On April 19 Shamir Karkal interviewed Benjamin Diggles, VP of Business Development at Constellation Labs, to gain insight on the role blockchain is playing in the mobility space.
The discussion explored:
- How distributed ledger technology (DLT) serves as the binding agent for unlocking the true potential of connected machines
- The innovative features & exciting possibilities of smart connected cities
- Decentralized finance and why mobility manufacturing companies are positioning themselves as services companies
Watch the replay:
Shamir Karkal: Hello everybody. My name is Shamir, I’m the co-founder and CEO of Sila. And today we are doing a webinar on how blockchain is driving mobility. And the star of the show is Benjamin Diggles with Constellation Labs. And I’m gonna start off by confessing that mobility and blockchain is not an area that I have much expertise in. But that’s why we have Benjamin here, right. And so I’m gonna be learning as much as any of you, probably more. And I’m gonna ask him some questions and then try understand the wealth of knowledge that Benjamin is bringing. But I’d love to have you guys out in the audience, I see a few people up on live now. I’d love to have you guys ask questions as well. So Benjamin, I see you’re wearing your trademark shoes. Benjamin and I were on a panel a few months ago, and we all agree with the kind of, the panel was characterized by everybody having an interesting set of shoes. But why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, right. Like, how did you end up here in Portland working on Constellation? And then I’d love to get into probably what Constellation does.
Benjamin Diggles: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first and foremost, Shamir, I appreciate you having me. I always like to be trepidatious around saying that I’m an expert. I’ve been in this industry now for about a year and a half. But that’s kinda been almost pressure cooker, so I do find it’s like accelerated learning. And I feel like the activities that I’ve been involved in kind of put me in the tip of the spear, when you think about mobility, so I’m excited to talk about those topics and what I know. Naturally, there’s a lot more outside of what I have to offer, so there’s that.
Shamir: This is true. And then I feel it very much, it kind of fitting that I’m kind of the expert. But it’s like, you know, there’s that thing, right? Like there’s chart that says, when you’re just starting off, you think you know enough, and after awhile you think you know everything. But the true experts are the people who know that they know nothing.
Benjamin: Right, right. Hopefully that’s where I’m at. But so yeah, Benjamin Diggles. I’m the VP of Business Development for Constellation Labs. The company is based in the Bay. I work here from mountains in Portland, Oregon. I am a Portland native, so I love this city. And it’s kind of a big reason why I want to stay put here. And I also believe that there’s a lot of kind of untapped, dormant of activity, especially with the distributed ledger that I think is about to take place, and you start to see with companies like Sila.
Shamir: And there’s more in town than you might think.
Benjamin: Yeah, and that’s like just I feel like I keep discovering more and more. But as far as my background, you know, I’ve been in technology for over 20 years. I built my first website when I was 17, that was back in 1997. So you can kind of do the math from there, you know. I grew up on a sheep farm here in Portland, so I didn’t really have those roots, but I got really obsessed with computers. And the last 10 years of my career I’ve spent in enterprise. For some reason I felt like attacking problems that require pretty intense SLA’s and scale, or something that intrigued me. They’re longer term engagements, they’re more intricate, there’s a lot of constituents, and I really took a kind of, I guess, an interest in that. I worked for Webtrends, which is kind of a Portland darling, as far as a company that’s done some pretty interesting stuff in the technology space for about five years. And that’s when I got really obsessed, I guess really interested, in data. That’s when I was like, oh wow, like data really is, you know as they say, the new oil, but at the same time, we’re all kind of work in these pockets of refineries, trying to make sense of it all, if you will, still —
Shamir: And also find it, just in pockets and collect it.
Benjamin: Correct, correct. And so, I was working for Oracle for about four years prior to getting into blockchain, and I was always, and maybe this is my Portland roots, as I was always very intrigued with freeing my fellow men. Like what are ways we can balance the wealth? What are the ways we can hold, you know, organizations accountable to their marketing messages, and their ploys, to try to get you to take action and whatnot? And don’t get me wrong, that stuff plays a role, but I think that largely in the digital landscape in the last 15 years it’s gotten rather nefarious and less clear, and people are kind of being taken advantage of, and so I thought, man, I really want to put effort into this. So I started this special project that I was working on, and a buddy approached me, and he’s like, dude you need to get into blockchain. And so, I started researching it and realized wow, while I had a deep knowledge on bitcoin and crypto, kind of what that world looked like, I was unaware of what distributed ledger technology really was. And so I leaned in and started understanding the technology of this immutable ledger, and got really excited. And then was pulled into this group Constellation. So, you know, to tell a little bit about what Constellation is, they are a distributed technology startup based in the Bay. Largely focused as an infrastructure tool. And that’s kinda interesting to point out, because I feel a lot of the movements that are taking place are on the application layer. What are things that we can build on top of this technology to create some sort of a new, you know, business model? And we’re really around that kind of, like, hey, before you build, let’s make sure all your ducks are in a row and that infrastructure is in place. We’re, you know, to kinda get a little nerdy, we’re a directed acyclic graph, which is kind of key to our architecture, which when you think about blockchain being something that linearly adds a new block to every transaction to the ledger, a directed acyclic graph is really opens like a net, that every time something’s added, it may almost kind of like a BitTorrent, add pieces to another part or a different node within that graph, allowing it to speed up, from a transactional throughput perspective. And this is interesting to us, because it’s less about how do we make that application work efficiently, and more about how do we build a foundation to allow any application to work efficiently, so that those that come in can bolt on to a directed acyclic graph, and use that mass throughput consensus model to really, you know, engage that application layer. To be a little more specific about what Constellation does, really our value is around the validation and the notarization of data at the source. So when you think about, like Uber, as an example, Uber is bringing in so much data, every time you open that app, you’re creating new data types and new data sets. And there’s millions of users using it right now, you know.
Shamir: I think so.
Benjamin: That’s a lot of data that’s coming in. So for example, you know, Uber, for them to deal with a dispute, say Shamir didn’t like his ride, or something happened, and you go in and you try to dispute it, for them to run systems to be able to kind of forensically figure out what took place in that dispute, costs them more money than it does to just reward you the money back. And that’s because collecting data with a fire hose like that, and sifting and sorting it, and creating the action systems within real time, is very complex. This is where central trust really comes in. And so we’re thinking, how do we take that central trust and create a net, so when that when that data comes in, all those data points are being attached to that net. And within that there’s a validation criteria that says, hey, when this data comes in, if it doesn’t match these types of parameters, if you will, then either just, you know, just disregard it, or make it actionable. And so this allows a decentralized architecture to truly take in mass amounts of data and make sense of it rather quickly. And when you look at like autonomous vehicles, or artificial intelligence, or machine learning, the thing that they all have in common, is that for the true effect of their promise to take place, it requires a ton of data.
