Ethereum: The challenges of a digital future with real social impact

18/03/2021, por Angel

Ethereum: The challenges of a digital future with real social impact

Aya Miyaguchi

Executive director at Ethereum Foundation


Empodera.org chats with Aya Miyaguchi, Executive Director of Ethereum Foundation. Ethereum is the first fully programmable blockchain distributed application platform. As Aya share with us: “I originally became fascinated in the blockchain space for its potential to impact financial inclusion in emerging markets, with a major focus in microfinance for my MBA”. In early 2013, She joined Kraken and educated the public, VCs, and regulators on cryptocurrencies and blockchain innovation globally as Managing Director in Japan. Today, Aya lead the Foundation’s teams, as they support projects in the open-source Ethereum ecosystem, including core Ethereum protocol research and development, and educational efforts aimed at further expanding the world’s largest blockchain ecosystem. In 2019, she was also appointed to the World Economic Forum’s Blockchain Global Council and named a Board Member of Ethereum Enterprise Alliance. “I’d encourage everyone to learn more about what we’re working on at the Foundation” 

 

Ethereum is about open access to digital money and data-friendly services for everyone, no matter the background or location, ¿How was the idea born and how does it work? 

Ethereum is about much more than digital money; it can be anything that people can think to build on it. In a sense, Ethereum is a distributed application platform. On top of it people can build applications that perform exactly as programmed (sometimes called smart contracts) that everyone can use and no one can take down, including all kinds of things that can benefit society, and it was the first fully programmable blockchain. 

The idea came from Vitalik Buterin in 2013 (he is now the EF’s Chief Scientist and a researcher), it launched in 2015, and it is built and maintained by users all around the world. 

The way that it works is that independent teams and people from all around the world are incentivized to power the system (helping to decentralize it) in exchange for rewards in the form of its native token, called Ether. The same token is used as fuel for every action taken on the network. This way, the system creates its own demand and is self sustaining. 

Meanwhile, the Foundation’s focus shifted toward ecosystem support over the years. We aim to do what only the Foundation can, to help fund quality teams, good research, educational and community growth initiatives, and to help people using Ethereum achieve their goals. 

 

You don’t need to provide all your personal details to use an Ethereum app. ¿What are the challenges against surveillance to achieve a more private Internet?

The details that are requested and provided for any Ethereum-based application are up to the people that are building and using the app. 

But beyond applications, there are many innovations around Ethereum involving personal data and privacy these days. For example, zero knowledge proof technology provides ways to securely prove that information is real without exposing the information itself. 

Many people building and working in our industry were specifically inspired by privacy concerns, and knowing that something can be verified as authentic, and that this data can’t simply be ‘hacked’, gives more peace of mind. 

 

Can you tell us real world applications of your research in a daily basis?, How Blockchain will have a massive and feasible impact to change citizens lives for good?

People naturally tend to pay attention to decentralized finance applications (or “DeFi”), like permissionless lending and borrowing, but the definition of DeFi is more than these areas, and the potential for Blockchain to have a massive impact is much more than just finance.

For example, during this experience with COVID-19, we see more demand for trustworthy and transparent public information, including on how subsidies are spent. There are applications and platforms that provide tamper-proof information and transparency, which some governments are relying on now.  These types of applications also work well with supply chain systems that need transparency more than ever before, in order to show that resources or aid is distributed as intended. 

We are big supporters of real world applications that solve real problems on a daily basis. In order for us to expand our support, we have been working with the UNICEF Innovation team through their CryptoFund since last year to support teams that are working to create real-world improvement in emerging markets. This program, which distributes Ether (Ethereum’s network token) to those teams, is the first of its kind. 

 

“Transparency is one key benefit that blockchain can provide, but while there are many problems that can be solved with more transparency, there is also a challenge of privacy”

 

What are the challenges that Blockchain technology is facing right now? How do you manage topics like transparency?

As the use of this technology grows, scalability continues to be a big challenge.  Scaling is easy if you do not care about decentralization, but trying to scale without compromising decentralization (so that anyone can participate) is really hard work. Etheruem’s commitment to decentralization is a core part of technical decision making, and it shows in the plans for a coming set of upgrades what we refer to as Ethereum 2.0 (or eth2), which aims to solve these challenges.

Transparency is one key benefit that blockchain can provide, but while there are many problems that can be solved with more transparency, there is also a challenge of privacy. We are working to educate people on what (public) blockchains are good at, so that they can decide where to use them. At the same time, improvements in  privacy (such as zero knowledge proofs as mentioned above) have been evolving, and we expect these challenges to be solved gradually too.  With those technologies, even enterprises are becoming more comfortable using public blockchains now. 

 

No government or company has control over Ethereum. How does decentralization act to create a free Internet?

