October 5th, 2021
Written by Christian Vazquez
When the mainstream hears the word "blockchain," their minds usually go to cryptocurrencies or NFTs, but there is more to the technology than just these applications. What is blockchain, and why should anyone care about it?
Blockchain is defined as a shared, immutable ledger that records transactions and tracks assets between participants on a network. In my words, it's a public database of peer-to-peer interactions that are recorded over time. These records are viewable by anyone, and no single participant or entity can alter any existing record. Here's the important takeaway: things recorded on blockchain can serve as proof!
That's called provenance, and I'll show you just how important it is.
On average, there's 420,000 deaths every year from food-borne diseases worldwide. That number is high because it's hard to tell where the harmful foods came from. With so many participants (suppliers, distributers, & retailers) having their own systems of record, information becomes blurry & difficult to find.
IBM Food Trust is a supply chain solution that traces the path of food from start to finish. "When an outbreak of a food-borne disease happens, it can take days, if not weeks, to find its source." (Walmart Case Study – Hyperledger Foundation, 2022). This solution focused on 2 products during its Proof of Concept stage, one of which was mangoes in the US. When it was finally implemented, "the system was able to reduce the time needed to trace the provenance of a mango from 7 days to 2.2 seconds." With every participant on the network having access to the same, verified information, members are quickly able to trace through each step that was provably completed between the farmer and the end consumer.
So you may be asking, "Ok Christian, I should care about blockchain because I can prove where my food came from?"
No, you should care because we are in a world of information overload. Much of what circulates online is garbage, some of it can't be trusted, and the info we do want can be hard to find and even harder to verify as legitimate. The industry-specific application of blockchain is not as important as what it enables; provenance, transparency, and more direct ways of working together (peer-to-peer). The more accurate information is and the faster it's received, the better things are for all participants involved. This is precisely what blockchain is wonderful for.
There's several areas I'll be diving deeper into with my research like:
- Advertising fraud
- Major media news sources
If you're interested in disruption then I encourage you to think about specific "spots" across industries that are nebulous. An example I think about is the music industry and the challenges around music rights, sampling, and royalty splits. Essentially, I challenge you to consider businesses or relationships that would benefit all parties involved by having transparent, immutable information that is publicly available. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Blockchain is arguably still a young technology at only 14 years old, and there are certainly many challenges to solve for. Despite this, I think it is a very important technology. It is a line of defense against poor human behavior, and our ability to use and improve it begins by separating the technology from the stigmas of the applications it's most notably known for. Cryptocurrencies and NFTs are popular, but they're not the only things blockchain is good for!
 Hyperledger.org. 2022. Walmart Case Study – Hyperledger Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.hyperledger.org/learn/publications/walmart-case-study> [Accessed 5 October 2022].