Is Blockchain’s age of interoperability finally on the horizon?
As blockchain nodes multiply around the world, the need for interconnectivity has never been greater. John DeVadoss of InterWork Alliance explains why.
As the adoption of blockchain technology grows around the world, so have the barriers between blockchains in different countries and regions.
Much like the internet, which started out as small sets of nodes in universities before expanding globally to form an interconnected and far more useful World Wide Web, blockchain nodes — now distributed across the globe — are in need of greater interoperability.
“At the end of the day, the primary catalyst for blockchain is really its connectivity [and] it’s about decentralization,” said John DeVadoss, the co-founder of InterWork Alliance (IWA), in a video interview with Forkast.News.
The IWA, a non-profit organization working on the adoption of tokens for day-to-day operations, recently announced its merger with the Global Blockchain Business Council. One of the IWA’s major projects to connect the blockchain space is building a Token Taxonomy Framework (TTF), which defines a common language, behaviors and properties for tokens. The TTF allows its users to choose what and how much they would use the framework.
Blockchain standards and national, unified infrastructure such as China’s Blockchain Services Network enhance the connections across global blockchain ecosystems. But mainstream adoption of the technology is still slowed down by other factors. DeVadoss believes that one of the main factors that is stagnating a global blockchain explosion is the misconception of the distributed ledger.
“Much of the mainstream enterprise IT world still thinks of blockchain as database because they are unable to see beyond the technology,” DeVadoss said. “There has never been a stack like a blockchain stack because none of them had economic protocols baked inside intrinsically.”
Despite what DeVadoss characterizes as a popular misconception of blockchain as a “trust machine,” he still sees the technology as beneficial, with adoption likely to continue exploding in the coming years.
“I have seen tremendous amount of uptake through the InterWork Alliance and — of course — now with the GBBC,” DeVadoss said. “There’s tremendous amount of latent interest and I think it’s going to explode over the next 18 months.”
Watch DeVadoss’ full interview with Forkast.News Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau to learn more about the IWA’s efforts to connect the blockchain space, how the blockchain is changing the business logic, and why data stored on the blockchain can’t necessarily be trusted.
- Evolution of nodes: “If you look at the history of the internet, it began as a very small set of nodes, primarily universities, academia in the U.S. and Europe… . The same way, in the blockchain world, we are seeing this sort of a small number of early nodes now evolve, grow scale, but also still maintain some level of hierarchy or tiers. So you’re going to see countries, geopolitical entities obviously build and sometimes wall themselves in different ways. At the same time, at a global, at a macro level, there is a very clear need for interoperability, for integration, for connectivity.”
- The Token Taxonomy Framework: “It’s an ontology. It’s a taxonomy for token schemas and token definitions, obviously fungible, non-fungible, divisible, indivisible, the entire spectrum. So it’s more like the building blocks for a language that can be used to describe, define, and then instantiate and implement tokens. So, are we there yet? The way I see it is, people can pick and choose. If they want to have a very simple or highly simplistic framework, they can use the TTF. People want to have a very sophisticated, very complex framework, they can also use the TTF.”
- Blockchain the economic layer: “Business is about incentives. It’s always about incentives. Of course, incentives and penalties. And historically, in every stack, we’ve had to overlay incentives on top of the underlying stack, overlay penalties. And what makes the blockchain stack is that baked in, you already have the incentive model. And so out of the box you are able to configure and set up and extend the incentive model. This is what for me is particularly exciting, that there has never been a stack like this. Multi-party, intrinsically incentive models and the ability to create the penalties and sort of whatever you want in terms of overlaying.”
