Editor’s note: Tom Snyder is executive director of RIoT, an Internet of Things users group based in Raleigh.

WILSON – Blockchain is the latest tech buzzword that everyone has heard of, but few deeply understand. A panel of experts at Gig East on Tuesday in Wilson helped to bridge that knowledge gap.

Most people are familiar with blockchain use in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.  Today, we rely on a trusted 3rd party like a bank to monitor, enable, and record all financial transactions.

Blockchain ties complex mathematics between transaction records (blocks) in a ledger (chain). While the transaction details are private (who, what, how much), the transaction itself is public, preventing fraud.  As Sam Penfield of SAS explained: “This public record prevents the double-spend problem of making sure the same dollar isn’t spent twice.”

Blockchain workflow (Graphic courtesy of the Center for Global Development)

Blockchain workflow (Graphic courtesy of the Center for Global Development)

He elaborated, “It provides root truth trust.  If someone tried to change a record, the complex math between the blocks will no longer match”.  Suddenly the oversight of a bank is no longer necessary, improving efficiency, privacy and reducing cost.

Cryptocurrency is just the early adopter application of blockchain.  Much more exciting are applications in Internet of Things, which spans smart cities, healthcare, agriculture, and other sectors.

Privacy aspects of blockchain lend well to healthcare and civic applications. Blockchain can verify and protect personal health data and public records, such as data related to voting and other civic engagement activities.

WRAL TechWire photo

Talking blockchain, from left: Tom Synder – RIoT; Terry Yates., Town of Cary; Steve Harrington of BB&T; and Sam Penfield of SAS.

Municipalities see blockchain allowing data exchanges across a region to all be verified and ordered such that data sharing and aggregation becomes simpler.  Terry Yates, smart city program manager for Cary, is excited about how blockchain will improve traffic management, emergency response and public safety.  Less work will happen in a silo and more will be regional and coordinated.

Steve Harrington with BB&T noted that the benefits apply not only in the public sector, but also enterprise, adding that “internal blockchains streamline business processes, removing cost and inefficiency”.

North Carolina is leading in adopting new technologies across the public and private sectors.  In no small part due to events like GigEast, when the next tech buzzword like blockchain emerges, the companies and citizens in NC will continue to be at the forefront.

Where will next Red Hats come from? Don’t discount rural areas or smaller towns, panelists say