With corporate tech giants making appearances on our news feeds every hour, it is difficult to deny that technology serves the purpose of profit most of the time.
Nevertheless, it is also impossible to ignore its greater impact when it serves the purpose of solving real social issues. For example, innovations such as 24-hour “free purchase” vending machines and portable origami tents were produced in a response to the issue of homelessness.
Today, one technological advancement that is making waves is blockchain. Blockchain is used in cryptocurrencies, and the use of cryptocurrency has become more common recently; I believe it is only bound to get bigger in the future.
However, another very real potential of blockchain is the way it can be used to solve critical human issues through its decentralized, private, and secure mechanisms. More governments around the world are also bound to engage this technology if they want to keep finding solutions to various social problems.
Surprisingly ahead of the blockchain race, the city of Austin pilots a platform that uses it to provide identity services for the homeless.
Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin since 2015, explained to TechCrunch that “at a high level, [the pilot] is trying to figure out how to solve one of the challenges we have in our community related to the homeless population, which is how to keep all the information of that individual with that individual.”
If governments cannot address the issue of identity, then the cycle of poverty persists among these people who live in the margins, such as the homeless or refugess. Austin’s blockchain platform seeks to consolidate the identification details of each person and let service providers, like those in health care, safely access that information.
The use of electronic encrypted records eliminates the need for paper records to verify a person’s identity. In addition to this, blockchain can also build someone’s personal history over time by keeping a record of the services he/she had previously availed. Indeed, the program opens up a lot of possibilities for social services.
As Sly Majid, Chief Services Officer for Austin, said, “If you have your backpack stolen or if your social security card gets wet and falls apart, or if you are camping and the city cleans up the site and takes your possessions, you have to start all over from the beginning again … It really prevents you from going about and doing the sort of activities that allow you to transition out of homelessness.”
If Austin can successfully use blockchain to improve the lives of homeless people, then it only goes to show that more governments should be willing to get involved in advance technologies and new economies as a commitment to their citizens.