- Data — blockchain’s Achilles’ heel: “You remember the story of the Oracle of Delphi back in Greece. So you went to the Oracle. You don’t say ‘Oracle, What should I do with my life?’ You said, ‘I am thinking about making this decision. Should I do it or not?’ You ask a question and then you get a response. Delphi didn’t tell you how to live your life. It told you to go to war or not. That was the question. And I believe that is the same model we should use for AI and for blockchain, which is, do not delegate. Do not abdicate control. Instead, ask a question, ‘Is this the right decision based on the data, based on what we know?’ Yes or no? And that’s it. So it’s a tool, and we have to think of it as a tool. Otherwise, we are going to be in really, really dire situations in a few years, which, like you said, we cannot roll back.”
- Garbage in, garbage out: “There is this misconception, that blockchain is the trust machine. It’s not a trust machine. It is a trusted log. It is the ledger that is trusted because it is verified…. Garbage in, garbage out. When you have the genesis block — block 0 — it doesn’t know anything. It doesn’t know anything beyond what’s outside the genesis block, block 0. So as long as you’re building what you might call a metaverse or something purely virtual, purely digital, as long as you don’t care about anything that goes on in the real world, you’re okay…. But if you are building anything that is a real- world solution, you have to somehow connect to data because data is the currency in the real world. So when I talk about how data is the Achilles’ heel of blockchain, it is because, at this point, and it’s been many, many years, it’s been a decade, maybe more than a decade of innovation, there isn’t really an accepted, trusted way to ingest data into a blockchain.”
Angie Lau: How will tokens disrupt daily business operations? How will current crypto and NFT trends transition to enterprise applications? And why data is blockchain’s Achilles’ heel?
Welcome to Word on the Block, the series that takes a deeper dive into blockchain and all the emerging technologies that shape our world at the intersection of business, politics and economy. It’s what we cover right here on Forkast.News. I’m Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau.
While the public is busy collecting the hottest NFTs around, development never stops in the 24/7 world of blockchain and crypto. Adoption in this space is now spreading like wildfire. But today, we’re going to take a look at how blockchain will impact the lives of regular hard-working folks that are the fuel of enterprises and corporations.
The InterWork Alliance — the IWA — is a nonprofit working on the adoption of tokens for the day-to-day operations of organizations. It recently announced its merger with the Global Blockchain Business Council, a global industry association with over 330 institutional members — of which, by the way, I’m one of those members.
And joining me today to explore how tokens and blockchain will disrupt our professional daily lives is the co-founder of IWA. He’s also the founder of NGD Enterprise of the Neo Foundation, John DeVadoss.
John, great to have you on the show again. It’s been a while.
John DeVadoss: It’s always good to see you. Angie. It’s wonderful to be on this show and thank you for giving me your time. I appreciate it.
Lau: Well, I want to know what you’ve done with the time since we’ve last talked. You were still helping spearhead Neo Foundation and working on blockchain protocol from that aspect — Microsoft Azure, all of those relationships. And fast forward to right now, for all of us in the blockchain and crypto space, it’s been an incredible year.
I want to know what you’ve been doing with your time since we last talked.
DeVadoss: Absolutely. It feels like a lifetime, Angie. It’s been a year and a half, probably, but it feels like a lifetime.
We’ve been very busy. We obviously have been building out our toolset. We have built what we believe is the premier developer toolset in the industry in terms of the full-scale life cycle, debugging, testing, building smart contracts, deploying the symmetry across the public and the private net. We’ve been able to, I guess you could say push the envelope in terms of developer usage. Tremendous feedback.
But also, like you said, last summer we launched the InterWork Alliance. And it was a very simple idea. It was us — myself, it was Microsoft, it was Accenture, the Swiss Exchange, IBM and a few others. It’s a very simple idea because about 10, 12 years ago, we have seen a similar play with web services and cloud computing. And at that time, I was at Microsoft. We launched and we built out what was called the WS-*, or the Web Services Protocol Stack in terms of interoperability.
My friend Marley [Gray] at Microsoft, myself, David [Treat] at Accenture, we said, ‘Look, let’s go create this blockchain-neutral industry-agnostic set of protocols to enable interoperability across multiple blockchains and decentralized stacks. It’s been a really fun adventure. It’s about 12 months since we launched it. We’ve had very good success. The Token Taxonomy Framework has been our premier, you could say product in terms of usage. We also launched the Analytics Framework as well as the Applications (InterWork) Framework. And as you said, most recently, some really big news in terms of our merger with the Global Blockchain Business Council.
