I know just enough about blockchain and cryptocurrency to have a water cooler conversation about it. That’s why I was driven to choose it as a topic of the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) August meeting with three of the best minds in this space.
On Thursday, Aug. 20, I had the pleasure of emceeing this virtual event. The speakers were:
- Kathleen Alcorn: Founder & Technical Director of ATOLLetc LLC, Certified Blockchain & Cryptocurrency Expert, Blockchain Advisor and Data Analyst for Assured Performance Systems, Advisor for the Government Blockchain Association – AFRICA
- Lourdes Miranda (CAMS, CFE, CTCE): Compliance Operations Manager at Metal (an FDIC-insured cryptocurrency exchange), former CIA officer and previous FBI analyst
- Kamea Aloha Lafontaine: Founder and CEO of iNTELLi Network (public safety/awareness platform)
So, what exactly are blockchain and cryptocurrency?
Blockchain can be defined simply as digital information (the “block”) stored in a public database (the “chain”). The goal of blockchain is to allow digital information to be recorded and distributed, but not edited.
A prime and well-known example of this technology is Bitcoin. Blockchain allows Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to operate without the need for a central authority. Bitcoin’s pseudonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, (to this day, no one knows their real name, but there’s no shortage of theories) referred to it as “a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party.” In other words, according to Lourdes, “Cryptocurrency allows you to bank the un-bankable.”
Blockchain and cryptocurrency real-world applications
The possibilities for this technology are almost endless (more on that later). Our experts talked through some of the most common applications.
1. Peer-to-peer payment. People are probably most familiar with the peer-to-peer money transfer of cryptocurrency without a bank in the middle of it. You can think of it kind of like Venmo, but that’s more of a service. Cryptocurrency is another form of currency altogether as it can be bought with U.S. dollars.
Kamea’s first foray into cryptocurrency was actually sending Bitcoin to his family who lived in another country, which is easier to do when the currency is different. In fact, cryptocurrency can be sent to anyone, even if they’re using a pseudonym. Lourdes said that a central bank for cryptocurrency is in development, so that’s cool!
2. Cannabis industry. Yep, you read that right. Kathleen said, due to cannabis being legal in only portions of the United States, no bank can accept all the cash from that industry. As a result, people selling cannabis products started using cryptocurrency instead. It goes back to being able to bank the un-bankable.
Kamea spoke of another interesting application of blockchain in this industry regarding product tracking. Since the regulation of cannabis is still in its infancy in the United States, a simple code on the product could lend itself nicely to serving as a safety regulation. Anyone can easily notify the seller if there is a problem with the product. Then, the seller can take it off the market and/or notify other customers.
3. Supply chain management. That brings me to the biggest application for blockchain, according to our panel of experts: supply chain for pharma, food, medical supplies and more. Kamea talked about how Walmart introduced blockchain for tracking their produce. You can easily report if you get sick from one of these products if it includes the trackable code on it just like in the cannabis example. This can be a huge public safety tool. And it reduces the company’s liability if they have blockchain in place.
Kamea said, “It’s so important for where you need data integrity the most.” Kathleen said this technology could also be useful when building smart cities. Everything in the supply chain can be traced through blockchain if, for instance, a piece of a construction project is faulty.
4. Law enforcement. Lourdes’ experience with blockchain has centered on its use in criminal investigations as it applies to chain of custody. She’s used blockchain numerous times to detect nefarious activities, such a money laundering, by analyzing the flow of money. They follow the money, not the person.
But that’s only the reactive use. Blockchain can actually help mitigate trade-based money laundering as well. For example, when a criminal is laundering dirty money through products, law enforcement can trace it through blockchain by identifying over invoicing, double invoicing, etc. Lourdes said, “Law enforcement has embraced it and uses it to work on investigations every day.”
The possible uses to help law enforcement will only grow. For example, it could help manage criminal records and keep track of inmates already in the prison system.
5. Public and personal safety. Another use case for blockchain is with your personal digital security, said Kamea. What if you were to have a digital twin on the internet? You couldn’t have your personal identity attacked or stolen because you’re virtually anonymous (think online gamers with various pseudonyms).
Kamea works with Crime Stoppers, the organization that works to prevent and solve crimes in communities and schools across the nation through anonymous tips to the police. He applies this idea so people can speak up in dangerous situations without exposing their identity. Using blockchain and cryptocurrency, people can easily submit tips from their phone in a safe and truly anonymous manner.
6. Healthcare. Blockchain in healthcare has huge application possibilities. Even if it’s just used for basic charting and health records, it could consolidate medical records to make it easier to track if you move, change providers or even die. It could also be important for medications and vaccinations. Doctors and manufacturers could track the reactions people have to clinically assess effectiveness, safety, side effects, etc.
7. Voting. Blockchain applied to voting procedures could help prevent fraud. Voting fraud comes down to identity and the ability to verify that identity. Blockchain would help verify identity through a digital signature. This technology has not been applied on a widespread basis, but it has been adopted for local elections in some places.
Advantages and disadvantages
Like with the adoption of any new technology, there are going to be pros and cons. It just depends on the risk/reward and how it would apply in your life and/or your business.
PRO: Blockchain is un-censored and almost impossible to hack.
PRO: Cash can be converted into Bitcoin to preserve its value. Banks are currently offering the most products in the blockchain space.
PRO: Open public blockchains, like Bitcoin, fight against printing unlimited supplies of money, which can reduce its value.
PRO: It can protect your online identity and prevent identity theft.
PRO: The data can’t be altered or deleted.
PRO: Transactions are trackable.
CON: Blockchain and cryptocurrency are un-regulated at the moment. But people like Kathleen are working hard in D.C. to put regulations in place.
CON: The transaction speed of cryptocurrency is typically slower.
CON: Not everyone is interested in the data sets provided through Blockchain.
CON: Everything you do online is un-editable, which means it would be recorded forever. This isn’t always a good thing.
CON: The technology doesn’t have an application for every industry.
How close are we to having blockchain technology use for everyday life?
According to our expert panel, it really depends on what you’re using it for. And they don’t completely agree on the timeline either because of the different use cases.
- Kamea said we would have to get to the point where it just worked in the background, similar to the internet. So, in his opinion we’re not even close.
- Lourdes, being in the law enforcement space, said it is already widely used because of the different agencies using blockchain to catch criminals in bad acts. She said it’s not a fad and not going anywhere.
- Kathleen is somewhat in the middle. She sees us being a bit farther away from everyday use, but perhaps sooner for business applications. She thinks the energy industry is one to watch for the adoption of blockchain.
To sum it up
In short, the blockchain revolution is coming! How long will it take to arrive? That remains to be seen. As our panelists shared, this technology is likely to have the greatest impact on the future of the world economy – not self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, or solar power – but blockchain! The ability for this technology to deliver immediate results to the supply chain, as well as truly add accountability to areas that desperately need it, is obvious – and that is simply the beginning. What is even more encouraging, is that you don’t need a technical background to begin a career in the space – you simply need the desire to learn!
About the author
Steven Wright serves as a Senior Account Executive for Synergis and volunteers his time as President of the Atlanta chapter of the Association of Information Technology Professionals. Steve has had a career in technology, spanning more than 25 years. He has always served in an advisory, and relationship development capacity, working within sales and business development groups for healthcare technology outsourcing, manufacturing, professional service, and, most recently, the staffing industry. In his free time, Steve enjoys learning about new and emerging technologies. This love of tech has helped him aid clients and candidates alike in their career and talent journeys.