IEEE Blockchain Podcast Series: Episode 1


John GreavesQ&A with John Greaves
Director, Global Standards, Architecture, Conformity and Propagation at ConsenSys Health

Listen to Episode 1 (MP3, 49 MB)


Part of the IEEE Blockchain Podcast Series


Episode Transcript:

Brian Walker: Welcome to the IEEE Blockchain Podcast Series, an IEEE Future Directions Digital Studio production. In this episode, Ray Dogum, Podcast Series Chair for the IEEE Healthcare, Blockchain, and AI Virtual Series, hosts John Greaves in a discussion on standards for blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.

Ray Dogum: Welcome to the first episode of the IEEE podcast series on blockchain and AI in the healthcare industry. My name is Ray Dogum, host of the Health Unchained Podcast and the Podcast Chair for this awesome new IEEE virtual series. In this episode, we’ll be speaking with John Greaves, who is the Director of Global Standards Architecture, Conformity, and Propagation at ConsenSys Health. John is also Chair, Secretary, and Convener of numerous standards bodies in the industry. John, welcome.

John Greaves: Thank you, Ray.

Ray Dogum: So, John, would you please give the audience a brief background of your career and describe what it’s like to lead technology standards committees?

John Greaves: Yes, of course. First of all, a very good day to all who may be listening and my background-- I’m actually an AIDC person. I came from the automatic identification and data capture arena, which started out, of course, I’m just an old barcode guy. I graduated from barcode to radio frequency identification, real time location systems and realized quite early in the blockchain saga that blockchain, as it migrated into supply chain blockchain as opposed to cryptocurrency and bitcoins, its foundational work, that it would need living proof of a physical act. No computer is going to walk down to the loading dock and go “Oh, look, there’s a palette,” and then count the boxes, etc. So, following my guiding mantra of the Ohio Principle, zero human intervention operations, and realizing blockchain was advantaged greatly by the Ohio Principle and by AIDC as its validation instrument, I wandered over to blockchain about five years ago, thinking I’d just visit for a while and then come back with boxes of treasure or whatever and in fact, found it so intriguing and the blockchain sector found me intriguing-- well, not me personally, but what I was saying and thinking, that I stayed, and in so doing, not only did I bring my legacy standards roles, covering some 40-plus years into the blockchain arena, where standards was largely an unknown territory. Most of the people were fintech and viewed standards as something that they really didn’t need because they had regulations, you see, not realizing that they were moving from the .org world into the .com world and as such, standards would be necessary so that they had interoperability so that there was governance platforms, so that there was integrity to the blockchain, particularly, as I mentioned, in the supply chain. So, in crossing over, I also found that because I had a considerable amount of standards experience and applications experience, not the IT kind of application but use cases, then I was asked to stay and become chair of this and something of that and something of the other and in particular, invited by the Chair of P2418.6, Heather Flannery, the CEO and Founder of ConsenSys Health, who said would I please join her committee and its efforts and make sure that she had a harmonized view on standards, because, again, they were packed full of medical types, but they had no standards types. So, I became that standard type.

Ray Dogum: What is like to lead technology standards committees? I know that obviously, not everyone will initially agree on standards. How has that experience been?

John Greaves: Actually, I always base my standards work on the words of a quite famous man who’s now retired whose name was Mark Marriott and he worked for Symbol Technologies in the UK and Europe and he had a wonderful way about him because whenever anyone started talking about committees, he would just simply “Hrmph,” and he was six-foot-something, and turn around and go “Committees, yes, best committee is a committee is a two where one of them is sick,” and in fact, he had a very good saying there because in truth, that would indeed be ideal. In reality, of course, what we do in technology committees historically, particularly in the hardware side of the world, is we rely heavily on the OSI seven-layer model and find points of entry, points of exit, points of interoperability, and we basically smooth them out over many years. One of the classic examples of that is ISO SC 31, which is dealing with AIDC and as such, its communities-- all the vendors, many of the users, and an awful lot of work that started in 1997, would you believe, and as recently as 2017 is still publishing valuable instruments that allow the industry to progress the users to adopt with impartially and without prejudice and bias and it’s very effective in that respect. I chair WG8, Workgroup 8 of Subcommittee 31, which is AIDC applications. So, for instance, we’re doing things like electronic labeling, the internet of industrial construction, the internet of clothing-- no need to bore people with what on earth that boils down to, but suffice to say they are application driven. They’re the how. In blockchain, we’ve come up against, I might propose, suggest, a different panorama, as it were, a different challenge. We’ve got an awful lot of incredibly brilliant information technologists and the one thing that has proven to be very, very difficult is that information technology is deeply rooted in its process and procedure and as such, dismantling legacy structures in information technology to make way for blockchain requires a certain amount of explanation in a very layman’s way. Any technology committee needs layman explanation. You may have the brightest barcode brain in the world sitting at the other end of the table, but they may not know anything about a particular barcode, a particular scanning engine, a particular use case, or even about a sister technology like radio frequency identification and in fact, in many cases, they don’t want to. In blockchain, we’ve adopted a slightly different model. I describe it best with the Rudyard Kipling poem, “I have six faithful serving friends. They are who, what, which, why, when, and where.” Of course, added an additional one, which was how. So, platform is Rudyard’s famous words. Process, the second part of blockchain DLT standards, is how. So, you have platform technologists building platforms, interoperability, governance, integrity, identity, security, cybersecurity, the engine, as it were, and then on the other side of the fence in parallel, you’ve got the hows. How will I use this in my transportation sector? How will I use it in my healthcare sector? How will it apply in my hospital? How will it apply in my warehouse? How will it apply in my canning plant? We’ve had to do that because blockchain, the DLT, is not waiting for anyone.