Lau: There’s actually a lot of critical things that I’m hearing here. We’ve been reporting a lot from our perspective in Asia on the Blockchain Services Network, which is also about the interoperability aspect of a lot of protocols.
That’s an initiative being led that is very Asia-based, that is specifically China-based. There are two versions of BSN. There’s one for domestic use, which is very closed, very specific, very authoritarian. And then there’s the international version, which allows international protocols to work with China, but also allows more of that interoperability and that decentralized aspect and not a centralized perspective that is different from the domestic one. We’ve been reporting on that a lot. What IWA is important for — do you think that’s important to counter or even be a second version or opportunity or alternative to what we’re seeing leading coming out of China?
DeVadoss: Yeah, it’s a really good question. So the way I would say it is a little bit different. It’s more like if you look at the history of the internet, it began as a very small set of nodes, primarily universities, academia in the U.S. and Europe. We have seen over the last couple of decades, it’s more like a hierarchical set of nodes and layers and tiers.
The same way, in the blockchain world, we are seeing this sort of a small number of early nodes now evolve, grow scale, but also still maintain some level of hierarchy or tiers. So you’re going to see countries, geopolitical entities obviously build and sometimes wall themselves in different ways. At the same time, at a global, at a macro level, there is a very clear need for interoperability, for integration, for connectivity.
And that’s where the IWA comes in. Our goal was very simple. We said, ‘Look, there will always be walled gardens. That’s the fact of life. It’s the fact of technology. But how do we enable a good level of integration and connectivity?’ Because at the end of the day, the primary catalyst for blockchain is really its connectivity [and] it’s about decentralization.
Of course, we realize, there are always going to be some fine lines and different geopolitical entities might have different perspectives on how far they want to go or not. But our goal was very simple, which is ‘Let’s make sure we build the stack, the schemas, the protocols and the open standards to enable this.’ Now, of course, in terms of implementation, we will see different parts of the world in terms of different levels of maturity. But the game is open.
Lau: It absolutely is, and so I note that the Token Taxonomy Framework is one of your key bridges in a way where developers and business executives and regulators and everybody in the ecosystem can actually work together to define new business models based on tokens. Now, that is assuming that everybody is speaking from the same perspective, the same educational knowledge level. Are we there yet?
DeVadoss: That’s a wonderful question. So I think you hit a very key point, which is the Token Taxonomy Framework. So first of all, what is it? And then I’ll reply to your question. So what is the Token Taxonomy Framework? It’s an ontology. It’s a taxonomy for token schemas and token definitions, obviously fungible, non-fungible, divisible, indivisible, the entire spectrum. So it’s more like the building blocks for a language that can be used to describe, define, and then instantiate and implement tokens.
So, are we there yet? The way I see it is, people can pick and choose. If they want to have a very simple or highly simplistic framework, they can use the TTF. People want to have a very sophisticated, very complex framework, they can also use the TTF. We are giving them the choice to pick and choose what and how much they want to use. And I believe this is the lesson I learned from the early days of cloud computing and web services, which is, a one-size-fits-all never works. You know that. It’s not going to fly.
But giving people something like a buffet, a choice of selection, and then they have the ability to say, where do they want to start. Now we are seeing some entities go the full way, the whole hog, if you will. At the same time, we are seeing some of the entities start really small, and I know they will eventually snowball themselves into consuming the entire framework. But the key is its choices. It’s about starting where you want to start, knowing fully well that this is a global standard for interoperability, and that is something that did not exist prior to the InterWork alliance.
