Evidence Meeting 5 – Impact on People

 In Evidence, Evidence Meeting Overviews

For the full overview, including written evidence submissions, please download the PDF Evidence Meeting 5 Overview here.

Video recording of the Evidence Meeting available below.

1.   Details

  • Date: 16 October 2018
  • Time: 5:30 – 7:00 pm
  • Location: Boothryod Room – Portcullis House
  • Chaired by Damien Moore
  • Secretariat – Big Innovation Centre

2.    Purpose

Evidence Meeting 5: Impact on People. The fifth APPG blockchain meeting was held on Tuesday 16th of October in the Houses of Parliament. The group discussed the impact of blockchain technology on the impact on people.

3.   Evidence Givers

  • Paul Domjan, Global Head of Research, Analytics & Data, Exotix Capital
  • Liam Bell, Research Lead, Blockpass & Research Fellow at Edinburgh Napier University
  • Marcus O’Dair, Associate Professor, Middlesex University
  • Elizabeth Renieris, Global Policy Counsel, Evernym
  • Robert Schwertner, Founder, CryptoRobby Consulting
  • Sheli Gupta, President, European Operations, Hu-manity

4.    Questions for Inspiration

  • Blockchain will change our economy, but will it also change our lives and the world?
  • What is the impact of blockchain on people and society? Does it change how we live our daily lives?
  • Is blockchain only about business and intermedia?
  • Can blockchain blur public and industry divide and ensure peer-to-peer relations with no intermediaries, minimising costs, ensuring trust, and bringing a sense of ownership?
  • What is a digital print of the society and what does it mean for the new generations?

5.   Summary

The group met on October 16th, 2018 for a fifth evidence meeting focused on Impact on People.

This was one of the most vibrant meetings thus far which even more highlights how important the very subject of a person is in this context. We welcomed speakers ranging from lawyers, music professors and data analysts, to crypto assets experts and blockchain in pharmaceutical representatives. With such a variety of perspectives, the discussion focused on personal data, which also shows how impactful the data-driven economy is on the society, and how blockchain transforms the meaning of privacy, ownership and lastly identity.

5.1.  Blockchain as a tool

Blockchain alone will not change anything, it is merely a technology, a tool, a means to some end” – said Elizabeth M. Renieris, Global Policy Counsel at Evernym, to which the whole room of people nodded.

While Elizabeth explained later why and gauged even more support, Paul Domjan, Global Head of Research at Exotix Capital opened the debate with how this tool can be utilised in emerging economies with a much better effect than in established ones. Paul rightly pointed out that the new technologies are adopted when innovation is good enough to replace an existing technology or business process. The impact of new technology can happen faster and be greater in developing economies because the current technology or process is often weaker.

One of the examples Paul provided is mobile phones, which created at least twice the impact on productivity in developing countries as in developed ones.  This argument was backed by giving us an analogy of going back to the 19th century where railroads provided a far more significant incremental improvement in countries without a pre-existing system of canals.

“Railroads improve transportation. Mobile phones improve communication. When railroads arrived, developing countries had weaker systems of transportation than developed countries. When mobile phones arrived, developing countries had weaker systems of communication than developed countries” (Paul Domian, Exotix Capital)

For Marcus O’Dair, Associate Professor at Middlesex University, blockchain can be a transforming tool for creative industries. While giving us a great example of two groups of people in this field; those who work in creative industries, and those who “value” creative work, Marcus focused on blockchain as an opportunity for creative economy about ownership.

 “We can understand the value of the creative economy in aesthetic terms, as we might if we are lovers of music and art and literature and computer games and architecture. We can also understand the value of the creative economy in political terms, for the soft power they convey – consider the centrality of Shakespeare and The Beatles to what is sometimes known as ‘brand Britain’. We can think too of the social value of the creative economy, for instance, the relationship between the arts and wellbeing. And finally, there is the economic value of the sector, which contributes £92 billion a year to the UK economy.” – Marcus O’Dair, Middlesex University

5.2.     Data Ownership and Privacy

Marcus O’Dadir considers that Blockchain can create an unbreakable link between artists and their work by inextricably linking a data file, for instance, a song or a film, to its relevant metadata. He explained how this opportunity lies not just at the level of the individual work. Copyright information is currently stored in centralised, siloed databases. These are typically incomplete; at times, they conflict.

