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University Professor Discusses Urgency of Educating on Differences Between Crypto and Blockchain

In this special edition of the Blockchain Journal podcast recorded on February 16th, 2024, Blockchain Journal editor-in-chief David Berlind engages in a conversation with Ken Mooney, an adjunct professor at Suffolk University and an angel investor in blockchain technologies. The discussion takes place during a Boston Blockchain Association event at Suffolk University, where Mooney moderated a panel focusing on the challenges of distinguishing blockchain from cryptocurrency and the need for education to clarify this distinction. Mooney emphasizes the importance of education in dispelling misconceptions and highlights the diverse applications of blockchain beyond the applications of cryptocurrency.

Throughout the interview, Mooney shares insights into his approach to teaching blockchain to his University, discussing the practical applications covered in his classroom, such as blockchain-enabled opiate prescription tracking in healthcare (an example of the anti-double spend feature of blockchain can be used in contexts besides the double-spending of money). The conversation also delves into the potential of blockchain in revolutionizing voting systems despite current challenges and skepticism. Mooney underscores the incremental nature of blockchain adoption, the varied opportunities available for individuals interested in blockchain careers, and the need for skilled blockchain professionals within enterprises.


By David Berlind

Published:February 27, 2024

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10 min read

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Audio-Only Podcast

Full-text transcript of David Berlind's Interview with Ken Mooney, Adjunct Professor, Suffolk University

David Berlind: Today is February 16th, 2024. I'm David Berlind, and this is the Blockchain Journal podcast, a special edition. I'm coming to you from a Boston Blockchain Association event in Boston at Suffolk University, and standing with me is Ken Mooney. He is the adjunct professor, he is an adjunct professor at Suffolk University, who teaches a course in Blockchain, and he is also an angel investor in blockchain technologies.

Ken, thanks very much for joining me here on the Blockchain Journal podcast.

Ken Mooney: You know, thanks for being here too. We appreciate you attending the event.

Berlind: Okay, so you just moderated a panel at this event, and one of the things that they brought up, and that seems like everybody in the room was struggling with, is this idea of separating crypto from blockchain, because a lot of people are fearful that the promise of blockchain as a disruptive technology – with a lot of promise to change the way a lot of of things are done in the world – might get kind of lost in the noise surrounding crypto, the crypto winter we're in, all the bad headlines around it, FTX, etc. So, how do we get around that problem?

Mooney: You know, it always... Look, I'm an educator, but I'm also a business person [and] an investor. It all starts with education. And I think, you know, podcasts like yours, I think events like this, teaching in the university, holding joint events, I think that's a great way to get it out there and make sure people understand [that] it's not just about crypto.

Berlind: Yeah, so when you are in your classroom, and you're trying to impart that sort of wisdom on your students, and you're trying to explain to them how crypto is not blockchain and blockchain is not necessarily crypto, what exactly do you say?

Mooney: Well, you know, you start with the fact that, you know, you ask them how many people think blockchain and Bitcoin are the same thing. And a few people say, "Yes." And I explain to them, you know, that Bitcoin was just really the first application of blockchain. And what we do during the course of the semester is we, you know, break it down. We show how blockchain works, we show the challenges, [and] the opportunities, but we spend a lot of time on different applications.

Berlind: So, what sort of applications do you like to highlight in the classroom?

Mooney: Well, you know, we do spend a fair amount of time on finance because it's... there's a great application for decentralized finance and other types of things. And, of course, people are interested in trading because that's an interesting thing to them. But we talk about some of the other applications. You know, there's healthcare, voter... You can use it for voting. I've seen it used for agriculture. I've seen pitches... People use it... pharmaceuticals and dark development. I try to expand their knowledge of what the applications may be.

Berlind: What's a great example of the healthcare usage for blockchain?

Mooney: Well, there is one company that I've invested in; I have a bias, of course, a company called EIR Systems, Inc., based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and what their product does is, they utilize blockchain in the writing of opiate prescriptions.

Berlind: Well, how does that... Why do they do that? What is the value that blockchain is bringing to the idea of writing opiate prescriptions?

Mooney: Well, you know, there is an opiate problem, I think. That's no revelation to a lot of people. But it's a way to keep track [and] audit. It's a way to capture the information. It's a way that the double spend or the double prescription doesn't happen. So it's a way to really control who's getting the opiates.

Berlind: In the old world, there used to be a lot of opportunity for fraud in the prescription business. I would get a prescription written on a piece of paper, which, by the way, I couldn't read for the life of me. But, once I had that prescription on a piece of paper, you could probably make copies of it and just bring it to multiple pharmacies, and some of those pharmacies would respect that copy – maybe not everybody. Today it's a little more computerized, but there still seems like an opportunity for that kind of fraud. So, are you saying that, like, the doctors actually create the prescription on chain, and then the pharmacist has to go look at it on chain, and fill it and show that it's been filled so it can't be filled again? Is that how it works?

Mooney: Yeah, it's really through the doctors and some of the hospitals. Now look, we're at the early stage of adoption, so there's not many people that are using the system yet. But it goes to a central repository that can keep track of it. So there's no double spend on the prescriptions.