Lau: And it’s really powerful because now you suddenly recognize that your protocol can speak the same language of other protocols, even if it’s not yours, that there’s a universal framework. So how does that maximize what innovations that we’re currently seeing in the space already? We’ve often talked about interoperability, but what is the beauty of interoperability for those who are kind of watching from the sidelines and just starting to learn more about this space. That really helps business opportunities, that change business logic, for example, or provide a new perspective for people in the traditional and legacy spaces.
DeVadoss: That’s a wonderful question, and I love the question because this goes to the heart of what we set out to build with the InterWork Alliance. You look at the history of the internet. It was HTTP. Of course, there was TCP/IP, there was HTTP and then XML, that enables the fact that we’re having this conversation today, across time zones using technology. It’s all built on open standards entirely. So without this set of protocols, schemas, and open standards, we would not be able to live this life of Zoom that we’ve been living over the last 12 plus months. And that’s the exact same thing in the blockchain world, which is like we said, there will always be custom implementations, custom products. People innovate, they want to build markets, make markets, they want to dominate, maybe even monopoly.
However, at the end of the day, that interconnectivity in terms of data, in terms of tokens, in terms of the smart contracts, in terms of the applications, all of that is enabled by the plumbing behind things like the Token Taxonomy Framework.
Again, obviously it will take a long time. It took many years, maybe decades for the internet to consume and to exploit the open protocols and standards. The same way I believe it’ll be maybe three, four or five years even, perhaps for us, for the world to see and reap the benefits of the work that was done early on last year with the InterWork Alliance.
But the key is the foundation. So we have built the foundation and it is extensible, meaning that, you can extend the framework in ways that you choose to extend, maybe by industry, perhaps by sector, perhaps even by domain or geography. And that extensibility is what will keep the TTF alive and sustain its growth, in the coming months and years. So we believe that the foundation is the key. And it’s because it’s open, there is no IP restriction. There is no MIT license, W3Cs. So essentially it gives very small startups and very big entities like the BSN, as you mentioned, the ability to pick and choose and to connect.
Lau: So BSN works alongside IWA?
DeVadoss: Yes, in fact, they are one of the members, and of course, now with the merger of the IWA and the GBBC, it’s one larger family at this point. Yes, you’re right. And of course, they’re not the only ones. We have a very large membership group across the U.S., North America, Western Europe, South Asia, East Asia and certainly Latin America as well. It’s been a lot of fun, which sort of began as a very small effort. There were Microsoft, myself, Accenture, Nasdaq, STX and R3. I’m forgetting many others here, but it was a very small group. And to see it sort of really germinate and then snowball has been very fulfilling, Angie.
Lau: So this truly is intended to be the interoperability foundation that is universal, that is accessible to everyone. And it competes with who? No one?
DeVadoss: That’s a great question. Yes, it is the fabric of connectivity. And in that sense, it’s free, it’s open, and it’s available, much like the Ether. And so there is no competition because what happens is people plug into this fabric and you can plug in as much as you want, you can plug into a very small part of it or you can plug into the entire fabric. But because it is the fabric, there isn’t really any sort of competition. It’s free. And so how do you compete with free?
Lau: You can’t monetarily, unless you think philosophically there could be competition, there could be political competition [and] there could be governmental competition. Are those things that you consider as you structure what’s next for IWA?
DeVadoss: It’s a really good question. So you’re right. There could be ways perhaps to co-opt and to perhaps take it in a different direction. That is certainly possible. And we have seen it in the past. Agendas can be co-opted, can perhaps be influenced, if you will, to be politically correct. The thing is, much like the early days of TCP/IP, HTTP and XML, the key to remember is the extensibility. Because of the intrinsic extensibility, there is no need to co-opt or to take over. You extend the schemas, you essentially provide these hooks to provide plugins, add-ons, extensions again, by industry, by domain, by use cases and so on.
So we will definitely see that happen. And I think the proof of the pudding is going to be in the eating. So basically, whichever set of extensions garner adoption in the market will be successful. So what we have done is build the grammar, it’s the ontology, it’s the taxonomy. It is the core building blocks. Much like a grammar, if you will, for a language. And so which way will the language go? I couldn’t tell you. So it would be foolish for me to tell you what will happen.