Shamir: Yes. And that has been one of the issues with kind of, the early versions of the blockchain, right. They came that, and Bitcoin was the original, of course, you had systems like Ethereum, which came with this, so much promise, of being able to to do like actual computation. But then once you actually got into this and started really using it, you realized that the consensus and distribution was actually a massive bottleneck, which meant that it takes, you know, Ethereum throughput is a few dozen transactions per second.
Shamir: And you’re not going to be able to store, you know, even a few megabytes of data on storage that they give us, it’s insane, right.
Shamir: It really only works for like sort of a very small amounts of code and very specific types of transactions, which one can find still quiet useful and actionable, but as you said, when you look at kind of a mobility space, or anything that sort of taking in data from a real-time, the sensors nowadays, the Internet of things, then all the apps that we have on our phones, they generate massive amounts of data. A car which is driving, you know, looks like is gonna generate like, you know, one of these autonomous cars, you know, that they will be trying to build it, they generate so much data, that it’s hard to imagine, how that could be ever work on one of the more traditional blockchains, you need something totally new, but talk to us about the benefits of kind of managing that’s sort of big throughput.
Benjamin: Yeah, I mean, so, you know, currently, you’re right, when we have all this data coming in, the only way, you know, you have to deal with trust and validation, like is it valid data, ’cause you think about that artificial intelligence example, when you have that much data coming in, a lot of it is getting crap.
Benjamin: So how do you know it’s crap, and if that crap makes its way into your models or algorithms, you getting result in crap. So therefore, you need some sort of governance which comes down to a central authority, that who trust that central authority, and do you have the processing power, in order to actually make sense of that in meaningful amount of time. And the answer is no, and it is a catch-22, when you think a bout Ethereum, that the more people that joined the network, the more bogged down it becomes, the more popular, the worse it is. So it is a tough thing.
Shamir: Yeah, and the crypto for example, it almost crashed the —
Benjamin: Right, right, and it’s like a good thing and a bad thing at the same time, still a very real problem. I mean, it reminds me back in the early TCP/IP where we had like XML and RSS come out, and they started turn really push the syndication pipes to do things well beyond what they should.
Benjamin: But it was the early Internet, just like we’re dealing with early blockchains, it’s like, okay, how do we press these systems to scale, to do things that are very interesting, when we’re not really quite sure if that’s the right protocol or, you know, channel in order to do that sort of function. So this is the reason why it’s so important to handle big data. And the other thing to think about is and it’s, you know, when you think about a central authority, say they they did have some massive quantum computer that could handle this, you know, validation, and trust, and governance. Who owns that, you know, who owns that quantum computer, that central computer, is it Google, is it Amazon? And then it starts to fall apart.
Shamir: Do you trust them?
Shamir: You trust them to own your data? Because you might be driving that car around and it’s, the car is gonna generate a huge amount of data, and that data is potentially useful to put it into your analytical model or something. But do you trust yourself to give it to them? I mean I have an Alexa and a Google Home, I keep them unplugged most of the time You know, it’s very much a question of like trust, and, hey, on the flip side, I am like, if you can push in over the air update to my car, which means that, it just gets better, like you know, it has all these features, right, lane keeping assist, and blah, blah, those get marginally better, I’m like yeah, I want the, you know, the safety benefits of like it gets better like they can’t get if somebody runs out or whatever. At the same time I’m not sure I wanna share my data with.
Shamir: Right. In the end of those benefits, it’s good, it really comes down to trust. I think in many ways that’s the power of blockchain is that it allows you to sort of be more transparent and more care trusting, whom you’re trusting and why you’re trusting.
Benjamin: Yeah, I mean, this is an issue, you’ve got to imagine Google wants more data, but at the same time, you know, you don’t want more data, you know, ’cause it’s like what do you think about GDPR lawsuits and regulations like, they are up against something that is much bigger than them just capitalizing on the data, it’s like okay, we have to do the right thing with this. And they wanna know everything about Shamir, but Shamir has no way of knowing anything about them, you know, the stuff goes into this black box, and that’s that, so.
Shamir: Yeah, I mean it’s, there’s so many scary, it’s like, now by Google phone, it actually like, I just enabled this feature a few months ago, like it recognizes my kids faces, so I can click on the Photos app, and it finds all my, like my daughter’s photos from the time she was like two weeks old, right, and it’s able to recognize that one-two week old photos of my daughters, and the other two week old photos of my sons, and separate that into two timelines, right. It actually look like —
Benjamin: Bizarre, yeah.
Shamir: Brother and sister, can download them, and it’s great, I can just find all of my daughter’s photos, but at the same time, I’m like, the benefit is great, but then what else could this get us, data be used for, and that’s the scary part, right.
Shamir: I don’t, I wanna get that clear that I’m one of them, and I don’t mind Google using the data to cure.
Shamir: At the same time, I don’t want that data, preferably not, and I’m not very happy that a lot of it is being used for, let’s say, facial recognition at airports, for example.
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah.
Shamir: I’m not sure that that’s, the dual use nature of so many of these technologies, and the data itself is one of the driving factors, at least for me, behind kind of blockchain, so you can at least say, hey, my data went in queue, I’m okay with that, and then when algorithm was used for all these purposes, I’m okay with that too, but if it will be used for something else, I might not be happy, and maybe I stop sharing data, I go with that.
Benjamin: Yeah, it’s tough, it’s just like there is that ebb and flow, I guess the balance if you will. I want the convenience, and that’s really what ensnared us in the last like 20 years of the Internet, is the promise of convenience and wonder of all these magical technology, but in return we’re giving away all of our personal data. And we don’t really have a way to control it, you know, your daughter doesn’t, she didn’t opt in to her face being recognized, right. And now there is an algorithm that being tuned to her face, and she doesn’t really have the opportunity to opt out or maybe control the algorithm, or maybe have the leverage to say, hey, I’m gonna post the picture of your daughter on Instagram, and you get push notification saying, hey, they did not allow us to take control, right now that’s not, the capability.
