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COVID-19 Makes the Case for Emerging Technology

While the world is experiencing unprecedented quarantining and the shutdown of most of the economy, those businesses that remain open are in some cases struggling to keep up with demand.

When we look to the current COVID-19 pandemic, we think of economic shutdown, layoffs, and unfortunately, a large number of deaths. When we look deeper though, we can learn a few lessons about the importance of emerging technology as we face new challenges in our everyday worlds. That means buzzwords like "blockchain", "robotic process automation", and "artificial intelligence", once again come to the forefront of our minds.

But how can these technologies really make a difference? I have thought of examples of how these technologies could be used to help navigate our way through difficult times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, today I will examine a few examples of how Blockchain could be utilized.

Picture by: Andre Francois Mckenzie

Blockchain, the decentralized ledger technology that was made famous by bitcoin and is used as the platform for many of today's cryptocurrencies. It works when a data point is uploaded creating a digital hash, or the top of the link in the chain, when the next data is added it links to the bottom hash, adding the next link. All the while, the hashes are confirmed by users around the world, making the information nearly impossible to edit. The permanent nature of the record is what makes it so attractive for trading cryptocurrency.

Blockchain is capable of so much more though, one of the other applications blockchain has been used for is tracking shipments. During the pandemic thus far, we have seen massive supply shortages on everything from toilet paper, to masks, and even ventilators. Blockchain offers a solution.

Some companies, such as Walmart, have been exploring the utilization of blockchain for supply chains for years. If the technology was more widely adapted though, it could lead to an improved method of tracking goods. If this technology was to be applied in the warehouses and shipments of not just a few select companies, but many, and potentially even government entities such as FEMA, it could be much easier to locate much needed supplied both in transit and sitting idle in warehouses. Once located, these supplies could be put to use, instead of sitting unfound and un-utilized.

Picture by: Marcin Jozwaik

Additional benefits of blockchain include being able to see where your products originate, and establishing trust with your vendors. However, in the world of COVID-19, I would argue that the more important application is establishing an agreed upon receipt that is permanently stored in the digital ledger. This helps prevent operator error, fraud, and disputes that take away from the focus on recovery. By design, the ledger is nearly impossible to edit, meaning that in combination with tracking of goods, you can also track payments.

This brings up the idea of smart contracts. A smart contract is essentially a self-executing digital if-then statement on the blockchain. Smart contracts could save a lot of time and headaches during a global emergency. During COVID for example, many employees must work at home, imagine being able to set up a contract from the comfort of your home where once a digital sensor detects goods have arrived at your store, the payment is automatically issued. Furthermore, you and the seller of those goods now have a digital receipt confirming your portion of the contract was fulfilled. This could reduce the amount of time and interaction needed to complete normal business functions, all while reducing the likelihood of disputes along the way.

Are there other applications for blockchain during COVID-19? If so, leave a comment or feel free to message me with suggestions.

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