Musicians, poets and philosophers have spent entire lifetimes asking the question, "Who am I?" In the not-so-distant future, the answer to that question may be stored in our personal blockchain profiles — digital "arks" that contain the details of every decision, action and purchase we've made since the day we were born. Say goodbye to your birth certificate, credit score, passport, professional resume and medical history, and say hello to the future of blockchain: your blockchain profile. Your unique answer to the question "Who are you?" will be a chronological, hyper-detailed, immutable record that says with unprecedented certainty, "This is who I am." Blockchain will not live inside our thoughts, emotions, dreams or nightmares. It will not capture the inner dialogues people reveal in personal diaries or while talking to the bathroom mirror in the morning. Blockchain will, however, never forget when you broke your arm at the age of five (climbing a bannister), how your heart rate spiked when you first met your spouse (you dropped your drink) or that you paid extra for rush delivery of a new pair of black shoes (your cousin's wedding). Blockchain may not be the "you" robed Greek philosophers had in mind, but it will be the "you" the rest of the world sees — ideally, with your permission. Know Your Rights in a Digital World Businesses want access to your decisions. Information detailing why you choose to vacation in Vietnam, eat mussels at your favorite Italian spot every Tuesday night or only use a medium-bristle toothbrush is valuable to companies that want to sell you — and people like you — airline tickets, fresh seafood and toothpaste. Every online decision you make and action you take is data that reveals part of your personality and thought processes. In recent years, businesses and policymakers have debated how much access companies should have to an individual's personal decisions — especially what they read, click on and buy online. While there are powerful forces seeking to retain control over the data individuals create when using online services, the winds are shifting, and regulatory momentum is beginning to favor the individual. In May 2018, the E.U. set forth the landmark General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) that firmly establishes basic legal rights regarding data privacy, ownership, control, consent and portability for all of its citizens, regardless of where they live.1 In the U.S., the HIPPA Privacy Rule establishes national standards to protect individuals' medical records and other personal health information.2 These regulations are in place to protect citizens from organizations who may seek to use personal data for purposes other than what it was collected for, or for which consent has been explicitly given — and provide instruments to exact considerable penalties on entities that violate those laws. In an era of digital transformation, it is critical that people appreciate the value of their personal data and the extent of their rights to privacy. For Sale: Sleeping Habits and Exercise Routines Personal data is now part of the supply-and-demand dynamics driving capitalistic enterprises. Consumers not only possess purchasing power but also access to the thoughts and activities that precede particular purchases. This information is invaluable to companies that use data-driven strategies to sell their products and services to targeted consumers. Before blockchain technology, it wasn't possible to have a comprehensive record that kept track of an individual's purchases and behaviors within the context of everything else happening in their lives. But now, it is possible. Today, blockchain makes it possible for people to have an immutable profile of unimaginable detail, one that begins on the day they're born and develops throughout their entire lives — recording everything from when they lost their first tooth to the names of their grandchildren. Every doctor visit, every homework question, every mouse click, every page view. Businesses, naturally, will develop innumerable ways to incentivize people to allow access to their data. With individual rights established as the legal default, consumers will hold the power in this relationship and can monetize their data by renting access to various aspects of their blockchain profiles — from their sleeping habits to exercise routines. As deeper access is granted and more data sources are connected, behaviors can be predicted with greater accuracy, increasing the value of an individual's profile. In effect, individuals will be able to self-identify as willing marketing targets who offer their comprehensive descriptive profiles for sale in an emerging digital marketplace for personal data — a development that will radically alter the business of advertising, data research and analytics. A World of 8.5 Billion "Personhoods" In 2030, the global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion. By that time, blockchains could consistently, reliably and securely organize data around the individuals who comprise the world's communities and nations. This makes person-centric societies technically possible, where citizens' actions and behaviors are digitally recorded in their "personhood" — an immutable record that serves as a single source of truth to their experiences and sensibilities. People, in essence, will regularly create real-time data that is chronologically added to their collective profile — which includes health records, educational backgrounds, professional credentials, voter registrations, driver's licenses, criminal histories, financial status and any other notable aspect of being a person. "Personhood" could become the universally accepted record to which all identity-related information can be tied. All the processes once needed to validate identity will be replaced by an individual's comprehensive blockchain profile. The commoditization