The second opportunity offered by blockchain technology lies in the possibility of a distributed network, alternative to the current centralised and siloed IP databases: a single source of truth

as to who has the rights to a given song or piece of film footage as an aggregated view of ownership.

Thirdly and finally, there is the possibility of automating the licensing of these works – making it easier to use creative content. The crucial piece here, in terms of reducing friction, is the so-called ‘smart contract’ or programmable transaction.

Smart contracts can also make royalty payments far more efficient: although we currently stream creative content at the swipe of a finger, it can take the creators of that content, months or even years to receive royalties. In the streaming era, we also need to keep track of more payments than ever – for every use, not just for each one-off purchase – but the sums involved are typically tiny. Low transaction costs, of course, are key for micropayments.

There are, of course, problems and blockchain technology does not offer a silver bullet. For example, the technology cannot solve the ‘garbage in / garbage out’ problem, so you still need to get the right information on the ledger in the first place (although arguably tokens could play a role here). And there remains the challenge of ‘breaking the chain’ – explains O’Dair.

There are even potential risks, just as the internet has been both good and bad for creators. Blockchains could facilitate the illegal storage of digital works in a way that, because it is distributed, makes the content very difficult to remove. ‘Notice and takedown’ procedures would be ineffective in such a scenario.

To Marcus however, the technology does indeed have disruptive potential – but there is no guarantee that this potential will be realised- he says, and even if it is, adoption may be slower than some predict.

It is also far from certain that this transformation will be in the interests of creators and consumers. Arguably, blockchains could usher in a new era of digital rights management in which the problem is not that intellectual property rights are not enforced but, instead, that they are enforced too strictly.

When it comes to data ownership, Sheli Gupta, President of European Operations at  Hu-manity, offered a radical solution of a platform that allows you to sell your own data. Sheli argues that it is your 31st human right to be in ownership of what information you give out and that you should be paid for it as the tech giants are for selling your data on platforms.

Hu-manity sees personal data as property and it does indeed raise a lot of questions:

  1. Is it ethical to commercialise (assign a monetary value) pieces of individual identity (personal data)?
  2. How will human relationships change if we become commodities?
  3. Can we function in a society where each transaction is economic?
  4. How should the market-oriented economy change to allow for data-driven society?
  5. How will our identities change in a self-sovereign digitised model?

Contrarily, Elizabeth Reniers Global Policy Counsel at Evernym was opposed to the idea of selling your own data. She says that the way to disrupt the status quo is to challenge life assumptions. What she says could be different with data ownership is that you would have to negotiate ownership but if we start with the premise that data is owned and not negotiated, we end up with the same broken model.

She argues that there is indeed a fundamental right to liberties and control, but not ownership. The real risk is to accept that personal data is contractual in the old system. If you want to value the data there’s got to be a better business model.

5.3.    New Identity and Trust

The debate on trust was also picked up by two of our speakers and later followed with everyone from the audience. “Trust is the oil that lubricates the global economy, and it is typically provided by an intermediary” – says Paul Domjan, who continued to explain how blockchain creates trust in the developing world.

One of the examples he gave is paper money which is backed by the central bank; while the credit cards are issued by an established and trusted network, like Visa or Mastercard. Another, property ownership of the house which is established by a land registry, and incomes are validated by our bank statements or tax records.

The transaction can take place using trust in these institutions because the buyer and seller both trust an intermediary rather than one another.

With relation to developing economies, many of these institutions of trust are weak or non-existent. Additional problems exist concerning establishing and enforcing contracts.

Paul discussed that contracts are essentially a set of pre-agreement responsibilities between two parties and a set of rules for how both to execute these responsibilities and to handle disputes. Contracts are essentially an instrument of trust, but in this case, the trust is in the legal system as a trusted third party to ensure execution of the contract. As with other areas of trust, mechanisms for enforcing contracts tend to be weaker in developing economies.

Finally, he points out that Blockchain is fundamentally a technology about trust. At its essence, blockchain technology provides trust between two parties without the need for any third-party to act as an intermediary.

