From MIT's Blockchain Newsletter:
- It’s a simple prototype, but Binil Starly, who led the study, says it has helped answer a big question: how do you actually get a machine to record data to a shared ledger?
As for why you’d want to do that in the first place, imagine that a small biotech startup in Boston has a novel design for a bioelectronic device it needs made, and the best value can be found in a boutique manufacturer in rural North Carolina. Makers of medical devices must satisfy strict regulatory requirements, often including extensive and specific certifications, says Starly. Typically, the device’s designer has to go through a costly process of verifying that the manufacturer it’s using meets every requirement, while the manufacturer is subject to a similarly laborious set of compliance checks. And if the product design is changed later on, everyone gets to do it all over again. This has been called manufacturing’s “trust tax.”
A shared cryptographic ledger—that is, a blockchain—could lower the trust tax, making crucial information like machine certifications more accessible and transparent, says Starly. That would also make it much easier for the Boston startup to discover its ideal manufacturer. Smart contracts could come into play, too, for things like advertising a given machine’s capabilities to the rest of the network, or limiting the conditions under which it will take a job. Machines could even use the ledger to help coordinate activities with other machines in different facilities.
Starly acknowledges that there is a lot more work to be done—like, for example, making sure there’s no way a machine’s data can be spoofed. Then there’s the question of incentivizing participation in a decentralized network (Bitcoin and Ethereum solve this by offering a currency reward for maintaining the ledger). That will require determining exactly which data businesses are actually willing to share, and with whom—a challenge that might be more complicated than any technical ones.