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COVID-19 And the Blockchain Revolution: Will the Pandemic Spark a Technological Breakthrough?  

covid blockchain

Tue, 07/14/2020 - 10:00am

Technological opportunity exists in any difficult situation—including times of societal turmoil. This was certainly the case during the Great Recession. This era sparked a variety of innovations that we now take for granted, like electric razors, car radios, and chocolate chip cookies. The same rings true for the coronavirus pandemic. 

Amid the devastation wrought by the disease, a few silver linings have emerged within the tech industry. Chief among these? Major strides in blockchain technology. 

While blockchain's evolution spans several years, COVID-19 has tested the concept on an extreme scale. The pandemic exposed a few notable weaknesses in its early days, but it also verified blockchain's status not only as the technology of the future, but also as a secure solution to some of today's most pressing concerns. 

How Are Experts Currently Using Blockchain to Defeat COVID-19? 

Blockchain technology may play a significant role in mitigating and eventually defeating the current pandemic. While it can be integrated into a variety of systems and processes to improve both efficiency and innovation, its greatest potential may lie in supply chains, which suffered unprecedented chaos when the disease's potential for global calamity became evident. 

Early supply chain issues largely involved personal protective equipment (PPE), which many health care providers still struggle to obtain. Recently, however, several major names have entered the blockchain arena in hopes of bolstering supply. 

IBM, for example, launched a blockchain network in hopes of helping participating organizations navigate the complications of obtaining supplies in a COVID world. Featuring a strategic onboarding process complete with inventory data and validation checks, this system is backed by a blockchain-based platform known as Trust Your Supplier. 

Major corporations are by no means alone in the blockchain effort to improve health care supply chains. A variety of startups have also leaped into action.  

Colonel James Allen Regenor provides the ultimate example of the power such small operations can hold. Prior to COVID-19, Colonel Regenor developed a blockchain-powered platform involving the purchase and sale of 3D printable parts and accompanying instructions. In response to the pandemic, he founded Rapid Medical Parts. After rallying a global network, he received a Pentagon contract that allowed his company to assist in converting sleep apnea machines to ventilators. 

Beyond its role in facilitating the exchange of medical supplies, blockchain offers a viable solution for several security concerns sparked by the pandemic. From videoconferencing to contact tracing, many of the efforts imposed to limit the spread of the virus also hold alarming implications for personal privacy. Blockchain technology can be called upon to provide a viable middle ground in which tech-based COVID solutions can be used without fear of excessively restricting the public's right to privacy. 

How Will COVID-19 Influence Blockchain's Future Growth? 

Many of the blockchain developments driven by COVID-19 will spark permanent change. For example, a blockchain-based solution to digital privacy concerns would likely remain relevant long after the pandemic ends. 

In an intriguing article for JAXenter, Dr. Steven Waterhouse explains that blockchain's unique "combination of encryption and decentralization" could place sensitive data at a lower risk of abuse by removing key points of vulnerability. He highlights the importance of data hygiene in this new digital era—and refers to blockchain as the equivalent of hand sanitizer in its ability to protect both individuals and the greater community. 

The promise highlighted by Dr. Waterhouse is already playing out in Honduras, where the government has teamed up with a startup to implement a privacy-oriented health care blockchain solution. Under this program, medical professionals can share otherwise confidential data in the interest of helping patients travel to facilities to seek care during lockdown. 

Known as Civitas, this app emphasizes data privacy while still making strides in tracking the spread and treatment of the disease. While this solution currently focuses on privacy in respect to coronavirus mitigation, similar options could be used to tackle a variety of other health data privacy concerns in the future. 

Soon, blockchain's scope will expand to include other emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. Multiple cryptocurrency providers are already investigating the possibilities that could be unleashed if blockchain and machine learning join forces. 

UK-based Fetch.ai, for example, aims to provide a mass adoption solution through its Open Economic Framework. As a Digital Single Market message retweeted by the official Fetch.ai account explains, "The coronavirus crisis has [shown] how essential digital technologies have become to our societies and economies as we could continue to work, monitor the spread of COVID-19, and accelerate research for medications and vaccines." 

While COVID-19 has unveiled weaknesses within the supply chain, it also highlights the promise of blockchain to overcome these issues. The technology has not reached its full potential just yet, but efforts from startups and government agencies alike reveal the possibility of a faster response to future pandemics and other global crises. 

From medical supply chains to data privacy, blockchain promises to provide cutting-edge solutions to some of the most urgent issues sparked by the coronavirus epidemic. Those equipped with the necessary skills and passion for this revolutionary technology hold the potential to make a real difference during this difficult time. Never has the need for blockchain been more urgent—or the ability to use this force for change so evident. 

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