of personal data will profoundly impact how people relate to businesses and each other. Will being held accountable to one's own "personhood" — and knowing that the details of our lives will forever be recorded in our blockchain profile — change how we behave? Will attempting to increase the value of one's "personhood" become an extension of trying to improve their own lives? Or vice versa? The rise of "personhood" could change our collective understanding of ownership in ways the human race hasn't witnessed since the concept of personal property rights first emerged. The Future Challenges to a Blockchain World There are always casualties to sweeping technological advancements. With the proliferation of blockchain technology and the rising value of individuals' data, societies risk becoming even more polarized along financial and class lines. Individuals with more purchasing power inherently possess data that is more valuable to businesses that sell products and services or governmental institutions that could benefit from their financial support or influence. Those without money or access to modern technologies will face profound disadvantages unless governments — especially those in growth economies — implement regulations that protect vulnerable citizens from being left behind. Growth economies must also find ways to integrate intermediaries who will fight the prospect of obsolescence as blockchain technologies become more popular. Though the future is difficult to predict, and change always creates challenges, history teaches us that where value is created, technology eventually wins. The future of blockchain presents the human race with the opportunity to understand each other, and ourselves, in unprecedented ways. By providing new insights into human behaviors, relationships and business interactions, we can learn from each other and improve conditions for everyone. Perhaps blockchain data will even convincingly demonstrate to humanity how similar we all are. In the future, the most important questions people can ask themselves is not, "Who am I as a person?" but, "Who are we as a society?" The answer to that question may create the type of civilization only dreamed of by musicians, poets and philosophers. Interested in learning more about blockchain? Check out: Mercer Digital's Blockchain 101 Overview. 1Palmer, Danny. "What Is GDPR? Everything You Need to Know About the New General Data Protection Regulations." ZDNet, https://www.zdnet.com/article/gdpr-an-executive-guide-to-what-you-need-to-know/. 2"The HIPAA Privacy Rule." Office for Civil Rights, https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/privacy/index.html.
Vincenzo Peruggia was born on 8 October, 1881. Some thirty years later on a Monday morning in 1911, the diminutive 160-cm Italian man strapped on a white smock—to blend in with the other employees at the Louvre in Paris—and walked out carrying the Mona Lisa. He simply lifted it off the wall. For the next two years Leonardo Da Vinci’s iconic masterpiece lay stuffed in a trunk in the thief’s Paris apartment. Vincenzo eventually grew anxious and returned to Florence in his beloved homeland where he contacted an art dealer and attempted to peddle the famous painting. The police arrested him in his hotel room. What makes this story fascinating is not that it was so shockingly easy to walk away with a world renowned Renaissance-era treasure, but that Vincenzo’s crime was doomed from the very beginning. Everyone in the art world knew the origins of the Mona Lisa, the value of the Mona Lisa and the journey of the Mona Lisa to her home in the Louvre. The painting’s entire provenance was well documented and agreed upon. Introducing the stolen masterpiece back into the art world without setting off alarms everywhere was impossible. Blockchain technology offers that same level of transparency and authenticity for everything from a Persian tapestry and a toro sushi roll to a refinanced mortgage loan, or even a single lemon. Here’s how: Mutually Agreed Upon Single Source of Truth The first step to documenting data on a blockchain requires operational processes that focus on first-time accuracy. From the initial step, all parties involved in a transaction must confirm the identity, value and controlling stipulations that regulate the blockchain asset. In our story featuring Vincenzo Peruggia, for instance: This is Da Vinci’s painting, the Mona Lisa. She hangs on this particular wall in the Louvre. She is worth $800 million. No, she is not for sale. The value and circumstances have been established. If anyone attempts to steal or tamper with the Mona Lisa, the involved parties—the world, in this case—will notice. With blockchain, once the mutually agreed upon initial information is captured accurately, it becomes the single source of truth. It never needs to be verified. Once the integrity of the data related to the information asset has been established, blockchain technology prevents any nefarious actors from being able to manipulate it because everyone in the blockchain is looking at the same information, at the same time, from their respective computers, distributed throughout the world. Everyone is privy to the original confirmed and verified asset and what happens to that data moving forward. Attempting to exploit or plunder that digital asset would be like trying to steal the Mona Lisa from countless, well-protected Louvres all over the world. Intermediaries Are Not Needed Blockchain technology eliminates the need for an intermediary, or middle man. Intermediaries are commonly tasked with providing integrity to transactional processes involving parties that are not familiar with each other. Banks serve as intermediaries for financial transactions between individuals and businesses. Real estate agents act as intermediaries to navigate the paperwork of real estate sales. Even illegal intermediaries, such as