Shamir: What I worry most is, she’s six, but by the time she’s 18–20 and legally able to make those decisions, she will probably, she might really just go in the direction just to consider this normal.
Benjamin: Right, right.
Shamir: And so at what point do we just go sliding all the way down that slippery slope, to just assuming that the bottom most, whatever lasting.
Shamir: Company is born and created in the next 50 years, all of them trying to be there, right, controls everything and knows everything, all the time. And you never have any control of it, and people must accept that.
Shamir: And that scares me.
Benjamin: It’s a slippery slope, it’s a very slippery slope, but, I always said, we were like frogs warming in the Facebook water, you know, I just say, you get used to convection, you know, and eventually you’re boiled when you don’t know enough. So, yeah, I completely understand, but I think that then, you know, when you think about what happened with Marriott recently, we just trust hotels, of course, here’s my passport, here’s my credit card. They lost what, 300 million, 500 million, somewhere around there of people’s records, including passports over a two-year period, like it was bad. So then all of a sudden people getting a little bit more hesitant, they’re starting to pay attention to those things that pop up in our cookies and sharing data, and those privacy concerns, these mechanisms that the companies have to put out, because those GDPR lawsuits and regulation lawsuits. And I’m thrilled that there are some third parties out there that are pressing, you know, these companies to get a little bit more, you know, appropriate.
Shamir: And at least, you know, well, handling data loss issue, the biggest concern for them.
Shamir:You shared so many, that Expedia story, that they’ve actually like that’s there’s just regular mechanism, basic approach weren’t in place, and somebody found a nice way just to take of like a 150 million users’ credit card information —
Shamir: It’s like pretty much every American’s social security number is out there. So it’s insane. And that, you know, this makes me kind of realize like the one of the benefits of blockchain is that, at least you know the level of security, right.
Shamir: Like if you lose your private key, or whatever security mechanism is, it’s on you, and it’s usually hard, compared to massive distributed hacks, that are a hacker who wants to get the data of like everybody on Expedia, ’cause he didn’t know what he could do with it.
Shamir: Right, so that’s, the distribution does provide a layer of distributed security that hacks have to be done one by one, rather than just attack a centralized server. Because I’m not kidding, a lot of the centralized servers aren’t better secured, at all.
Benjamin: Right, yeah, it’s open field right now.
Shamir: Yeah, let’s just see if I can mute these notifications. Here I’ve done that for this talk.
Benjamin: No problem.
Shamir: Cool, so tell me a little bit about the different cases where Constellation is applying and then how it’s doing that, and how do you use it in those areas. And then I want to dive actually into mobility space itself, and mobility is, because I’m working guys, I’m not nowhere near an expert on this space, but it feels like it’s changing rapidly, and in some ways like, the first thing that they, that had an idea was the early 2000, really transformed the world of advertising, and, you know, that’s a big industry. But advertising doesn’t drive the global economy. What drives the global economy is manufacturing, finance, and transportation.
Shamir: Mighty people, right, and people are getting this, the whole world is getting more and more optimized, mega cities all over South East Asia, US cities getting bigger, and at the same time the traditional sort of paradigm of having, it’s clearly not working out. So what’s the city of the future going to look like, how do we get that. That’s what I’m really most of interested in understanding, but maybe we should just start by understanding a little bit more about different ways that Constellation plays in.
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah, it’s been, you know, it’s been kind of one of those series of, you know, lifting one rock after the next and trying to figure out where the most fish are, I guess that doesn’t make sense with rocks, but you get the idea, like just trying to figure out where the most action is, and really like, I’ve quickly been able to kind of segment it down into certain buckets. You have enterprise, and enterprise is really in the two factions, one side being more of kind of an emerging innovation side, these groups that are really looking to the promise of, hey, if we’re able to integrate this type of technology or adopt it, we could leapfrog out of the issues that we’re currently just stuck on, and there’s a lot of money in that world, but they don’t really move very quickly, ’cause they’re kind of paid to fail and research, and that sort of thing. Then the other side of the enterprise will be largely legacy, those are like, hey, we don’t really care if it’s distributed ledger, we just had these issues today, that if we could just incrementally make them a little bit better, it will have huge impact for us. Those conversations are much trickier, you know, because there’s a lot of skepticism, a lot of, hey, you know, my kid was in trading crypto, this is weird. And so, you know how it is, so it’s largely been a lot of educating, you know, and that’s not a lot of fun, when you’re like trying to get into more of the what are we gonna do, versus why are we gonna do it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely important, but there is a learning curve right now in the enterprise space, but they are investing. That’s why when I see, you know, headlines that are like blockchain is dead, you’re wasting your money, it’s usually people that don’t know what they’re talking about, so they’re not really at the low level of what’s actually happening in the industry, or they have some sort of a vested interest in manipulating the market, because of their target, or they want to make money, or something like that. But it’s not true, like when you’re at the low level of what these people are doing, you can see, true companies are investing into real use cases they have, true adoption viability taking place right now. So the other groups that we’ve been working with are foundations and consortiums, and, you know, these are the groups, and this is really kind of be the precedents of the conversations when we talked about smart cities. These are the groups that come together with work groups to create standards both, in the academia, as well as corporate, as well as government. So it’s almost kind of like a triple vent of government, and corporate, and academia, trying to solve largely not, hey, it’s there a there there, but rather what are the standards in which we can rally around that are agnostic to the technology or corporate agendas, that we then can distill, and reward those that adapt across different paradigms. And then you have also the crypto community and the developer community, and those we largely don’t focus on And don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to poo poo on the crypto community, they’re great, but I think they’ve gotten used to being the tale that wags the dog. They think okay, there’s money in Bitcoin and all stuff, why aren’t we doing more to support the, you know, galvanization this, and that’s a bad model, because it’s just a weird time to see a Bitcoin ticker going and people largely associate that success with the development of the technology, and that could not be any more false.
Shamir: And this in a way just reminds me of like the dot-com almost, like there was this massive dot-com boom, and we’re old enough to remember it.
Shamir: In 98–99 and 2000, and it was like, you know, the Internet is gonna change everything.
Shamir: Overnight. And then, of course, there was the balance, and then in like 02–03, I think, even from like 04–05, there was kind of fashionable to be a dot-com skeptic.
