On this episode of Get Tech Smart, Flo Nicolas talks with Joshua Cyr, Interim Director at the Peter T. Paul Entrepreneurship Center (UNH) about blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, digital wallets and more. They dive into what is changing, the safety measures, and how it is affecting the world’s currency exchanges/transfers.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.
First of all, we have got to know about you before we dig deep. We have got to know why you are ‘the nerd’ of all of these various emerging technologies that are going on.
Yeah, I’m a super geek. That’s okay. I mean, I own that I like tech generally but I also really like following emergent tech. And so I got into crypto, specifically Bitcoin, many years ago, when you could still mine it on a regular computer and all those sorts of fun things. And so, I’d say about a decade ago, I had left a software development job that I had and had opened a coworking space back when coworking was a new concept here in New Hampshire. And I was trying to foster a community in Portsmouth, just to hang out and talk about cool things. And so I really liked to dig into various different topics, to host conversations. So I stumbled upon cryptocurrency, Blockchain, all those sorts of things back then, and I’ve just been following since.
So I’m gonna start with Blockchain technology, right, that’s a term that we keep hearing. And we keep hearing about companies using Blockchain technology, like Walmart, for example, for their supply chain, and just kind of monitoring orders. So what in the world does that even mean? Let’s start with the basic and simple definition.
Well, luckily, we have a two-hour program to talk about blockchain and the supply chain. Right. So supply chain is actually a really good example of that, because it kind of gets away from the financial incentives of like I’m making a bunch of money on Bitcoin, which a lot of people kind of hear about think of blockchain as simply a database. And it’s different, it’s a special kind of database, obviously. But what makes it really important and different from what we’ve had before. For all the different kinds of databases and technologies that we have, this is a database that is globally accessible to every person with an internet connection on the planet. And it is so without permission. And it’s something that everybody can trust. And so any one of those things is actually pretty unique and very special. But when you add in components to a digital identity or wallet, and having that public database that everybody can verify and trust, then you open up opportunities that we once assumed simply couldn’t be done.
And an example of that would be for the supply chain. We’ve all seen outbreaks of like, was it called listeria right? The horrible outbreaks on our lettuce right? And then we have these recalls. And it’s really hard to track, where did this lettuce come from? Right and when did it come on that train what shipment was bad? What was contaminated and when? And so because there’s multiple different persons or entities of some kind that are touching and interacting with that shipment by the time it gets to the store, and then it gets to us. And so that means there’s probably a lot of different spreadsheets hidden in whatever crappy old computer that isn’t backed up, and databases that Walmart has and they require their suppliers to use and all kinds of other pieces and components that are very brittle, and not sharing data. And if they do show that data is not accessible to us, right, we don’t have any insight into any of that. And in fact, only probably the biggest players can kind of force that to happen.
So if you think of most retailers, if you think of the federal government trying to keep track of any number of things that they care about, there’s just no transparency. And so having a global shared database, where we can store information, and then actually, through the blockchain, which is essentially a ledger, mark a record that says that this thing, went from this entity, this wallet address, in this case, to this entity at exactly this date and time, right, and then went from this entity to this one. And then from this one to this one, and then it split in half, and that went to these two, and we can trace every single transaction that’s ever happened. We can trace every single transaction that’s ever occurred throughout the history of Bitcoin. Just by doing that, watching, reading backwards in time, on this ledger, and essentially, what makes the database kind of specialist specifically for Bitcoin is it’s, it’s not unlike a ledger, we would have for accounting, that we’re moving money from this to this, right. And so, but it’s not a database where we edit records, or remove records, like we might see in a normal database, so we’re used to just adding record after record. And so we know, by going backwards, okay, that wallet address had sent this, so I’m gonna go backwards to that one, I’m gonna go backwards, that one, and I can find that chain over time. Really powerful stuff for a supply chain, right? You incorporate that with some other modern technology, or if IDs or tracking tags or anything like that, nobody will use scanner codes or whatever. And you can start scanning individual lots or boxes, and keeping track of things that we’ve never would have considered possible. Just a decade previous.
How much safer is blockchain technology than your typical other delivery tracking system?
So, I would say that probably we wouldn’t have a lot of insight individually to that tracking system, because those corporations are probably using some semi private thing. But theoretically, it’s on this blockchain that shared, as opposed to other much more public blockchain information that we might share, for example, me paying my brother back for a beer last night and sending him a little bit of money. I could do that on Venmo, which by the way, is super public. There’s already a lot of public information. But I could also do that over the blockchain, right? And so in that particular case, our privacy is about as protected as we’re able to make it right or we care about it. And unfortunately, the general public just doesn’t care. We say we care. We think we care. But we give all that information away. Constantly. And, everyone is gonna say I don’t do that, but I guarantee everybody is watching the show, have the website pop up and say something about cookies and you didn’t even bother, you just clicked on ‘ok’.
