What is blockchain? In the public’s perception, this technology appeared together with virtual currencies. As a matter of fact, it is a neutral computer technology that can be applied to other fields as well. Therefore, how to leverage this technology to facilitate industrial development has become a practical issue worth exploring. Experts from Zhejiang Lab believe that to figure out the answers, we need to return to the essence of technological application.
An Ideal Way to Record Information
“In ordinary language, blockchain provides a distributed pattern to record information,” says Gao Feng, a senior researcher at Zhejiang Lab’s Research Center for Intelligence Integration. As a member of the Blockchain Committee of the China Computer Federation, he has been working on studies related to blockchain and distributed computing. “Unlike traditional methods, blockchain makes the recording of information become decentralized and distributed, so that the same information can be stored on different nodes,” says Gao.
Decentralized and distributed recording, to explain it in simple terms, is a method that abandons centralized information management. It can record and update real-time information on different correlated nodes, offering a technical solution to make information immutable, and implement real-time sharing of information.
Immutability is achieved by a fundamental algorithm used in the blockchain technology – the hash function. “The hash function is a critical strategy that makes a blockchain trustworthy. In a hash function, B can be deduced from A, but A cannot be inferred from B. A blockchain is thus a linked list of one-way functions. Once the information enters a block, it will be packed and fixed. After being verified in multiple blocks, it cannot be changed anymore,” says Gao.
Unsolved Pain Points of Real-life Application
In today’s buzzwords, blockchain has become a “red-hot” technological trend chased by various industries. However, it also faces doubts.
To record a piece of information in a blockchain, the information needs to travel across all nodes in the blockchain, which requires excessive computing power and storage capacity.
In terms of real-life application, blockchain technology also faces urgent problems that need to be solved. As an information recording and management tool used in the digital space, this technology is of practical significance for virtual products. However, if we put it in the physical space, its application scenarios are still questionable. For example, when blockchain technology is applied to wine supply, each node in the chain can only record the information on the bottles. As for whether the wine in the bottles is real or fake, the blockchain can neither record nor verify it. Such problems seem to be unsolvable by solely relying on blockchain technology.
As we extend the application of blockchain, the challenge of developing it into a trustworthy technology accepted by all social sectors has become another problem for us. “Though this technology is still immature and requires high cognitive thresholds, we will see new solutions with further research,” says Gao.
Leveraging Blockchain to Facilitate Research and Development
Though facing challenges and difficulties, we are not afraid to move forward. Currently, Zhejiang Lab has applied blockchain technology to a number of research projects, among which, the Multi-center Intelligent Medical Information Platform is a typical example.
“The Multi-center Intelligent Medical Information Platform developed by our lab can integrate medical data from multiple medical institutions. It can perform collaborative analysis among multiple centers and therefore promote the development of high-quality clinical research,” says Professor Li Jinsong, Head of Zhejiang Lab’s Research Center for Connected Healthcare Big Data. “Under traditional research frameworks, the number of medical cases provided by a hospital is limited. Through our Multi-center Intelligent Medical Information Platform, we can carry out collaborative studies with multiple hospitals, and acquire more and diversified medical cases. For clinical studies, the results obtained from large-sample data analysis are considerably more reliable, and can lead to high-level research outcomes.” So far, a number of provincial medical institutions have joined the platform.
“Blockchain technology played an important role in helping the platform to implement these functions,” says Doctor Tian Yu at the Research Center for Connected Healthcare Big Data. “Before entering the platform for analysis, the medical data needs to be masked and formatted in advance. With a blockchain to store and synchronize credentials, the platform can monitor operations taking place in the system. In addition, based on information confidentiality, every hospital’s original data and patient privacy can be effectively protected.”
In the future, Zhejiang Lab will further explore the fundamentals, forefronts, and applications of blockchain technology, promoting technological advancement through real-life application, facilitating the development of the blockchain industry with mature technologies, and fully leveraging the positive role of blockchain in economic and social development.