On Wednesday, February 14, the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology and the Subcommittee on Oversight held a hearing discussing the applications and use cases for blockchain technology. A major theme of the hearing, titled "Beyond Bitcoin: Emerging Applications for Blockchain Technology," was to distinguish Bitcoin from the underlying blockchain technology and to evaluate which applications and use cases hold the most promise.

Witnesses included:

  • Mr. Chris A. Jaikaran, analyst in cybersecurity policy, Government and Finance Division, Congressional Research Service.
  • Dr. Charles H. Romine, director, Information Technology Laboratory, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
  • Mr. Gennaro "Jerry" Cuomo, IBM fellow and vice president of blockchain technologies, IBM Cloud.
  • Mr. Frank Yiannas, vice president of food safety, Walmart Inc.
  • Mr. Aaron Wright, associate clinical professor of law and co-director of the Blockchain Project, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Among the many applications discussed, cybersecurity, identity verification, healthcare, and supply chain management were of particular interest.

The hearing generally reflected an excited atmosphere, energized by the potential applications enabled by blockchain technology. The witnesses urged Congress to encourage research into blockchain technology, particularly where the benefits can be utilized by the federal government.

Mr. Cuomo, vice president of IBM's blockchain technologies group, noted that IBM is currently engaged "in over 400 blockchain projects across supply chain, financial services, government, healthcare, travel and transportation, insurance, chemicals and petroleum, and more." These projects and experiences have led IBM to conclude that blockchain technology is "a transformative technology that could radically change the way businesses and government interact."

Mr. Cuomo went on to describe a joint venture between IBM and Maersk, the world's largest shipping company, to create an industry-wide trading platform for the ocean freight industry. According to Mr. Cuomo's testimony, the joint venture will use blockchain to track, in real time, millions of shipping containers across the world, "by providing a trusted, tamper-proof, cross border system for digitized trade documents." Through this blockchain-based platform, companies will be able to reduce the time spent resolving disputes, finding information, and verifying transactions, leading to billions of dollars of savings when adopted at scale. And this is just one of a spectrum of innovations made possible by blockchain technology, according to Mr. Cuomo.

Members of the subcommittees were similarly optimistic and receptive to the potential benefits that can be provided by blockchain technology. But members of the subcommittees also cautioned that blockchain-based technologies should be used appropriately, and that government regulation not be disregarded. This sentiment, however, was also counterbalanced by the recognition that innovation should be encouraged and not stifled. Ultimately, the hearing successfully laid out a case for blockchain technology beyond cryptocurrencies, and reflected a positive interest in seeing where this technology can go.