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Why Blockchain’s growing pains will be worth it

David Needle | Nov. 1, 2016
Experts say blockchain has a bright future, much like the optimistic predictions the industry had for the cloud 10 years ago.

Experts at a recent technology conference agreed that blockchain has a bright future, but warned it may be a rocky ride until that future arrives. Blockchain is a distributed database that uses a secure digital ledger of transactions that users can share across a computer network. It’s also the technology behind virtual currency bitcoin.      

“When you are at the leading edge there will be mistakes. People will get a lot wrong in the next five years. I think of it kind of like running with scissors,” says Constellation Research analyst Steve Wilson at the Oct. 26 Connected Enterprise conference hosted by his company.

blockchain photos connected enterprise
Constellation Research Connected Enterprise conference

From left to right: Shawn Wiora, CEO of Maxxsure, Silicon Valley Product Exec Chirag Mehta, and Aron Dutta, Global Head of Blockchain at IBM

But blockchain enthusiast Richie Etwaru, chief digital officer at IMS Health, had a different take. He started by pointing to the colorful pair of sneakers he was wearing and noted he bought them using bitcoin, the controversial digital currency that’s been plagued by security issues.

“I think blockchain is the biggest thing I’ve seen in my life,” says Etwaru. “I work in healthcare and bitcoin to blockchain is like what AOL chat was to the internet, and bitcoin is only one substantiation of blockchain.”

Blockchain can help the healthcare industry build trust

In the healthcare industry Etwaru says blockchain can help establish new business models that overcome what he describes as the massive absence of trust that exists today among patients, doctors, the pharmaceutical industry and the government.

“We started thinking of how we can engineer trust into the network and the distributed ledger (i.e. blockchain) is a great way to solve the trust issue because the information is owned by everyone and no one, and can be seen by everyone and no one,” he says. “It’s immutable, you can’t reverse it, it’s pretty decently encrypted and it can be permissions-based.”

One example Etwaru points to is that trials for new drugs are often flawed because patients don’t trust how their information is going to be used. “With blockchain you could do things like citizen research for healthcare. There could be autonomous organizations like a Wikipedia of research on cancer based on an abundance of trust enabled by blockchain,” said Etwaru.

Blockchain can disrupt the cybersecurity landscape

Mike Kail,chief innovation officer at Cybric, a company that’s looking to “disrupt the cybersecurity landscape” with new services, says blockchain has got people thinking differently about what’s possible.

Kail says blockchain technology promises to change the status quo of having to trust a broker to complete financial transactions to a system of automated, verifiable transactions that eliminates the middleman. Speaking more broadly, he says blockchain can bring more efficiency to every company with a supply chain challenge.

 

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