DeepMind, an artificial intelligence company with algorithms “capable of learning for themselves directly from raw experience or data,” which was acquired by Google in 2014, has announced plans to use blockchain technology for data tracking and increased transparency.
Mustafa Suleyman, DeepMind’s co-founder, and Ben Laurie, DeepMind’s Head of Security and Transparency, publicly stated they want to assure the British public of the safety of their medical records by providing easily auditable and unchangeable logs through the use of blockchain technology.
The blockchain protocol to be used by DeepMind appears to be a new one. It will be open sourced, developed over the year and it will probably use Proof of Authority, but it won’t actually have a chain. The authors state:
“We can make this more efficient by replacing the chain part of blockchain, and using a [Merkle] tree-like structure instead. The overall effect is much the same. Every time we add an entry to the ledger, we’ll generate a value known as a “cryptographic hash”. This hash process is special because it summarises not only the latest entry, but all of the previous values in the ledger too. This makes it effectively impossible for someone to go back and quietly alter one of the entries, since that will not only change the hash value of that entry but also that of the whole tree.”
In effect, this appears to be an immutable database. It is not clear whether it will be distributed, but the authors say it won’t be decentralized. Since it doesn’t have a chain, it probably won’t be using Ethereum’s protocol, but that is unconfirmed.
Once the protocol is deployed, the problem moves to the verification of the correctness of data at the entry point. Furthermore, the authors say there needs to be “no blind spots. For this to be provably trustworthy, it can’t be possible for data use to take place without being logged in the ledger – otherwise, the concept falls apart.”
It is not clear whether medical records ever need to be modified, but if there is an error it appears the inputter may be out of luck as there does not seem to be any way the record can be changed. Nor does there appear to be any stated way of verifying the inputer is entering correct data.
Work, therefore, might need to be duplicated or triplicated at the entry stage, but the benefits of clearly seeing who accesses what, when and why, may surpass any additional costs.
This is the first time one of the relatively newer tech companies, Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, has dwelled into blockchain technology, although in this case it is still a subsidiary rather than Google proper.
There are speculations regarding their absence of involvement, but part of the reason may be all four are already innovating in many areas and perhaps cannot see how blockchain technology can be incorporated in their products.
Facebook, specifically, might come under threat by this new technology due to blockchain’s application to decentralize social networking and prevent data manipulation or censorship.
One such attempt, Akasha, is in mid to late stage alpha and may launch on Ethereum’s public network by summer. If it gains any significant adoption, the internet giant might start looking, but by then it may be too late.