We are in the midst of a revolution, an industrial revolution, mark 4, with the potential to make the original one appear a mere murmur by comparison. And there is plenty of fear abounding, the bots are coming and our jobs are going, what if it all goes wrong? What if artificial intelligence mean the machines turn on us and Arnie’s Terminator wants so much more than our bike, boots and jacket?
Well, that’s one view and consideration of consequences I would say is always sage. However, with the right level of caveat and caution I suggest that we can step forward with optimism and evidence based positivity.
In this spirit, today I have the pleasure of publishing a report into the opportunity for citizen and state, business and Whitehall, from what is known as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), one of the technologies that has arrived with the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Entitled, Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public Good_leadership collaboration and innovation, the report seeks to set out key areas across the public sector where DLT could enable increased safety and security, transparency, traceability and trust, reduce cost and increase service for the citizen.
So what, you may ask (as I did not so long ago), is DLT?
DLTs are typically (but not exclusively) enabled by blockchains. A block is a set of data records, as in a database or spreadsheet, which is cryptographically sealed and linked to the previous block. The sequence of linked blocks (the blockchain) cannot be altered without breaking the chain. Consequently, an unbroken blockchain promotes trust and provides extremely strong evidence that the data has not been altered or tampered with. DLT then provides all parties with the correct rights or permissions and automatically enables all to have a local copy of the register or database.
This means that DLT is good for managing unique identifiers that have to be used consistently across multiple systems and organisations. It ensures data integrity and avoids data fragmentation, allowing far greater integration of new and existing systems and improved organisational effectiveness.
Having worked with experts in the field, in the preparation of this report, I believe that DLT can play a valuable part in enhancing the delivery of government services to the citizens of the UK, in securing the UK’s competitive position as a global leader in technology-based innovation and in protecting the security of government and citizens’ data at a time when both are increasingly under threat. Without claiming any silver bullet status for DLT, it would certainly seem worth investigating some more.
So, where and how can DLT help?
Well, for example, if HM passport office could enable a DLT solution, bye bye fake documents, identity tricksters and the like and Hello to a potential £500M gain for the UK. As any prophet has to say to the sceptic, “time will tell”, but certainly worth further investigation;
In the NHS, currently an estimated 25,000 days are lost, or spent, on doctor identity and pre-employment checks. Vital, of course, but if done via DLT, imagine those 25,000 days, currently a cost, being converted into care.
Some more food for thought, with a DLT solution enabling traceability and transparency in the food supply chain, when it comes to horse in the lasagne, we could say with confidence, nay more;
Cybercrime now accounts for 50% of UK crime. Let’s embark upon our own investigations to establish whether DLT can become our best detective and crime prevention officer.
Just some examples. The report is in no sense claiming that these examples are the best use cases for DLT but that they (and others) are worth further investigation, experimentation and discovery.
The purpose of this report is pretty simple, to re-energise and refocus UK government attention on DLT’s potential so that we can accelerate our own digital maturity, enhance the productive capacity of our businesses and benefit our citizens.
This report is a call to action for all those with the interests of the UK at heart to join in that collaborative effort and the practical steps proposed so that the benefits of DLT can serve as a common good for UK businesses and citizens.
While the report’s focus is on one technology, or more correctly group of technologies, I am fully aware that others – 5G, Cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and even Nanotechnology – are all developing as fast and may indeed compete for future time and investment. The report makes the case that DLT has the potential to enable the better exploitation of those technologies, and also as a means of overcoming some of the issues associated with the existence in government as well as in many commercial entities of “legacy” systems developed piecemeal and over time using different software formats and access systems.
I call on Government to seize this moment. The great news is this is not about money but leadership, collaboration and connection, experimentation, empowerment and, crucially, implementation to enable Britain to be at the forefront and realize all the benefits of the Fourth industrial revolution for us all. Carpe DLT should certainly be part of this.