Shamir: Like Internet isn’t really gonna change anything, okay, maybe it’ll change the advertising, fine, but it’s like, you know, there’s some online commerce happening, it’s a very small amount, it’s never gonna change anything.
Shamir: And now you’ll fast forward like 15 years, and that it did really has changed everything, and it’s continuing to change everything. I know all that promise of the dot-com boom, they get that they were who unlocked this thing, it just didn’t happen overnight.
Shamir: It didn’t happen by like 2002 or 2004, and it even now when you see like, you know, you’re beginning to see like, you know, the impact on local retail of giants like Amazon, right.
Benjamin: Yeah, true promise.
Shamir: And that even the faith in stock options too, dot-com had a like all the deliver startups, there’s a whole massive industry of those now.
Shamir: And so someone might look a little, probably so. So that, it’s just that there was a boom, and everybody thought everything’s gonna change, and then there was a bust, then everybody thought nothing was gonna change, and then there was a period of like the steady rate which eventually has led to this. And I think some of that, there’s an echo of that, in the crypto world that people then followed widely, 70 maybe 80, there was a large community of people who were like, this is gonna change everything, overnight.
Shamir: And in fact, it could, there’s a lot of promise in the technology, but that’s still are a lot of gaps.
Benjamin: Yeah, let’s just call them bricks
Shamir: And the option is in there yet, and that option can’t happen overnight, right. Everybody in the world is not gonna wake up and then suddenly plug into Blackphone, How, like what device?
Shamir: Rather than app, and so that, and then there was the bust, and now it seems to be fashionable to say, hey, none of this ever gonna happen.
Benjamin: Yeah, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now. I mean, so going back to Constellation, what we’ve been focused on, like going to the idea of a lot of data, a directed acyclic graph really hums when you have a lot of data coming in, so we’re not really a fit for like a supply chain management or even financial transactions, even though do have high volume, we’re thinking of stuff that’s more source data. And so we work largely with OEM manufacturers, like large car manufacturers, OEM’s, companies that manufacture cars, you know, the suppliers and so forth, and, you know, when you think like a good use case would be, and I really liked this we’re in this automotive think tank in Germany where they have millions of weather sensors, and they’re trying to create a way for cars autonomously driving down the road, and it hits black ice, and it notices it, how can you communicate between the weather sensors, the electronic control units in the car, the phone, as well as other cars, you know, it’s one thing that happened in the controlled setting, but how do you get that amount of data to make a consensus very quickly. And, you know, it’s not a whole lot different, I like telling people that connected to the old BitTorrent. You know, when you think you’re downloading a Spider-Man movie, and it actually doesn’t just come in as the movie, it comes into like thousands of little pieces that are hosted by a lot of different computers that are, you know, participants in the network. And then it’s compiles in the last minute on your computer, and the incentive in return for you getting that movie is you offer up a certain subset of resources of your computer to do the same if somebody else is pulling, you know, a Batman movie and so forth, making it pretty much impossible for somebody to kind of like take it down or figure out what the origin is. And so it almost like a flock of birds, when you think about a decentralized computing. So, one of our use cases for working on with a transit company, agency is, right now, the public transit feed that you’re seeing from Google and some of these other major agencies is called the GTFS feed, and it really is focused on different fleets, you know, this is more of everyone looking at a bus schedule or a train schedule, and they aggregate that data to show the proper, the appropriate times. And while that seems like, well, you know, is imperfectly, they’re not really able to see which exact vehicle is having issues or what operator, they don’t really have that much visibility. Before they able to actually notarize and show like right when that, you know, train starts and put in like the time, and the day, and the location, all that stuff on immutable ledger, no matter where they go and what operating system tends to add more complexity to it, they can always use an audit trail, to know the exact time and status of that car, it’s like a proof of movement, if you will. And so we’re in the business of, or we’re in the mode right now to try to replace the public transit data feed with ours, which is a third party, unbiased, beautiful ledger saying this person actually showed up exactly on time. And the benefit for the operators, we can start to incentivize, so if you have a whole fleet that’s showing up late, it could be just three bad actors, you know, and right now they don’t have that level of visibility. So, the thing with these use cases though, is they often seem rather lackluster, you know, when people think of an 800 billion dollar market cap that was created, there like, where is the money, why are we seeing it today, kind of your point on the early Internet, it’s like, you need a wedge to show that vision, to show that there something bigger that you can build on top of it. And I think some of this kind of biting people in the butt, as far as the blockchain approach is that shooting out this huge ecosystem that has a lot of variables that need to come to fruition, such as like 5G, you know, telco, and that sort of stuff, and it’s like well, when is this coming to fruition, and the answer is we don’t know, and that’s not what people wanna hear, so.
Shamir: So, we gonna go dive into this a little bit more, but you guys in the audience, feel free to, you know, type a question on that little sidebar, and we’ll be more than happy to take it on as well. But I think this is like, this is also an echo of what happened back in 02–04, right, people thought that, you know, whatever, food delivery to home was gonna take off, and you were like, yes, it has, it’s just there was a lot of missing pieces that had to come in, like smart phones for example.
Shamir: And apps that people could use, and sort of ubiquitous like delivery services, like FedEx and just so many things had to come together, both business model-wise, it’s like platforms, and then also just financially, but then also like with technology. But once it all comes together, you get to that, but it had to start with delivery kind of almost niche things, like Amazon started on selling books, and it’s not like, Jeff Bezos back had the vision of taking over all of commerce and moving it on that, but he didn’t start by trying to sell, you know, clothes or even cars, or something really expensive, which would’ve made him a lot of money, ’cause he new that he needed to start with something that was small enough, that it was doable, and he could solve a real problem, and then keep iterating, and iterating, and iterating, and now 25 years later Amazon taking over the world. I think that is what people don’t realize when they see a lot of these use cases, which is like it might not seem like earth shattering and transformative, but it is solving a real problem for the real people. And if you solve a real problem for real people, that gets adoption, and then you increment and you solve another problem, and you expand that, and then after awhile you are everywhere, right.
Shamir: And then you can start solving more and more. Then people wake up one day, and the world is changing on them. But it has to be a little bit of boiling the frog. And then, and the other thing I think most people don’t realize is like how large small industries are. So just like for example, trucking in the US that is massive, and it’s not something that everybody realizes.
