Leveraging Blockchain for Global Good | Straight Talk

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In-Depth insights on leveraging blockchain for the global good and the recent developments in its overall growth, exclusively on Straight Talk.

In-Depth insights on leveraging blockchain for the global good and the recent developments in its overall growth, exclusively on Straight Talk.

Consider the following scenarios: A disaster response platform that bypasses bureaucracy to securely link those who want to provide help with those who need it. A new cryptocurrency backed by the conservation of natural resources and designed to reduce global poverty. A decentralized network for machine learning that accelerates training processes by engaging crowds to tag, store, and model data.

These are just a few examples of the types of blockchain-based initiatives that could have a profound, positive social impact on the world. They, and others, were highlighted during the launch of the Blockchain Commission for Sustainable Development at the United Nations General Assembly in September of 2017.

Much of the focus on blockchain technology has been about its commercial applications. Many believe—myself included—that the blockchain approach, whereby an encrypted ledger of verified events is distributed across multiple networked computers, could transform the ways businesses transact in much the same way that the Internet transformed information sharing.  However, the ultimate impact of blockchain could be much bigger and broader than that. It has the potential to reduce the cost and complexity of getting things done not only in the commercial sector, but also across government agencies and social institutions.

The Blockchain Commission for Sustainable Development was established by the Global Partnerships Forum, PVBLIC Foundation, and The Fund for Philanthropy to develop a framework by which the UN and its specialized agencies, member states, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and financial institutions could collaborate with the private sector on emerging solutions to some of the most pressing problems in our world. The Commission will focus on blockchain applications that align with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

CA Technologies - which has collaborated with the UN on a number of fronts including climate change, corporate sustainability, and women’s empowerment - is a founding member of the commission. Given my background at the intersection of blockchain solutions and mainframe systems, both at IBM and at CA, I am excited to support and contribute to the Commission’s mission and efforts.

The work is just beginning in earnest—recruiting additional members, developing policy, and putting governance in place. However, it’s clear that there is an incredible opportunity to explore the value of this emerging technology in a host of areas including natural resource conservation, protecting and empowering communities, financial inclusion and security, public health and welfare, and the integrity of democratic systems.

A Matter of Trust

I became involved in the blockchain space partly because of its (perhaps somewhat surprising) relevance to mainframe technologies. Mainframe systems may not be considered by many to be cutting edge. However, their scalability, ability to create secure containers, and the speed with which they can encrypt transactions make the mainframe uniquely suited for the blockchain ecosystem. While most companies begin experimenting with blockchain in the public cloud, they move to mainframes for production systems.

While bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies get much of the attention, the additional potential use cases for blockchain technology are far-reaching.  At CA Technologies, we are working with clients across industries, exploring blockchain’s value around trade finance, securities settlements, food safety, supply chain management, health data exchange, data provenance and cybersecurity. Within the commission, our goal is to leverage blockchain to speed progress toward the UN’s sustainable development targets, with a particular focus on the world’s least developed countries.

The core innovation of blockchain is the creation of digital trust; it is intrinsic in a blockchain system, without the reliance on an agency or some central authority. As a result, it could be used to securely share health records, track the provenance of food or other goods across supply chains, or reduce fraud and corruption with the creation of permanent, authoritative land records. If we had similar capabilities across everything in the world—particularly in our least developed areas—it could be empowering: life-changing and life-saving.

First Things First

Since the commission and its “Blockchain for Impactprogram were introduced last year, several of our founding members have been hard at work recruiting other organizations to join in our effort.  We are in the process of creating a Blockchain Insight Handbook to establish fair and consistent public policy and responsible guidelines for industry governance.

We have also developed a steering committee focused on various aspects of blockchain’s global impact, such as financial inclusion, conservation, and social justice.  I will be working on the Artificial Intelligence Subcommittee. It’s a space I am passionate about and CA offers a wealth of expertise, having helped developed the Visa Next platform, which uses AI-enabled pattern recognition for identity verification and fraud prevention. I am also in the process of getting my master’s degree in AI and Machine Learning from Georgia Tech. While AI and machine learning will solve many problems, it could also create a few. There will be social challenges to confront as we move from explicitly programmed software to systems that learn over time, and blockchain could help provide the transparency required to prevent abuse or misuse of the power that AI will provide.

Blockchain for Impact will be hosting multiple summits every year on different continents. The inaugural summit will be in New York on June 4th at the UN headquarters, followed by Europe in the fall and then moving to Asia and Africa. While our purview is global, these localized, grassroots efforts are the heart of the effort and will be critical to our progress. Each summit will have a different focus, with hackathons and the participation of local organization and companies both contributing to and benefiting from their involvement.

Give and Take

Indeed, CA’s involvement with the Blockchain Commission for Sustainable Development is one that involves both contributions and benefits. While we our bringing our knowledge and experience with blockchain and related technologies to bear, there will be tremendous value for those of us working on this effort.

The key driver of our involvement is the opportunity to benefit the global community However, as we work with governments and agencies developing new blockchain applications, we will be able to learn what works and what doesn’t, and apply that knowledge in everything we do. It’s a unique opportunity to be involved with building solutions at tremendous scale that cut across global boundaries.

The commission also gives us a reason to work more closely with other companies, even some of whom we compete with in marketplace. To date, there have been multiple technologies and approaches to blockchain development, but its full value results from network effects. Collaborating in this context could help leading companies to agree on standards for blockchain projects going forward, which will benefit everyone.

We are in the earliest stages of blockchain adoption in both the private and public sectors. Yet it’s clear to me that, as a platform for disruptive innovation, blockchain could be even bigger than the Internet. It’s an Internet of trust that could transform the global value chain. It’s exciting to be involved at the earliest stages of something that has the potential to change our world.

The Takeaways 
Blockchain technologies have the potential to reduce the cost and complexity of solving some of the world's most pressing problems, including natural resource conservation, protecting and empowering communities, financial inclusion and security, public health and welfare, and preserving the integrity of democratic systems.
The core innovation of blockchain is the creation of intrinsic digital trust without the reliance on an agency or some central authority.
Companies involved in the Blockchain Commission for Sustainable Development will gain first-hand experience in building solutions at tremendous scale that cuts across global boundaries.