Ray Dogum: No, it’s not.

John Greaves: The adoption rate is nominal.

Ray Dogum: Yeah, that’s for sure and as you can see, bitcoin has been around for only about ten years and so much has happened in even just the last three to four years, especially with decentralized ledger technologies like Ethereum, etc. So, I have another question for you-- what does the industry need to focus on to enable blockchain as an actual useful tool in our society?

John Greaves: I think first and foremost would you believe, one of the greatest challenges we have is educating people. The minute I walk into a bar, which I do quite often, people “Well, what do you do?” “Oh, I’m in blockchain.” “Oh, bitcoin?” “Actually, no. It’s way past bitcoin.” That’s like-- that’s rather like saying Lego builds a house. Actually, no, you can build an entire city, train sets, space rockets, and everything with a Lego, but did it start by building a house? Yes, that was it. Small house, actually, a little sentry and stuff like this. So, the one thing you have to understand-- and I use Lego as an analogy because Lego is similar to blockchain. It builds itself into whatever continuum of data you would care to have and handle, it’s got immutable data, and explaining to participants, audiences, listeners, people who wish to adopt, corporate CEOs, C-level C-suite people, managers, truck drivers, “What is blockchain?” the answer is-- and off you go and explain it, right?

Ray Dogum: Right. I think what’s great now that the IEEE virtual series is out and people are starting to learn more about blockchain, AI in the healthcare field, this is all part of the educational effort of the community to get information awareness about what’s going on in the industry to the people. So, I think that’s really cool and very important. Another analogy I would use to compare blockchain is the internet, right? If you think about IEEE as a standards body, they had a lot to do with the standards of the internet, IP protocols, HTTP. So, you want to talk a little bit about that?

John Greaves: IEEE is a formidable body. The institute of electrical and electronic engineers, which many people don’t actually bother to read the small print underneath and realize what it stands for-- it’s not the International Escape East of Eden or any other one you want to put in there. IEEE, you’re so correct-- 802.11, here is an entire planet, millennials, elderly people on emergency watch, hospital communications, electronic medical records, travel on 802.11, which is an IEEE standard.

Ray Dogum: That’s Wi-Fi, right?

John Greaves: Yes, exactly.

Ray Dogum: For those who don’t know.

John Greaves: Yes. That’s just a small piece of IEEE’s standards foundational work that has so much enabled our 21st Century. One of the most important things, though, that IEEE has done recently is decide that the blockchain area has to have focus and has reached out to other constituencies, other accredited standards development organizations. One of the great challenges we have and we recognized it very early on in this series and then even crystalized it for this first period covering wearables and medical devices with blockchain, we recognized how many standards exist but how useless they will be when migrated, how many devices and wearables exist, but how inadequate they will be when they could be far more adequate if they were 5G enabled, if they ran on blockchain, if their digital ledger technology processing leading towards, of course, the absolute outcome, federated learning, which we will not explore on this particular podcast because I know you’ve got federated learning, a master of all lined up very shortly. So, I’ll leave it to him to go down that street, one because I really stopped at about the first crossroads.

Ray Dogum: Fair enough. I’m sure the listeners will hopefully tune into that as well. So, how can the industry actually get all this done, though? It sounds like quite a feat.

