In the case of Walmart, IBM was able to reduce a food tracing process from six days to about two seconds, thanks to blockchain. “That kind of transformation can really speed up the decision-making process so you can minimize the health risk from a food-borne illness,” said Marie Wieck, who runs the IBM blockchain unit.
Since launching last February, the unit has grown to 1,500 people worldwide, worked on over 400 projects. “In terms of blockchain [talents], I’m not able to hire fast enough, both at the technical level and at the business and data level,” Wieck said.
One might ask, what really is a blockchain? It’s essentially a new form of database. Think about a blockchain as a Google spreadsheet, where everyone can make changes, and updates are shared among participants. But what’s unique about this spreadsheet is that every update is final, nobody can tamper with it. Many technologists call that “digital immutability,” meaning once you have committed a record on a blockchain, it’s practically impossible to change the record.
That immutability is the special sauce that makes blockchain desirable across many industries. It creates trust, without needing a central authority such as a company or an organization to establish that trust. When every participant on a blockchain network understands that data can’t be changed, they inherently trust the data. In return, it saves time and money from verifying transactions and communication.
For Dr. Bryant Joseph Gilot, a surgeon who transitioned to the blockchain health-care field, the immutability provided from blockchain is the key ingredient to speed up traditional clinical drug trials. He’s working with a small group of people at Blockchain Health, building an application that’s channeling blockchain’s digital immutability to protect sensitive data in clinical drug trials.
“The data in clinical medicine is very sensitive. We really need to be able to lock it down,” he said. “So building cryptographic application on top of blockchain will be interesting.”
The group also wants to offer a “sophisticated access control mechanism, so your doctor can see it, your caretaker can see it, but not your insurance company, who might make a decision that won’t benefit you but benefit them,” Gilot said. The goal is to speed up the clinical trials process but still protect the integrity of the data, making room for more and better trials and ultimately “get the ones that succeed out to patients sooner,” he said.
Gilot worked as a general and cardiovascular surgeon for about 10 years. One day, he discovered Satoshi Nakamoto’s bitcoin white paper (a nine-page paper containing the first-ever mention of bitcoin). “Honestly I spent number of years not being able to put the paper down. I continued with my clinical work, and was entirely distracted for years. … I didn’t think this was going to go away, it was keeping my interest for way too long. For me, I have a personal desire to place this technology in the way the current world operates. “