But the grammar is extensible, and it’s robust and sound and open, which is what makes us believe that we have built a strong foundation at the core that will then last us in good stead in the coming years as we said,
Lau: Well, it’s exciting. It’s the technology Rosetta Stone that allows all of these different languages and protocols to kind of merge together and communicate with each other in a hopefully seamless way. You’ve also just merged with global blockchain association — this is the Global Blockchain Business Council — GBBC. You’re going to be working under GBBC to continue developing frameworks, Token Taxonomy, InterWork, and Analytics. Can you explain on these three frameworks for our audience? What are they? How will it be a better project under GBBC?
DeVadoss: Absolutely. And there’s a lot of questions you are asking in that particular snippet there. So first of all, let me give you some context on the GBBC and why this merger. And then as we said, we’ll talk about the frameworks and the usage.
So the GBBC, for folks who might not be familiar — the Global Blockchain Business Council — has been focused on policy and policymakers, regulators and regulatory bodies, as well as global influentials. It was back in 2017 that the GBBC was first, I guess you could say, created of all places at Mr. Branson’s island up in the West Indies. And it sort of mushroomed and grew up into a global organization.
The challenge the GBBC saw wasn’t working with policymakers and regulators that last mile. How do you ensure you can realize the solution? How do you ensure you can build the solutions and that required protocols, schemas, tooling and such, which is why we came in. Because we came from the other side. We were building the schemas, the standards, the protocols, the tooling, the ontology, the taxonomy to enable the realization, the execution.
For us, what we saw was the bigger opportunity to sort of bring the two together and scale the impact of the frameworks that we have built at a global macro level to be able to influence policymakers, regulators and others of the tangible. Colloquially I would say we were about making the rubber meet the road, and the GBBC was focusing on the global macro policies. So together, one plus one is certainly much more than two, in our view. And that was the motivation, the genesis in terms of why we came together.
So to your question, there are three areas we broadly focused on. One is the Token Taxonomy Framework. The second is the Application (InterWork) Framework. And third is the Analytics (InterWork) Framework. So for folks who might know some history in terms of computing,
I’ll use an analogy. I know analogies are not great at explaining. But if you look at databases, you have sort of sequel as a schema for defining tables and entities. Then you have sequel as a language to create stored procedures and other constructs. And then lastly, you have the reporting, the insights, if you will, the analytics. We saw the same mental model. The TTF is about the token definitions, the token schemas, purely at the token as an entity, the application framework is about the smart contracts, the code, if you will, that operates on the tokens. And the last piece is the analytics, which is how do you provide the insights, the forensics, the predictive modeling, the analytics with respect to the underlying tokens. And so we see it as a complete full stack with a very similar mental model to what happened with databases and web services and so on. That’s the way we think about it.
So also one more thing. These are all open pluggable standards, meaning that there is no one size fits all. Different vendors can implement them in different ways, and they can pick and choose what they want to implement. The flexibility, the grammar, if you will, gives them the choices across the full spectrum in terms of possibilities.
Lau: But that full-stack is super important because it allows you the flexibility of growth if you want it. And for businesses, you might know what your needs are right now. You don’t know what those needs are in 5-10 years because the landscape has changed, the market sensibilities have changed, the demographics have changed, your needs might have changed.
That’s the beauty of where we are right now is we’ve learned from how we’ve evolved from the early days of the internet and how our operating systems from a global scale to even a business scale has really changed. Now you can apply all of those sensibilities to the next phase of growth.
I’m curious from your perspective, John, what do you think is one of the key challenges to mainstream adoption of the greater blockchain ecosystem right now?
DeVadoss: That’s a really good question. If I told you there’s one thing, any one thing, I think you’ll laugh at me. There’s no one thing.
