Woman Engineer of the Year: Blockchain no universal solution, its potential still being discovered
Maribor, 15 August - Cryptocurrencies have according to researcher and Woman Engineer of 2019 Aida Kamišalić Latifić fuelled a bubble creating a belief that blockchain is a solution to everything.
Today we know this is not the case and we are well on the path to show which concrete solution we can solve with it, she said.
Kamišalić Latifić is a researcher and teacher at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (FERI) of the University of Maribor. This January she was declared Woman Engineer of 2019.
She decided on a career in engineering because she saw the development of modern technologies as an opportunity for social change, a chance to influence social development and improve people's lives. This played an important role in her deciding to read medical informatics as part of her post-graduate studies. "I still feel passionate about this - about finding a way to use technology to contribute to society's development and progress," the researcher told the STA.
Kamišalić Latifić's recent research has focussed on blockchain technology, which she believes has a great potential in a number of fields, although it is not a solution to everything, as some thought when cryptocurrencies were becoming increasingly popular.
"At some point it seemed we'll replace everything with blockchain technology, which is of course not true and which is also not necessary, because we have tested, established technologies which are cheap and suitable," said Kamišalić Latifić.
She believes we are currently well on our way to show which projects are suitable to use blockchain and which are not. This technology is especially appropriate for use in concrete cases where other alternatives that were known so far do not work anymore.
Such an example would be a decentralised system where there is no trust among the stakeholders. Through consensus mechanisms enabled by blockchain, trust among the stakeholders involved in a system is built.
Blockchain is actually a contemporary form of databases which has a specific, distributed and decentralised storage system. It is based on cryptography as safety mechanisms, on distributed databases, a distributed network and on consensus mechanisms, enabling the storage of data in blocks which are interrelated and as such more difficult or almost impossible to change or censor.
Blockchain in medicine
Kamišalić Latfić started her research career in medical informatics, and is now trying to find out what benefits blockchain can bring to healthcare and medicine. Blockchain could for instance enable patients to control their own medical records, offering them a chance of deciding with whom to share the records, said the researcher.
As things stand now, it is hospitals that control patients' medical records, whereas a patient's GP or a specialist can also access them. With the help of a blockchain-based system, a patient could enable access to another doctor from whom they would like to receive a medical opinion.
Just recently, the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science has showed that blockchain can also be used in education; it has developed a platform dubbed EduCTX which allows the storage of digital micro certificates. The platform stores all certificates individuals have obtained during their formal or informal studies.
EduCTX allows individuals to export certificates from blockchains and send them to a potential employer, who can then simply verify them on the platform, which saves them a lot of time needed for classic verification of certificates and diplomats or degrees. The data can be trusted because it is stored in blockchains, said Kamišalić Latifić.
Four universities are now taking part in the project - apart from the University of Maribor also universities from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany and the Czech Republic, while the University of Zagreb from Croatia is about to join in. They received the eNagrada award for their solutions at the 2019 Slovenian Days of Informatics. The award is given out annually by the Slovenian Association Informatika for best project in computer science and informatics.
A patent to address challenges of blockchain
Despite the vast potential of blockchain, researchers are also aware of its shortcomings, with Kamišalić Latifić highlighting the issue of scalability and the issue of a limited volume of data that can be stored in a transaction when sending data to a blockchain.
As a researcher of data technologies and storage in the big data era, she is particularly interested in the latter challenge, so she is trying to find a way to overcome it and to facilitate broad blockchain use.
The researchers have filed an international patent application for a method and a tool for storage, supervision of access to and acquisition of data from permanently unchangeable distributed and decentralised storage, which Kamišalić Latifić co-invented.
The researchers have found a way to make blockchain compatible with the regulation on the protection of personal data (RPPD). They have found a way to use it also when a person no longer wants their data to be accessible, even if they are stored in a blockchain and cannot be deleted.
Woman Engineer of 2019
In January, Kamišalić Latifić won the Woman Engineer of the Year 2019. The title is designed to promote women engineers in Slovenia, where only a third of students of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are women, as opposed to over a quarter in Europe.
"I'm very proud that I was seen as a person whose expertise and life story could help encourage youth to decide to study engineering in bigger numbers," said the researcher.
Although convinced there is no need to distinguish between men and women engineers, Kamišalić Latifić said competitions such as the Woman Engineer of the Year are currently needed and welcome in our society because engineer jobs are still stereotypically associated with men. "In this way we can show that women engineers are present, that we can compete with our male colleagues on an equal footing, that we work together and that this is nothing special among engineers."