Sony And The Race For Blockchain Supremacy

The CoinTelegraph has recently published an article outlining Sony’s filing of a patent to integrate the blockchain as part of its educational platform. The media giant announced back in August that it would be built upon IBM’s Blockchain, delivered by the IBM Cloud and powered by Hyperledger. As a side note, this isn’t IBM’s first venture into Blockchain territory: back in April 2017, they joined forces with ASCAP and PRS to build a blockchain-based system to manage music recordings, licensing and royalties.

Sony Global Education’s mission is to “create a new infrastructure by providing educational services for global use that go beyond the framework of existing applications and services in order to allow anyone and everyone to easily access education, compete, and learn together.” [Read more…]

It believes that blockchain technology will be a big influence on the future of society, and that by linking together the systems of various educational institutions via this newly developed system, it can create a new framework for education

Grand designs indeed.

The CoinTelegraph article states that “blockchain will be used to secure student records and form part of a system for sharing that data between agreed-upon parties“.  SGE’s President Masaaki Isozu chooses to adopt a far broader, yet softer tone in his press releases, claiming their system will be ‘open’, ‘free’ and ‘transparent’, and that it will empower society to exchange educational information and chronicle students’ performance and academic achievement in a “track record of their life”.

The sceptic might wonder whether Isozu’s constant reference to the touch-feely concepts of open access and transparency (commonly associated with the decentralised nature of blockchain-based ledgers) may be the spoonful of sugar that allows his society to swallow the slightly bitter and insidious pill of such Big Brother type scenarios. After all, Big Data’s gonna need a bigger ledger.

The issue of privacy is touched upon in a recent article by Tim Newcomb at The 74, yet disappointingly, neither the article nor Sony provide any specifics, just further statements from Isozu:

Academic certificate or learning results were just records and closed data.  Based on the blockchain technology, this information becomes a valuable asset. Open and accessible educational data will be a key to exchanging human skill and time in the future.”

A valuable asset indeed, and where privacy matters are concerned, some consider it priceless.  However, amongst all this thorny ambition nestles a more salient point – in fact, perhaps the most important of all:

Moreover, what’s particularly notable about the project is that Sony believes it can be expanded into other areas of digital asset management, including IoT, logistics, digital content, real estate and (more obviously) cryptocurrencies.”

Again, this suggests Sony has its gaze fixed upon a much broader implementation of the blockchain; this short list can be interpreted as encompassing pretty much every technical aspect of modern life, from infrastructure to personal shopping.  One pertinent issue that comes to the fore – especially in light of their recent patent application –  is the question of copyright and IP.

Although the blockchain technology itself is perceived to be open-source (Linux’s Hyperledger project is by far the most commonly used foundation), there’s little doubt that Sony intends to make its implementation a proprietary, licensed technology.  With IBM, Amazon and Microsoft already offering BaaS (Blockchain as a Service) products (which, from their websites, seem surprisingly mature), such early adoption – although mostly positive for the underlying technology – may ultimately lead users into the same cul-de-sac of interoperability that the blockchain was explicitly designed to avoid.

It’ll certainly be an interesting one to watch.  The bubble of flash-in-the-pan open-source blockchain projects has seemingly already burst (according to Deloitte, of the 26,000 launched in 2016 only 8% are still active), so it might just be time for one of the heavyweights to clear the track and don its running spikes.  And Sony, having already shown its formidable long-distance stamina in the telecoms, media and entertainment industries, could be perfectly poised to grab the baton.

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