Finally, A Use Case For Blockchain

Published in Online Spin, February 15th, 2019

She is speaking into a microphone, wearing a red sleeveless dress and a dramatic necklace. Her hair is in a chic updo. Behind her are the logos of the Golden Globes and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

At first glance, it looks like any movie star giving an interview. But then you look a bit closer. Is that stubble on her upper lip? And why does she look so much like Steve Buscemi?

The video is, of course, the latest viral deepfake: a mash-up of Steve Buscemi’s face on Jennifer Lawrence’s body, and a perfect demonstration of how horrifyingly accurate the technology has become.

It doesn’t take a wild imagination to envision ways in which convincing fake videos can be used to wreak havoc, not just on individuals, but on entire societies.

A recent report from CNN called "When seeing is no longer believing” featured Marco Rubio saying, “I believe that the next wave of attacks against America and Western democracies is the ability to produce fake videos that… can only be determined to be fake after extensive… analysis, and by then the election’s over, and millions of Americans have seen an image that they want to believe anyway, because of their preconceived bias against that individual.”

Which brings me to blockchain, a technology that came into the world with limitless potential. “It’s immutable and unhackable!” supporters say. “You can create trust in a trustless environment!” “Forget about intermediaries, banks and governments!”

Trust, eh? No need for intermediaries, eh? Tell that to the hapless investors who lost millions when the Mt Gox exchange collapsed. Or to the hapless investors who’ve lost billions investing in ICOs. Or to the hapless investors on the Quadriga exchange, whose CEO—the only person with the passwords to $190 million worthy of cryptocurrencies—either died in India earlier this month or faked his own death in India earlier this month.

But it’s easy to write about dramatic collapses in cryptocurrencies and their associated exchanges. This article is about use cases—and blockchain isn’t performing dramatically better there, either.

Kai Stinchcombe summed it up nearly a year ago, in a Medium post called "Blockchain is not only crappy technology but a bad vision for the future”: “There is no single person in existence who had a problem they wanted to solve, discovered that an available blockchain solution was the best way to solve it, and therefore became a blockchain enthusiast.”

His compelling argument is that, in every case where you would look to use a blockchain solution, you still need to rely on trust: trusting the implementer of the blockchain, the people entering the transactions, or your own ability to audit code.

Blockchain technologies won’t replace banks, because we still need trusted intermediaries. If the blockchain becomes the underlying technology for financial transactions, we’ll rely on banks even more.

But banks already play the role of intermediaries. So here’s the new use case for the blockchain: verification of video.

According to Wired, at least one company is testing the proposition.

“Called Amber Authenticate, the tool is meant to run in the background on a device as it captures video. At regular, user-determined intervals, the platform generates "hashes" -- cryptographically scrambled representations of the data -- that then get indelibly recorded on a public blockchain. If you run that same snippet of video footage through the algorithm again, the hashes will be different if anything has changed in the file's audio or video data -- tipping you off to possible manipulation.”

Imagine a world where immutable and unhackable video authentication was built into every browser and smartphone, and where any video that had been manipulated in any way instantly generated a big red warning overlay. Where you could know whether the video you were watching was Jennifer Lawrence or Steve Buscemi.

This blockchain thing might just improve trust after all.

Kaila Colbin