John Greaves: If you’d put that question to me in the old days, 2015, I would have been obliged to quote you mantra from standards body-- CEN, ETSI, ISO, IEC, JTC1, Insights, you name it because that process was frankly a legacy process. What’s happened in the last-- just the last two years, which is quite amazing, is all of those bodies have gone “Oh, excuse me. By the time we get to write this book, we’re too late. Somebody has already ripped out four of the five pages.” So, we better change the way we do it, allow for some fast tracks. In IEEE, not only did they very kindly within this series accredited me as, I quote “global standards collaboration director,” but-- which was recognizing this incredible need, but also the EBMS, which is the IEEE managing agency for blockchain standards in IEEE, the Co-Chairs of that, Sri and Ramesh, also recognized basically after being given a speech by myself on the subject that they must also collaborate internally across their blockchain engines to make sure that they also were harmonized and not duplicating because at the end of the day, we simply don’t have masses of blockchain resources. It’s just too new. You want some radio engineers? Here, 10,000. Now, how about a blockchain supply chain architect-- hmm, let me see now. I think I saw one of those in Australia, a week last Tuesday.

Ray Dogum: If you’re lucky.

John Greaves: Yes. What we’ve done is we’ve accelerated the process, shortened the timelines, reengineered how to submit and how to get approved and how to get published and really focused the groups on don’t do what he/she is doing, do what needs doing according to them/they.

Ray Dogum: Absolutely. I think technology, as it exists, as it’s always existed is exponential and especially blockchain because it’s not only a technological tool, but it’s also a financial and social tool as well. So, it’s going to be very interesting how that all does play out. What are some of the important regulatory considerations that people should consider now?

John Greaves: Oh, my goodness. Yes, our friends, the regulators and indeed, they are. Let’s be clear about this. They are friends to industry by providing regulatory frameworks. They’re friends to patients, because we’ll stick with the healthcare sector particularly, we could go off into aircraft regulators and bus regulators, but in healthcare, the regulators are particularly useful, particularly important. They give patients comfort. They give practitioners assurance. Does that mean that they are perfect? Good lord, no. Neither am I. Neither is a standard in many instances. However, starting from the regulatory viewpoint and accepting it, here’s one thing that we have recognized that the regulators may wish to consider urgently. We recently, as you know, addressed the United Nations General Assembly on this matter of looking at policy and regulation in conjunction with standards because of these new paradigms so that regulators-- I’m being somewhat humorous, but I’m also being quite-- I’m also painting a picture that is not that far away from the truth. It should not surprise you that a blockchain standard, when produced, runs into a regulatory pitfall because the blockchain standard needs to run on a certain computing engine with 5G competency for transmitting, say, a medical image only to find out that a regulator has decreed in 1978 that this must be on a twin floppy disk of 512K and that regulation is still sitting there and people are still delivering to it, as it were. Now, that’s an absurd analogy, but it’s not too absurd. It’s simply indicative that our worry about regulation is that it will impede the digital transformation that is being attempted that has huge benefits. It will significantly reduce costs. It will make healthcare more affordable. It will be more ubiquitous. It will be more available. It will be easier to be available. People will be more comfortable with it. More people will be able to have it in the first instance. We are saddened in my family by several instances that during COVID, treatment was not available. Treatment was not followed up because the hospitals were COVIDized, for want of a word, and it’s resulted in catastrophic outcomes for these people in my family.

Ray Dogum: I’m very sorry to hear that.

John Greaves: This series is intended to address that that will not happen again, that we will engineer blockchain standards in line with blockchain regulators and with policymakers that says “No, I’m sorry. I know that you got 123 steam-driven maternal premature baby units, but the steam-driven gear has simply got to go. We haven’t got any money.” Well, I don’t care. If you do a blockchain-enabled data transcribing premature baby unit with the new devices enabled on 5G, you will find that money will come back to you rapidly and it will not only do that, but it will mean that you will be able to accommodate even more babies who are marginal at birth. Isn’t that a great outcome?

John Greaves: Absolutely. I hope that the awareness of blockchain becomes more prevalent. People will be more understanding of what it can do, given the virtual series is focusing on wearables and med devices in Q4 2020, what are the most important issues that the blockchain community is discussing in terms of agreeing on those types of standards?

