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Microsoft and MIT Explore Unique Applications of the Bitcoin Blockchain

Op-ed - Microsoft and MIT Explore Unique Applications of the Bitcoin Blockchain

Microsoft New York and MIT Media Lab presented a 70-minute report called #Blockchain4good this week.

Speakers included Brian Forde, MIT Media Lab director of digital currency and former senior technology adviser at the White House, and John Paul Farmer, director of technology and civic innovation at Microsoft. They led discussions on using the blockchain for fraud-free voting, storage of identities, response to natural disasters and a public ledger of properties such as land.

Other speakers, including Chelsea Barabas, Ann Kim, Ryan Shea and Peter Kirby, focused on introducing the blockchain’s capability to decrease the amount of money spent annually on identity theft and records.

Civic Infrastructure

Kim, from international design and consulting firm IDEO, introduced the idea of frictionless transfer, wherein people around the world could donate small amounts of bitcoin for day-to-day tasks or to fund public/nonprofit organizations.

This summer, IDEO hosted a thematic incubator called Bits + Blocks Lab focusing on trust, transactions and participation. Six teams and 25 design entrepreneurs worked together to create various prototypes targeting different applications of the blockchain. Some of the prototypes on frictionless transactions included donation tug of war and image unlocking app through donation.

The main application that these teams and IDEO have looked into is creating a transparent voting/complaint system to develop more efficient civic infrastructure. Kim proposed that by using the bitcoin blockchain, citizens will be able to instantly report on improvements needed for public infrastructure and match government funds to allocate budgets accordingly.

This digital interaction between citizens and the government will create a transparent and unforgeable request-recovery system for public infrastructure. Furthermore, citizens would be able to track public funds of cities and even countries to check whether government funds are being allocated properly, and whether the budget is being distributed to various projects.

Kim introduced an idea called The Dandelion, which was proposed by Princeton University students who identified a park that needed a playground structure.

“Students planted a Dandelion with petals that have addresses on them. As people donate small amounts of money, the image of the playground started filling in, and the very block was being visualized,” explained Kim.

Blockchain for Identity Storage

Bitcoin blockchain-based passcard identity Startup Onename co-founder and CEO Ryan Shea led the discussion on how blockchain could be used to store identity and solve identity problems.

“There are billions of people around the world that do not have access to government-issued I.D. documents. This includes 25 percent of African-Americans in the U.S., hundreds of millions in India and refugees around the world,” Shea said. This is the result of the inefficient manual operation of governments and includes a long list of places where identification is needed, such as bank accounts, housing, government benefits and voting, he said.

All government identifications, such as passports and driver licenses, currently are delivered in a physical form. They are all printed, laminated, sealed and covered manually, which requires a lot of human labor and money to sustain.

“Approximately $25 billion (USD) are lost annually due to identity theft,” Shea said. “That’s because we don’t have a very good way of authenticating who you are, and relying on these physical documents and personal identifiable information.”

The blockchain, however, allows anyone to record data on transactions, which is unforgeable and transparent. Therefore, it is cost-efficient and time-saving for both the producers and the citizens.

For example, if a person were asked to show his personal identification documents in the middle of the street and the information is stored on the blockchain, he/she can simply go onto a platform that decodes blockchain information and show the identification quickly.

Photos courtesy of Digital Currency Group Inc. This article has been edited to correct the spelling of Ann Kim’s name.