For Campbell Harvey, professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the classroom is a place to imagine the future. By helping students predict the future, including where technology will grow and lose relevance, he aims to help them make better career decisions and make a positive impact on the world.
As part of this mission, his well-known course on blockchain was extremely successful. Since its launch in 2014, it has grown in popularity as an interdisciplinary look at technology, encompassing a mix of up to 200 graduates and students from the university’s law, business, engineering, and computer science schools.
This last semester gave his class the opportunity to study a possible application of blockchain in real time. The day after the Iowa Democratic Party debacle in the Iowa Caucus vote, the class turned to examine the reasons for the delay and then examine how blockchain can be used to improve future gatherings.
The class developed a system according to which the caucus leaders were assigned a certain number of tokens by headquarters, corresponding to the number of delegates they controlled. They could then vote by sending tokens to each candidate’s address (Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders, Biden, etc.), where each token represents a dedicated delegate.
It turned out to be instantaneous, easy to follow, completely transparent and even allowed for quick correction of mistakes by sending the coins back to the caucus leaders and resending them to the candidates’ addresses. The exercise helped his students get to know real-world applications for blockchain and smart contracts.
Fight against COVID-19 with blockchain
Professor Harvey believes that blockchain will also find immediate application in the fight against COVID-19. Specifically as a tool to effectively track coronavirus testing, vaccine production, and supply chain improvement.
Supply chains provide an example of current and future uses of the technology. In the short term, blockchain can help ensure the integrity of production and distribution for critical items such as PPE, consumer goods or food in times of crisis. It can track every step for these essential elements, including checking the quantity and quality as handoffs are made from one node to the next in the chain.
However, looking to the future, this approach can be used to capture origins and freshness for our daily food supplies. He cites the example of a supplier who uses blockchain to keep track of when strawberries are harvested, which farm they come from, and whether or not they are organic. The blockchain then matches product quantities and batches as they are loaded onto trucks and warehouses en route to the final retailer.
When the strawberries land on the shelves of a local grocer, the store knows exactly where they came from and when they were picked. Customers could even tap the chain to know how long to eat the strawberries before they are likely to go moldy.
“The transparency is strong,” said Professor Harvey.
UBRI and Duke University
Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative (UBRI) was a transformative force in Professor Harvey’s teaching in blockchain at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. It helped him introduce a new course called Tech-Driven Business TransformationThis is a 75% blockchain study, and upgrade a supply chain course to add blockchain to the curriculum. UBRI even helped add fintech and blockchain training to a course for Article III judges at the university’s law school.
Looking to the future, Professor Harvey believes that the real potential of blockchain is not only to reshape finances, but also as a “tool for democracy” to improve society in general. He points to the 1.7 billion people in the world who have no banks and so often live outside social safety nets. That year he added a new module to his course called Social Impact and Blockchain.
He believes blockchain offers a way for everyone to join the mainstream financial system and enable direct connections without costly and inefficient intermediaries. Putting these people in the fold is the ultimate real-world application and the fullest potential future for blockchain.
To learn more about UBRI, please visit our UBRI website and look for monthly Insights posts in the On Campus series.