The vision of each application is up to the teams that build them. But through many of these, users indeed have access to tamper-proof information or borderless financial tools without governments having unnecessary control.  We believe that a more free and open system can help protect and inform people where protections and information are needed most. 

 

“We believe that a more free and open system can help protect and inform people where protections and information are needed most” 

 

You describe yourself as an educator and we really think that education got to do everything with a real digital transformation for good. Why did you decide to go from high school teacher to enter the crypto space?

Even though I loved teaching,  I always pushed my students to follow what inspired them, and not to limit their growth potential. I needed to do the same. 

That’s not to say that I ever expected to end up involved with blockchain, but I always looked for ways to impact broader audiences with higher level systematic changes, rather than doing that with a classroom full of students. When I ran into blockchain in 2011, I recognized this as a technology that could create major change and solve issues in the world. After getting started in the industry, one thing led to another, and while it was not something I could have imagined, it does allow me the chance to improve some things around the world as I always dreamed of trying to do.

I still see my role as an educator in many ways. Part of what we do is to inspire others, so that they start learning about Ethereum and create their own change, and that is exactly what I did as a teacher. 

 

Are you taking part in any education programs?   

We do connect those who want to learn about Ethereum, whether technically or non-technically, with platforms where they can learn. Some of these are ethereum.org, online and in-person hackathons or other events, and research workshops. 

However my definition of education is to inspire, as I said above, because once you are inspired enough, you will find ways to learn yourself.  With that, we are expanding our efforts to inspire. 

In the last year, we began our work with UNICEF as previously mentioned, and experimented with a program to bring scholars to Devcon, (the Foundation’s yearly community gathering) many of whom might have otherwise never been able to become involved due to either where they were from or their financial status. 

This program will shift into a more targeted effort by identifying potential (whether impactful projects, community leaders with big ideas, or other rising stars), and directly working with them to help accomplish their goals while demonstrating the power of Ethereum. 

The Foundation’s Ecosystem Support Program offers grants and non-financial support to projects in the ecosystem, and some grantees run educational programs working with universities. 

 

How works the decision making processes and governance in the Ethereum Ecosystem?

There is a very clear difference between the Ethereum Foundation and the Ethereum community, and they’re governed in different ways too.

Originally, the Foundation was similar to a developer house, where many of the builders that maintained the network itself worked. And while the decision making process has been decentralized between organizations since launch, we still found it important to make sure that no single party could have too much influence. So we took a different approach in recent years, one that we often describe as a “philosophy of subtraction”.

Instead of always trying to solve problems by ourselves, we wonder about how the Ethereum community can solve things, and how we can help them reach their goals.

While there is a natural tendency of organizations to grow their power over time, we’re working in an industry specifically focused on making sure that power is distributed, and we wanted our organization to reflect those values.

Ultimately, any philosophy is only as good as the choices it inspires. In recent years, we have decentralized to a greater extent, and the network is maintained by developers all around the world who work for many different teams. All along though, the community extended to the application developers who have always been independent of the EF, and they are the ones bringing to life all of the possibilities that this technology creates. 

The Foundation today is an ecosystem support system in many ways. We help support (financial and non-financial) those that can make the greatest impact, and some essential teams. That includes at the network level, important future-focused research, community growth efforts, educational projects, and application teams creating real change. In short the Foundation aims to do what only the Foundation can do. 

The community is much larger than we are, and they cover much more territory too. Definitely check out our last few updates from the Foundation for more detail on us at blog.ethereum.org.

 

What is your opinion and predictions on How is everything going forward during and after the global crisis of COVID-19 and how disruptive technologies like Blockchain can generate sustainable solutions for the future?

The global pandemic is changing how people look at society.  In a way it is making the view of more people closer to what ours has been. People now care more about where products are coming from and want to verify that information. They care more about privacy and censorship, and at the same time they need transparency and accountability on spending and subsidies, and to be able to authenticate the information that they’re looking at to know what is true.  That has always been our view and a motivation to improve Ethereum, but now the attention to these things is a lot greater, strangely, given the Covid situation. 

More teams, organizations and governments understand the benefits of blockchain and see it as technology that’s critical to solving issues, so it is expediting the level of implementation more than I expected even just a year ago. 

 

We would love you to finish with a piece of advice to young students that want to pursue their dreams in Science and technology?

Science and technology have the potential to change the world, but you do not have to be a scientist or be good at math to pursue your career in science and tech. Find something through which you can shine,  and make changes by being you. Try to find things that you can be inspired by and then inspire others with that.  And never lose your curiosity, because that is the source of everything.

 

Further info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Czf2aAqGIY

EF website : https://ethereum.foundation/

More about Ethereum: https://ethereum.org  

And feel free to follow me on twitter @AyaMiyagotchi

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amiyaguchi/

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