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When blockchain makes sense

By JIM HOLLAND, regional director at Lenovo Data Center Group EMEA

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Blockchain technology has become the technology solution of “trust” and a key driver for digital transformation. But before businesses can develop a blockchain adoption strategy for their organisation, it’s important to understand what makes this shared digital ledger so unique, how it can be used outside of crypto use cases to support specific business needs and the capabilities it can offer to some of the fastest-growing sectors in the industry.

Increasing Efficiency by Cutting Out the Middle Man

Disruption is all about increasing efficiency by cutting out the middle man and directly connecting two individual people or companies who want to do business. Blockchain was originally developed to support cryptocurrency, which removes banks from the middle of a transfer of funds between two parties. Today, blockchain is eliminating a third party in an astounding assortment of industries by establishing an unprecedented level of trust.

Greater Trust Means Greater Efficiency

Imagine what the business world would be like if everyone completely trusted everyone else to deliver exactly what they said they would. There would be no need for cumbersome validation processes. With blockchain, there is no chance of human error or false identity. When a bank, a manufacturer or a supplier knows that they can absolutely trust the identity of the person they are transferring funds to, the data they are getting from a sensor is valid or the amount of electricity a consumer is using and being charged for is correct, it eliminates a giant, unwieldy, human-led part of the transaction process and allows everyone to get business done faster and more efficiently.

With blockchain, all participants in the ecosystem are vetted. The blockchain ledger cannot be changed, except by consensus, and it is immune to tampering. For example, if two parties agree upon a smart contract to ship 100 items, blockchain technology ensures that 100 items are shipped, there is automatic confirmation that 100 items are received and payment to both the vendor and the shipper is transferred instantly. Processes that could take days or weeks to reconcile, involving a large number of human participants, are resolved in moments.

Blockchain as a Stepping Stone for Digital Transformation

Because all participants are vetted and their identity is confirmed, blockchain is ideal for high-security environments like banks. One government bank in Europe wanted to implement blockchain as part of their digital transformation, so Lenovo has been working with the government to establish a digital identification system that will be used by governmental agencies and commercial banks throughout the country and has already implemented the architecture of a new blockchain platform.

Advancing the IoT Revolution

Blockchain has ramifications for other aspects of business, especially when incorporating the Internet of Things (IoT). One of the issues with IoT is the increasing security risk of the billions of devices that will inevitably be deployed and operational within the next year. It is much harder to secure devices on the edge, especially with so many of them. A decentralised security system like blockchain is what is needed to make sure those devices aren’t hacked. With blockchain, the IoT revolution can continue, safely.

At Lenovo, we are working with a drone company that is combining a blockchain solution with artificial intelligence (AI) in an IoT context. The drones scan sensors on things like wind turbines and transmit that data back to a central office to be analysed. Blockchain technology guarantees that data is accurate, time-stamped and secure. The end user’s insurance company no longer needs to insert itself into the process to validate the data, and a human doesn’t have to go near dangerous equipment such as wind turbines to inspect it.

Business Transparency Enhances Consumer Trust

While blockchain uses trust to enhance security and safety, some companies also see a business opportunity to create a better customer experience. Providing transparency into business processes makes customers feel like they can trust that business, especially when combined with giving the customer more control. Blockchain makes both of these things possible. For instance, a company in Germany is developing blockchain-powered refrigerators that will allow consumers to not only monitor their refrigerator’s electricity usage, but also choose where that electricity comes from (wind farms, solar, etc.).

Transforming the Supply Chain

The supply chain is yet another area where blockchain is cutting out middle men, speeding up the process and giving more control to the consumer. A company in Seattle, Washington is using smart contracts to let consumers track their coffee from the bean in the field to their cup. This not only ensures that consumers are getting what they paid for, it even allows them to choose which farmers to buy from. Coffee bean farmers will be able to watch the same process, seeing where and for what price their coffee is actually being traded, eliminating fraud and confusion. At Lenovo, we’re using blockchain to transform our enormously complex supply chain and make it more efficient.

We’ve only just scratched the surface of blockchain’s potential for business. The key to transformation is knowledge of how this technology works and is evolving. As customers consider embarking on a blockchain journey or adopting new solutions to bolster existing capabilities, they should always be thinking about how solutions can be customised to fit the future needs of their business for an ever-increasing competitive edge.

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Meet the ambassador to the future

Tilly Lockey, 14, lost her hands as a toddler, but sees it as a massive opportunity to embrace technology. She chatted with ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK about the human of tomorrow.

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Picture by Arthur Goldstuck

It is a description that defines 14-year-old Tilly Lockey: She lost her hands at the age of 15 months, and now uses bionic hands to show the world how to overcome disability.

That could easily read as an advertisement for a prosthetics company, but Tilly refuses to be defined by marketing messages. She has not only embraced what is supposed to be a disability, but wants to become nothing less than an ambassador to the future.