illicit music downloading platforms, steal significant amounts of royalties from musicians who have their songs stolen or plagiarized online. Blockchain can eliminate the necessity and impact of all of these types of intermediaries. Take Eriko Matsuyama, a hypothetical 23-year-old art student at Tohoku University in Japan, who is attending a study abroad program in Paris. Eriko, a talented painter, spends every morning camped in front of the Mona Lisa composing elaborate watercolors, each offering a unique interpretation of Da Vinci’s muse. She even has an online store where she sells her original paintings to her fans around the world. Through blockchain technology Eriko is able to authenticate the time, date and development of each original painting, and send both the original watercolor and an exclusive digital copy to her purchasers. Should the purchaser decide to sell either the original print or the digital copy, the blockchain can serve as proof of authenticity. Perhaps, 30 years in the future, Eriko has become a famous artist whose work commands millions of dollars. Those same watercolors, and their digital copies, will hold more value because the blockchain guarantees their origin and authenticity throughout the years, regardless of how many times they’ve been bought or sold…without ever needing an intermediary to verify authenticity or assist in the process. Data Becomes Like a Physical Object The Mona Lisa is, of course, a physical object. So are Eriko’s original watercolors, which she signs by hand; but the digital copies of her paintings are digital assets. Today, digital assets can be anything from an individual’s health records to the deed for a parcel of land. Blockchain makes it possible for a data asset to exist in the digital world just like a physical object does in the real world. The data asset can exist as just one usable copy of a data file. With a blockchain there is always only one usable and protected copy—just like the unique digital rendering of an original Eriko Matsuyama painting. It can be bought and sold, but never manipulated, illegally copied or misappropriated. In the span of 30 years, the digital copy of an Eriko Matsuyama watercolor migh be bought and sold a dozen times to individuals or businesses who may want it to print it for everything from T-shirts to wallpaper. But only one digital copy will ever, and always, exist. Supply and demand determines the price of any product or service. If the quantity of a digital asset is limited, then that asset is considered scarce—and supply and demand dynamics come into play, just as in the physical world. This desirability by the market creates quantifiable value that can be applied to everything from an individual asset to a cryptocurrency. Technology is constantly driving the world forward. In the future, the digital realm will be characterized by a matrix of digital trade routes of all sizes—each protected by the blockchain, free of piracy and disinformation. If blockchain and modern technologies had been around in 1911, the Mona Lisa would have been reclaimed in less than two hours, instead of two years. Today, the iconic face of the Rennaisance has even more reasons to smile. To learn more about blockchain read Mercer Digital’s Blockchain 101 Overview.
The meteoric rise of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin thrust blockchain to the forefront of the daily news in late 2017, and its subsequent epic fall cast a new pall over a technology that was just beginning to overcome its early reputation as a perfect vehicle for swindlers, drug dealers and traffickers. While awareness of blockchain has increased markedly over the last few years, most organizations and people are still unable to grasp what this new technology will really mean to their businesses and lives. Today, blockchain technology is about where the Internet was in the early 1990s. It’s an exciting and important technology, but one that is still in its fledgling stage. The truth is, similar to how people were trying to figure out the Internet in the early 1990s, no one really knows exactly how it will revolutionize economies and cultures. But we do know—much like the Internet in the early 1990s—that blockchain is going to be a game changer. Blockchain: The Efficiency Revolution Blockchain will profoundly impact the intersection of business and individuals by unleashing a new era of connectivity and efficiency. Because blockchain is secure, streamlined and can be both transparent and anonymous simultaneously, the technology will revolutionize operational processes by eliminating costly intermediaries. Suppose, for example, a VP of engineering in Beijing, China is being relocated—along with his wife and two daughters—to a new long-term position based in Perth, Australia. Historically, just finding and securing housing across borders has involved an overwhelming amount of paperwork, people and processes. Local real estate protocols are fraught with legacy registry systems, sprawling bureaucratic channels and intermediaries including brokers, title agents, title attorneys, notaries, escrow agents, land registry officials and bankers in both countries. These processes are bloated, expensive and susceptible to fraud. The streamlined transparency and security provided by blockchain technology will eradicate many of those wasteful and vulnerable practices. Blockchain enhances efficiency not by collecting data, but by securely connecting data across a decentralized network of participating computers called nodes. Nodes store the blockchain’s data, follow the rules of the blockchain’s specific protocols and communicate with other nodes, which can be located anywhere. Each follows the same rules and maintains an identical copy of the network’s immutable data set. New information is added only when the nodes agree, and the change is distributed simultaneously to each node. To alter