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Thursday, February 10, 2022

A Look at Blockchain Hype

Good somewhat technical examination of work underway, including work by IBM, Hyperledger and hype of this space in general. 

Blockchain For What, Exactly?  By Doug Meil   in CACM   February 4, 2022

Blockchain is built upon multiple previously established technologies and techniques, such as consensus protocols and append-only data structures. Nearly everyone at this point should know that cryptocurrencies today run on blockchain, but not all blockchains need be cryptocurrencies. Which raises the question about what precisely blockchain can be used for in the non-cryptocurrency use-case, and according to some, the answer is "everything."

Every new technology has a hype cycle, but blockchain's hype cycle has an amplitude that few technologies have matched. Unfortunately, the lion's share of misunderstanding about blockchain has come from within its own community. It didn't have to be like this.

IBM, Blockchain, and Healthcare

IBM has been loathe to miss a hype-cycle, and it did not disappoint with blockchain. For example, in a January 2017 article titled "IBM Watson, FDA aim to tackle, tame blockchain for data exchange," an IBM executive said:

"Blockchain technology has advanced and has matured.  At the core, this technology can address various frictions in the health system, such as meaningful collaboration and coordination in healthcare that require addressing privacy concerns, lack of interoperability, and the issue of trustworthiness of data."

… and then went on to also say …

"For providers it can provide the continuity of the health record and the longitudinal 360 view of the patient that the providers need in order to provide the health services to the patient."

I have emphasized certain words in the quotations, as the phrases "privacy concerns," "continuity of the health record," and "longitudinal 360 view of the patient" mean specific things in healthcare. Yet how blockchain would specifically address those points is never made clear.

The reason this specific article is so personally important is that I had to respond to a customer about it back when I was at IBM Watson Health.  One of our unit's (healthcare) customers saw the story and wondered what these words meant for them, and wondered and worried if their data was going to wind up on a blockchain. I had to start learning about blockchain defensively, and the task was made more complicated because IBM's Blockchain group couldn't explain any of the claims in the article. I started reading about Hyperledger, a blockchain framework favored by IBM for private blockchain use-cases.

Consider the following high-level blockchain architecture diagram from the Hyperledger project, with respect to key questions that I typically don't see addressed well enough with private blockchain use-cases:  .... ' 

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