In this series, participants from the 16 November 2016, Pharma Blockchain Bootcamp, lend their insights into the future of distributed ledger technology.
Bryant Joseph Gilot, MD CM DPHil MSc
Chief Medical Officer, Blockchain Health Co.
1. What is blockchain in your terms?
In abstract terms a blockchain is a platform for trust. It is a tool for maintaining a single truth among incompletely trusted parties with diverse and/or non-aligned economic interests. The ledger produced is highly & continuously auditable. The facts recorded on robust blockchains are verifiably true and require no reconciliation. Purpose built blockchains may be designed with all or some of the properties of robust blockchains; therefore, not all blockchains are equal varying in the strength of their trust properties.
2. How will it change the way the world works?
Anywhere paper records and reconciliation dominate in the enterprise; blockchains will have a profound impact. These are circumstances where high value and mission critical information must be exchanged between diverse entities and where that information must remain synchronized. Once appropriate blockchain solutions are built, expectations will change! This is most apparent in the financial sector where a T0 world is within sight versus our current world where settlement of financial transactions occurs 3 days following trade execution (T+3). Other industries may not trade in financial assets, however the information that they ‘trade’ is also mission critical, of high value, and often later heavily scrutinized. Imagine a world where the stress, delay and cost associated with underwriting an insurance contract, tracking medications through the drug supply chain, or managing the documentary evidence during the aircraft certification process could be reduced by half or more. Our expectations of these processes will change. These resource intensive processes will occur in a more predictable fashion while freeing resources for more meaningful activities. The most time-consuming, bureaucratically convoluted and expensive ventures will become less frustrating and more rewarding where tailored blockchain solutions are appropriately applied.
3. What type of standards/open source bases will need to exist for your view to be realized?
Information recorded on blockchain A may be needed by an application deployed on blockchain B. To enable this, some standards will be required. A mechanism to transform data in blockchain A structured under a specific source schema into the specific target schema of blockchain B so that the data in blockchain B remains a true representation of the original data in blockchain A will depend on smart standards. Although development of these standards may be tedious due to the large number of diverse blockchain implementations and applications that we are likely to see, I do not expect it will be technically difficult.
The more challenging aspect of standards that have yet to receive attention are the following. (1) Even if it is possible to import data from a blockchain into another, it may not represent best practice. Making duplicate copies of the same information effectively re-introduces the problem of multiple truths again requiring reconciliation. The standards for data interchange should focus on how one blockchain application queries another blockchain rather than how a blockchain application imports data from another blockchain. (2) Since blockchains are a platform for trust and not all blockchains are designed with the same robust trust properties, standards will be important for establishing a mechanism to transmit metadata about the ‘trustworthiness’ of the data recorded in the source blockchain before use by another blockchain application or importation into another blockchain. These two points will be critical to the future inter-operability of blockchains while preserving their most important trust properties.