Could Blockchain shape the future?

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Could Blockchain shape the future?

Could Blockchain be the latest technology to shape the future?

I recently volunteered at a hackathon organised by Girl Geek Scotland and Legal Hackers Scotland, to help give participants a better understanding of how Blockchain works.

Attendees went on to propose several practical applications for Blockchain that could have a significant impact in the real world. All of their ideas are revealed below, including the overall winner.

But first...

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain, in the simplest possible terms, is a highly secure way of sending and storing data (such as agreements, transactions or contracts) because it is held across a distributed network of computers rather than one central location.

It has been described as “one of the most fundamental inventions in the history of computer science” by Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen. It has also been described as “the heart of the fourth industrial revolution” by the World Economic Forum’s Klaus Schwab.

Goldman Sachs have put together a good explanation of how it works, with accompanying visuals. The below video also explains it very well:

We’ve also provided a bit more background and detail about Blockchain below, followed by full details of the Hackathon.

Blockchain, explained

Blockchain was invented by a person or group of people known by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. It was originally created to enable the digital currency called Bitcoin to be shared securely online. It’s now seen more widely as a method of recording data, eg. agreements, transactions or contracts. 

What makes it special, is that the data is distributed across several computers over a peer-to-peer network, rather than being held in one central place. This means everyone can see the most up-to-date version in real time.

The data is put into blocks which are bound together cryptographically and chronologically into a "chain" using complex mathematical algorithms. The blockchain encryption process, known as “hashing” is carried out by lots of different computers.

Each computer talks to each other to unlock the data. If they all agree on the answer, each block’s unique digital signature is verified, which means it becomes an immutable record and cannot be easily changed or tampered with.

The data is much more secure than a centrally held record, because it is harder for hackers to access encrypted data that is distributed, and any attempt to change any part of the blockchain in any one location will be evident when compared to the other copies. 

Blockchain: Real life use cases

At the first Blockchain workshop, attendees gained a good understanding of how the technology works, but they didn't have a clear idea how they could use it in their own personal or work lives. 

So at the Hackathon, attendees were organised into six groups, and asked to think of a current problem that a secure and connected system such as Blockchain could potentially solve. They were given four sectors to choose from which rely on data security; legal, health, financial and ‘civic and security’.

Here's a brief summary of each team's idea:

1. Can Blockchain help people in disaster scenarios?

One group called themselves AidTech. AidTech chose Health as their sector, but is also relevant for the Civic and Security sectors. 

The Problem

When a disaster strikes, it can take lives, cost money and take an extremely long time to repair. The time it takes to get help and aid out to people can take far too long, and the cost of materials, service and organisation can be excessive. And prices actually increase at the time of a disaster due to the sudden increase in demand. Some people may say supply and demand. Others may say immoral. 

The Solution

AidTech created a prototype using the Blockchain as a platform, to create smart contracts between citizens and suppliers.

These contracts would help people in potential disaster areas to secure a deal with a suitable supplier before a disaster, ensuring they can get the supplies they need at a fair price. The record of the transaction would be recorded securely across the entire network, so that the contract cannot be reneged on should a disaster take place.

The system would also use an algorithm to automatically make the right matches, ensuring that those who are at risk find the best supplier for their needs, based on location, value and quality. This reduces time and cost of organisation, therefore improving the chances of saving people's lives, and reducing unnecessary damage to the local and national economy. Great idea AidTech! 

2. Can Blockchain save lives?

Another group called Blockwegians, also chose Health as their sector. 

The Problem

How secure are your medical records really? What happens if you are unconscious and in need of emergency medical treatment, but have a life-threatening allergy? 

The Solution

Blockwegians built a prototype that used the Blockchain to secure medical records. The idea was to allow access worldwide by registered healthcare professionals - who would require a key or password to gain access.

Basic access would only provide access to the patient’s emergency details, letting them know essential information such as any allergies, current medication, and emergency contact details.;

To gain any other medical history, they would need another level of verification. It would only be possible to unlock all medical records, when the patient password and healthcare professional password are used together, giving each person full control over their own medical history where appropriate.

The Blockchain aids this by securely matching the encrypted passwords, and always checking that every key matches along the way when sending it across the distributed network. Well done Blockwegians!

3. Could Blockchain make you money?

Etherflux wanted to explore how Blockchain could benefit the Finance sector.

