The total value of counterfeit goods was estimated to be $1.8 trillion in 2015, said Andreas Kind, an IBM researcher, at the Think 2018 conference.
“Let’s take your car. You bring it to the garage. It turns out the brakes are run down. When you get your car back, can you be sure that the new brakes are actually original?” asked Kind. “Can you be sure your car will brake on the highway as it’s supposed to? In certain regions of the world, 40 percent of the parts in the automotive aftermarket are actually fake.”
The same principle could be applied to medications and other items with life-threatening consequences, he added.
Privacy advocates might issue a note of caution at this point, Friedman admitted. After all, if businesses could track a crate of oranges from Beijing to Miami, the government could conceivably track innocent citizens who have ingested one of the devices.
“I think with all of these things we need to think about the ethics,” he said.
But Friedman downplayed those concerns.
Hurdles remain before the tiny computer hits the market, he said. A system for reading the computer’s information and transferring that data to a blockchain for safekeeping has yet to be perfected.
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More importantly, Friedman said the tiny computers are not like GPS trackers, and blockchains stymie hackers if anyone could access them somehow.
“They are not that easy to communicate with,” said Friedman. “Certainly, inside your body nobody would be able to communicate with that. The range is limited. You would have to successfully complete the cryptographic identification.”
Older tech like social media networks and our mobile phones already give away more data on ourselves, he added.
“I don't think the capacity of this system is such that it really provides the same window of opportunity for mischief as our cell phones do and our online presence does,” he said.