Mitigating Pandemic Risks With Blockchain

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The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit and many countries are seeing new daily highs again. Measures to roll back the resumption of normal business activities are being implemented or considered. Uncountable jobs have been lost worldwide with the aviation and hospitality industries the hardest hit.

Commenting on the infected number of cases in Hong Kong, Dr. Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases said, “The figure is just the tip of the iceberg, as many infected crew members could have already gone into our community unnoticed and undetected.”

Fighting the pandemic with blockchain

At the recent World Blockchain Summit 2020 Asia, the topic of pandemics was addressed at the summit opening by Don Tapscott, chief executive officer of The Tapscott Group Inc. and co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute, one of the largest global blockchain independent research think tanks.

Pointing out that the pandemic has revealed “big problems in our systems for innovation, commerce, data and technology, and infrastructure”, Tapscott was of the opinion that only sweeping foundational changes could be the answer to how “a pandemic doesn’t rip our world apart in the same way again.”

Author of bestsellers ‘Paradigm Shift’, ‘Digital Economy’ and ‘Blockchain Revolution’, and the recent ‘Supply Chain Revolution’, Tapscott was ranked 2nd most influential management thinker in Thinkers 50 in 2017.

Second Internet Era: An Internet of Value

Likening the first era of the internet to an ‘Internet of Information’ where it acts like a “printing press at your fingertips”, generating copies of data, Tapscott believed that the second era would be an ‘Internet of Value’. Instead of just information, this would be a vast global distributed ledger for anything of value to society, to the economy, such as assets, money, securities, contracts, deeds, IOU’s, intellectual property, cultural assets like art or music, votes or even health records or ID’s.

“Copying assets is a bad idea as you would not want someone copying your vote, or ID, and if I sent you a thousand dollars, it's important that I don’t still have the money,” explained Tapscott. These assets would then be stored, managed and transacted in a secure and private way.

Noting that the current systems of managing assets were centralized, needed a middleman and could be hacked, Tapscott also pointed out that they excluded a couple of billion people from the global economy and charged too much for performing middleman functions.

Just-in-time supply chain

Blockchain could be the tool, that new supply chain, that solved the multiple levels of problems and challenges that came with pandemics.

Building a truly “just-in-time supply chain” to manage the entire public health supply chain, where manufacturing, pharmacies, medical facilities, insurance companies, safety standards, you name it, could all be transformed by establishing them on a blockchain.

Starting first with the tracking and procuring of medical supplies, this could establish the authenticity of assets — knowing that ventilators were certified, came from proper sources using the proper manufacturing techniques, supplies and labor practices, etc.  The logistics would use a shared network, a single ledger where you could show a single version of the truth and where you could have real-time transactions and smart technologies making immediate payments.

A self-sovereign health record

A subset of our overall digital identities is our health record — health data created by our bodies. Currently it’s measured by institutions with the data buried in silos.

With blockchain, the data, while anonymized, can be aggregated to develop early warning systems. As a civilian, you could control your digital identity to provide pertinent health information that any medically certified professional could access. With pandemics, once you’re immunized, or if you have the right antibodies, a health certification can be attached to your digital identity.

In essence, the state would have access to the health data of an entire population in real time, instantly available for early warning systems. Individuals would still own their own data and privacy. Practically having your cake and eating it too.

Incentives for change

In general, states either enforce regulations for people to do the right thing or count on people to act with integrity. 

Another way would be to incentivize people to do the right thing by tokenization of value to create incentives for good behavior.

Tapscott cited Carbon X, an organization which combats climate change by tokenizing carbon credits to incentivize people to support green initiatives, for example, buying a carbon neutral espresso machine that comes with these valuable tokens.

Tapscott also proposed a skills and talent registry to ensure that only the right people with the right skills and talent could get in positions of medical authority and responsibility. To prevent fraud, a blockchain to issue medical certifications as well as to aid in a global medical talent marketplace were suggested.

The blockchain challenge

Coming out of the pandemic, sustaining the economy would be a major challenge and Tapscott, no surprises here, has proposed that the way forward would be digital cash — either self-organizing cryptocurrencies or corporate tokens like Libra or state-based central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) like China’s DCEP.

“Wealth creation and innovation is becoming increasingly decentralized,” said Tapscott. “This is a huge change for the deep structures and architecture of the corporation. We will need new high-performance business models in every industry, and blockchain is at the heart of re-invention and innovation of the corporation.”

Changing a USD 50 trillion-dollar supply industry or a USD 200 trillion-dollar financial services industry is of course not a walk in the park and will face the typical legacy attitudes whenever new paradigms are being built. Not to mention the scalability and interoperability challenges as well as the regulatory challenges.

Copyright @ The Blockchain Research Institute

However, to Tapscott, “the future is not something to be predicted. It is something to be achieved, and we can achieve a very different future if we want.”

A vast network governed by a technology that automatically functions as if all the interests of the individuals are connected to the interests of the whole, forming the network’s foundation of trust and integrity? Sounds like utopia on earth but why not if it can be done.

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