Picture by Arthur Goldstuck

That is in effect what she is achieving by pushing the boundaries of what is possible with artificial hands. It means that, eventually, she will have more capabilities built into her body than most able-bodied humans can imagine. She collaborates closely with Open Bionics, a start-up that is using 3D printing to create low-cost prosthetics with high-tech capabilities.

“I have very high hopes for the future,” she said during a chat on the sidelines of the SingularityU Summit at Kyalami north of Johannesburg. From Newcastle-on-Tyne in the United Kingdom, she was at the Summit as a guest speaker, chaperoned by her father Adam and sister Tia. 

“When I started working with Open Bionics, I wanted it to include lighting, music, Bluetooth, a projector in my palm, all over-optimistic things. But then I feel that is not too far away, and then a disability would turn into and enhancement of normal human hands. I’m really excited about it.

“I know there’s a couple of things they are working on right now, like trying to get the built-in battery thinner, because it’s hard to get overcoats and jackets over it, so they are trying to get the hands slimmer. They’re working on haptic feedback, to give a sense of touch of vibration, which tells me of I have a good grip on something. It could be coming soon. These hands I’m using now were made in the past five years. In another five years, I think we’ll have all of it.”

The hands in question are called Hero Arms, which its creators, Open Bionics, say is “the world’s first clinically approved 3D-printed bionic arm, with multi-grip functionality and empowering aesthetics”.

Click here to read more about the development of Open Bionics’s Hero Arms.

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How Tilly Lockey became a Hero

Part 2 of ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK’s interview with Tilly Lockey explores her amazing career.

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Picture courtesy SingularityU South Africa 2019 Summit

This is the second part of this series of articles. To start from the beginning, click here.

Tilly Lockey was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicaemia Strain B when she was 15 months old.

Her mother spotted the tell-tale signs one day in 2007: a fast-spreading skin rash that looks like pinpricks, along with symptoms like lethargy and bruising. She was rushed to hospital, but the bacterial poisoning spread so aggressively, doctors gave Tilley no chance of survival. They had to make a quick decision to amputate her hands to save her life.

Twelve years later, her future truly came into focus: “I was surprised with really cool Alita: Battle Angel bionic Hero Arms and went on the blue carpet at the world premiere of the movie with Rosa Salazar and director James Cameron.”

That pivotal moment in her life would not have been possible without the intensive efforts of her mother, Sara, to raise funds to buy something better than the metal prosthetics issued by the National Health Service in the UK. She increased Tilley’s profile with a campaign to “Give Tilley a Hand”, and today works as a fundraiser and events organiser for the Meningitis Now support group. Her involvement in an event meant she was unable to join Tilley on her trip to South Africa last week, when she spoke at the SingularityU Summit. After coming off stage, Tilley told us that Sara was her biggest inspiration in her life, and the closest to a role model.

“I’m usually a speaker at her events. I tell everyone my story and what I’m doing now and give these kids inspiration, because they often feel they can’t do anything because of what Meningitis did to them.

“I am home schooled now, which is pretty cool, because I’m able to have a career and get educated at the same time. I feel I can do a lot of things that friends can’t do. I can take a whole class on an aeroplane. I have a great time traveling and meeting so many inspiring people who are making a difference in the world.”

The form of Mengingitis that attacked her leaves hidden scars and issues that only become apparent years later. She is almost absurdly cheerful about the challenges that have faced her.

“I personally figured out that my left leg had stopped growing. I’m still finding out things it has caused, but you survive. At least I’m here and I’m alive.”

It does help that she’s comfortable in the spotlight, happy to give interviews, and eager to show what she can do with her bionic hands.

“I want to go into public speaking a lot more, and it could be an option as career. I want it to continue because it’s a lot of fun, and I feel I’ve got a story to share. If I can inspire people to change the world, I will. “

Her travels this year will still take her to Barcelona, Jakarta and New York. In the Big Apple, she will accept a humanitarian award, and intends “to give a funky speech”.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, she will take part in a fashion catwalk and do a makeup tutorial live. She learned to do makeup with one of her bionic hands when she fractured her right elbow in a fall at school

“I got makeup for Christmas and wanted to play with it, and got the idea of doing it with an open hand. It took a lot of perseverance and patience, but after studying how to do it, I was able to recreate a full makeup routine using one hand. It wasn’t a great situation at the time, but now I’m happy it happened because it got me into doing what I do now.”

What she is doing with makeup is remarkable in its own right. She gives tutorials on YouTube, where she says she is “kinda new”, as she has “only around 16,000 followers”. That may well soon expand into cooking videos.

In other words, everything is an opportunity: “I could be sad, just sit on my bed and cry, or I can live my life and realise what I’ve got: these amazing bionic Hero Arms.

“All I want to do is help give people confidence in themselves, accept who they are, accept their scars and everything about them. That they don’t have to impress everybody and just be themselves.”

Read more in the third article of the series about how family remains at the centre of Tilly’s life.

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