Scholar: Blockchain Ensures a Collective Effort to Fight the Coronavirus

Syren Johnstone, the Executive Director of the LLM (Compliance & Regulation) Programme at the University of Hong Kong, published a paper (in Chinese the paper is here) where he calls all high tech companies to employ blockchain and AI to fight the spread of the coronavirus. How exactly to do it, Digital Asset Live Editor-in-Chief found out in the interview with Syren Johnstone.

Q1: In your paper, you write that the ‘present crisis should be seen as a call to arms for the high-tech industry’. What in your opinion can the high-tech industry do?

A1: Let charities know how they can help. Seek to be an essential part of the governance of charities. Create workable use-case solutions. The tech giants should be prepared to step up and make a contribution back to society.

Q2: Will it require a re-organisation of the industry to provide a collective effort?

A2: We need to move toward more open technical standards and transparent, multi-lingual networks to deal with issues of global concern. This will depend on getting the right public-private partnership in place. Letting the private sector develop innovative solutions that foster public sector priorities.

My paper is intended as a wake up call that we can’t stay passive about charities that are not fit-for-purpose when it comes to crisis response. And tech can help them modernize. So yes, charities may need a shake-up. Collective effort is key.

Q3: How, in your opinion, may blockchain and AI be further employed to fight the coronavirus? 

A3: There is a direct connection between the effective use of donations (money, supplies) and the ability to fight any humanitarian crisis. As I mention in my paper, “A VIRAL WARNING FOR CHANGE. The Wuhan coronavirus versus the Red Cross: better solutions via blockchain and artificial intelligence”, when crises occur they are by their nature large scale, happen quickly and unexpectedly, and become increasingly tragic the longer it takes for an effective response to emerge. Blockchain and AI when used together are capable of providing a superior, i.e. more efficient, donation management and distribution system that can directly impact on, for example, disease control. Of course, that does not define the limit of how, for example, AI can assist humans find scientific solutions.

Q4: The Chinese authorities ordered all  donations for the Wuhan crisis to be funnelled to five government-backed charity organisations. How do you view this policy? How does it correlate to the decentralised nature of blockchain? 

A4: To adapt what the whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang recently said before his death, “a healthy society should not have only one voice”.

Centralization has all the risks of centralization. It puts the benefits of openness at risk because negative internalities become embedded and magnified, while other possible options are not explored. The blockchain usage I have in mind for these kinds of public health scenarios is not of the decentralized public kind, such as Bitcoin, but private permissioned blockchains that establish clear points of legal accountability.

Q5: Chinese Hyperchain has announced recently launch of a blockchain based charity platform to fight the outbreak of the coronavirus. Do you welcome this initiative?

A5: I can’t really comment without understanding the details of that blockchain. There’s a lot of devil in the details, particularly when talking about physical supplies (as compared to e-money).

Blockchains are great for creating immutable records but don’t by themselves solve the administrative problem of inputting physical supplies data to the blockchain which, in the absence of established logistics systems like radio tagging etc, remain subject to human fallibility and misfeasance.

On the other hand, as most money donations are via e-payment channels, that problem largely disappears because we already have a well-developed e-money infrastructure.

Q6: What lessons from this outbreak may be drawn now? 

A6: Learn now. Don’t wait for the next lesson. The imperative is to act without delay.