Shamir: But we all have food that shows up in our grocery stores, like how does it get from Mexico or wherever it comes from, or even from Australia or some place, and show up in our, freshly packed, right. Ships, you know, rail, and a lot of in the US is trucks, and that’s created all of industry. And if you can make that incrementally better, that’s probably get to need it to value, okay. Because it is all about like how do you, it’s not gonna be a flashy wiz bang app on your phone that like Facebook —
Benjamin: Solves a lot, right.
Shamir: Right, and it’s not even necessarily direct to consumer, but it is if you chose to be massive and valuable. So my kind of next process on that is in this mobility space that’s there’s so much talk about, smart cities. This whole idea that the city of the future is gonna be very different from cities today. And we live with, in quite a few US cities — My wife grew up in Spain and lived there last, and she landed in Portland, and she refuses to live anywhere else in the US now. So she loves it.
Benjamin: You’re joking.
Shamir:And it’s not the weather, but Portland, coming from like a Mediterranean climate, it is just like, the city just wants to, but like is into for a lot of, but people who lived here, if you go to other parts of the world, you realize that there’s, I am of course a fan, but that’s only when they’re get going, right, they’re going to a much different future of like the smart cities and the city of the future. Portland is a little bit like that, like what does that look like, what would when my daughter is like, in her 40’s, what is she gonna be living in in terms of a city, whatever that is And then what does that, what that kind of translated to what’s happening on the ground today.
Shamir: In the US and other parts of the world, and how do we get there, and then how can blockchain, blockchain is this one part of that problem.
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah, it’s a fun, I love this topic, in fact, I’ll start with kind of the mobility piece and then go into the smart city. So, we’re part of a consortium called MOBI, I think it’s dlt.mobi, its URL. They’re the largest mobility consortium in the world, and they’ve been around since this May of last year. And the reason why this is extremely important, and it’s why I feel like blockchain is really bringing a lot of groups together, is that for the first time, when you think about these OEM companies, that, you know, BMW and Daimler, great example, two competing companies, when you think about an autonomous network of cars being on the road, you have, say a, you know a Mercedes at front at a stop light, and you get BMW three or four cars back, really for an autonomous network of vehicles to work together, they have to share data, that’s the only way, we have to share, it’s only in the best interest to share our LiDAR data, the camera data, any sensor data back.
Shamir:And if there’s a patch of black ice on the road.
Shamir:Everybody wants to know that.
Shamir:Regardless of which car they’re driving. And guess what, everybody wants everybody to know that.
Benjamin: Everybody wants everybody know, it’s mission critical, but there’s two problems, one, security, when you’re doing over the air sharing of data, there’s security flaws, and then two, IP, you know, who’s gonna own it, who stores, who is handling the data, are they duplicating the data. So then also the distributed ledger comes out, and they’re like, wait a minute, we have the ability now to coexist by allowing validation criteria to only send data on a ledger that can only be unlocked if you’re using the key, when necessary, across a transaction. So, the term mobility almost is synonymous with IoT, because it’s really about machines communicating with one another autonomously, exchanging transactions almost in a sovereign way. And so even BMW has stated, we’re no longer a manufacturing company, we’re now a services company. They wanna turn these automobiles that are actually sit dormant for 95% of the time, activate them, so they can start to participate in the network that adds value to everyone. And so last year we saw a partnership with Daimler and BMW, we also saw a partnership with Embraer and Boeing. I mean these are mortal enemies, and they’re like, wait a minute, we now have a way where we can interoperate and create new ways of this network ability. Like IoT is only as powerful as the software that allows them to connect. And right now these protocols are so guarded, you don’t wanna exchange that data, that’s why all these things don’t actually communicate, because the special authority is a question. And so it’s really exciting to see these companies do hackathons and work groups to create standards around true mobility initiatives, like how do you have a car that has a wallet, that, say, you wanna have the right of way on the road, you can actually state certain tokens or value, and other people would absorb it, and now you have the right of way on the road, and there’s this exchange taking place, and what you are just focused on being, you don’t have to deal with that, any of that.
Shamir:So you’re saying that I could be driving down the highway and I may get to a like really bad traffic, and say, look, I’m in a real hurry, and I’m willing to pay more?
Benjamin: Correct, and now your car can just get right of way.
Shamir:Right of way, wow.
Benjamin: And it would happen automatically, and there is use cases that have been developed that show this within a test model. So it’s not like, we’re beyond the world of theoretical, this is actually starting to happen. Or if you hit the black ice, instead of that data going up to ways, and ways being the central authority that takes the credit, you get the value of the data creation, and now that’s in your log, you can use it to go to work faster the next day.
Shamir:And even like, I mean ways like, I might be driving an all-wheel-drive SUV, and I might hit that batch of ice and just see it deployed, ’cause I haven’t figured And I might not even realize.
Shamir:Because it’s, the car realizes in its ECU that it had to do some adjustment, but cars are so sophisticated in our days, that I wouldn’t, I might not even realize it, just keep driving through. But for the man behind me driving a convertible, who’s coming up behind me, that batch of ice might be a much bigger problem. And it could just share that data with him, that car, the car might slow down and navigate, switch lanes and go around it, and none of us that, you know, none of us actually, the human reasoning wouldn’t even be in that.
Shamir:’Cause as these sensors get more sophisticated, we’re just not fast enough, right. I’m not gonna notice half the time something happened, and even when I do notice half of them, I’m not gonna with that information, I wouldn’t be walking.
Benjamin: Totally, yes, so think about mobility like Brian Behlendorf who’s the Executive Director of Hyperledger has a quote that everybody loves, which is blockchain is the team sport, and I cannot drive this notion home enough that the reason why some people have a hard time with it, it’s ’cause they have capitalistic mindset, and this is a decentralized approach, meaning you have to partner, you have to join forces with enemies with everybody. And so if you go into this with capitalistic mindset, you’re gonna be very let down.
Shamir:This is just is fascinating because I, you see this like a lot already in kind of finance, especially in like the payments industry, where people unlike, there’s a lot to the amount of money, and everybody is, everybody is fighting with each other for market share in different segments, but at the same time, you find a lot of dynamic behind the scenes, that people who seem like mortal enemies are collaborating on different things. Like you think Visa and Mastercard are mortal enemies, and to certain extent they are, right, but they share a lot of this and data with each other, they have the ability to route a certain types of transactions fro one system to another system, so it doesn’t matter which one you connect to. And whenever I hear about that, I’m always like flabbergasted, it’s like, it’s hugely not ready for the public, but it’s like, the real reason is exactly what you said, nobody, like none of them want enforcer in the system.
