Americans are facing unprecedented challenges due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus. But like every crisis before it, we are also learning what systems can respond well to the challenge and which ones have to be updated. American businesses and entire industries are faced with existential threats, from small businesses staying afloat, to airlines, to the hospitality, entertainment and restaurant sectors.
And a monumental test lies ahead for our nation’s health care system: providing adequate care for increasing numbers of coronavirus patients. These are indeed extraordinary times, but Americans should remain confident in our collective ability to rise to the occasion.
These unparalleled difficulties will require innovative thinking and novel solutions for daily life to continue and for businesses to remain viable. One emerging technology in particular that could address some of these challenges is blockchain: “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.”
Blockchain, and especially its uses in cryptocurrencies, provide the foundational basis for a number of applications that could help us all adapt to a rapidly changing world — bringing antiquated financial systems into the 21st century — if we choose to embrace these technologies and foster their growth.
One inherent characteristic of blockchain could prove overwhelmingly beneficial as an increasing amount of daily life migrates online: the decentralized nature of blockchain platforms. We’re already witnessing the serious strain that this transition is placing on existing networks — from telecommunications to financial systems. The very nature of a distributed ledger means it is not housed on any one central network. Blockchain can thus potentially alleviate the demands of Americans interacting more and more digitally.
Perhaps the best known of these applications is cryptocurrencies — digital assets that act as a medium of exchange and facilitate financial transactions online. One obvious benefit of a digital asset is the fact that it’s paperless. Negating physical currencies and the need to exchange them hand-to-hand could well contribute to slowing the spread of coronavirus. In fact, Bitcoin trading has already “surged” in Venezuela after the country shut down banks to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Or look to the recent example of American developer Ripple partnering with Mexican crypto exchange Bitso to facilitate financial access for the country’s underbanked populations. Ripple processed $54 million in transactions from the U.S. to Mexico in the first week of February alone — a trend that will only increase as COVID-19 continues to hinder travel, shutter individuals in their communities and close down places of work.
Further, seamless and rapid international payment remittance via cryptocurrencies would provide an avenue for those unable to travel to transfer funds. In a similar manner, cryptocurrencies serve as an alternative storage of wealth to cash, commodities or stocks. That’s not to say that current iterations of digital assets aren’t facing challenges in that respect — Bitcoin volatility over the last several days makes that clear. This could discourage speculative trading, but shouldn’t discourage further innovation with the underlying technology.
More broadly, there exist any number of potential applications for a distributed ledger that can verify transactions. Health care will be top of mind for many in the coming weeks and months — imagine the ability to house medical records online and access or update them from any location instantly.
Similarly, a UCLA Health study recently found that blockchain technology would save the U.S. pharmaceutical industry over $180 million each year through the real-time verification of prescription drugs before they are dispensed.
And CoreWeave, the largest Ethereum miner in the U.S., is contributing its processing power of 6,000 specialized computer chips to Stanford University’s Folding@home to assist in researching a therapy for the coronavirus. These are just a couple of recent anecdotes of how blockchain can help be a part of the healthcare crisis solution.
Ultimately, blockchain will merely put tools in the hands of Americans in order to weather this storm. They won’t solve any challenges overnight. But as our elected officials consider ways in which they can provide responses to the pandemic, they would do well to consider the many advantages that blockchain and its applications provide — and foster an environment in the U.S. that is ripe for innovation.