Blockchain / Distributed Ledger

Blockchain Tracker: Economic Revolution, Editing Controversy & Health Care

Each week it seems blockchain just gets another endorsement. This week? Richard Branson.

The billionaire and Virgin Group founder said blockchain will create an “economic revolution,” especially in developing countries. His reasoning revolves around the issue of proving ownership of certain assets and access to capital. Pointing to economist Hernando de Soto’s work and a partnership with bitcoin and blockchain company Bitfury and the Republic of Georgia’s National Agency of Public Registry.

Experts are already sounding off on the assertiveness of Branson’s announcement, with some saying they’re only partially in agreement.

“Blockchain is probably unlikely to create the sorts of gains that its proponents hope for. But that’s also true for absolutely any other form of technology,” said Luther Martin, distinguished technologist at HPE Security – Data Security.

Martin is talking about what economists call the “productivity paradox,” which, as it turns out, can be difficult to show any quantifiable productivity gains from technology. He said we’ll only probably see incremental gains from blockchain, rather than the dramatic ones Branson is talking about.

Bruce Pon, founder and CEO of BigchainDB, has a different take on Branson’s announcement.

“I’m a firm believer in the transformational power of blockchain. It will completely immerse itself across all facets of our society over the next three decades,” said Pon. “Its impact will be felt across the world, similar to, if not greater than, the impact the internet has had on the world at large. At BigchainDB, we’ve ‘bet the farm’ that this is going to happen, and we are well-placed to contribute to the creation of a new internet of value for the programmable economy.”

And the value of the “editable” blockchain concept, as brought about from Accenture’s recent announcement two weeks ago, is also one that has experts questioning the entire blockchain premise. Most people who consider themselves purists are not convinced that one should be able to edit any blockchain.

But Pon said Accenture’s proposal has merits in that it addresses a need that businesses are requesting: the ability to get rid of unwanted data.

Which is basically the crux of why Accenture’s proposal has engendered so much chatter.

“What is key in the debate is to ensure that the rules are clear and transparent and that all network participants agree that this is a useful feature for certain business situations,” said Pon.

And speaking of Accenture, it’s being included into a new working group focused on health care.

This week, Hyperledger launched a blockchain health care working group focused on, you guessed it — applying blockchain to health care issues. The working group includes Accenture, as well as Kaiser Permanente, IBM and startups Gem and Hashed Health. The group intends to turn to a collection of more than 70 proposals submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), all part of a recent competition organized by that agency.

Health care issues that could be potentially tackled with blockchain — data portability, diagnosis, treatment, cost-saving opportunities — are easy to come up with.

“Combining health care with tools of blockchain, Big Data and machine learning, we can now increase efforts to improve and effectively rectify crucial gaps in the health care system,” said Pon.

If nothing else, the working group could be an example of how technology must adapt to the regulatory environment of business.

“In particular, health care information can’t be public, so to be useful, we’ll need a highly permissioned version of blockchain technology, which will look very different from the public data that bitcoin’s blockchain maintains,” said Martin.

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