Blockchain Tech Could Help Tackle Coronavirus, Says Expert

An academic at the University of Hong Kong claims that blockchain and AI-driven strategies should be implemented to better tackle responses to the coronavirus epidemic. 

Syren Johnstone —  executive director of the master in laws (compliance and regulation) program at the University of Hong Kong — published a post for the Oxford University Faculty of Law Department blog on Feb. 5 arguing that the coronavirus outbreak should be seen as a “call to arms for the tech industry.”

Blockchain, AI and the market

Johnstone’s argument opens with the claim that charities are currently hindered in their ability to channel donations effectively for crisis response due to Beijing’s institutional and political choices. 

The Chinese government is currently funnelling all public donations through five government-backed charity organizations — an approach he argues represents “a throwback to pre-2016 China,” before the country established a law enabling the creation of private sector charities. He continues:

“The funnelling order implicitly assumes that the five government-backed charities are fit for purpose and better able to manage the current crisis. That assumption may be at odds with historical and more recent evidence suggesting organizations responsible for responding to crises appear to struggle to manage their core responsibilities.”

He says that Beijing’s centralizing approach is merely compounding the problem and that instead of a government-led approach, the tech industry should provide a solution. Specifically, it should leverage blockchain and AI technology, which are already in widespread use by Alibaba, SF Express and Apple —- so “why not charities?”

Blockchain would enable the transparent recording and tracking of all donations — whether it be cash or face masks —  and make it possible to hold persons or entities to account at any point in the process, through to final end-use. Mismanagement, Johnstone says, would be reduced with greater public visibility and we could increase public trust in the system by ensuring donors have more oversight and control over their contributions. 

Jonhstone invokes President Xi Jinping’s own endorsement of blockchain technology in support of his argument, further stating that tech firms globally should work with China’s industry, as AI in particular demonstrates “the desirability of a cooperative landscape.” 

He concludes that the solution to coronavirus should draw upon the Chinese government’s own principle, established in 2013, that:

“The market should be allowed to play a decisive role in the allocation of resources. Public-private and mixed ownership reforms in China testify to the reality that centrally controlled organisations [...]  have not developed management systems or innovated solutions to problems at anything like the pace that private enterprise has.”

Blockchain charity initiatives

Cryptocurrency exchange Binance unveiled its blockchain-based charity donation platform back in 2018, which has been used for aid relief to victims of the floods and landslides in Eastern Uganda and for a campaign in support of terminally ill patients and disadvantaged children in Malta and Gozo, and recently, a relief effort for the bushfires in Australia.

The Red Cross has for its part made use of a blockchain-based currency scheme to enhance aid delivery and boost local economies.