Blockchain professor shares blockchain application examples, future options

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,665 views 

Dr. Dan Conway, new to the University of Arkansas as associate director and professor at the Blockchain Center of Excellence, said the U.S. continues to lag behind other countries such as Estonia, where the entire country runs on blockchain technology.

Conway conducted a workshop Wednesday (March 4) at the World Trade Center of Arkansas on the possibilities for blockchain, bitcoin and related systems. The UA will hold a Blockchain Conference at the University of Arkansas on March 13.

Conway has worked on bitcoin and blockchain technology for much of the past decade. He taught previously at Notre Dame, Indiana University, Virginia Tech, Florida and South Florida focusing on analytics, data science and digital transformation, where blockchain had its origins. Conway has worked with business and government on blockchain strategies and is now working with leaders in India to help devise a blockchain game plan.

Conway said the U.S. is still a good ways behind the progress in countries like Estonia and Germany. He said Estonia uses blockchain technology as an integral service provider for the government and state agencies. Estonia has been described as a digital society with most government services offered online and data integrity is ensured through blockchain technology. For instance, citizens can use medical e-prescriptions, file taxes or even buy a car online without going to the vehicle registration office.

Conway said many processes can be applied to blockchain but it requires people in the chain to have the same level of trust and want the system to work. He said India is at the beginning of trying to develop its blockchain strategy and China has partnerships from IBM, Walmart and others in consortiums to study and test blockchain applications in the business world.

Dr. Dan Conway, University of Arkansas associate director and professor at the Blockchain Center of Excellence

He said the best use cases for blockchain are still being pondered. He said blockchain should exist as a top layer on top of the internet. He said technology within blockchain is simple, but it’s trying to figure out the best ways to use the system that’s the challenge. He said a blockchain is no more than a series of immutable transactions. He said smart contracts which are second-generation blockchain have been around for several years. Having worked as a consultant to John Deere, Conway said Deere was using blockchains to transfer the title of large equipment.

Conway said because blockchains do not require managers, there is a lower cost to using them. He said there is no need for people because every link in the chain is immutable. He said Bitcoin, the virtual money concept, which uses blockchain has never been hacked and though government regulations could stand in the way, it is an industry that continues to set new records.

He said several U.S. companies invest in blockchain, but some of it is taking place in other countries. Goldman Sachs invested $20 million in blockchain in Estonia, he said. Walmart also invests in blockchain for food safety in China. He said Ford Motor Co. is using blockchain in its vehicles, with the technology helping the car know how to react in certain circumstances. He said cars embedded with blockchain in windshields could signal to the driver to go through the stop sign if no other cars were coming. He also could see a time when cars could talk to each other through blockchain technology allowing for virtual fast lanes.

Conway said blockchain is being used by Jabil, a multinational manufacturing solutions provider for supply chain and other processes. He said Jabil’s biggest threat was internal given its 200,000 employees were scattered across 100 sites. Conway said Jabil uses blockchain to protect its systems by giving access to only a trusted group. He said this has kept insiders from wreaking havoc on systems or trying to hold systems hostage.

Conway said he consulted with a large hospital whose system was hacked and then held hostage for Bitcoin payment. He said the hospital agreed to pay the hackers but then used blockchain to protect the system from future hacks. He said the hackers were told if they bragged about the breach their Bitcoin addresses would be turned over to federal investigators. He said the hospital used blockchain to monitor the underground sites to ensure the hackers kept their promise. Conway said negotiating with hackers and paying the fee was much cheaper than future lawsuits and federal fines.

Conway also said a company in Atlanta uses blockchain to verify identities of people who need health services but are afraid to use their real names and addresses. He said the company’s mission was to deliver care, regardless of who needed it. Using blockchain for identity kept the people coming and assured there was no way to trace their whereabouts.