I see a combination of factors. Obviously, there is still some misconception about crypto and blockchain and sort of where does one stop and where one begins. I would say, perhaps intentionally, there is some blurring of the lines in some parts of the world, which complicates the matters as well.
Another big piece that I’ve been very focused on is that much of the mainstream enterprise, IT world still thinks of blockchain as a database. Because they are unable to see beyond the technology. They don’t see the crypto-economic protocols. In the history of computing, we have seen many models — mainframes, PCs, client-server, cloud, and so on. But there has never been a stack like a blockchain stack because none of them had economic protocols baked inside intrinsically.
And so the enterprise world is still unable to comprehend what makes it different. And that’s why I think we are still being held back in terms of IT. And until they’re able to grok that this is not just a database. This is not about replatforming. When they replatform applications to blockchain and they say, ‘John, where is the ROI?’ And of course, duh, there is no ROI because you have kind of ignored at least half the value proposition. That’s what I think, another big challenge in terms of the mainstream adoption.
The third piece, I would say, is also policy clarity and the gray area. What is the — if you will — dividing line between what is allowed and not allowed and so on? That, I think, is also, unfortunately, part of the challenge of where we are.
But the last piece I want to say is in terms of adoption. In the last 12 months, in particular, 12 to 14 months, I have seen a tremendous amount of uptake, through the InterWork Alliance and of course, now with the GBBC. So there is no lack of interest. There is a tremendous amount of latent interest and I think it’s going to explode over the next 18 months, Angie, in my opinion. I cannot tell you the names of clients and customers I’m talking with, but I can tell you, based on who I am talking with and what they are discussing with me, that you will see an explosion in terms of usage in terms of the consumption of blockchain capabilities.
Lau: I’m absolutely hearing you on that. Even the conversations that we’re having, covering this space, are so different. The players are so different. There are a lot more legacy and traditional people that are in this space. They are not startups anymore. This might have been a startup industry, but the players are changing, absolutely. Which makes it super exciting for us at Forkast, and a lot of the conversations we’re having as well.
I’m curious about picking up on what you said about this perception of data. Absolutely true. What is blockchain? It’s a digital ledger, and it’s immutable. All of the 1.0 definitions of what blockchain is for a lot of people. It’s like going from 2D to 4D. And we’re in the 4D space right now. So we’re talking metaverse, we’re talking NFTs, we’re talking about taxonomies, token economics, you name it. We’re kind of in this space right now.
I kind of want to talk about this space for some people who might still be in this part of the world with, oh, it’s digital data. Let’s talk about just the expansive opportunity that the blockchain foundation and interoperability and all those things that are actually before us. What excites you the most?
DeVadoss: Yeah, what excites me the most… I’ll tell you this, it’s very simple, Angie. It is that business is multi-party. All business, commercial, for-profit, non-profit, it’s multi-party. Because no entity is an island. And so if you go from that premise that essentially all transactions are multi-party transactions. Think of a blockchain stack as a multi-party stack. And that’s what it is.
In the history of computing, there has never been a multi-party stack. You look at Amazon Web Services, for example, or Azure or Google Cloud. They’re all single-party stacks. Meaning that when you build a solution, maybe a supply chain or trade finance, you have multiple entities. But at the end of the day, there is only one entity paying the bill to Amazon. Which makes no sense if you think about it. It’s a multiparty business. So why is one entity paying the bill? And so think of blockchain as a stack for multi-party transactions. All of a sudden it opens up.
The second piece is, it is an economic platform. Business is about incentives. It’s always about incentives. Of course, incentives and penalties. And historically, in every stack, we’ve had to overlay incentives on top of the underlying stack, overlay penalties. And what makes the blockchain stack is that baked in, you already have the incentive model. And so out of the box you are able to configure and set up and extend the incentive model.
This is what for me is particularly exciting, that there has never been a stack like this. Multi-party, intrinsically incentive models and the ability to create the penalties and sort of whatever you want in terms of overlaying. That is something people are still trying to come to terms with. It is too much of a leap for technology, for IT.
