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Navroop Sahdev on Crypto Clothesline Podcast

A Human Blockchain Bridge Between Theory And Practice

Navroop Sahdev is a dynamic and positive force in blockchain technology.  Possibly even more importantly, seeing our present unfolding into the future faster apparently than the speed of light, she’s effecting change also through emerging technology in its various manifestations, layered over a fundamental foundation of blockchain.

Her Role

Navroop was working in Boston as Head of Economic Research.  In her new role as Head of Economic Strategy at the Fifty Five Foundry in Los Angeles is really cutting across different industries, not just finance, applying blockchain technology to a variety of industries.

And she’s in a fairly unique position, being representative of both the fields of academia, where blockchain technology is being researched and developed, and as an industry professional actually building out these blockchain platforms in business. It’s the discovery at this grass-roots level of the day-to-day challenges, which then effectively dictates further studies of what’s needed on the ground and how best to develop the tech to meet those needs.

“Beyond the hype and the promises that blockchain can transform the world, I get the opportunity to actually live out these platforms.

“As the Head of Economic Strategy… I can go back to academia and say, well, these are the challenges we face as entrepreneurs on a daily basis, and there isn’t much happening in terms of the knowledge and the intellect and the brain power we need. [We] rely a lot on research along with my co-authors and colleagues at MIT, UCLA for Central Blockchain Technologies and British Blockchain Association.

“And then you …drive this process to research that needs to happen such that it can be useful to the world, so it can be applied, and it’s not just like an echo chamber or a bunch of academic papers.”

Why Is Blockchain So Transformative?

Navroop speaks of the evolution from face-to-face economies (you give me your sweet potato and I’ll swap you a cabbage, or a US dollar or whatever), to the technological advent of the Internet, where the big data collection agencies (not necessarily just the FBI and its international cousins) like *Facebook and Google, have quietly become the tech giants: gathering our information in one or more central locations – or in a centralised way.  We’re the boss of your information, you can’t get it off us and we’ll use it however we like, usually (to date), in secret.

Blockchain gives us the opportunity to now decentralise that information, ensuring that engagement and transactions are peer-to-peer, ie. directly between participants without the info-giants peering over your Internet shoulder.  (Unless you live in Australia that is, then the Government jails you for NOT handing over the data if requested.)

“[It] can mean anything from money all the way to sending a message or really transferring anything…

“I think it’s really about the agents within this network and global world we live in: with the technology you can engage more people. There is greater trust, transparency and opportunity for greater efficiencies… [yet to be seen].”

What Would You Say To Other Women Thinking of Getting Involved In Blockchain Technology?

As usual at the Clothesline, we like to take it to the streets, or washing lines as it were, and ask about the role of women and what it’s like as a woman in this industry.

While being far from optimal, with only 5-6% of people in the industry being women currently, Navroop is clearly optimistic about encouraging more to join in.  Apart from ignoring those occasional heavy-handed keyboard warriors who like to lurk in the dark behind their Facebook screens insulting from a faceless safe distance, she encourages all people, women and men, to get involved.  A space that is so new, developing at such a pace, is in need of all sorts of talent – technical and otherwise.

“…my message would be to bring your unique perspective no matter what your background is …or how you see the world and it doesn’t matter so much what gender you are either.

“I think whenever you’re onto something new, the more diversity the better because at the end of the day, technology is for humans and not the other way around.”

Crypto Naysayers And Family Members: How To Handle Them?

Navroop makes it very clear that it’s not (just) about cryptocurrencies (even though she mentions most in 2017 have lost around 85% of their crypto-invested funds): it’s about the tech.

“I think it’s really about not so much the cryptocurrencies, the prices. The evaluation is more about what is core innovation here?

“If I told you that 25 years from now will be ordering your groceries on your phone, that they’d be at your doorstep by the time you get home, would you believe that? The technology now is …probably even more transformative in many ways and we, on a day to day basis, are trying to crack exactly that.”

Big business and those very same tech giants referred to earlier*, have gathered our information, without our real understanding, without full disclosure, and they’ve used that free data provided by us to sell us more stuff that they can see we are already interested in and/or are consuming.  With all the Hollywood-style court cases and constant release of more damning information demonstrating their sheer dishonesty, we’re trusting less and less these huge data-gathering corporations.

“…technology is not the end goal, but there’s this sense of lack of trust that too much central power …is hurting us and a few are getting too rich and too powerful.

Twice she uses the phrase: a lack of trust.

Once above and then again in reference to banks and politics.

“There is a general sense of lack of trust in big corporations because they’ve got too powerful and there is a similar sort of political dynamic, at least in the United States and many other countries.  In India (where I come from), we’ve seen waves of right wing populism.

“So if you have a technology that can make sure that what you said is true, you can verify events had happened in the past because it’s ‘immutable’. I think we should be using that to our best advantage.”

The Convergence Of A Variety Of Technologies

As mentioned above, it’s not just about blockchain which can serve as infrastructure, but also things like AI (Artificial Intelligence), AR (Augmented reality) , VR (Virtual reality), 

Navroop shares how the importance of blockchain does not simply rely on the success of cryptocurrencies given its compatibility with other emerging technologies.  She explains that combining blockchain with Artificial intelligence for example reaps many benefits. If we consider that blockchain is a method for storing data and accurate records, and that AI is an excellent technology for making decisions and assessments, then the combination of both technologies ensures exceptional data storage and seamless interaction.

“I see blockchain as the infrastructure technology and all the other technologies that go on top that… AI and other tech serve different functions, so you’re building an entirely new stack of technology infrastructure.”

