Project Starling Uses Blockchain to Ensure We Never Forget

Recently, the public and the courts have debated the “right to forget”—or the right of individuals to have their data scrubbed from the internet. But Thursday, at Fortune‘s Global Tech Forum in Guangzhou, we heard an argument for the need to remember.

“Even in an environment like today, we still know the truth is under assault and historical memories of things like genocide are very important to preserve so we do not repeat those same mistakes again,” said Jonathan Dotan, a fellow and lecturer at Stanford University.

Dotan is involved with a blockchain initiative called Project Starling, which is backed by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation—a charitable fund the film director began 25 years ago with the objective of documenting some of mankind’s worst atrocities against itself.

To date, the Shoah Foundation has collected over 55,000 testimonies from survivors of genocide and other war crimes. That much documentation, Dotan says, is stored as 9 petabytes worth of data distributed across three different locations. It would take 144 standard 64GB iPhones to store the entire list.

“Project Starling is an image and video authentication and storage protocol which uses the blockchain to make sure important memories are able to be kept in a tamper proof ledger,” Dotan says.

Blockchain stores information across a distributed ledger—meaning it sends a single data set, such as a list of names, to numerous third parties whom analyze the contents and verify their findings by comparing their respective conclusions.

The structure of a distributed ledger protects data from being altered because—if a nefarious party wanted to alter the data—the other parties would notice. When applied to historical records, the expectation is that blockchain’s transparency will create a virtually unalterable digital document.

Blockchain’s transparency has applications in governance too, and surprisingly—given China’s crackdown on blockchain enterprises last year—the government in Beijing is now welcoming blockchain with fairly open arms. Just last week, President Xi Jinping touted the technology as “key to increasing China’s influence and rule-making power in the global arena.”

“I think our governance is looking for a new technology to govern the nation as well as to take part in international affairs,” said Da Hongfei, the founder of China’s leading blockchain protocol, NEO. “So when we look at blockchain tech, we shouldn’t look at it as merely a ‘technological technology,’ it’s also an institutional technology.”

Blockchain technology is already being adopted by some local authorities in China. A previous company Du worked with, he says, helped the provincial government in China’s southwestern Guizhou province store identity documents on a blockchain infrastructure network. Meanwhile China’s central bank is busily working on a cryptocoin that could become the world’s first government backed blockchain-based currency.

“If China decides to take this up [using blockchain for governance] it could be a major precedent,” Dotam says.

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