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12 March 2018

Is trust a stumbling blockchain for innovation?

Written by: Marianne Fekene, Account Executive at Edelman

Innovation, Technology

In the media, we have seen a lot of hype around blockchain and some argue a bubble has been created. Though there are several explanations out there on what blockchain really is, the impact and use of the technology tends to be somewhat of a mystery.

One definition of the technology is that blockchain is a distributed digital ledger or server to store transactions and documents. However, what this practically means is still not always very clear. This lack of clarity and communication has led to some disconnect between people’s trust in blockchain and the companies using it.

Early this year, Blockchain Week came back to London for a week filled with new startups, established blockchain players and new adaptations to the popular technology. Whether you are still a blockchain sceptic or a tech fanatic, one cannot overlook the speed of blockchain’s growth or the significant financial value of crypto currencies, which relies on blockchain technology.

The event showcased blockchain stakeholders from a wide range of industries, from fintech to online-dating, and from coupons to real estate. One of the interesting uses I saw was by the Pillar project; it aims to help individuals take back ownership of their personal data through a blockchain based wallet, acting as your own personal digital assistant. This in turn helps companies overcome some of the challenges that comes with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will be enforced in May this year.

A more unusual use of blockchain was shown by the company Viola – an A.I.-led dating marketplace with blockchain. With these technologies, they can make sure you are not falling for a fake Bot, and if you did – none of your personal data or activity would be leaked. i.e., no Ashley Madison scandal.

Some of the companies use blockchain to improve supply chain management and compliance of the cannabis industry (Budbo), while others use the technology to tokenise exotic super cars (Bitcar). There are endless possibilities for blockchain, but one thing that comes to mind is trust and the values surrounding this disruptive technology. Should everyone really use blockchain?

There is no doubt that blockchain can be beneficial in that value chains can be shortened and made more transparent than ever. And some companies using the technology have direct beneficial effects on society. Ehab provides a blockchain-based decentralised platform that lets anyone collaboratively create and finance affordable and sustainable housing projects, powered by Etherum. This will help the global housing crisis as both the affordability and quantity of housing must improve – the United Nations estimates that within a decade, one billion more houses will be needed. Not to mention all the people globally already living with insufficient housing.

Another company at Blockchain Week was DeepRadiology; a company that uses blockchain empowered A.I. to improve the quality and lower the cost of medical care. By using these technologies, it learns how to interpret scans, thus reducing the risk of human error, cost and the time it takes until a patient and doctor can have a chance to sit down and talk about the results.

Viant and WWF have together used blockchain to allow you to verify whether the food on your table is sustainably sourced or not.

There is no doubt that blockchain has the power to “screw business as usual”, in Richard Branson’s words. However, whatever blockchain is used for, there is a risk that the that the speed of the technology is surpassing our everyday adaptation, comprehension, and thus most importantly – our trust.

Blockchain is clearly more than a buzzword to look out for, but if we cannot communicate its benefits and real-life application – we might be creating another bubble. As the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed, people’s trust in blockchain companies is very low, ranking just above their trust in driverless cars, and far below the trust in the technology industry as a whole. This may be related to the finding that people feel that the pace of innovation is moving too quickly, and both these trends shows the importance of blockchain companies engaging people in the evolution of the technology to appreciate what is it, its value and the impact it can have on society.

Companies using this technology have a responsibility and a need to communicate its benefits clearly, as well as its challenges. As an example, if the energy usage it takes to mine surpasses the positive benefit one is trying to achieve through blockchain, is it really worth it? These are discussions that need to take place, to be able to grow the blockchain market in a long-term sustainable and trusted way. By blockchain companies engaging in these conversations, it could lead to better understanding, appreciation and trust between people and blockchain.

In all, blockchain has impressive applications, and the possibilities for a more transparent world is worth striving for. If communication can create trust, and trust builds stronger relationships amongst people and companies, then that is what users of blockchain should put front and centre of their focus. However, if we are not able to communicate the values and need of blockchain and all its applications, where will the technology go?

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