On Saturday, March 24th, from 8:30 to 9:30 PM in their local time zones, some people will turn off their lights as part of an annual “Earth Hour” observance. At my organization, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, we do something different with that hour.
We celebrate “Human Achievement Hour” by sharing on social media our favorite human achievements that have made life safer, healthier, and happier. During that hour, people are invited to use the hashtag #HAH2018 to tweet examples and photos to @ceidotorg.
In the words of CEI President Kent Lassman, “Human Achievement Hour challenges people to celebrate human ingenuity and our ability to solve problems creatively.” The celebration of Human Achievement Hour has spread over the years, and now “people around the world pay tribute to human ingenuity and advancements in every field from health and energy to communications and transportation,” Lassman says.
And this year, we are on the cusp of what could be one of the greatest of human achievements: the blockchain. Originally developed as the public ledger underlying the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, blockchain now has the potential to be a transformative technology in many fields. That is, if misguided government regulation doesn’t stymie its development.
When Bitcoin was first developed as a digital asset and medium of exchange around 2009, its inventor, or group of inventors (who go by the possible pseudonym of Satoshi Nakamoto), also created the blockchain to ensure that Bitcoin’s distribution could be managed in a decentralized fashion by the science of cryptography, rather than a central authority in business or government.
Each block of the blockchain stores numerous transactions with all relevant data, which when sufficient in quantity are added to the chain and linked to the previous block. As explained by the Harvard Business Review, the blockchain makes it nearly impossible to modify recorded data, resulting in "an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.”
Since this technology greatly improves records management, it has potential functions well beyond cryptocurrency. Already, it is beginning to be used in crucial applications such as medical recordkeeping, land registries, and identity theft prevention.
In January 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a collaboration with the IBM division Watson to use a blockchain platform to share data safely from electronic health records and clinical trials. An article on Medium.com notes that blockchain achieves the seemingly contradictory goals of enhanced data security and privacy and quick accessibility to medical records by authorized medical professionals. “The logic built into blockchain allows consumers to have the best of both worlds, providing access to doctors when they need it, while simultaneously protecting data from unauthorized users,” states the article.
Some entrepreneurs say the next step is to create a medical cryptocurrency to incentivize doctors and patients to utilize blockchain to access and file medical records. This proposal illustrates how cryptocurrency is still often a useful ally of blockchain technology, even when it is not the ultimate end of a particular blockchain platform.
Also, the issuance of new cryptocurrencies, which always entail a blockchain platform, help improve blockchain technology for other uses by demonstrating different blockchain applications. And blockchain startups strapped for cash also are finding cryptocurrency a useful tool to supplement compensation for employees and suppliers. So there is really no way a meaningful separation of blockchain from cryptocurrency can be achieved.
Right now, cryptocurrency faces a litany of complaints from its price volatility to the amount of energy computers use in the “mining” process by which it is made. Rules on the books against fraud and theft should certainly be enforced in the crypto sphere, and laws may need to be updated. But regulation that has the effect of curtailing or sharply limiting the issuance of cryptocurrency will inevitably hurt the development of the blockchain that nearly everyone agrees will be beneficial.
So during Human Achievement Hour - and every hour - let’s keep those cryptocurrency mines running!
Disclosure: I own shares in IBM
Nur Baysal and Ryan Khurana, research associates at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, contributed to this article.