COVID-19 popularized decentralization, but blockchain may not catch on


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On November 9, drug maker Pfizer announced that its COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, and although it may be premature to announce the end of the pandemic – as the virus continues to rage in the US and Europe – Least of all speculating: Where will blockchain adoption be when the crisis subsides?

Some eventually predicted that the global healthcare upheaval could represent a perfect storm for blockchain adoption around the world. For example, an April Harvard Business Review article entitled “How the Pandemic Is Driving the Blockchain,” states:

“The virus has exposed the weaknesses in our supply chains, our inability to put resources where they are most needed to fight the pandemic. […] Blockchain solutions that have been in development for years have been reused and deployed to meet these challenges. ”

Will decentralization continue?

The world was moving towards a more decentralized economic structure even before the coronavirus pandemic, but the crisis – with the lack of reliable masks, ventilators and medicines; Travel bans and remote working protocols; Contact tracing initiatives etc – appear to have sped up the process and this should continue after the pandemic subsides.

For example, a survey of 12,500 Americans conducted between May and October found that “20 percent of all full working days after the pandemic ended are home deliveries,” compared with just 5% before the COVID-19 disaster. Working from home will “get stuck”, according to the researchers, as the stigma of working remotely has disappeared, time for commuting is saved and many employees really like it – at least for part of the work week.

“This [decentralization] The trend will continue after the pandemic, “Philipp Sandner, Head of the Frankfurt School Blockchain Center at the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, told Cointelegraph, adding:” The current pandemic situation has shown us how valuable and efficient decentralization can be – which enables us to increase our resilience to unforeseen events and at the same time often improve operational efficiency. “

Back in April, Ariel Zetlin-Jones, associate professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, told Cointelegraph that the pandemic had brought home some tough lessons, most notably that addiction was a weakness: “We will need a more robust economy – one in which supply chains are less dependent on a single producer, where workers are less dependent on the activities of a single company, and where individuals are less dependent on a single source of health care. “In short, a more decentralized global economy was required and blockchain technology seemed to play a role in a unique way.

Following on from Cointelegraph on the current situation, Zetlin-Jones said he still expects further decentralization after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. “I expect many industries will continue to look for ways to better diversify against global shocks like a pandemic.” He added: “Whether this diversification will come through decentralization or through some centralized actors increasing their degree of diversification remains to be seen.” In addition, blockchain can play a role in all of this:

“To the extent that blockchain provides a way to achieve this diversification by decentralizing the enforcement of a shared database or ledger, I remain optimistic that this will play a role in the economy in the future.”

Others, however, are more ambivalent. Hanna Halaburda, associate professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, told Cointelegraph that “during the pandemic, blockchain has not delivered as much as hoped”. “It has largely failed as a contact tracing solution: it was too slow, it was awkward to roll out, and no critical mass was achieved.” On the one hand, the blockchain-based COVID-19 tracking solution from IBM fell short. “The best contact tracing solutions were not blockchain-based,” she added.

Technologies like Zoom, the conference call app that has become mandatory for many home workers to use, skyrocketed during the crisis. This could have a spillover effect and make individuals and companies more receptive to new technologies. she admitted.

A role in the collection of health information?

In his last book The Pandemic Information Gap: The Brutal Economy of COVID-19Joshua Gans, a professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto, argues that blockchain technology could be used to check if people have been tested for infections and when or how they were vaccinated against viruses. “I think governments are still struggling to determine this,” he told Cointelegraph. “The problem is that they rely on centralized databases. Will these be secure and scalable enough? It’s hard to tell right now. As Gans continued to sketch for Cointelegraph:

“Blockchain technology lowers the cost of verification and can confirm that something has happened to a lot of people. After the pandemic, it may play a role in security as more remote work is done. But it could have a broader impact if used to gather health information in a trustworthy manner – and we need more of that. “

At the beginning of this year, the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Germany started to issue vaccination certificates for people who had recovered from COVID-19, whose later immunity could, for example, enable them “from any (blocking) restrictions on their admission to be set free. ” Work, “said Gerard Krause, epidemiologist at the center. This is the kind of project that Gans believes could be made more effective if it were run on a blockchain platform.

Is the equipment delivered – and does it work?

Meanwhile, hospitals and governments that tried to buy emergency equipment during the pandemic have sometimes been burned. “Governments that have no expertise in purchasing protective equipment buy it from companies that have no trading relationship,” a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher said on a recent blog, adding, “It turns out upon delivery the goods are faulty or even counterfeit. ”

The Austrian Red Cross, for example, ordered 20 million breathing masks from a manufacturer in China, but the masks delivered were different from the ones ordered and many did not arrive at all. A tamper-free, tag-only distributed ledger might have ensured that goods weren’t exchanged in transit, according to the MIT blog post.

“If there were still doubts about the value of blockchain platforms in improving the transparency of companies that depend on the seamless integration of disparate networks, COVID-19 has all but eliminated them,” wrote Mariam Obaid AlMuhairi, project manager at the center for the fourth UAE industrial revolution at the Dubai Future Foundation in a World Economic Forum blog post in May. She added that the health crisis can be viewed as a learning experience showing how “transparent, interoperable and connective networks can be built”.

Blockchain projects are still of limited scope

The technology may not be as versatile as some had hoped. In a recent study of the commercial use of blockchain, Halaburda and her colleague Yannis Bakos examined 150 “announced” blockchain projects. Only a small fraction of this (10% to 15%) had been implemented by March, and of those that did, almost all of them were in either supply chain management, certification, or payments, suggesting the scale of commercial blockchain technology is still tight.

Local supply chains got a big boost during the crisis, Halaburda admitted, but it is also expected that after the pandemic subsided, things could return closer to where they were before the crisis. For example, durable goods can continue to be produced in low-cost countries. Some of the advantages of localized production, e.g. For example, waiting for personal protective equipment to arrive from thousands of kilometers away can be forgotten in four or five years.

While blockchain has disappointed in a few areas like contact tracing, it nonetheless offers powerful benefits – including transparency, interoperability, and immutability – that could strengthen supply chains in future crises. The technology could be useful, for example, to move drugs from pharmaceutical companies to pandemic-ravaged regions or to make “movement permits” in restricted areas more practical, as the WEF blog post suggests.

Even Halaburda saw a silver lining in the present darkness. “The pandemic has forced companies to adopt more technology solutions and companies are realizing the need to adopt new technologies, including blockchain,” she told Cointelegraph.