Blockchain IS Changing Everyday Life

How many of you believe, like me, that Blockchain IS changing everyday life? Alright, perhaps you think it’s too soon to make such a bold statement.  Well, as the 2nd half of 2018 rolls on, we have some compelling evidence that this is true. In this article I will briefly share three examples that may inspire you.

Reducing Food-borne illnesses 

Has this ever happened to you? You are rushing through LaGuardia Airport trying to make a flight. You are hungry and grab a sandwich before hoping on the plane.  It’s an hour into the flight and… you are not feeling so well. Have you ever gotten sick after eating bad food?  In 2006, in a nationwide outbreak of E coli was linked to bagged spinach. It took regulators two weeks to conduct the trace back and determine the exact source of the outbreak. During the two weeks many people got sick and one person died.  Tons of good spinach was wrongfully wasted because we couldn’t tell the good from the bad.

IBM Food Trust Network consists of several major food companies, including Walmart, Unilever, and Nestle. This network enables supply chain visibility across these members (and their ecosystem) to quickly pinpoint the sources of contamination. The network is already showing results which reduce the impact of food recalls and limit the number of people who get sick or die from food-borne illnesses.

With Blockchain, network members can track provenance of ingredients as they travel farm to fork. Recently, Walmart did an experiment which traced the origin of sliced mangos from a Walmart stores back to the farm. They showed a radical improvement from the ~7 days it took to conduct the trace-back using traditional methods down to 2.2 seconds by using an enterprise Blockchain platform.  Frank Yiannas from Walmart says“that’s food traceability at the speed of thought with Blockchain” and I think you will agree that’s an inspiring example of Blockchain changing everyday life.

Eliminating Big Data breaches

Has this ever happened to you? You are renting an apartment. The real estate company seemingly asks you to share information about every aspect of your life; where you live, your mother’s maiden name, social security number, place of employment and a credit statement from your bank. You repeat this process when you sign up for a new smart phone and visit the doctors for a checkup.  I don’t know about you, but my digital life is a mess! I have bits and pieces of information including user-ids and passwords, scattered all over the “inter-web”. And then it happens. You get a notice from a major service provider that your data has been breached! …Pretty scary …and very frustrating. An estimated 15.4 millionconsumers were hit with some kind of ID theft in 2016, according to a Javelin Strategy & Research 2017 Identity Fraud Study.

The days of big data breaches are numbered with the emergence of the Verified.Me network created by SecureKey. Today the Canadian network is live and hosted by the major banks of Canada.  With the smartphone app, you can finally take control of your digital identity attributes.  The app provides a simple experience for signing up for (and signing onto) internet-based services. Acting as a digital rights management system for your identity, the app allows you to give permission to the real estate company to electronically ask the questions required to rent an apartment.  You similarly give permission to trusted institutions (e.g., your Banks, State/Province Motor Vehicle Department, Employer) to answer the real estate application questions.

With Blockchain the verification process takes place in real time and with unprecedented respect for your privacy.  The solution is design such that there is no central database of identity information. The Blockchain ledger is used as a digital rights management system, storing permissions and proofs by which the user grants institutions rights to access your identity information.  Without a central “data honeypot”, the attack surface of an identity breach is radically changed, making it very difficult for bad actors to walk away with a “big score”.  Blockchain also prevents your digital data to be tracked. Perhaps you don’t want the real estate company to know which bank you do business with. Enabling “triple blind data exchanges”, the data requester never knows who the provider is, the data provider knows not of the requester, and the network operator knows neither.  Last, Blockchain enables only the necessary information to be exchanged.  Hence if you are using to prove your age to enter a bar, you would only have to prove your age is over 21 and not show your driver’s license which also includes your address (I don’t want the bouncer to follow me home).  The National Institute of Standards and Technology, along with other privacy agency’s view this approach as being best of breed for protecting user privacy.   This is a big deal, and I think you would agree is another example of Blockchain changing everyday life.

Prevent Counterfeiting 

Has this ever happened to you? This one actually happened to me.  A friend, who had a headache, asked for an aspirin.  I went into my road-warrior aspirin-jar, that I keep in my laptop bag, and gave him one.  Before he took it, he looked at it and ask, “what is this you’re giving me?”  It didn’t look like any aspirin he had ever seen. I said, I think it’s an aspirin.  He responded with a bit of terror in his voice, “you THINK?”.  The pill had a number on the side, which I quickly googled on my phone and realized it was a generic form of Tylenol.  Phew! But this sort of thing is not only happening to me. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 10 medical products circulating in low and middle income countries are either substandard or falsified, including pills, vaccines and diagnostic kits. Examples include cough syrup for children that contained a powerful opioid and fake anti-malarial pills just made of potato and cornstarch.

A project from our IBM Research Lab is using AI technology with Blockchain to prevent counterfeiting, called the Crypto Anchor Verifier.   The technology uniquely identifies a physical asset as a corresponding digital asset to trace provenance. Manufacturer can place a digital cryptographic fingerprint of an aspirin on a Blockchain such that the pill can be verified for authenticity and avoid fake substitute products as it progresses across its supply chain.

Verifier provides a lens attachment to a standard smartphone. The Verifier app leverages AI technology to perform light spectral analysis against a physical asset.  It captures microscopic properties, viscosity and other identifiers and produces a unique digital identifier for physical good.  When immutably placed on a Blockchain the “finger print” of that digital good can be check again with Verifier by Customs, at a point of purchase, or checked right before you swallow your medication.   That’s preventing counterfeiting with Blockchain …and that’s changing everyday life. 

I hope you are also inspired by these examples. For me, they are signs of the promise of Blockchain becoming real and something that we all can be proud of.  In the early 2000s we started to see the first real signs of the Internet making the world a better place.  It’s energizing to see Blockchain providing evidence in 2018 that it is changing everyday life for the better. With this as motivation, we will continue to solve the business and technical problems that will unleash many similar inspiring uses of an Enterprise Blockchain.


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