Berlind: Yeah, the multi-party transparency is always one of my favorite unique value propositions of blockchain because if you think about that, you've got the patient, you've got the doctors, you've got the hospitals, you have the insurance companies. There's a lot of hands in the cookie jar, so to say, and, of course, you've got the pharmacy. So, like, when there's a central source of truth – I think what you mentioned was the double spend – there's no way to take that same prescription and use it twice.

Mooney: Yeah, you know, that's right. And it's also another way that people can keep track of their inventory.

Berlind: Yeah, that's true. Yeah, yeah.

Mooney: Things disappear. And...

Berlind: You're talking about the pharmacies, like, they keep track of the opiate inventory.

Mooney: That's right, that's right. And, you know, the go-to-market strategy is really through doctors' organizations, hospitals, that sort of thing. You know, you want to start with some of the larger organizations, and then what they do... You make it... You know, the system that they've developed is very functional, it's very easy to use, and you've got that audit trail all the way back. But I want to emphasize the fact that a company like this has to be certified; it has to get accepted into these organizations. They're verified, they're checked, they're checked out...

Berlind: Certified for compliance with things like HIPAA.

Mooney: That's right, all those different things, they have to qualify for all that.

Berlind: You mentioned voting. And we're basically right now, as a country, in the middle of a crisis that started with the idea that there was some fraud in the election. And I think you could look at both sides and say, "Look, both sides just want the truth." Regardless of which side you're on, you just want the truth, and there's some question about it. I don't know enough to know whether that question is, you know, well-founded or not. You know, I have my opinions, but at the end of the day, it seems like blockchain could actually solve a critical problem here, which is [to] create a single source of truth around voting data. So what's happening there?

Mooney: You know, I think we're at the early stages of it. Look, you've identified a problem. There's a wide variation in terms of the way voting is applied in various states. I think a lot of people don't totally trust the system. You know, that's not new – news to anyone. So at a very low level, what's happening, there are a number of companies that are developing using blockchain because it's immutable, you can track it back, you can't change it, that sort of thing. So they're starting to penetrate the system, but it's at a very low level.

Berlind: There are people who think that Microsoft is inserting chips into the heads and/or the bloodstreams of all of us, you know, when we go out and get a vaccination.

Mooney: Is that where the chip in my head is from? I don't know. (laughter)

Berlind: So how, I mean, as preposterous as that sounds, there are some people who believe that. So, will blockchain actually solve the problem? I mean, how do you get to that point? The place where people are just not fearful of technology itself. In some districts, they've gone back to recording voting on paper because they're just fearful of anything that involves a computer.

Mooney: You know, I think it's [like] anything else. When you have an entrenched legacy system, it's hard to dislodge that with something new, and people are fearful of technology at times. But, I think the problem is so severe. I think it's going to be an incremental thing and it'll vary by state. And they're already using this blockchain voting process with companies and corporations, and some lower-level elections. So it's just one of those incremental things.

Berlind: Well, we'll see what happens there. Let's talk about your classroom. You've got students coming through Suffolk University here. They're taking your class. They're learning about blockchain. What are they doing with what they learn when they go out into the world?

Mooney: I... You know, I love my class because it's an elective. The people that are in my class, the students who are in my class, they're interested. They want to be there. I have some that have already started their own company. What I look to do is at the end of the semester, after they have all this knowledge that they've gained – and me too, I've gained some knowledge – is I have a class in terms of careers in blockchain. I may have a recruiter come in, or I may have someone else, but we explore where the opportunities are because I... I really believe there's some opportunity with this technology.

Berlind: Well, there's a huge shortage in the enterprise when it comes to people who are knowledgeable about blockchain and that how it can help any enterprise further its objectives. I mean, quite frankly, you know, we cover that on Blockchain Journal, and we talk about all the different unique applications and how they could be game changers, not only to maybe take the place of the way certain applications are being run today but also when you put them in place, they actually end up being more profitable or driving some cost out in a way that, you know, ultimately hits the bottom line in a positive way.

Mooney: One thing I'd like to add to that, though, is I'd like your listeners to understand that, as I tell my students, it's not... You don't have to be a developer. You don't have to be all about software development. There's so many other soft skills and other types of skills that come along with blockchain. And by the way, if this train is going to leave the station, you might as well... A few people might as well get on it. There's some great careers available in blockchain.

Berlind: Well, around the world, that train is leaving the station. I think things are a little held up here because of what's going on in the regulatory world. But Ken Mooney, thank you very much for joining us here on the Blockchain Journal podcast.

Mooney: I loved it, and thanks for your interest in coming here today.

Berlind: Yeah, we've been speaking with Ken Mooney. He is an adjunct professor and also an angel investor. He teaches here at Suffolk University where this event that's being put on by the Boston Blockchain Association is taking place.

For more videos like this one, just go to our YouTube channel, Blockchain Journal on YouTube, or you can go to blockchainjournal.com and all of these videos are not only posted there, but the full-text transcript is up there as well as the ways to subscribe to our podcast in an audio-only format.

You can find us on Spotify [and] Apple Podcasts; we're everywhere where you want to be, where you want to subscribe. So, we hope to see you there and come back for the next video.

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