Blockchain technologies are changing the way to implement new software solutions. However, its techie and money-based beginnings result in an uncomfortable user interface. Moreover, the need for personal management of own identity data is rapidly arising while distributed ledgers gain momentum.
What is digital trust?
Blockchain seems to be a great solution to many current problems. It nevertheless sports at least two main problems: its UX has never been user-centric; it has been used almost entirely within money/finance applications. So to use it outside of such areas it needs a few, but very important, modification in both the UX and the working model.
Cogito (pronounced ko-‘gee-taw) is a Philips self-sovereign identity system in the healthcare environment. Thanks to the new more open Philips philosophy, now Cogito is fully open source and ready to use on GitHub.
Let’s generate our digital identities
Let’s start with identity management. We have today many identities, from ID documents to credit cards, to all our online access user/password credentials. All these identities are issued by a different entity than us: we can manage our data, but we don’t own them. Generating own identities is an important issue in today’s society, for relevant data especially, such as medical records. Blockchain provides a good answer to this need: being coupled with cryptography, it allows the user to generate and manage his identity data.
Towards a friendly blockchain UX
Here comes the second problem approached by Cogito. Blockchain identity managements solutions are normally wallet-based: identities are managed through a piece of software directly built on the most technical users‘ needs. This makes the overall mechanism too much detailed for the average user, needing a simpler, yet secured and powerful, user interface.
Philips‘ work is still in progress. To grow faster and more robustly, they call for any developer or community who could be interested. Cogito solution is based on an Ethereum blockchain, on which the software is executed (smart contracts), a web app and a smartphone app.
You can use all of the software components starting on the website cogito.mobi, which also provides a tutorial and many useful information. Starting from the introduction page you can also reach the GitHub page.
We first need to store credentials. The most convenient place to store our identity data today is our smartphone. This is surely the best solution, but it doesn’t mean it’s perfect. What happens if we lose our device? We lose every piece of data, obviously, including our identities. Cogito‘s apps are not addressing this issue today, but the staff is working on it.
Let’s look at Cogito‘s identity management and data exchange. You open the web app, and it communicates with the mobile app. Relevant data is never revealed to a server, giving you the best security possible. You can assume more than one identity (let’s say your private one, and you job-related one) that will be linked to your same cryptographic key.
The connection between the two apps is setup using a QR code issued by the web app and read by the mobile app. Now the app can communicate with blockchain’s specific software, for both data storage and software execution. The Ethereum blockchain and its implementation of the software (smart contract’s functions) has been Cogito‘s choice.
API and React-based apps
It also provides convenience components for React-based web apps.
Web apps communicate with the Cogito mobile app through an end-to-end encrypted communication channel called Telepath. Web apps can also choose to interact with Ethereum contracts using web3.js API.
The GitHub repository sports some functions that are already implemented. The “Simple Encryption” code, for instance, allows you to encrypt/decrypt notes without showing off your encryption key.
This simple example shows how neat is Cogito‘s approach for both the user and the service provider. Normally crypto-based apps are difficult to explain to the user, and not very friendly to the service provider. Cogito‘s approach is straightforward and ideal for the health environment; at the same time, it shows some improvements to blockchain’s user interface that could be easily implemented in all other applications -money- and finance-related themselves.
If you are interested in Cogito and other similar technologies, check out what career opportunities are available at Philips right now. You can also watch this video to discover what it’s like to work for a company that focuses on meaningful innovation to create a healthier and more sustainable society!