Shamir:It doesn’t really matter if enforcer is Mastercard today, because then you go to Visa, right. And then whoever is the target, they want to spread that information around and realize what are those false signatures are, and will keep fraudsters out of the system, and then this, it’s all based kind of on cooperation, there is always some competition, and then there’s always cooperation in a different aspect. And you know, everybody is everybody else’s vendor or customer at some place. And I think that it’s interesting to see that that’s happening in more and more industries, and I think maybe in payments it started earlier, just because payments relies on that concept, those Visa and Mastercard a little bit But as more and more of those get bigger, there’s so much value, and incomparably being in the sharing that somebody starts unlocking it at some point.
Benjamin:It’s very vast, it’s like I said, if we’ve kind of been culturalized in this sense of America, like mergers, acquisition, consolidation, systems, power, and blockchain kind of spreads it back out, say, hey, we have to play nice, or else you can’t get behind. And the standards are gonna start to surface in which, hey, you’re going to be incentivized or you gonna be regulated, if you don’t use this. And it’s not like the cops, it’s more like, hey, this is an exponentially safer and more secure way and you have to be an idiot not to do it. So we’re moving from mobility into like the smart connected cities. When you think about this ability for groups to interoperate, that’s really the promise you start to see this connect to this, like a power play, like holly cow, I can interoperate these systems, everything down from like, hey, you got off the max, you get on the scooter, you get into a car2go or a shared ride, you have one universal ID that manages all those things, that’s connected also to your rents, maybe connected to your utilities, and you look at some of the early adopters of this mentality, and they’ve been doing before blockchain, they saw the promise of the connected city. The top one being Singapore, second place being London, and I think third is Zurich right now, and it’s kind of matched by the amount of watching entities that are in those, I think like Zurich has 450 different groups that are focused on blockchain.
Shamir:What they call it, Silicon Mountain?
Benjamin: Yeah, it’s fun, it’s cool to see areas that are untraditional being like, hey, we gonna be a rock star in this area. And Singapore, the way that they really approached it, which I think is smart, because this isn’t about just like, hey, we have new technology that’s gonna change your life, going back to the HomeGrocer.com thing back in the late 90’s that failed. Adoption needs to be a big part of it, so how do you create a new technology that also distance that allow people to afford the technology and somehow be in the middle, in finance industry you can tell those three cities, Singapore, London, and Zurich, they’re all very finance-centered, right.
Shamir:All big global finance hubs, but it’s funny, you didn’t mention the biggest of them all, which is New York.
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah.
Shamir:You have to say, I mean, I lived in New York I love the city, I love the people, it’s an amazing culture, but it’s mobility system and in many ways, the city it’s just really cute
Benjamin:And I think they have a mentality around, let god sort them out, and there also is city corruption that has like a piece of it, you know.
Shamir:Oh yes, it’s a part of the old New York.
Benjamin: Yeah, just let god sort them out, whatever surfaces will it work, but then there’s city corruption, and that’s where, I mean, you think of Chicago has just got rated as the number one most corrupt city in America, Illinois is being number three, and they wanna parse off and make their own state, and they’re gonna be really slow to realize the connected city, because that comes with the accountability, you know, a lot of these things that they wanna control, central power of this. With Singapore, the way they’ve approached, as I said, start with the housing, let’s put DLT on housing contracts, lending contracts, anything that has to do with the livability of people in their houses, whether that’s landlords or so forth. So they started there, then they went after energy, how do we handle, you know, the use of energy on the distributed ledger, making it so that these groups can focus on that. And then the third piece being like mobility, how do we connect the systems, whether it’s transportation or individual cars, to communicate in that as well. And what you’ll notice is that three layer approach, they’re not focused on finance, finance is something that they’re trying to do from a different perspective, but just riddled with with regulations and standards, that they can’t just, you know, shove through, what they actually can do on some of these legacy modalities like a energy and housing, ’cause putting housing contracts in the distributed ledger is actually a pretty easy thing, handling finance contracts is actually, this is really messy.
Shamir:Yeah, I think in Singapore’s case they have this unique problem, like housing in Singapore is Singapore problem, you know, it’s not really connected into Malaysia, there’s only a few links, but as soon as you look at finance, Singapore is a financial hub of South East Asia, even a large chunk of Asia. So I suspect that in finance it’s harder for them to move just by themselves, because there’s so many other constituents, like they have to understand how, for example, if they ripped out one of the payments systems, and replaced it with like distributed ledger, I do know that they have, the have done some finance projects, even in the finance space, that probably one of the most advanced in blockchain and option globally.
Shamir:So it’s Singapore, Zurich would be another one, Hong Kong is building a lot, but it’s, from a government perspective, they have had this project where they’re looking at using blockchain to synchronize between the central bank and a lot of the big banks, and then, you know, the central bank is always doing transactions with its banks, whether it’s manage monetary policy, whether it’s ensuring payments get settled, and Forex and all of that, right, and those are massive amounts of money.
Shamir:For Singapore it would be like billions, and for the US to be in sometimes in the trillions. And then you begin to try and use blockchain technology for that, the thing is it’s not something that’s an end consumer ever sees.
Shamir:Right. Like if the overnight repo market is moving whatever, 400 billion a day in New York, but then New York figure, really, how do I know about it. You only know when it fails, and then you have a financial crisis. Because that’s a for us, so that’s where they’re trailing and they’re not pushing it out to the general public yet. I suspect it’s because of the large geopolitical implications. But in the things like housing and mobility, they can do that.
Shamir:They can say, hey, you know, the rest of South East Asia can watch it while we do this.