John Greaves: I think at the bottom line, we’re focused heavily on making those wearables and medical devices step up a grade, become-- have a utility in them, for want of a better word-- that can really benefit from being in a blockchain DLT engine that says oh, I now know the truth. I now have verified data, immutable data. I now can take that data. I can place it into this record. I can bring it from the wearable and many more places, many more touch points. I don’t have to wait to go to a clinic, plug something in, or have something downloaded. I don’t have to have a medical device that is the size of a saloon car. We’ve got medical devices that are the size of a packet of cigarettes, inappropriate analogy considering cigarettes, but you know what I mean, it’s a sign, right? At the end of the day, we know-- we can make data squeeze in those formats now and we can make data more readily available. So, our focus, really, is making that data immutable, secure, and does not illegally and, in fact, unethically transfer not just the fact that this wearable data or this medical device report came from a short, fat, balding Englishman, but it should stop at short or as much as I allow of my description to be transmitted. It should never say “And his name is John Greaves and here is his home address and his Social Security number and his medical doctor is this and his specialist cardiologist is this guy and he’s here and he’s there and incidentally, he failed a blood pressure test on Tuesday morning at 10:23 A.M. and so on. No, sir. No. I need clean, appropriate medical data from my wearable and medical devices, and I need them to be utilitarian in nature and dependable in use. Oh, and affordable.

Ray Dogum: Absolutely. I think the standards on how we treat data privacy is going to be extremely important in the future. So, I think we’ll leave that for another episode on privacy and security.

John Greaves: I could even recommend the person to do it because I...

Ray Dogum: I’ll take your recommendation. I will.

John Greaves: I refer to him as Dr. ID, enough said, Jonathan Holt.

Ray Dogum: Yes, actually, I do want to speak to him. So, that would be great. Just one final question on the wearables-- are you seeing that large companies like Apple, Garmin, Fitbit, Google, the ones that are making a lot of these common consumer devices, wearables, are they having these conversations together to form standards for data transfer or is it kind of siloed still? I’m just wondering if you know.

John Greaves: It’s interesting that in the blockchain world, all of those names you mentioned have a significant presence.

Ray Dogum: Okay.

John Greaves: Because for them, data is of the essence and I chair Insights, the International Council for Information Technology Standards Blockchain DLT Committee. The members-- Google, Intel, Oracle, Microsoft-- I don’t need to go any further, right?

Ray Dogum: Right.

John Greaves: Those companies are there because they’re genuine in their desire to be able to not only deliver blockchain DLT, but in fact to aid in the transformation, the digital transformation. They’re all heroes of the digital transformation, if you will, the Joan of Arcs of digital transformation. I just hope they don’t burn at the end of it, of course. In the matter of the device community that you also mentioned, in the medical device and wearables community, they are only now asking themselves questions, but their questions are coming from a slightly different tangent, but they’re both going to meet in the same room and it’s going to be before Christmas. They’re coming from the point of view of “How do I make my device 5G-able?” because they know 5G is a golden key for them, but what they’re worried about is the data. In being 5G, can someone give them a-- the immutable data? Can someone give them a regulatory compliant policy ready non-infringing data packet that they will then stick into their Fitbit so that when you’re running, you yourself can get your reads, but maybe you want to share it with-- or maybe your doctor would like you to share it because it’s part of an assessment he’s doing. Wouldn’t that be lovely? How does he get your name without John and Ray intercepting your 5G signal on their Apple phone and going “Look at the state of him. He’s on the way out.” So, you see you’ve got these two roads. In fact, where we started from on this broadcast, if you will, on this podcast, it’s about platform and process.

Ray Dogum: That’s right. Well, John, thank you so much for your time today. For everyone out there listening, make sure you register for the next IEEE blockchain and AI virtual series events. You can find the registration links in the show notes. The next online event will be an industry forum on November 4th followed by the Global Standards Collaboration Kickoff on December 2nd, led by, you guessed it, Mr. John Greaves. John, any final words for the audience?

John Greaves: Please turn up on December the 2nd and learn about standards and learn about-- from not just me. I’m hosting it, as it were, I’ll open with some comments, I’ll close with some comments, but we’ve got the best people from all the other standards bodies, which is just an amazing breakthrough. We’ve got HIMS, we’ve got TC215 health informatics, we’ve got SC31 med device people and so on. We’ve got chain of custody people. We’ve got JTC1. Just come on down.

Ray Dogum: Just the best, pretty much, is what you’re saying. I’m really looking forward to it. So, again, thank you.

John Greaves: Thank you, Ray.

Brian Walker: Thank you for listening to our interview with John Greaves. To learn more about the IEEE Blockchain Initiative, please visit our web portal at