Diversifying the blockchain

It’s common knowledge that the tech and financial industries are not diverse and inclusive places. So when you combine the two and out comes blockchain, what you get from a diversity viewpoint isn’t pretty. 

“The consensus is that because blockchain is so niche and it’s mostly early adopters who come from tech and finance, that it’s actually less diverse than those industries that are already struggling to be representative of the population at large,” Raine Revere, co-founder of blockchain education startup Maiden, told me on an episode of the CTRL+T podcast.

In purposefully simplistic terms, blockchain is a technology that allows two untrustworthy peers to make a verifiable transaction without intermediaries. The technology wipes out the need for an intermediary, such as a government, a bank or company. Using cryptography, people can make these peer-to-peer transactions with less risk of their data being compromised. And in a “well-designed peer to peer system,” Revere said, there are reduced costs for the end user as a result of not paying intermediaries to keep your data safe and coordinate all of the transactions.

What’s cool about the blockchain is that it’s very infrastructural. That means the products that run on blockchain still look like web apps or mobile apps.

“It’s not going to change the way the web feels,” Revere said. “It’s an underlying change. Not everybody gets that.”

Revere co-founded Maiden in part because of the lack of diversity in blockchain. The company’s mission is to diversify the blockchain industry, be that through teaching basic investing to smart contract development.  She wants to ensure this potentially revolutionary technology is understandable and accessible  to those who have historically been on the margins of society — people of color and LGBTQIA people.

“Our hope is that by seeding the community in this nascent phase with more inclusivity and more diversity, that we’ll end up with leaders and makers in the new economy who keep the little people in mind and who are building technologies that aren’t just going to make the rich richer, but actually leverage the full potential of this technology,” Revere said. “And that companies behind them are diverse and inclusive themselves so that there’s multiple perspectives and a lot more intelligence happening. So all of that is something that we hope to institute and effect primarily through education.”

Maiden is in its early days, but Revere says the company plans to help people understand what the blockchain is and how it operates, while steering them away from more complex topics that the average user doesn’t really need to know, like how mining works. In fact, Revere says that’s a mistake a lot of people make when trying to explain the technology.

They’ll “say something about decentralization and then go into describing how mining works,” Revere said. “Well, you don’t need to understand TCPIP in order to use your iPhone, to use the internet, even though that’s the foundation of it.”

“On the same hand, the average user really doesn’t need to understand mining or protocols that are at a low level,” Revere said. “So because this field is so tech oriented and engineering oriented, the resources that are out there are too technical for the average user and it’s disorganized.”

If we’re not careful, we will create a really liberating technology that doesn’t actually do much other than create a Wall Street version two.

— Raine Revere, co-founder at Maiden

Through Maiden, Revere hopes to create products that are going to be more understandable for the everyday person, while also having a social mission of developing “educational tools that are accessible to people of diverse identities.”

The blockchain, and its potential in decentralizing industries and our society at large “is worthwhile and it is worth pursuing,” Revere said. The issue, however, is that there is “not quite enough awareness on the social aspect and if we’re not careful, we will create a really liberating technology that doesn’t actually do much other than create a Wall Street version two.”

Revere added, “So if we want this technology to actually have a positive effect on society, we need these economic improvements to be accompanied by improvements to the accessibility and the inclusivity of this technology.”

Although cryptocurrencies these days are quite volatile, Revere doesn’t see the blockchain industry going anywhere anytime soon. She notes that cryptocurrencies are global and digital, and there’s no way government-controlled fiat currencies can compete in the long-term.

“And that’s just talking about currency, not to mention the other applications of blockchain,” Revere added. Her favorite example of another blockchain use case relates to the sharing economy. With a company like Uber or Lyft, they’re both simply connecting riders with drivers in peer-to-peer transactions. With blockchain technology, you could take out the Uber and Lyft, but still have the core service.

Over the next five years, Revere predicts there will continue to be a lot of volatility but suggests people try to think about the long-term. While a lot of revolutionary technologies have hype, not everything with hype is revolutionary, she said.

“So you really have to make a judgment call here,” Revere said. “And the media that’s focused on what’s hot makes it harder to make that judgment call. But each of us have to make a judgment call. Is this a trend or is this a revolutionary technology that has the accompanying hype that comes with all revolutionary technologies? And, you know, I’ll let people decide for themselves.”

You can hear my full conversation with Revere on CTRL+T.

Disclosure: After my conversation with Revere, I decided to buy $10 worth of Bitcoin (+0.00079121 BTC) and $10 worth of Ethereum (+0.00864813 ETH) via Coinbase for the purposes of trying to wrap my head around this stuff. 

Featured Image: Bryce Durbin

Published at Sun, 21 Jan 2018 17:54:50 +0000