Benjamin: Yeah, and I mean, like I think a wedge that I’m seeing somebody’s enterprise, you know, banks and, you know, financial companies get involved in this into this rewards and points area, because they knew how to get, people used to blockchain interoperability, like hey, you now have Amex points that you can interoperate with our partner over at Alaska Airlines and trade those, and the implications if a company locks you out of your points is a lot less than if it were cash, you know. And when you mentioned early on, giving people that sovereign ability to manage their own stuff. While that’s very powerful, we’ve gotten very lackadaisical about allowing corporates to manage stuff for us. Next thing you know, your daughter loses her private key, and she has no, she can’t control her face any more, or whatever it may be, you know, and hey, that was a bad example, but you get the idea, that like you can, sometimes the individual, so when you think about, like hey, we gonna put the power in your hands, but we only gonna have you manage your reward points, you know, and messed up, okay, let’s figure out ways that we can rebound from this and you get a different discipline, so that people can restore their points. But that gets people kind of going back to that frog in the water, they get warmed up, like alright, now we’re ready to actually transition, you know, just so much education then. And you know, John Oliver said something on HBO, I’m not a big fan of his bit on this, but he did say something very funny, it’s like, you know, blockchain is, our big points everything about finance and everything about computers, and don’t understand combine, and it’s true like, it’s amazing how many people try to explain distributed ledger technology that just doesn’t click, which shows that this may take awhile to see people adopt, or we may be lucky enough to reach a point where they don’t even know, like it’s just like, hey, why did this just get all of a sudden better, why am I all of a sudden get the dividend payouts from advertisers when I see ads. Oh, because your data is your data, and you now have it on a wallet, and here is how you can interact with it.
Shamir: I mean, how many people understand what when you’re typing, when you click on a link, and it says https in the address bar, how many people truly understand what that means.
Shamir: But they have some sense that if it does a little, like, you know, lock icon in like the browser, that’s better than —
Benjamin: Or not.
Shamir: And that’s just so much like fishing, right, and that’s a whole broken model in many ways, but people understand those things. Nobody, again, understands TCP/IP really.
Shamir: How it should be get all of the stuff works, but people still manage to use it, but it is important for them to understand, at least like https, and certificates, and all of that, and then there are people in the ISP’s who really need to understand TCP/IP and routing, what’s that, that’s what they do, DNS and all of that. And I think that’s what we’re beginning to see a little bit of this in the financial world, people beginning to say, hey, this is not just useful. I’m not sure what the order detail, like ICO, okay, but I can take this technology, plug it in, and solve a bunch of, like I have three back end servers, I can plug them all together, we cal all agree that this is how things should work, because I have a smart contract, or whatever you wanna call it, and everybody can with confidence, I’m sure to say that, yes, it has 100% all the time, exactly the way we set it, and you know, you can encapsulate all of that, and on the way.
Shamir: And you know, that’s nice, I have a team of like 10 people, some man pool, used to just do that and organize, because paperwork, that’s always gonna be errors, and now you can feed them up, and they work on something else, and it’s the number or errors that’s reduced massively, and that’s where you see a lot of projects within financial institutions, stuff that the general public doesn’t see and definitely doesn’t understand, but it is very high-volume.
Shamir: Global Forex markets move about 4.7 trillion a day.
Shamir: And I think the record day, of course, much or is settled by this one bank in New York, just settlement pretty much, and their record day was like 11 trillion or something.
Benjamin: You can’t even comprehend that.
Shamir: In one day, right. And it’s just so much, right, again, somebody in China is buying a business in South Africa, and they have to move that money, and much of it goes through eCommerce, much of it goes through CMS, and so that’s really like, hey, if you could make this, you know, you’re supposed to and we can automate this, suddenly there’s like two million in that, that has been extracted, and it so much better, and of course, you can make it really, and we can get it automated. And it’s interesting to realize, that’s what’s happening in mobile space as well. And a lot of what it is not necessarily aimed at retail consumers, and they say, hey, I wanna be, wanna go with a new device or whatever, I’m using the same systems, but you know, they’re awkward even now.
Shamir: And I’m gonna try it to my landlord canceling my payment, or lost my data, and I had to reenter it into the system, this doesn’t happen.
Shamir: Because it’s all attached to the blockchain. Landlord system may get hacked, but doesn’t really matter.
Benjamin: Yeah, it’s a, I mean, I guess if I have one thing to just drive home here it’s like the ecosystem play, it’s so important, even in mobility, when you think about a car, you have title transfers, you got insurance, you know, your car sharing, I mean there’s diagnostics, there’s so many different things that kind of come into this car, that most people, again, they don’t even think about, you know, that’s your point. And just seeing the convergence of those things has really started to make amazing things happen. Again, I would’ve lost a bet to see Daimler and BMW participate in this, you know, project together, but they see that like, wow, we have to come closer in order for this to work.
Shamir: And some of it is, it’s not going to work if they don’t gonna buckle up together. Like the problem of the black ice on the road, it’s a problem for everybody. But if only one in 10 cars is supporting it.
Benjamin: Participating, yeah.
Shamir: And only one in ten cars is getting that data, it will make some incremental benefit to the system, but it’s when you have eight in 10 working and they can then solving it, that’s when you get the magical effect of like, if there’s a patch of black ice, all the cars come up, they just switch lanes, drive around, and continue on, that drivers don’t even know what’s happening.
Shamir: And then after a few hours, some, you know, some whatever, machine gets scheduled to go out, and it’s all data.
Shamir: And that’s all happening automatically, and maybe you saved a couple of lives in the middle of that.
Benjamin: Yeah, and it’s happening today, I mean like, so there’s, in Florida there’s this 80,000 acre kind of parcel of land where this kind of Stepford community has been set up that has an autonomous driving fleet, so picks retired people up, takes them to places, and it’s because it’s fully controlled, you know, it’s a controlled setting, and so it works really well, in fact we’re testing that kind of transit engineered as far the improvement of movement. But when you start to take that, and to your point, only certain cars area participate, take it to a level five monsoon in Cairo, Egypt, I mean, we’re talking hell, it’s just, there’s no way. And you have vendors like Tesla who are making the right moves, saying we’re just gonna be open, we’re gonna push out all of our data, and they get super open, hopefully, other people can catch up, but just being now one car that does this, it’s not gonna save every use case, you know.
Shamir: I have a great experience in your quest.
Shamir: But that’s one in 20–50 cars, you know, so.
Benjamin: Yeah, yeah.
Shamir: Yeah, that is fascinating, and I just said back the same thing, like my co-founder Angela, in the previous startup worked on a deal that, the Australian Stock Exchange, it does owners cash settlements on a blockchain, right. And that’s like, so what does that mean?
