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Blockchain as a force for good: Five principles to build trust and real value

Blockchain is an innovative technology that has tremendous potential for good, but only if those developing and bringing it to market commit to basic principles and then apply them.

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Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum—especially innovations that can transform the world at a scale sometimes difficult to contemplate. Blockchain is one such innovative technology, and just like artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing, it has the capacity to deliver both good and “less than good” outcomes. We’ve seen both: in its relatively short history, blockchain has helped food retailers track and better respond to salmonella outbreaks, for example. But it’s also been used by cryptocurrency fraudsters to carry out elaborate pump-and-dump initial coin offering (ICO) schemes.

How do we obtain the benefits of blockchain, and avoid or deter its misuse?

If blockchain is to move beyond the technological fringe into the mainstream and support a more trusting and transparent world, we must, as innovators, remain committed to a set of practical ideals that guide our actions and how we put our technology to use. For example, we have found that an approach that favors openness—including common, open standards and shared governance—creates better innovation and helps mitigate the potential for misuse. Blockchain participants should be known and validated, and must also be able to control their data and who may access it so they can maintain essential privacy.

The responsibility rests primarily with innovators—the people and organizations developing it and bringing it to market. Fortunately, after years of experimentation and with experience from established live networks, we have a clear picture of what a trusted and transparent enterprise blockchain should look like. Networks need to deliver real business value, be equitable to all participants, and promote open innovation and collaboration.

Technology can promote societal benefit if those who deploy it, as well as those who develop it, give thought to its use. Blockchain, in particular, offers a way to help us know exactly what is going on across a vast and complex set of transactions and interactions, such as those in a global supply chain. It is therefore well suited to helping companies guarantee provenance, prove adherence to regulations and ethical considerations, and pinpoint quickly potentially harmful issues.

By keeping development and use of blockchains open and equitable, and making sure all participants are known and accountable, organizations can can use blockchain as a positive force. It can help uphold their reputation and integrity and help garner the full trust of clients and business partners.

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Meet the authors

Marie Wieck

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, General Manager, IBM Blockchain

Jerry Cuomo

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, VP, Blockchain Technology, IBM Industry Platform

Veena Pureswaran

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, Global Blockchain Research Leader, IBM Institute for Business Value