“Without big internet players deciding to adopt or test blockchain progress and adoption will hardly move.” - Michele Nati, Digital Catapult

Dr. Michele Nati, Lead Technologist for Personal Data and Trust at Digital Catapult will join over 70 speakers at the Blockchain Summit taking place at Olympia Conference Centre on the 28th of November. 

Michele, who is moderating the ‘Exploring Opportunities for Applications Beyond Cryptocurrencies’ panel, completed the speaker Q&A:

 

1. Could you explain the work that you’re doing with blockchain technology?

My main interest in blockchain is to use it as enabler to create decentralized trust and to identify business cases and business models to make its use viable.

Currently I am involved in three projects:

- As part of the European Project Synchronicity, leading the use of blockchain to log internet of things data transactions, provide incentives for data sharing and maintaining trust on who can access what (data and infrastructure). The aim is to create a global market place for smart cities data, infrastructure and services.

- As part of the European project Content Personalization Network I am exploring role of blockchain to protect ownership of content for content creators.

- Lastly, I am using/exploring blockchain to track and log consent in the field of medical data for donating data for research purpose and social benefit.

 

2. What benefits do you think blockchain will bring to your industry?

- Decentralized trust and liability.

- Making internet users less dependent on few data aggregators.

- Empowering the individual to be able to play an active role on how their digital life is managed.

 

3. Do you think enterprise is ready to take full advantage of blockchain? Why/ why not?

Enterprise is ready to adopt (or at least they are experimenting with) permissioned blockchain; this helps to solve trust problem within their closed "club" of partners; however they are not yet ready to embrace complete transparency and adopt unpermissioned blockchain.

Governance models for blockchain still need more research. It has been proved (e.g., from the DAO attack) that human governance is still required in an internet regulated by blockchain.

Other challenges include the following:

The most secure consensus algorithm, PoW, is still not efficient in terms of required resources and scalability. More research is required in that respect.  

Developers’ tools are not advanced enough and it is not easy to deploy (with some niche exceptions, e.g., Gospel technology) enterprise-ready blockchain, DLT or smart contracts. So there is a technology gap, as well as a skill gap. 

Lastly, there is still a lot of friction to onboard regular/normal end users to use and understand blockchain technologies, including wallet management, public and private keys, addresses, pseudonymity, etc

 

4. Which industry/ industries do you think will be most impacted by blockchain?

I think the advertising industry with people getting access to data for marketing purposes and being rewarded by this. This is similar for health data. I am pursuing the concept of smart health, which uses a combination of smart cities and personal data to create a more sustainable and better quality of life in cities. A number of different trust and liability issues are involved in this, and blockchain looks promising in terms of solving some of these.

Logistics and supply chain could also be disrupted by blockchain, if access to peoples’ contact details and real-time position could be regulated and controlled by individuals and access granted on demand. This could be similar be for insurance. 

 

5. Where do you think the biggest opportunities for applications beyond cryptocurrencies lie?

Decentralized trust in data use, tracking and control, as well as rewarding for those who generate data (e.g., the individuals) instead of leaving this power in the hands of few data aggregators. This will contribute to a more democratic and ethical new internet.

 

6. How are partnerships contributing to growth in the blockchain field?

Market adoption is crucial. Without big internet players deciding to adopt or test blockchain progress and adoption will hardly move.

Few things are changing, with the launch of Hyperledger, Ethereum Enterprise and similar initiatives.

However, there is still the need to simplify user experience and to educate final end users on what blockchain is and how they could trust it more than the way how internet is currently operated. 

 

7. Are there any applications of blockchain that you’ve seen so far that have been particularly impressive?

Not really. Most of the applications I have seen found a problem for a solution (the blockchain). And they have been implemented with little modification of the existing core framework. Moreover, most of the applications only focus on technical aspects without completely understanding and investigating the complexity and the cost that a blockchain-based solution will incur. And how to eventually cover those costs as part of the business model attached to the developed solution.

I have seen only few exceptions.

Oraclize is an interesting one as it deals with the problem of accessing off-chain data to feed oracles in order to make decisions for smart contract. It is important as it tries to bring trust from outside blockchain resources into the decentralized trust ecosystem created by blockchain. 

This is an important enabling technology required before we can develop new ways to use blockchain in different sectors in a trustworthy manner. However Oraclize hasn’t solved the problem forever; more research is still required in this field. 

I still believe that the most rewarding work will be in creating infrastructure enablers, rather than new blockchain applications. The value of most of them has been proved but adoption is still a long way away. A market shift is required.

 

8. How do you see DLT developing in the next 18 months?

DLT will be investigated/employed more to somehow address transparency and personal data control and access as answer to General Data Protection Regulation. Users demand more transparency for their data and interoperability/portability will have to be guaranteed. A consortium of organization experiment with such technologies should be formed. Hyperledger will keep growing as DLT technologies for this purpose.

 

9. How and to what extent should blockchain be regulated?

There is no need or requirement to regulate the blockchain. Blockchain, intended as suite of protocols maintaining a distributed, trusted ledger, are already regulated by the existing models: permissioned vs unpermissioned and public vs private. In particular, the community can decide who can run miners or not. This is not the most important point anyway, as the merit of the blockchain is that it is independent from the trustworthiness of miners.

Applications developed on top of the blockchain might need to be regulated instead. In particular, those related to exchange some value. Bitcoin and all cryptocurrency trading activities are already regulated because trading FIAT currency to cryptocurrency already requires some sort of KYC procedure, under FCA regulation. The availability of cryptocurrencies is limited, and to export their value outside of the blockchain ecosystem always requires conversion to FIAT currencies, so I believe this already provides enough regulation. 

Human Governance of blockchain still needs to be understood and developed further before we can see real growth of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (mixing blockchain and AI). However, the different models can be sector specific, so there won't be a one-size-fits-all.

 

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