asset management for example, because any job where there’s an auditing role, obviously that third-party role can be replaced by Blockchain.

But it’s far more than that. I think probably the most under-represented sector is supply chain. With the supply chain management and proof of provenance and traceability we can get with supply chain technology, right from the farm to fork so to speak, is a massive game changer. So yes. Supply chain management is a natural home.

But also in other areas, like healthcare, I’m particularly excited about the opportunities there. At the moment healthcare is very siloed, with data in different systems and different places, people get back to the trust issue. People are scared to share their most private data. Blockchain can provide that security.

And I’ll also add in something slightly different: the creative sector. So think about art, which is really precious to us. At the moment it is very difficult to provide proof of provenance. There are a lot of debates about ‘Is something a work of art from a famous artist or is something actually not worth anything at all?’ So yes, things like that again will change the game in those industries. So expect the unexpected. There really is almost no sector that cannot be touched by Blockchain.

Transformational Power in Emerging Markets

For me Blockchain is a frontier technology that’s breaking boundaries. I’m leading initiatives in the United Nations and the global Blockchain association on this, and the impact for developing nations in particular is huge. We’ve got things, for example, on the payment mechanism side of things. It will take away the volatility in traditional currency markets. We’ve seen some classic examples of that, which is terrible in countries like Venezuela, for example.

But more than that you could take a look at things like food supply chain transparency and ethical trade. There are so many places where this can make a massive difference. Probably the one I’d like to emphasize more than anything is about financial inclusion and providing identity. And Blockchain has huge opportunities to do that. We‘ve got two billion people around the world that are unbanked. And again this is something I’m working on incredibly closely. So for me it’s about really making a shared value opportunity to everyone from the technology, business, and the social impact.

Challenges Facing Blockchain

Information Quality

One of the biggest challenges is this quality of information, to be completely honest. At the moment, it’s quite understandable if you’re not working closely in the tech space to think bitcoin and Blockchain are exactly the same thing.

There’s a real conflation of information out there. So as an example I build some courses that are free to access, so that people can learn and don’t have to pay. It’s not behind a high wall. Good quality information is out there. We need independent though leaders

Lack of Talent

There’s a lack of inclusion and diversity in building some of these systems. And again if we think about the links between Blockchain and AI, there can be an issue in terms of embedded bias. But generally, we’re going to have a massive talent shortfall. By 2022, there will be massive gap of where we need to be for skills development. That applies to Blockchain, but also to AI and cyber security as well. We’re aware that we need more talent and we need to start building that talent now.

(Click on the following link to read about Huawei’s talent development strategy in AI space.)

Tech Issues

Then with the technology itself, there are some performance issues. We need to look at things like scalability and transaction processing. Many people also care about environmental impact and social impact, and so need to look at the mining cost as mining takes a lot of power and energy. We need to bring that down.

The Role of Telcos in Blockchain

The role of telcos is huge. We need the right infrastructure. If we cannot have quality mobile phone signals and data access, then we cannot actually embed the new technologies that can make a real difference. I mean in developing nations, Blockchain and AI together are leapfrog opportunities. These can really transform businesses and lives, so we need that connectivity to be in place.

AI

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done there. And there are some inherent differences between the two, so there’s inherent tension. But opportunities exist, in particular, in healthcare. If you think about, for example, precision medicine. If you’re going to share your DNA, the most sensitive data we’ve got, people want to feel secure, so they know they’re sending it to who they want to send it to.

And equally there’s a wealth of data that researchers can use around population data. There’s a lot of ethnic minorities, for example, who have been left out of a lot of research and so there just isn’t the volume of data. If we can let people know that their DNA data is anonymized, then they can then contribute to research studies.

But, we need to make sure we’ve got the AI and machine learning to mine that data in the right way so we can get all those insights. I think that’s a very interesting marriage there in terms of healthcare in particular. There are obviously multiple examples, but I think that’s a particularly strong one. The potential to make a massive difference in diseases and conditions that haven’t benefited from much research in the past, I think it could be life-changing.

Note: This transcript is from an interview with Sally at Huawei Eco-Connect Europe 2018 in Rome.

Click here to find out more about Huawei Eco-Connect Europe 2018.

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