The Problem

There have been plenty of horror stories about big corporations losing people’s valuable data, and with the forthcoming GDPR data reforms, this is more important than ever. Your financial records should never be at risk. The thought of losing money is a frightening one, and our identities are at risk too. Many people also have issues finding lenders, or finding investments that can guarantee a decent return.

The Solution

Etherflux built a prototype using the Blockchain to create smart contracts between one person to another securing finance.

The benefits of Blockchain would make it more secure and faster to move money. It would also open the Finance market up so that anyone could lend money, with both parties signing a legal contract securing repayment, that neither can amend without prior consent. Well done for another great idea Etherflux!

4. Can Blockchain prevent charities from losing money?

The Grassroots team were determined to give the power of charity back to the people. They looked at the Finance sector, and how to transfer money to charities differently.

The Problem 

Many retailers currently partner with charities of their choice to encourage customers to give back to the community and demonstrate their values. However this can take a lot of organisation and therefore might not happen as often. It also doesn't necessarily encourage the community, as it may not be a charity they relate to. 

The Solution

The Grassroots team built a prototype to demonstrate a mobile app that uses Blockchain to collect and transfer tokens. When making a purchase at the shop, you could simply scan a QR code on the app during the shop purchase. The shop would then credit the customer a certain amount of tokens.

Each shop on the app contained a list of chosen charities by that shop. The customer then had full power to choose what charity to send the tokens to. This showed much more transparency as to where people's charity money is going. It also made it more secure and faster to transfer funds, benefiting the shop as well as the customer.

5. Could Blockchain encourage donations to charity?

The Empower team chose Finance as their topic as well.

The Problem

Empower saw a gap in the market, where more and more people are using digital currency, but most businesses are not. There is a risk of some businesses falling behind. Some websites give the option to donate to a charity when buying a product online. Currently there is no way of donating in digital currency. However businesses are very likely to start allowing payment in this way in the near future. So where does that leave donations? 

The Solution

Empower built a prototype that worked as a third party service. The service would prompt the user when buying a product, who would then be redirected to a platform giving the option to buy two, give one away - all purchased with their cryptocurrency account. Well done Empower!

The winning idea

6. Could Blockchain help ensure the veracity of healthcare reviews?

TrustChain’s idea was an important one for the Health sector - ensuring that online healthcare reviews are secure and verified. 

The Problem

Who can you trust? Many online reviews are fake and it is difficult to prove their veracity. This is particularly important for the healthcare sector.

The Solution

TrustChain used the Blockchain to verify users through genuine proof of transactions, e.g. receipt number. Their prototype connected the encrypted key for the receipt number, with an organisation's database of valid receipts numbers.

This proved the concept of matching a transaction as proof of purchase, meaning only people that have genuinely used a service can leave a review. This solution would be possible with an algorithm that uses machine learning and Blockchain to connect all the users and products/services together.

Customers who have been proven to purchase, can then review each other. Therefore overall review satisfaction would be more accurate. A great idea for a site that I know I would personally use and one that could be used for any product or service.

Worthy winners! A big congratulations go to TrustChain, who won the prize to present at the 2017 ScotChain Conference, plus a cash prize.

Wrapping up the 2017 HackChain

A big well done to everyone who participated. It’s safe to say we all learned a lot about Blockchain, and how it could be a significant technology of the future. This was Girl Geek Scotland's first ever Hackathon event, and Scotland’s first ever Blockchain Hackathon. Due to its success I am sure it won't be the last.

The future is (almost) here

Since the event some very interesting new Blockchain startups have emerged, for example Giftcoin, a new cryptocurrency which aims to make it easy to donate to charity, Fummi, a smartphone app which will help homeless people in New York access financial and government services, and Taqana, which aims to help provide refugees with the necessary identification to get a bank account.

One other company, who helped judge at the Hackathon, is Spiritus Partners. They use the Blockchain to secure connected medical devices, and help protect against security vulnerabilities - as well as tracking and tracing devices throughout their service life.

All of these initiatives are still in development, but demonstrate that Hackathon participants were definitely thinking along the right lines when it comes to practical applications for Blockchain.


About Girl Geek Scotland

GGS is an organisation that aims to close the gender gap in the tech industry. To do this they run events on the latest developments in tech. To find more events like this go to http://www.girlgeekscotland.com/programme/

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