it, would-be hackers would not have to simply hack one node, but all (or most) of the individually protected nodes distributed throughout the world. By ensuring the data is simultaneously tied together and yet independent, anonymous and secure, blockchain ensures the integrity of the data network. This allows all participating parties to know that the shared data is valid, and no intermediaries are needed to confirm that a home buyer has enough money, or if the house has water damage, or if the title deed has been signed, notarized and delivered. Blockchain In Growth Economies Blockchain is gaining traction and disrupting growth economies at an increasing rate. Not only is it being touted as a possible solution to endemic and institutionalized corruption, but it is also gaining acceptance in important industries, especially financial services, healthcare and government. Financial Services Blockchain first gained traction in growth economies as the technology behind Bitcoin, the first digital currency. However, experts soon recognized that blockchain’s transparency and security features could significantly change the financial services industry—much as the Internet changed the media and entertainment industries 20 years ago. Banking institutions across the globe are adopting blockchain and advanced distributed ledger technologies for a wide range of functions, including trade settlements, payment processing and cross-border transactions. In fact, India recently launched India Trade Connect, a trade finance strategy that uses blockchain platforms to empower an unprecedented collaboration between IT juggernaut InfoSys and seven of the nation’s biggest banks.1 Modern blockchain technologies allow these financial entities to streamline trade finance systems and oversee international supply chain transactions at every step of the operation. Healthcare The global healthcare industry manages vast amounts of clinical and administrative data, from the pharmaceutical supply chain to patient medical records to claims management. The introduction of smart medical devices including everything from personal fitness trackers to connected surgical suites, is introducing an entirely new ecosystem of information to mine. The pool of data collected from healthcare-related devices is growing exponentially. Accurate, accessible data is critical to improving clinical outcomes and reducing waste, and blockchain’s immutability and ability to connect currently siloed information and serve as the “single source of truth” are key enablers. In South Korea, the healthcare industry has been very proactive in implementing blockchain to centralize patient information and marginalize the prevalence of counterfeit drugs through transparent supply chain management. Blockchain records of patients’ medical histories provide Korean hospitals and caregivers with a single, accurate record of a patient’s treatments, procedures and pharmaceutical needs.2 Government Governments in growth economies around the world are using blockchains for everything from property records and voting registries to driver’s licenses and financial histories. Its ability to provide a chronological and immutable digital record makes it ideal for transactions that impact populations and economies—from single individuals to entire industries. Blockchain increasingly allows governments in Africa to better organize records and services through improved identity management systems—which legitimizes processes key to successful societies, from collecting taxes to counting votes.3 For many growing nations, blockchain may soon offer the potential to leapfrog from antiquated and bloated operational processes, fraught with malfeasance, to streamlined, incorruptible systems that attract international investment and encourage entrepreneurship. Blockchain is gaining rapid acceptance with businesses and policymakers in part because the continent doesn’t have deeply entrenched incumbents or legacy systems that might resist this new technology in an effort to maintain their influence. Blockchain: The Unknowns When the Internet gained acceptance in the early 1990s we knew that the ways human beings communicated and interacted with information was about to experience extraordinary changes. We didn’t know, however, that it would lead to the rise of other revolutionary forces such as Google, peer-to-peer file sharing platforms like Napster, ubiquitous smartphone devices such as the iPhone, or the invention of social media channels like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. All cultural disruptors that continue to shape the world in significant ways, from unhealthy personal digital addictions to the influence of government-sponsored disinformation campaigns. Blockchain promises similar benefits and risks. The impact it will have on growth economies, international commerce and human culture cannot be fully assessed or appreciated at this point. But its potential is real and pervasive in every region of the world. Businesses, CEOs and governments should adopt strategies that don’t necessarily mandate a call to action, but a call to awareness—an earnest effort to gain a sophisticated understanding of the technology and how it can create positive changes, or negative consequences, in a world that is still figuring out how the Internet of the 1990s has transformed the human condition. To learn more about blockchain read Mercer Digital’s Blockchain 101 Overview. 1Infosys Finacle Pioneers Blockchain-based Trade Network in India in Consortium with Seven Leading Banks: Infosys Limited - https://www.infosys.com/newsroom/press-releases/Pages/pioneers-blockchain-based-trade-network.aspx 2Will Blockchain Transform Healthcare in South Korea: https://techwireasia.com/2018/06/will-blockchain-transform 3Why Africa’s Emerging Blockchain Movement Is Growing So: https://media.consensys.net/blockchain-month-in-africa-920945771100