So when it comes to cryptocurrency, or blockchain or anything else, every bit of data we put out there is going to be accessible to everybody else. What might be separate and might be different is we don’t have to associate our personal identity and our information with whatever record we have on the blockchain. In other words, the wallet, the thing that’s controlling that transaction is a long string of numbers and letters, right, that’s that wallet address. It’s a unique address that’s associated with us only if we make that association available that doesn’t necessarily need to be something that we’re disclosing. And in fact, we can control a bit more of our identity that way, in certain aspects. My account is simply my wallet address, my login for my wallet address, and my private key and authorization of that. And I can log into any one of them. And they instantly have access that I give them specifically to do things with whatever’s in my wallet. And so I’m controlling that identity in a much more strict, potentially strict and granular way than generally you are when you’re using your email address, and you’re probably the same password used for everything else.
So, what in the world is a digital wallet? We’re hearing a lot of it lately, internationally, this might be the new currency, should we stop using paper money, like where are we at here? So we’re going to start with what is a digital wallet?
Let’s take a step back and understand that our modern version of money and how we understand money is not something that has existed for 1000s of years. It hasn’t even existed for 100 years, right? ‘Modern Money’ was a construct that in the timeline of things, is a relatively new thing. And it’s still evolving, right? And so the way we had checks and we could kind of guarantee checks for a while and then we kind of moved over to credit cards and different kinds of credit cards and then all of a sudden, everybody’s just using credit cards and cash is not really so much of a thing for most people anymore. When I tap my card to pay, that’s probably going through many different companies, they’re all taking little bits and cuts and then the merchant has to transact and batch balance at the end of the day. There’s lots and lots of back end friction, and fees, and all kinds of stuff that are going on. So it’s not a one to one, not the same way as me giving my local favorite barista 20 bucks in cash then they put it in the bank, it’s pretty simple. When we use credit cards, it’s just not that way. It’s also a lot more friction for me to do something like donate $50,000 to a family in need in Ukraine. It’s a large sum of money, it raises a bunch of red flags, how do you get it to them? How do they transfer it? The fees that are involved for so many immigrants here in America sending money back to their families, right to support them, the fees involved are very, very high.
So fast forward to now we hear right cryptocurrency is crazy. It’s not stable. It’s unsafe, or it’s going to crash. Simultaneous to all that many nations, most nations now are considering their own, basically digital currency, their own digital dollar. So China and the US are having a bunch of conversations that would function similarly to what we would have. It would miss some of the benefits, clearly of having a public blockchain. But it would function in somewhat similar ways for finance, and banking and transferring information, it would also record a lot of information about our transactions. And so there’s a lot of privacy concerns, we talked about privacy earlier.
Think about China having access to every single transaction for every dollar that’s spent in their currency that is spent in their country. Once you have that kind of information, it’s not unusual for vendors to know more about you than you do based on your changing behaviors. There was a case of someone getting direct marketing for pregnancy, even though they didn’t know they were pregnant yet. And it’s because of our vendors, because everybody is sort of tracking us, it’s their job to be able to target us with ads, right to target us with material that we want, because we’re much more likely to buy that than just random stuff that they’re trying to send us. So they’re trying to figure these things out. And so if you’re buying pattern changes, because you’re on chemotherapy, like all this privacy sensitive information, it’s all out there, you just have to watch what you’re buying, right? I know how healthy everybody in my house is because I watch what happens, but so does everybody else, because they’re watching me, and what I buy, and the facial recognition that happens in Walmart, right? All this privacy stuff is already out there, it’s already kind of alarming. And so having this digital currency that is controlled and tracked directly from the government is raising a lot of legitimate concerns.
This has been great stuff. Hopefully, we didn’t confuse you. But it’s a lot going on that you need to be aware of all these technologies that are happening. And I appreciate you, Joshua Cyr, for coming here and spending some time kind of just doing a brief overview.
Flo Nicolas is a technologist, lawyer, speaker, mentor, writer, tech startup Founder/CEO of CheapCheep & Director, and Creator of Get Tech Smart. She is a dedicated professional with a passion for technology and creative innovation, intent on helping her community to become more tech-savvy and forward-thinking.
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