Blockchain today is still in its infancy, and its mainstream value is yet to be realised. While, it’s for sure that blockchain will disrupt the existing solutions, not only in industry and commerce but in almost all aspects of our day-to-day lives, it cannot do so just by itself. Same holds true for Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The underlying fact is that to get the real value new-age emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI and IoT have to work in tandem. As we begin to understand the new normal in the midst of the corona pandemic, it will be important to draw value from any digital transformation that firms undertake. Businesses will have to think beyond their domain and scope to provide services which are of actual value to consumers.
How can this happen? IoT has brought new and cheaper ways to communicate with ‘things’ which was not fathomable in the past. Blockchain, with promise of immutability, transparency, security, interoperability, etc., allows us to exploit otherwise unused resources, trade the un-tradable, and allow new ecosystems that were not possible before. The new entrant AI (inclusive of machine/deep learning, vision, NLP, robots or autonomous machines etc.) has already started to deliver great value to many industries, so much so as to reduce or even replace the human element. Further advancement in 5G communication is a positive catalyst to this ecosystem.
However, these technologies, with a disjointed ecosystem or industries’ siloed approach towards them, may not reach their full potential. In the above combination, ‘data’ becomes the common driving factor. While IoT is producing data from new sources and sensors, blockchain is safeguarding and ensuring immutability, and the AI layer on top is helping deliver new business meanings and outcomes in almost real-time. In summary, data value chain comes from new technologies enabling collection, sharing, security, immutability, analysis, and automation of decisions with minimal human involvement.
Let’s run this model on a practical consumer problem of provenance – the classic ‘Farm to Table’ use case. The big questions that need solutions are with respect to quality, credibility, genuineness, safety, increase in efficiency and warranting correct distribution of revenue. IoT takes care of conditions maintained in farms with respect to temperature, humidity, soil nutrients and growth progress, and also conditions at processing centres and logistics. All this information can be stored on blockchain-based smart contracts. AI-based engine on top of this, with feeds from weather systems, etc., can trigger and automatically execute smart contracts and take required action based on pre-agreed rules, including payments, etc. In an adverse event like an outbreak at any stage, the source could be easily traced and isolated. Next, this can be extended to insurance and forward commodity trading using a trade setup, thus bringing real value from agriculture, supply chain, financial services, insurance and other industries combined.
IoT has come a long way in improving the type of sensors, size and cost and even their usage in some industries; the real consumer centric benefits can be manifold. AI faces the challenge of accuracy, trust and confidence over replacement by the human cognitive mind. Building such ecosystems without regulatory pressure, is not easy if not impossible. This is one of the primary factors for blockchain and other similar transformative technologies not gaining mainstream acceptance or adoption.
Let’s also keep an eye on ‘Quantum Computing’ breakthroughs, as this not only threatens the key features of these emerging technologies, but will severely impact best of encryption, security and cryptography that exists today. Which means any industry, digital ecosystems, IT infrastructure will have to evolve at a rapid pace before they get negatively impacted.
The writer is head Blockchain, Healthcare & Insurance Practice, 3i Infotech