And I think unfortunately it is a very big leap. And so it’s going to take some time, to cross that chasm, if you will. But when we do it, there’s going to be this amazing explosion. And we will look back at old world stacks and say, what the heck were we thinking? What were we doing, with things like cloud platforms? They are nothing in comparison.
Lau: It’s almost like going from linear thinking to non-linear thinking. Like, everything has to happen in chronological order. One has to happen. Otherwise, the next thing can’t happen, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And now suddenly, we are a non-linear world, we are in 4D world where multiple things can happen at one time. And just because one thing happens doesn’t mean these three things concurrently can’t happen. That’s kind of the world in which we live.
So if you’re not a developer, if you’re not an engineer, if you’ve just not been as well-versed in this type of thinking, how does one get here? How does one change the paradigm thinking, change the perspective? What does one need to do to actually engage in a new way with this new philosophy, I would almost say in business thinking and business logic.
DeVadoss: It’s an amazing question. I like what you said earlier about the kind of the non-linear, if you will, the disruption, in terms of the thinking, the mental models, and of course, applying the technology.
The thing that I tell people, Angie, is that you need to have two perspectives. One is a view of blockchains as a software technology or a software platform, but also the view of blockchains as an economic stack. As an economic platform, as economic plumbing — if you will. And so you have to wear two hats at the same time. In fact, when I meet young people, I encourage them to pursue a degree in economics and minor in computer science, or vice versa, because I think it makes them uniquely qualified to comprehend, to grok and to exploit.
Coming at it from any one perspective at best gives you half the value proposition. So that’s the key. It is a software stack, but it’s also an economic fabric. And if you can bring it together, then the magic is visible. Otherwise, it’s almost like, you only see half the coin. And you say, ‘Well, what’s the big idea?’ And it’s hard. If you only see half the story, what is the big idea? It’s very hard to get this. I would say it’s an economic platform, and that is kind of the ‘aha.’ I would encourage people to say, see it as the first economic platform in history.
Lau: You are putting into words I think what excites a lot of people in this space and what excites us as journalists covering this space because it really is a transference of economic power back to the individual for the first time that we’ve seen in really modern economic history. The dynamics are suddenly very, very different and it disintermediates, or disenfranchizes what have been legacy businesses or traditional pillars, and it actually creates new synapses of economic relationships.
That is what’s super exciting. If you see it like that, the world gets really, really exciting in very many ways. I also want to note that you’re working on a research project right now called ‘Trustworthy Data — Blockchain’s Achilles’ Heel.’ I totally hear you on this. We’ve often said garbage in, garbage out, even if blockchain can be immutable and it’s trustless and it’s a record of permanence forever. It almost doesn’t matter if that piece of information that you’re recording for posterity is not real, is not right, is an error, is not fact-based. And so I’d love to talk about this with you. I want to hear more about this.
DeVadoss: Well, thank you for asking me this question, and it’s a topic very close to my heart, Angie. It is something I spend a lot of time, and you’re right, I am working on a project in this particular space. Just a few things, and I could talk for a long time on this topic. So just a few things. And then we can decide, where do you want to take it?
The first thing I want to say is, there is this misconception, that blockchain is the trust machine. It’s not a trust machine. It is a trusted log. It is the ledger that is trusted because it is verified. Like you said, garbage in, garbage out. When you have the genesis block — block 0 — it doesn’t know anything. It doesn’t know anything beyond what’s outside the genesis block, block 0. So as long as you’re building what you might call a metaverse or something purely virtual, purely digital, as long as you don’t care about anything that goes on in the real world, you’re okay.
And in some sense, Bitcoin is like that, because Bitcoin doesn’t care about what happens in the world. It doesn’t. What the value we ascribe is the value we ascribe because from the outside, we perceive value in different ways. But if you are building anything that is a real-world solution, you have to somehow connect to data because data is the currency in the real world. So when I talk about how data is the Achilles’ heel of blockchain, it is because, at this point, and it’s been many, many years, it’s been a decade, maybe more than a decade of innovation, there isn’t really an accepted, trusted way to ingest data into a blockchain.
