What’s blockchain? It’s computer technology using blocks of information in a chain. This is new technology because there are three distinct features about the information going into the blocks. The information is global. The information is cryptographic, a hidden code that must be unlocked with a digital key. The information is immutable, it’s permanent and cannot be changed.
What are the advantages of blockchain technology? It’s secure and less change of hacking because blockchain requires verification from the network and participating users for each transaction. All users record every single transaction and confirm its authenticity. There is no single point of failure because the information for the while network is not stored on a single device. It boosts transparency. This technology is going to eliminate intermediary fees in all types of transactions especially making financial and all other transactions faster. The network is decentralized as users have their own private key to access and swap information. Blockchain technology is bringing personalized solutions to everyone. Blockchain supports and boosts trade by using smart contracts to allow shared ledgers so everyone involved can see the documentation in real time and verify it, making actions more efficient and eventual decreasing prices.
What’s cryptocurrency? It’s digital money. There was a barter system 5000 years ago, people were paid with wheat for repairing a house. About 3000 years ago, gold and silver coins were created to use for goods and services. In the mid-1800s, fiat paper currency was established by governments declaring by fiat that paper currency was legal money. Now, cryptocurrency has been created as digital money that its value is determined by members of the blockchain. Bitcoin created by the original blockchain was the first of many cryptocoins that can be used to pay for goods and services.
What’s machine learning? It’s related to artificial intelligence (AI). In 1959, Arthur Samuel had his computer play tens of thousands of checkers against itself, and the computer was eventually able to beat Arthur Samuel. His definition is that it’s a field of study that gives computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. Professor Tom Mitchell at Carnegie Mellon uses the terms experience (E) for learning to perform a task (T) that produces a performance (P) outcome measure. There are two major ways for a computer to learn a task. “Supervised learning” means to teach the computer how to do something using a regression model such as finding the best curve for a house-selling price or a classification model based on a positive or negative answer such as for diagnosing breast cancer. “Unsupervised learning” is when the computer learns by itself. Given a data set with no labels, the computer can find structure. There is a “clustering algorithm” for searching gene maps, astronomical data, social network social groups or market segmentation. There is a “cocktail party algorithm” for separating two simultaneous data sets by using designated software.
Healthcare applications of blockchain technology. During the mid-1980s, when someone asked how to measure the quality of a hospital or doctor, the answer was “you know it when you see it.” Not very helpful. The answer was greatly improved with the computer-based quality indicator system to monitor quality of hospitals and doctors. The same is true of electronic medical records that has grown to billion-dollar businesses. Blockchain technology will take healthcare quality improvement and medical record keeping to a new level. The products will be a quality management system and medical record system using blockchain technology and maybe cryptocurrency for compliance incentives for doctors, staff, and consumers.
Other applications include scheduling, survey development, medical and drug insurance transactions, and medication compliance. Machine learning will be combined with blockchain technology to dramatically increase success.
Pharmacology and biotechnology applications of blockchain technology. Globally, the impact of blockchain technology for drug verification is going to prevent disease and save lives. Counterfeit drugs and fake drugs are a $100 billion problem worldwide. It has been found that 64% of pharmaceuticals in Nigeria are fake, and this is a problem in China, United States, South America, and Europe. Tracking drugs throughout the drug supply chain with blockchain technology will be invaluable. Blockchain technology will validate where the shipment is coming from and validate authenticity, it will move products from one destination to the other efficiently and effectively. Importantly, since all checkpoints and processes are monitored on the blockchain, bothersome and fraudulent parts of the process can be identified immediately and corrected
Blockchain technology will help speed up clinical trials for new drug discovery by improving the drug discovery efficiency and its immutability for reporting drug safety results. This technology ensures data integrity by the cryptographic validation of each and every transaction.
Blockchain technology will create “smart contracts.” This means a pre-defined, controlled transfer of digital currencies or assets between parties. A smart contract defines the rules and penalties of the agreement and automatically enforces these obligations. The contracts are stored on the blockchain which is a decentralized ledger that ensures security and immutability. A smart contract will enable hospitals, doctors, and pharmacists to send invoices to patients that will be processed immediately instead of going through inefficient, prolonged intermediary steps. The same technique can be used to send patient health data which is permanent and immutable because the blockchain is a digital ledger. Prescriptions can be tracked by both the medical facility and the patient. Machine learning combined with blockchain technology in the pharmacology and biotechnology industries will also dramatically increase success.
The food industry applications of blockchain technology. Food safety has always been important in our lives, yet we have never had systems to monitor and prevent disease and death. Food safety issues include food allergies, chemical and bacterial contaminants, foods that cause inflammatory diseases, counterfeit foods, and misleading labeling. Counterfeit foods and fake foods a $450 billion problem worldwide. WHO estimates that almost one in ten people become ill every year (760 million among 7.6 billion) from eating contaminated food with 420,000 dying as a result. At least 63 babies died in Fuyang and rural areas of Anhui, China after consuming fake baby milk, and there were a reported 300,000 victims in total.
Blockchain technology can be used to monitor food quality and authenticity all along the food supply chain beginning with the environmental conditions of the soil, air and water at the food source and quality markers throughout the supply chain from soil to table. Blockchain technology will move a food industrial system of trust to a distributed, decentralized system that is global, cryptographic, and immutable. No third party is needed to authorize transactions as each transaction is validated and becomes a permanent part of the ledger. Blockchain technology will show the history of the food from the farm to the table. Cryptocurrency can be used as an incentive for food producers, processing facilities, transportation vehicles, and the consumer for compliance and data input for continuous quality improvement.
During the next ten years, blockchain technology is going to improve all aspects of our lives including healthcare, pharmaceutical and biotechnology, food, finance, education, genetics, legal system, entertainment media, and all other industries.
Gary R. Epler, M.D. in Boston