Bill Beatty| EIC of and Comedy, Robots, Bears, Bitcoin, Gambling and Whisky. 溜溜溜
Welcome to Top Picks. Throughout the month of August, we will revisit past CoinGeek Conversations. With so many great interviews to choose from, our first Top Pick is Lawry Trevor-Deutsch, of United Corp, who has a greener way to mine Bitcoin.
The World Economic Forum does much more than organise its annual Davos meetup. The not-for-profit foundation calls itself “the international organization for public-private cooperation”. As such, it investigates and promotes ways to make the world a better place, including in the field of blockchain. Sheila Warren is the WEF’s Head of Blockchain, Digital Currency and Data Policy. She talked to CoinGeek about her view of the prospects for the blockchain economy solving some of the problems of ‘surveillance capitalism’, by letting individuals own their own data. She admitted that she doesn’t see any revolution happening in the short term: “am I optimistic about it? No, I would not say I'm optimistic about it. I'll just answer that question bluntly. However, that does not mean I don't think it is very much worth paying attention to and even fighting for.”It’s partly that, through contacts with big companies and governments, Sheila has become aware of “the sheer volume and flow of that data”. But individuals have to take responsibility too: “I don't necessarily feel like the vast majority of people really care. And the reason I feel that way is because I think we've all seen how quickly people are willing to sign away their rights.”But Sheila is ultimately optimistic about new data practices that blockchain will allow, and has “a short to medium term pessimism”. In the long run, she believes a new generation is coming that will “really take advantage of the elements of the blockchain do this in a different and better way.”But WEF isn’t waiting for that day to arrive. Sheila’s group is responsible for several blockchain field trials, such as one in Columbia called the Transparency Project, which worked with the government’s Inspector General's office to set up a blockchain procurement process for the awarding of contracts to provide school meals across the country. Blockchain would help ensure that the bidding process was followed correctly, with a mechanism to time-stamp bids, for instance, so they couldn’t be changed retrospectively - which had been a problem in the past: “there'd be almost a mock proposal, if you will, like a straw man submitted that would then get changed out with corrupt actors, with different motivations for that. So the idea here is the immutability of the record provided an opportunity to basically ensure that there wasn't that kind of change happening downstream, or if there was some sort of change of the record, you could see that. It would be recorded in a way that was very easy to spot.”The aim was to keep the technology in the background as far as possible, which Sheila believes is a general principle in encouraging mass adoption: “we'll have arrived when it's invisible and you don't need an understanding of blockchain to use most systems.”“Our goal really is to normalise this technology and take away any fear around it and get people to understand that really it's like any other technology. It's got significant benefits, new benefits. It also has some challenges - and those are being addressed. But our hope is that over time, people will stop talking about blockchain, they'll just be using it without even knowing it.”
The European Union takes an active interest in Bitcoin and blockchain, with multiple initiatives to study, encourage and, potentially, to regulate the sector. At the heart of this work is the European Commission’s Digital Innovation and Blockchain Unit, whose head is Pēteris Zilgalvis, a political scientist and lawyer and, quite recently, a visiting fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford where he wrote about fintech and blockchain.Pēteris is keen to stress that the Commission is not intent on regulating unless there is a clear reason to do so. The overall approach, he says, is that “first of all, we don't rush in”. The subject of Bitcoin and blockchain have been followed by officials within the European Commission for at least seven years, so “if it was ever true that 'if it moves, the European Commission regulates it', it hasn't.”So, “while ...we support investment and infrastructure, for instance, in artificial intelligence, blockchain, IOT, 5G, we're not going to have a regulation on blockchain - the same way we don't have a regulation on transistors or on servers or on other items of technology.” The focus will be at a higher level, in the applications working on blockchain, such as tokenization products. But again, the emphasis will be on waiting to be sure of what, if anything, is needed. In relation to smart contracts, for instance, “the question is still very open. Does anything need to be said about it legally? But we're asking, especially in the cases of small cross-border use across the 27 countries of the EU for instance, if there are problems that perhaps need to be addressed to ensure you don't have to have a different type of smart contract or a different registration in many different jurisdictions.”A more pro-active EU approach is seen in the European Blockchain Services Infrastructure, an initiative through which the EU member states are setting