This is true for consumer scenarios. We talk about the so-called oracles, in terms of DeFi and others, but also in the enterprise space, you’re talking about getting in data in terms of options, pricing or weather or something else. There is really no clear, trustworthy way.
So what we are building, and I’m not going to say that we will solve the problem. Of course we will not. But we will add one more puzzle in terms of this puzzle pieces, to say, ‘How can we build on the shoulders of giants to ensure that we have better ways, better techniques and tools to enable both consumer and commercial enterprise scenarios to be able to ingest data and ideally to bridge into the real world?’
Like I said, unless you’re building a metaverse, you don’t care. It’s a fully virtual world. You don’t really care about the real world, fine. But I think most of what we are dealing with is not like that. We have to still connect and ideally bridge with the real world. And so this is this misconception, which I think is creating a lot of these challenges to comprehend the blockchain stack as it knows nothing about data. It is not a trust machine at all. And like you said, if you give it the wrong data, it’s going to happily chug away. And keep it in many ways, creating war from all this later on.
Lau: Yeah. These are ethical issues that we often talk about. We’re starting to talk about it at Forkast as well. Ethical issues of, how permanent should permanent information be, if it’s a court record that is scrubbed that legally is no longer applicable because you were 15 at the time and now you’re an upstanding citizen, is that going to carry through, et cetera, et cetera. All of these things are already starting to happen to all of us right now.
And so, these are the questions that we really need to ask. And then who do we appeal to? Is there an appeal process? Technology doesn’t care. And yet, these are real-world human issues that humans should deal with. Who becomes the judge? Does technology become the judge or have we essentially given away our power to technology? These are really critical things that the integrity of the data, good and bad, that we need to discuss.
DeVadoss: Very well said. And in fact, Angie, you just hit the nail on the head because you’re right. We cannot, we do not want to abdicate the control to the log or to the machine. And this, by the way, is I think a fundamental problem with AI today. Because the mindset in terms of much of the media, even the academia and technology is that somehow, you give the control to the AI and the AI tells you what to do. Fundamentally flawed. Fundamentally flawed.
It’s the other way around. You go back to the Oracle of Delphi. You remember the story of the Oracle of Delphi back in Greece. So you went to the Oracle. You don’t say ‘Oracle, What should I do with my life?’ You said, ‘I am thinking about making this decision. Should I do it or not?’ You ask a question and then you get a response. Delphi didn’t tell you how to live your life. It told you to go to war or not. That was the question.
And I believe that is the same model we should use for AI and for blockchain, which is do not delegate. Do not abdicate control. Instead, ask a question, ‘Is this the right decision based on the data, based on what we know?’ Yes or no? And that’s it. So it’s a tool, and we have to think of it as a tool. Otherwise, we are going to be in really, really dire situations in a few years, which, like you said, we cannot roll back.
Lau: These are tools for us to use, which is really exciting because it actually empowers exactly why we exist. We are not replaced by technology. Technology enhances our ability to make decisions to help each other, to support each other, to have economic relationships with each other. But to your point, absolutely 0% abdication, which gets into the scary science fiction part of it.
John, I feel like we could talk for another hour, but in the interest of time, maybe that will be part two. After your research paper on blockchain and data.
But, as we wrap things up, I just want to say thank you so much. We touched on a lot of really critical issues, but it’s just been incredible to understand from your perspective where this is all going.
John DeVadoss, thank you so much for joining us on this latest episode of Word on the Block. And thank you, everyone, for joining us on this Word on the Block. It was great to have you here. Hope you learned lots and stay tuned. We got lots more coming up. In the meantime, I’m Angie Lau, Forkast.News Editor-in-Chief. Until the next time.