The challenge of building socially impactful products w/ Blockchain
Block-chain isn’t all the mystery it once was. In fact, there was never too much mystery to it.
In a conversation, Dr Bimal Roy, arguably one of the most impactful individuals in the field of cryptography in India, we talked at length about how the technology behind Bitcoin was in no way something that was unknown in the field of crypto, it was just the same old thing that’s been worked on, in a completely new package.
What was pioneering though, with Bitcoin, was how the same mathematical primitives had been constructed into a reliable currency transfer platform, like a transaction diary written with ink that couldn’t be changed. With the bigger banks now looking towards bringing this technology into the mainstream, the industry has definitely matured a lot.
In very simple words, distributed ledger technology allows us to make records that can’t be changed, and the trust this brings is exactly why some people think that most industries on the face of the planet will be changed with it.
There are a lot of problems associated with building products with this technology outside the realm of currency transfer, such as scalability, security and speed of these networks. While working on TheBFFApp with Vartika, a combination of these issues forced us to shift towards a hybrid-distributed architecture from the initially conceptualised block-chain architecture.
So I felt a little bored over the last few days and wanted to see just how difficult building a full fledged Altcoin, a cryptocurrency substitute for Bitcoin, would be. Surprisingly, after starting off with a fork of Litecoin and then wrestling for a few hours with the codebase, I had managed to get Litecoin running on my private network. A few nights of hacking, and pre-mining some blocks later, it was really surprising to have my own cryptocurrency, FTPCoin ( Footprint Coin) ready.
Now, if alternative cryptocurrencies can really be made overnight, it’s time people stop running after creating these same coins over and over. It’s time to use this technology towards more meaningful purposes. UN has been working with the Ethereum Alliance towards implementing a Global Refugee ID system.
Think about it, when these refugees are forced to leave their homes, they lose everything about their personal identities, leaving behind not only everything they’re familiar with but also all their documents. The lack of the said documents make it increasingly difficult to verify and legitimise credentials towards rehabilitation and employment opportunities.
Project Footprints is an effort towards creating a similar verifiable trusted database of personal identities and credentials through polling, for refugees closer to home near our eastern border at the Rohingya crisis. Our research has led us to smart recommender systems which when deployed on top of this trustable and continuously growing database can do things like cross-verify educational and work credentials, all the way to uniting lost family members.
Blockchain does have such unprecedentedly powerful applications, however development on such large-scale projects with social incentives are fraught with the similar constraints of the enterprise -level commercial applications, the same 3S : security, speed and scalability. By far the biggest issue remains to be that if you’re creating completely new rules to govern your network, you’re going to need to develop everything all the way from the mathematical primitives to application integration into what your product. The caveat of having to start from scratch to make small changes in the governing dynamics of these applications, tends to put path breaking innovations out of the reach of visionaries, entrepreneurs and developers.
All is not lost for crypto-rookies though, with the big names of open source, such as the Linux Foundation backing projects like Hyperledger, I’m looking forward to what the future has in store.
You can now follow my blog and work at : debarghaganguly.com .
I regularly write on using technology to make a more inclusive world.