What Is Needed To Make Bitcoin And Crypto A Mainstream Form Of Daily Exchange?

Navroop claims that so many crypto businesses raised so much capital in the ICO-fest and yet we’re still to see the implementation of those investors’ funds into the development of practical tech that can help and serve the people, and amongst those, those who actually paid for them.

For mass adoption to occur, you need to build the apps and then get people to use them.

“It’s really about: Can you actually build the stuff up that you promised, and second, can you get people to use it?

She goes on to say that 40 percent of innovation is ‘timing, timing, timing’.  Quoting the work of Adam Grant, there’s a heap of evidence showing that when tech is presented ahead of its time, ie. when the timing’s off, then people don’t adopt it, they don’t want to know about it, perhaps it’s not answering a perceived need.

In the world of cryptocurrencies, we’ve seen a lot of association thanks to sensationalist press, about Bitcoin and crypto being associated with drug-dealing, paedophilia and the Dark Web.  Like Harry Potter’s ‘Dark Arts’, it’s just teeming with apparent stealth, deceit and treachery.

Add to that an hysterical ICO-flaming end to 2017 with its funds-flocking-frenzy, and add into the recipe a dazzling 85% loss incurred by the market since then, and you’ve got a triple-whammy of Trust Crash: glib media, FOMO losses and fallen promises.

At this point, mass adoption potentials (ie. general public) are saying, “No, I don’t give a shit about your tech.”

“What would define whether or not technology is successful, is consumer adoption.”

Apart from blockchain perhaps being associated as “…a new mechanism to raise capital” it also hasn’t perhaps been adopted because it’s all still so complicated to use.

Why not just drop into the shops and pick up some supplies with my Fiat (cash) account rather than having to go through the gruelling processes of learning how to buy, store, sell and use my cryptocurrencies (never mind them getting stolen off me as I career through frantic daily life), if I can even find a shop or supplier who’ll accept them!

“…historically we have a lot of evidence where tech was ahead of its time and it didn’t work out because people didn’t get it …they didn’t understand …why would I do all this complicated nonsense, but just go to the local grocery store and buy the stuff?”

If retailers and merchants did have an easy point-of-sales system, then that might make it far quicker for mass-adoption to be effected:

“We live in a far more connected world than we did in the 1990s, so the adoption curves are getting steeper and steeper, in terms of how quickly a new technology gets adopted.

“…if you had a TV connection or Internet connection 10 years ago, there was a process to it, but now when you already have the internet, how long does it take to download an app?

“…it’s similar for tech that actually operates on the infrastructure [of the internet].

“So blockchain, or whatever dApps we use to connect with blockchain, would essentially be applications are running on the Internet. And since the Internet already exists, you are leapfrogging a lot of the adoption tech hurdles.”

She goes onto explain that we’re no longer at the mercy of salespeople flogging us goods door-to-door (so-to-speak), we are now accustomed to doing our own online research and have become in many ways, much more savvy shoppers and acquirers of services.  This means that if there’s a lot of interest in a particular (blockchain) project and that attracts conversations and ‘buzz’ online, then we’re automatically drawn in to check it out for ourselves.  (A bit like the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome: if it’s empty, chances are you won’t eat there.  If it’s packed with tables full of chopstick-wielding Asian diners, you’re probably going to happily wait in line until a table becomes available.)

“When I think of adoption, I’m really thinking in terms of a network and how quickly the information flows through that network. Is it more connected or less connected and …[what’s] the flow of information…

“For example: rumours.  You can now trace Twitter as a single global map and every activity on it you can visualise. We now have the tools from network science to run the analysis pretty quickly.”

To summarise this multi-faceted conversation with Navroop, is not really to do it justice.  I myself actually listened (and re-listened) to it to have the full gist of the messages arrive into my busy brain.

Here goes:

  • Navroop’s role in the space is effective because she creates a bridge between the academic research pursuits of Universities and the actual needs of businesses building out the tech.
  • Blockchain tech is transformational because it cuts out the intermediaries who have historically been capable of embroidering information and makes it easier to see the truth of transactions: messages, money transfers, development of products, contracts etc.
  • Women should totally be getting involved in whatever capacity they can or want to, this fast-developing space needs your skills!
  • It’s the tech, it’s blockchain and not the myriad cryptocurrencies, that is the really important aspect to bear in mind because blockchain tech helps us deal with our lack of trust. And anyway, Fiat is still likely to be around for a while…
  • Blockchain is the foundation for the building and layering of a variety of technologies – there’s much being developed simultaneously and we should keep an eye on the big picture to really get an effective view of tech and our future.
  • In order to effect mainstream adoption, we need those ICO guys to stay honest and build the apps they promised, that we’ll use if they’re relevant to our daily lives and easy to implement. Being able to easily pay in crypto would be a huge help. And we need non-sensationalist media so that we don’t get stuck in lop-sided stories.

Find out more:

LinkedIn

Twitter

[Book] Wholeness and the Implicate Order – David Bohm

[TEDx talk] Want to Innovate? Here’s a better place to start. – Navroop Sahdev

[Forbes article] The Role of Cryptocurrencies in Future Society – Navroop Sahdev

[Forbes article] Why Cryptocurrency prices are plummeting – Navroop Sahdev

[Online Course] Hyperledger: The Business of Blockchain – Navroop Sahdev (co-author)

[Organisation] Global Women in Blockchain 

 

Other:

Crypto Clothesline interview with Lucas Cullen

Crypto Clothesline interview with Noah Klein of Amasia

Death of Digital Rights by fellow podcaster and lawyer Matt Shearing

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