Building Responsibly: Seeking Positive Impact in Decentralization

It’s not possible to move through the emerging tech industry today without encountering some issues around decentralization. Let alone the blockchain space, where big data and AI almost always form a relationship with the latest startup promising to disrupt and revolutionize one industry or other.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise in the blockchain-based sector either: the core to the early (and lasting) hype behind blockchain was its intrinsic capacity as an immutable ledger of data that did not rely on central entities to prove or preserve its validity.

It is this immutable data aspect, along with the idea of no central control, that — in the eyes of some — cast blockchain as a potential antagonist last year when it seemingly came up against the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) as a threat against personal privacy. In the case of GDPR specifically, against the “right to be forgotten”.

When we spoke to Amit Pradhan in Episode 3 of the Talk-o-nomics podcast, he brought up also the “data model”, as we know it, and talked quite a bit as well about the efforts to decentralize and distribute that model.

Watch Talk-o-nomics Episode 3:

Listen to the audio podcast on iTunes or Spotify

Amit, who is the founder and president of the Silicon Valley Blockchain Society, has spent all of his adult life as an entrepreneur in deep tech and artificial intelligence. He even spent some of his youth too — selling his first deep tech startup at the age of 17 in Australia and relocating to the US following its acquisition. And even from that seemingly unemotional aspect of tech, he professes an ethical motivation behind his work as an investor and startup incubator:

“I’m deeply focused on the belief that anything I invest in, influence or create must create a positive impact on the humans it serves. So all of the activities we do are modeled around that belief.”

GAFABATT, the mega monsters of data

Amit answers the innocent question of how it all started by telling us how he believes that data is consumed only by a handful of large, global corporations. He’s even coined a term for these “mega monsters”: GAFABATT, to represent Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Tesla.

He explains the current data model: “They kind of represent this idea that everything we do is being inhaled by a handful of companies”.

How do we decentralize and distribute this data model?

Blockchain, not crypto, as it turns out.

So… is blockchain the answer?

Finally getting to our question on how it all began, Amit admits that looking at crypto was what started him down the path six years ago, though “not so much the currency but what’s underlying”.

He described the Wild West era we’ve just been through as a classic display of “immense immaturity” demonstrated by the recklessness driven by quick profit. This compared to years ago when deep tech wasn’t motivated by traders and hedges, but by people who believed in its potential and were willing to risk initial time and effort for delayed gratification when their company would “turn out to be a unicorn”.

Has that changed now? The Deloitte 2019 Global Blockchain Survey suggests that the blockchain industry is at a turning point, shifting from what it calls “blockchain tourism” to an exploration of “practical business solutions”. Amit is inclined to agree.

“The knowledge of what this can have and can be was important for us to start getting into the space from an investment perspective. Fast forward to 2016 and 2017 and you could see enough, not from a market speculation perspective, and not from the perspective of people making hyper money in very short periods of time, but you started looking into the infrastructure and saying: ‘I can start seeing implications and applications for society at scale, from a decentralized perspective.”

Amit believes he’s now seeing what he calls applied blockchain utilization. The same thing happened with AI, he says, where initial impressions of that tech were from pop culture, which tended to be dystopian due to the provocative themes surrounding ethics and moral values.

Blockchain as a means toward meaningful decentralization

Having seen it all happen in cycles with deep tech and AI, Amit has every reason to believe that the same can happen with blockchain applications and decentralization.

Amit predicts that blockchain will evolve along a very similar curve that the post-dot-com boom era witnessed, defined by high-quality companies managed well and making their way to public markets bearing the necessary hallmarks of compliance and professionalism.

“..they tend to have a strong vertical focus over time, and so once you graduate from the Amazons and the Googles, you start seeing companies that are leaders in healthcare and financial markets, travel… We’ll start seeing repeat founders coming in and building because they see genuine problems that they want to solve with decentralization. Not because decentralization is cool, or because everyone is doing it.”

He names identity, provenance, and supply chain as excellent examples of why blockchain and clever tokenomics make sense.

Looking at his track record in successfully getting tech startups off the ground, it would appear he knows what he’s talking about.