A blockchain is a distributed database that can be added to but never taken from.
The blocks in the chain are records which detail exactly what changes were made to the database and in what order. Bitcoin is the best-known use of blockchain. The blockchain database structure makes it ideal for sharing or trading sensitive and valuable data.
Last weekend, Europe’s largest blockchain hackathon to date took place in the DCU Innovation Centre in Dublin. The range of projects created over the weekend showcased many of blockchain’s possible applications, including VallD (an ID that cannot be lost or stolen), Open Charity (a disaster fund which can be released transparently), Prescriptchain (preventing prescription fraud) and Social Trust (P2P insurance).
There was a real buzz of excitement as blockchain advocates from all over the world converged. It felt like stumbling into a warehouse party and discovering an underground scene. There were groups of people huddled everywhere as they debated and planned their projects.
The shared passion was infectious.
Kevin Loaec, who arranged the event, explained to me that he considers himself a late adopter, having come to the technology two years ago. Its influence on him was instant and he started working full-time in the space, launching the Chainsmiths consultancy.
He told me that his main agenda with the event is to bring attention to Ireland’s potential as a blockchain hub. “We have over ten blockchain startups in Ireland. Huge corporations like Citi Bank, who have their Citi Innovation Lab here, are leading blockchain innovation worldwide and have been working full-time on blockchain for more than two years.”
Blockchain’s mainstream acceptance is underlined by the heavy-hitting sponsors who Kevin got to roll in behind the hackathon: Fidelity, Citi and Deloitte.
Aidan Kenny, the Vice President of Innovation, Process Excellence and Applied Technology for Fidelity, explained why they got involved: “There’s a lot of activity happening and a lot of interest in blockchain. It’s so new that we’re really interested in supporting it. It’s getting our brand out there in front of people from the technology side of things. Almost six hundred, out of the nine hundred people in Ireland that work with us are technologists.”
Thomas Bertani, founder of blockchain companies Oraclize and Bitboat, travelled from London for the event. “I really believe that this technology has the potential to change a lot of stuff that we deal with in our everyday life.”, he enthused, “It sounded amazing to me that there were hundreds of people coming from all over Europe just to attend this hackathon and to come together to create new ideas.”
He joined a team called Poolicy who created a Bitcoin mining security protocol, as he explained, “It’s for ensuring that Bitcoin mining pools are not tricking the natural curve and that they are behaving correctly. We are five people, and we all have three years’ experience in Bitcoin. We have a lot of ideas, and pushing them together, we came out with that one.”
David Curran, who took a break from building the Courtsdesk beta to be at the Dublin blockchain hackathon, explained how the ten projects were picked: “We went up, and we pitched for thirty seconds. Thirty people pitched, and they took the ten that most people voted for.”
An idea of David’s was one of the ten selected. “My idea is for a blockchain kidney pool,” he said. “There’s a need to match people in need of a kidney transplant, with available kidneys. In order to do this, you need as many people as possible. If you have a database that goes across countries, you increase the pool of people available and get better matches. Blockchain has an advantage because the trust is distributed. Each participating hospital could help in running this by confirming that the database of kidney donors and receivers is correct.”
In their pitch deck, the Kidner team boasted that their project was the result of ‘sixteen kidneys from six countries’. Jamie Parfet joined the team as their designer and was emphatic about blockchain’s importance, “It’s a one of kind type of technology. It’s one of the biggest disruptive technologies since the internet. In the past three or four years, it’s been exponential with the amount of innovation that’s happened on top of it.”
Sajida Zouarhi flew in from Grenoble, where she’s completing a PhD at Orange Labs, as she explained, “I work in computer science and telecommunication. I focus on privacy, integrity, trust, and loyalty. When I heard about blockchain for the first time, I saw all of the issues I focus on within a single technology. What I really want to do is transfer technology to health care and IoT environments. Soon we will have devices communicating with each other, having their own market economy. We will have an economy of things. We have to build trust into the system. Blockchain is a great way to do that. It has been a very interesting journey and it’s only starting.”
Also on the Kidner team was Clodagh McCarthy Luddy, a Software Engineer at Soundwave in Dublin. Clodagh explained what got her excited about blockchain: ”It’s a consensus-based system. You need over fifty percent of the blockchain to agree for any transaction to exist. That immediately lends itself towards government or voting. I think the Ukrainian government have recently stated their intention to implement a countrywide blockchain initiative. Blockchain by its nature is pulling people together. You can work with somebody in a totally different place. You don’t need to know their language.”
I ask Clodagh what she wants Kidner to have achieved by the end of the weekend. “Having some experience of Hackathons”, she grins, “I will absolutely be making sure we have a deliverable at the end of the weekend. How far we get depends on these people, their skills, how we can communicate, and whether or not somebody goes apeshit and deletes the entire repo!”
The repo didn’t get deleted, I’m glad to report. Kidner was one of the ten final presentations made fifty hours after we spoke.
Kidner didn’t win, but that was never the point for them, or for any of the participants. The Dublin blockchain hackathon offered them all the chance to share space, ideas and skills with fellow enthusiasts. The overall winners were Medvault, who used blockchain to build a system which allows patients to share their medical records whilst retaining control over who gets to see which sections.
We have a very large financial services community here who have already shown their support for this crucial database structure. Ireland’s future as a blockchain hub is looking bright, as long as Kevin Loaec and others like him continue to agitate, educate and organise events as inspired (and inspiring) as this.
Pictures: Marie Lando