The first two decades of the 21st century have seen enormous challenges on scales never before encountered. Whether a global recession or global pandemic, good information management is an essential tool for decision‐making processes, strategic and operational, at every level. But dramatic changes in news media and the proliferation of misinformation, along with outdated (scientific) research frameworks, are impeding timely use of critical data assets, which are at the center of any effective systemic response. This extends to successful emergency preparedness and response and is as much a human-centric problem as a data-centric one. At heart is this question: how do we share massive quantities of data to coordinate on effective responses to global crises?
Finding good ways to use big-data efficiently for solving real world problems touches almost every industry, from finance to education, and from insurance to supply chain management. With globalized industries now much more reliant on data-driven processes, two pivotal problems have emerged: insufficient infrastructure to securely manage big-data resources, compounded by a “trust gap” in the reliability of that data. In both cases, blockchain and distributed ledger technologies offer meaningful solutions to positively transform information dependent industries, and the ways we collaborate with one another on shared goals.
The exponential growth of fake content and disinformation represents a major trust gap, and points out inherent design issues in the architecture of the Internet that need to be addressed if we wish to safeguard trust and the legitimacy of information resources. Blockchain and distributed ledger technology resolve some of these flaws, offering solutions to security vulnerabilities, privacy issues, and data authenticity. While many blockchain applications tend to center on finance, at Penta Network the focus is using distributed ledgers for data related problems in multi-stakeholder ecosystems. Our goal is to facilitate peer-to-peer and multi-peer collaboration through digital networks based on trusted data.
As a first step towards that goal, we launched a social impact initiative called Trusted Voices in 2018. The Trusted Voices project is based on Hyperledger Fabric and other blockchain technologies to provision a chain of custody for information and media assets. The purpose of the project was to demonstrate authentication of digital content at time of original publication, and subsequent tracking across digital platforms, including social media. A robust chain of custody enables consumers to track content and trace information assets back to their authors and origins. Content traceability offers a powerful tool to combat the proliferation of inaccurate or unauthorized content, while concurrently protecting the intellectual property rights of the authors. There are broad opportunities for this technology: from flagging and removing fake news and disinformation, to collaborative networks based on shared content. Trusted Voices establishes the possibilities for both, and more.
As an initial test of Trusted Voices, in 2018 Penta visited one of the Central American migrant caravans sheltering in Tijuana, Mexico. The pilot conducted interviews with refugees and immigration officials, and even filmed the first official interview with the Honduran Ambassador to Mexico from an English language platform. Trusted Voices successfully deployed blockchain technology to provide proof of publication for media content, and then used tracking pixel technology to follow that content across platforms. It also highlighted some key values of using Hyperledger technology, such as verifiable, timestamped event histories. With the success of this trial, Trusted Voices showed how content chain of custody will play an important role in the digital transformation of news media and journalism by enabling consumers to verify for themselves the authenticity of media content.
Trusted Voices has since expanded, and Penta Network is currently developing related technologies for scientific research. In part, the need comes from academic institutions having delegated citation management primarily to commercial publishers. In response, there is a growing movement for an open publishing model, which seeks to return authorship and citation responsibilities to universities and the public. Blockchain has the capacity to accomplish this, while at the same time fostering innovative models for large-scale collaboration. Without undercutting the commercial interests of publishers, tracking and verifying all inputs to research projects blockchain can safeguard researchers’ individual contributions and facilitate multi-party collaborations. In other words, this approach offers a digital blueprint for crowd-sourcing human collaboration.
Supporting collaborative work models with blockchain technology has real impact, not just on conducting basic research, but also on the knowledge and products that flow from that research. It offers substantial improvements over current models, where some academic and medical research institutions might hoard their data and results, in order to compete for lucrative grants and patents. Distributed ledger systems can serve as trusted data alternatives to private information silos, inviting pioneering researchers and business innovators into more collaborative efforts to rapidly progress and distribute the benefits of their work. As Covid-19 has shown, microscopic pathogens move much faster than patent law and peer-reviewed research. With blockchain technology comes hope of significantly shortening the time from research to discovery, and from discovery to commercial production.
Whether facing a global pandemic, climate change, or a worldwide economic recession, 20th century business models that encourage working in seclusion and an atmosphere of competitive winner-takes-all attitudes do not fit with the enormous 21st century challenges we face. Instead, we need to rethink, reinvigorate and re-innovate human collaboration for the new century.
The Hyperledger ecosystem has an opportunity to play a leading role in creating 21st century models for communication and collaborative work that operate at large scale. By helping to overcome many of the obstacles limiting our ability to work together as global digital citizens, blockchain is shining light on new operating frameworks for peer-to-peer and multi-peer cooperation. Key to their success will be secure, verifiable, and shared information assets. Trust in that information has never been more important, and blockchain empowers all communities to share their trusted voices.
Cover image taken at a migrant camp in Tijuana, Mexico, December 2018