up their own blockchain network with “nodes at the country level, probably ministry level, eventually municipality and regional level. So hundreds and maybe even thousands of nodes.” With more than 30 nodes in the network initially, the project will be in deployment this year, starting with projects in a number of areas of interest to public service providers: “regtech, ...diploma certification and also self sovereign identity and audit document authentication and publication.”Another approach involves money from the European Investment Fund to back blockchain startups. This part of the fund is now worth 100m Euros, but will rise to 400m soon. It’s already backing Helios, a decentralised platform for building social media apps, for instance. Pēteris stresses that it won’t be him or other EU officials deciding which startups to support. Rather, the money “goes out to venture capitalists who make the choices with no interference from us”. He draws parallels with SBIR in the United States, the Small Business Innovation Research programme which has been funding research and development in small companies in the States since 1982. Being blockchain-agnostic, the EU is not able to back BSV specifically, of course. But what about, at least, the idea that a single blockchain, in principle, would deliver the best results for the ecosystem as a whole? “I think almost everyone agrees, whichever analysis you read, that there will be less blockchains than there are now or less blockchain pr
If Bitcoin SV succeeds in the way its developers and entrepreneurs hope, it will be the biggest change in technology infrastructure since the mass adoption of the Internet more than 20 years ago. But will ordinary users be open or resistant to that kind of change?Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Centre studies public attitudes to technology and has been responsible for more than 650 reports based on Pew surveys of people's online and Internet usage. So how does he see the prospects for Bitcoin and blockchain entering the mainstream? “We live in an environment where people's trust in each other and in institutions is declining, particularly in the developed world,” Rainie says, “and so blockchain has been held out as a really interesting alternative way to rebuild trust, using technology as the centrepiece of mediating interactions between people ...Some of the most interesting applications of blockchain are not about cryptocurrency, they're about trusted systems of documentation and smart contracts.”If that promise could attract users by mitigating their fears about trust, Rainie does not go so far as to suggest that technology could solve all the problems: “this can't just be done by technology. You can't flip a switch and all of a sudden trust is restored and systems operate beautifully. You need human actors to design those systems, monitor those systems, explain those systems.”In terms of mass adoption, Rainie says that it may not be a question of waiting for the ‘killer app’ that will act as a tipping point for wide acceptance of the technology: “it possibly won't be sort of a big bang moment where all of a sudden a critical mass of people are using it. And then the rest of the world says, 'oh, we've got to get on board'. It might be more evolutionary.”It could be that adoption will first happen at an industrial level - more ‘behind the scenes’ - in sectors like supply chain and the financial markets. Then, unlike the Internet, where users are aware of the technology, people may not even realise that they’re using blockchain: “there will be ways in which people's finances absolutely are underpinned by blockchain technology. There are ways in which their interactions with government agencies, when they want to get a national identity card for their newborn child - now, that's going to be probably a blockchain system. But if you ask them in a survey, 'are you a blockchain user?' they might not say yes.” If blockchain isn’t adopted by a ‘pull’ factor of attraction, it could be nudged forward by reservations about the tech giants, and the whole ‘surveillance capitalism’ model of targeted advertising and data collection. Pew’s latest research didn’t poll the public, but instead was one of a series of studies that Rainie has ordered as Director of Internet and Technology Research, soliciting views about the future of technology from almost 700 experts, whom the report describes at “'technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists”. The study found that the experts “very explicitly invoked how blockchain can be a restorative to people having confidence that their data were treated well and that their interactions with other people were being chronicled and mediated in a responsible way, that there were fewer opportunities for bad actors to step into the middle of the process.”In that respect then, Pew is reporting an optimistic view of the prospects for blockchain among a wide range of people who should be well placed to predict the future. On the other hand, it seems the experts themselves aren’t too confident about their own powers of prediction. Rainie investigated that in a previous study: “one of the things that we asked in years gone by was whether these experts
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Oct 10th, 1973
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2 days, 8 hours
Podchaser Creator ID logo 387161