Shamir: It means that if you’re buying or selling equities in Australia, you gonna find that the system is more efficient now. And we can also do, you may not even notice that.
Shamir: It’s mostly brokers were actually placing the trades and executing them, they’re gonna get more efficiency out of it. Yet it matters for business, and that’s what’s gonna drive a lot of efficiency. But consumers gonna see the benefits, but not even realize it. But that’s when more and more of those sort of backend systems transition away, that means starting the dual nature of all of this. And also think that the infrastructure is hugely important. The first wave of like blockchain and options was really sort of, you know, tinkerers, early adopters, people who were like, you know, I’m gonna buy pizza out of my Bitcoin wallet, it wasn’t cash.
Benjamin: Yeah, right.
Shamir: Cool, right. There was nobody, would make me a pizza delivery company, and you’re like, okay, that’s kinda cool, but I was gonna change the world. It’s gonna change the world, but when somebody builds a massive infrastructure, like everybody can just say, hey, I don’t even know how or what kind of https means, but I know that it’s more secure, so I’m just gonna reply to, you know, whatever But I’m just writing my little website and selling to my customers, but I know, I’m safer doing it this way, whatever And that’s where we needed the blockchain as well, it’s like infrastructure layer which really bring all those benefits, and that as plug-and-play as it can be, and that’s when I think we’ll start seeing more and more options, starting with the largest business services, largest use cases, users expanding from there, could be a five-10 year journey.
Benjamin: Yeah, and what we’re seeing, I mean, so a lot of these groups, and just to educate a bit, I know you understand this, but the difference between public or a private blockchain, permissioned or permissionless, and I, you know, we live in such a polarizing system, sometimes it’s like, you vaccinate your kids, or you don’t vaccinate them at all, it’s like, well, maybe there is a middle ground here, and same —
Shamir: Can sure be that.
Benjamin: You know, there’s all sorts of variables, and I hope I didn’t start to be posh, but it’s just showing that we live in polarized culture, I wanna completely locked down private blockchain, which is like wasn’t that just really like well secured database, or you want something public, where it’s like anybody can join, you don’t really know who is on it or what not. And so what we’re seeing very rapidly, is like consortium of blockchains, permissioned blockchains that are open, but have certain delegates that control certain inputs and outputs allowing these companies to kind of crawl before they run, with the toggles that say, okay, there are open blockchains that we can interoperate with, but we’re only gonna tap into a certain use cases, but for now, how can Walmart get let us on supply chain management within a controlled environment that has a full audit trail that they can query in real time, to say, we know where in the system that broke down, so we can halt it, saving us x lives, or time, or money, or whatever, maybe from that stuff getting into the supply. You know, that becomes interesting. Blockchain really does, distributed ledger bring out accountability. We’re seeing insurance companies that, we’ve even talked to some that are even considering putting black boxes in cars. So you have a sensor on your windshield that rock hits it, the pressure sensor knows that it was broken, knows the time of day, the location, all this data gets appended to that black box. Say the car gets into awful accident or something happens, they can take that out and they can actually see the true, you know, audit trail of when that was notarized. And it has a lot of value when you live in a kind of crazy data world that needs to be regulated.
Shamir: I think that basically out of time here, and I didn’t necessarily see any questions from folks, last call on on any of that stuff. No, okay, cool. So I’m going to wrap up with, maybe just one questions which is, what in this all like blockchain capability, just sort of implement or something, what you see that personally excites you the most, and what personally scares you the most.
Benjamin: I think what personally excites me the most is the rebounds of value, like I think that there’s so much untapped value if you have, you know, a glass of water sitting here may not mean that much to us, but may mean something wildly important somewhere else. And I understand transferring water is not an easy thing, but I think there’s so much value that is locked right now. How do we unlock that and balance it, and that could be mobility, that could be finance, I certainly think that voting needs to be something, taxes, where those are going, so this is why we’re seeing a lot of pushback, as people don’t want that stuff to be unveiled, but like to me, that’s where, if people were more educated, they would be demanding this stuff. You’re like, wow, I want that transparency. So I like that it isn’t about putting more money in corporate pockets, which we are, have no shortage of right now. So that’s what excites me. What scares me the most is a fully autonomous network, like when you start thinking about a network that understands how to gain reputation and doesn’t have a way to be turned off, we start entering the weird world where you don’t really know the repercussions of an autonomous network that can make the decisions, you know, sovereign machines exchanging that we can’t interfere with. And we don’t know the implications of this. It’s kind of like us tinkering with artificial intelligence right now, sure it’s contained, quantum computing maybe contained, but if this thing starts to get out of control, we’re not smart enough to understand how to combat that. So but I know that’s kind of the futuristic Skynet type of stuff.
Shamir: Well, I say people kind of say Skynet, right, and it’s like well, that’s just one potential end case.
Benjamin: Totally, totally, yeah, but it’s a big one
Shamir: It is a big one, but there’s also the ability of like humans to kind of aim that.
Shamir: Say, hey, let me build in capabilities into the systems and just set up the rules, so that like you know, if you read, Asimov Foundation stories, like the three laws of robotics sort of thing. Those are actually pretty decent, but somebody else could tweak that.
Shamir: And maybe set up laws in a different way to lead to other outcomes, right. And it’s not always possible to even prevent it, when you have these sorts of massive systems. And so other way is also always possible to kind of like mold this, right. I think that’s why the blockchain piece of it is important, because transparency is hugely needed. If it’s all sitting within in your favorite Google app, what’s the chance of that anybody able ever to know this thing.
Shamir: That something’s been damaged, or we have problem with, or the data has been sent from something we don’t want. At least with the blockchain 99% of people won’t, but the 1% of, you know, that whatever, teenager who isn’t bored, who understands computer and starts digging in, to explore these transactions, when these transactions look like this, they might actually pick up on them, like there is a problem here. And then somebody else might actually figured that, right. But when it’s private and it’s totally opaque, you are really trusting the man.
Shamir: At least when it’s public, there is more chance of some light —
Benjamin: Last thing I’ll say, is I think, it’s the most exciting time to be alive, no doubt, it’s a wild time.
Shamir: It is a wild time, yeah. On that note, I think we’re out of time. Thank you so much, and yes, you know, feel free to, feel free to tweet at us and ask us questions on Twitter, or any of the options, any of the other channels. And thank you for listening.
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