The paper is entitled “Unlocking Blockchain: Embracing new technologies to drive efficiency and empower the citizen,” and was published one month after the British Prime Minister Theresa May suggested at the PMQs for Hughes “to distribute the work that he’s done to all members of this house.”
Hence, the paper which, Hughes believes, has been written to seek “to begin to answer those questions [regarding intensive blockchain integration], and more.”
Acknowledging the fact that the country is already beginning to experiment with and implement blockchain technology in some of the government’s sectors, Hughes presented strong proposals which could radically disrupt the British system as we know it, albeit in a good way.
Other countries, especially those that are reluctant to making use of the advantages of the said technology, could definitely obtain invaluable insights from Hughes’ proposals.
Freedom and Trust
It is but common for governments to encounter difficulties which diminish the public trust. The UK is not an exception. For instance, the country experienced a financial crisis in 2008 which brought to light public scandals including the illegal misuse of parliamentary expense accounts, as well as alleged harassment and abuse against many charity workers.
Along with the government’s obligation to rectify the mistakes that their predecessors have committed, comes the daunting task of rebuilding the public trust. “Freedom and trust go hand in hand,” said Hughes. And not only does bad behavior and wrong decisions harm those who are directly involved in the issue; by and large, trust deficit affects all in a democratic society.
According to Hughes’ paper, growth in public trust is directly proportional to data transparency. And with the integration of blockchain technology, the government might just gain back the unwavering trust of the British people.
With blockchain, the grueling task of auditing vast amounts of data can be done away with, not to mention the need for middlemen. Also, the said technology cannot be easily manipulated, thereby making fraud virtually impossible, and data loss unlikely.
Consequently, the British National Archives is already using the said technology in prototyping an archival design which would provide the institution ample information on a digital record’s integrity, as well as help them ascertain whether a “change was legitimate so that ultimately it can still be trusted as the authentic record,” said Alex Green, manager of the National Archives Digital Preservation Services. When the prototype is launched, the institution promises that “no individual institution could attempt to rewrite history” ever again.
Freer with Money
It must be understood that blockchain and cryptocurrency are two similar, yet wholly distinct terms. A cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, is only one of the use cases for a single type of blockchain technology. Blockchain technology, on the other hand, is an all-encompassing system in which many other cryptocurrencies and other technologies hinge themselves on.
Currently, a good number of countries are already experimenting with blockchain technology as part of their financial systems. The Bank of England is already planning to replace the rigorous and costly financial processes and systems with another which would use blockchain. During a speech at the annual Mansion House dinner in June, Mark Carney, governor of the said institution, announced that they are already “in the midst of an ambitious rebuild of the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) system — the backbone of every payment in the UK.”
Hughes projects the idea further, saying that if the financial authorities of the country were “to back a blockchain parallel for our currency, citizens could potentially use digital ‘wallets’, rather than needing bank accounts.” Along with the changes would be the removal of monthly fees. Transaction fees could also be cut by a considerable margin. Also, there will be no more need for recalling sort codes and account numbers.
Meat and Stalks Integrity
Food is one of the country’s most regulated industries, and it should, as there have been many cases wherein food integrity was questioned by the consumers. In 2013, the country was alarmed by the ‘horsemeat scandal’, wherein horse meat was found to have been mixed with beef, and was sold to the markets. This caused the consumers to doubt the meat’s integrity despite the labels that have been included in the food packaging. Just recently, the Daily Telegraph conducted an investigation which found out that some vegan products actually contained meat and were even being displayed at many UK supermarkets.
If blockchain is used for tracing the meat production process, users can easily find out whether the meat in question is indeed fresh and unadulterated, or not.
Recently, the UK Food Standards Agency completed a pilot testing which ensured the meat production quality in a cattle slaughterhouse through blockchain. In exclamation, Sian Thomas, head of the information management arm of the FSA, expressed his delight that “FSA [has] been able to show that blockchain does indeed work in this part of the food industry… there are great opportunities now for industry and government to work together to expand and develop this approach.”
The FSA is also planning to replicate the technology in plants.
Innovations to the healthcare system are inevitably slow, Hughes admits. However, “blockchain and associated technologies could have a particularly transformative effect.” There are many instances wherein medical professionals misdiagnose a patient’s condition only because the prior medical history, as well threats passed down through the patient’s genes were not taken into account.
With blockchain, doctors could easily find out about the patient history and other crucial data, helping them make informed pronouncements on the patient’s present condition. Archiving will not be a tedious task, and appropriate medical intervention could be administered.
Chief Blockchain Officer
Of all that the paper suggested, perhaps the boldest is the appointment of the country’s very own Chief Blockchain Officer, who will come from the government’s already-existing taskforce. He will be responsible for coordinating the country’s “strategy regarding the application of Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) to public services and data.” The country will have its very own blockchain spokesperson. Furthermore, the role could make use of other key technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), which can synergize with blockchain technology in certain cases.
For this to occur, the entire government system will have to be rewired, even though it’s uncertain as to the extent.
In conclusion, Hughes argued that blockchain and associated technologies provide an unrivaled opportunity to review and redesign the country’s data systems. Trust deficit must be addressed.
“We can use a mix of classical liberal values and new technologies to strengthen individual freedom and improve the life chances of all. We must harness the energy of entrepreneurial spirit created by these new world-changing technologies to ensure the future is freer. By engaging now, and recognizing blockchain’s potential, we can ensure it is used by the state to empower individuals and to afford us real control over our own data.”
Many countries express the same sentiment and are most probably on an even pace with the UK. Others, however, are either lagging behind or are not even interested in taking the first step.
However, real and lasting progress is often a result of a series of positive changes brought about by critical deliberations and informed faith. And if there’s one thing that history can teach us, it’s that progress, real progress, moves, and that the way is only forward.