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EU Blockchain Observatory – 'Convergence of Blockchain, AI and IoT' 28 March 2019

Posted on 29 March 2019

EU Blockchain Observatory – 'Convergence of Blockchain, AI and IoT'  28 March 2019

We were proud to address the EU Blockchain Observatory's workshop on the 'Convergence of Blockchain, AI and IoT' on Thursday 28th March 2019. 

Together with Nabil Manzoor and Kieran Brown of Berkeley Research Group we sought to frame the emergence and convergence of emerging technologies through the lens of Professor Mariana Mazzucato's theory of mission-oriented innovation.  

Simply put, Professor Mazzucato advocates the identification and selection of key inspiration, aspirational milestones called 'missions', around which key stakeholders can be rallied and towards which all progress can be measured.  The Apollo Mission, first expressed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, is an example of a mission which set a clear and ambitious objective (i.e. put a man on the moon and bring him back safely) with a concrete timeline (i.e. get there before the end of the decade).

While acknowledging the importance of technical working groups to align computational frameworks and ensure long term scalability and interoperability, we also stressed the need to rally the public-facing emerging technology conversation around the burning questions which keep citizens, regulators and policy-makers awake at night (e.g. job creation, economic growth, security, quality of life).  We gave a very simplistic example: end-users won’t use and embrace 5G technology because it is able to utilise a broader spectrum range, but because it makes their mobile internet slightly faster.

We suggested that a natural home for the emerging technology mission may reside in the 'Smart City'.  The concept of a Smart City is not a new one, though the existing implementations primarily exist in siloes: e.g. AI optimised traffic lights or an IoT (Internet of Things) integrated waste management programme.  We argued that these implementations, although interesting, only get exciting when they begin to talk to each other and aggregate datasets, thereby producing more meaningful outcomes.  This is where the primary blockchain use-case comes in: enabling interaction and data sharing between previously siloed datasets.  This interoperability has the potential to unlock what we call the 'Smart City 2.0' which, in reality, is what the Smart City vision has always been: a living, breathing, evolving giant enterprise which grows and works with its residents.  The mission may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, city to city, even neighbourhood to neighbourhood, but the key to monitoring and pursuing them meaningfully resides in that central Smart City 2.0 component, underpinned by advanced technology.

We shared our experiences and the knowledge we have gained from the front lines, advising forward-thinking and innovative governments on their emerging technology policies and regulatory frameworks.  We noted that governments should engage in a comprehensive strategic self-evaluation exercise to determine what 'success' looks like to them and what their own mission should be.  We also identified three high-level, general guiding principles which should be applied when considering the adoption of emerging technologies:

  1. Dedicated public oversight is required – Stakeholders require direction and leadership from regulators and policy-makers.  Public-sector engagement does not, contrary to popular opinion, have to stifle innovation.  To the contrary, a permissive, directive and enabling framework can actually supercharge it.
  2. Avoid vendor/technology lock in – The public sector must remain solutions focussed and vendor/technology agnostic.  Public sector frameworks should promote open standards and development to promote interoperability.
  3. Education is key to winning the hearts and minds of stakeholders – Public understanding of emerging technology is extremely low and a lack of education breeds mistrust.  Public sector-led forums are essential, with dedicated education and research programmes to deepen stakeholder understanding.

We are grateful to the EU Commission and the EU Blockchain Observatory for the invitation to speak to their thought-leaders and industry experts and look forward to strengthening ties with them in the months to come.

If you have any questions regarding blockchain technology, other emerging technologies or our Smart City 2.0 vision, please contact Tom Grogan.

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