“Because developing economies, and especially the smaller frontier markets, have weaker institutions of trust than developed economies, and indeed larger developing economies, it is much easier for blockchain technology to be good enough to offer an alternative to existing technologies in these markets” – Paul Domjan, Exotix Capital

 Liam Bell, Research Lead, Blockpass & Research Fellow at Edinburgh Napier University echoed Paul Domjan and agreed that blockchain allows us to have trust especially if you look at the supply chain. For example, in relation to medical access- “that is where verified institutions can be supported by blockchain”- he says. Liam Bell who discussed his work on Blockpass, an identity management system, does not believe that blockchain will remove intermediaries. He believes that regulators will always have a role to play, but they can be brought to the government in a more efficient way, thanks to this technology.

Identity, in fact, was the topic discussed by Elizabeth M. Renieris from Evernym who believes that this tool can have a transformative effect if coupled with changing attitude towards privacy and data protection, identity, and how we architect trust.

Self-sovereign identity (SSI), Sovrin, is a product of Evernym developed on blockchain that leverages the features of blockchain to radically restructure how we interact remotely.

Elizabeth Reniers used the word “remote” and not “digital” because in the future all our interactions will be digital (since everything will be digitised)- she argued. Elizabeth further explained that the difference is not therefore whether you present a paper or digital credential, it’s whether you trust in its verification in person by a human (e.g. comparing their visual scan of your face against the photo in your paper passport) or else remotely via a machine (e.g. utilizing your biometrics + the blockchain to verify its validity).

“Put differently, it’s whether there is a technical intermediary to trust for verification purposes. In the case of blockchain, that technical intermediary is more accessible, transparent, auditable, and — with proper design and governance — (arguably) more trustworthy than the alternatives” (Elizabeth Reniers, Evernym).

 “SSI is a new paradigm for how we interact in the world on the basis of digital information (i.e. data). Rather than organizations controlling large centralized data stores and mediating our access to services, SSI puts the individual at the centre of her data universe and enables private and secure peer-to-peer interactions between individuals, organizations, and even things. In the SSI paradigm, there is an equalizing function as between individuals and entities interacting as peers, requiring mutual authentication and trust (rather than the one-way trust we require in remote interactions today, e.g. not only do you authenticate yourself to your bank, but your bank has to authenticate itself to you). If we succeed with SSI, the result would be that our remote interactions would feel more like our proximate (or face to face) ones — in this way, it would be both new and familiar at the same time”. – Elizabeth M. Renieris, Evernym

5.4.      Social Impact

Robert Schwetner, Consultant & Founder at CryptoRobby discussed how blockchain could become an incentive for good in society. His work focuses on how blockchain can be accessible to all and not just sectors, such as banking or IT. One of the examples includes energy projects in which tokens can be utilised as an incentive for responsible behaviour. Similarly, the same focus was taken by ObjectTech Group in their written evidence as guest contributors.

Robert Schwetner, Consultant & Founder at CryptoRobby

  • We highlight that technology needs to support changes to be sustainable and that unless the UK changes some of the short term habits in relation to business, the benefits of blockchain will not remain in the UK.
  • ObjectTech argues for a cohesive approach building on the success of values-led businesses to date.
  • The government needs to effectively support the introduction of a new digital infrastructure
    • support infrastructure required.
  • Government support and provide regulation to encourage ongoing innovation.
  • The government should support ongoing standards and regulation initiatives, as well as exploiting its global position to drive a consensus for harmonised regulation and legislative environments.
  • A broad and diverse education approach needs to be aligned to support the disruption.
  • The blockchain can be used to create trust frameworks and ultra-personalisation. When combined with being blockchain agnostic and commercially interoperable exploiting these aspects leads to where growth and benefit lies.
  • The new ways of working and living will have a fundamental effect on people. This is especially true as the rise in the sharing economy and the growth in importance of social value will require a change in the economic models we currently use.
  • The ability to be able to trust the identity of counterparts will remove intermediaries in business, as well as in all walks of life, including philanthropy. The change to a trustable way of interacting will change how we work and interact with each other.
  • The ability of the new technologies and the trust they engender, together with ultra-personalisation has the power for many who are excluded or marginalised both socially and financially being able to access social networks (reducing loneliness for example) and tailored financial products reducing poverty globally.

Twitter: @appg_blockchain

Watch the full evidence session below.

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