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The Wheel. Electricity. Blockchain..?

06 Feb 2018

Nigel O'Leary

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently you’re bound to have noticed how much coverage Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies like Ripple have been receiving. It has brought the subject into the public consciousness from a position of relative obscurity. Most of the stories have gone something like this…”I bought €10 worth of Bitcoin 5 years ago by mistake and now I’m a millionaire!”…and, yes, for a lot of people who are actively involved in the marketplace it is a speculative attempt to make money.

This however belies the transformative power for change that the underlying technology possesses. So let’s talk a little about what a blockchain actually is. At its core, a blockchain is a distributed ledger that tracks transactions. The fact that it’s distributed means that multiple copies of the same ledger are held on computers and servers throughout the world. Every time a transaction happens, the same record is added to every copy of the ledger simultaneously and once confirmed by consensus it can’t be changed.

So with Bitcoin, for example, every transaction that has ever taken place whether it was a purchase, a sale or a transfer is recorded and visible and immutable. The data itself is encrypted so although the transaction is visible the personal details are not. Further, because of its distributed nature no one person controls the data and it’s virtually impervious to hacking.

Take the example of the supply chain for a regulated industry such as life sciences and manufacturing; they tend to be complex, hold multiple stages of transfer and many actors. Deploying a blockchain solution in conjunction with technology like IoT will allow companies to monitor every stage of a manufacturing process from raw material purchase through shipping, delivery, manufacture and despatch with data accessible on a real time basis. With the addition of a Smart Contract, a Blockchain 2.0 evolution, a material or product can be automatically validated or rejected depending on pre-set criteria.

Let’s say an ingredient is shipping half way around the world; if at any stage in the journey should the temperature control parameter be breached for a prolonged period of time the shipment would be automatically rejected and a refund paid.

Other uses could include anti-counterfeiting processes that can verify whether the medicine you’ve received is authentic, proving its provenance back to its manufacturer. Data from clinical trials will be transparent and lead to true representations of a drug’s efficacy. Patient health records will be the same no matter where they are accessed from thus reducing the possibility of incorrect prescriptions or dosages. For each of these scenarios there are already companies at advanced stages of bringing solutions to the market.

Throughout history there have been technological advances that have fundamentally changed how the world works; the wheel, electrification, the internet. Blockchain possesses the same power for change and we’re only beginning to dream of its applications. 

Nigel O’Leary is a recruitment consultant on the lifesciences desk in Brightwater – to talk about your career and how blockchain could change the face of the sector call Nigel on 021 422 1000 or email N.oleary@brightwater.ie