Joseph Lubin, cofounder of Ethereum — which is the second largest blockchain network after Bitcoin — is confident that India will embrace the ecosystem around virtual currency in the future. However, he says that it would take time, as regulators, political leaders and officials need to be convinced about the advantage of the cryptocurrency. Meanwhile, Lubin, who also founded ConsenSys, a blockchain tech firm, says there are other cryptoassets that can be implemented in the country.
“Once people explain things to you and you see the power of technology, you also understand that it can protect systems better. I am fully confident that this country will embrace profound technology,” Lubin told ET in an interview. Edited Excerpts:
ConsenSys has just launched an office in India. India currently contributes very little to the blockchain ecosystem. What prospects do you see here?
From our perspective, which is a very blockchain-centric perspective, there are lots of great technologists and academic institutions in India. We have partnered with an Indian Institute of Technology where we are endowing a research chair. We are discussing multidisciplinary research opportunities with the institute, not just with computer scientists and physicists building these blockchain systems, but also social scientists who will understand the implications of the new technologies on society and legal systems.
The Indian government thinks that blockchain is good but cryptocurrency is bad. Are you in some way trying to change that opinion?
It will change. We have had meetings with regulators in this country and around the world. In cryptocurrencies, many nations want to know the sender and the receiver of (virtual currency) value. We are making progress around the world with respect to security law. It is going to take a while before it is accepted.
Cryptocurrencies are a narrow slice of the crypto-assets space. There are many cryptocommodities, cryptoderivatives and cryptocollectabiles. The United States is coming to the understanding that you can issue token securities and these are better ways of issuing equities and shares. We are building what we call a decentralised world wide web, where instead of silos systems run by Facebook, Google and Twitter, you have shared infrastructure working much more collaboratively. We are also retaining much more control of our personal information.
We need derivatives, futures and options in this space to derive an infrastructure that works well. And all of these things like cryptocurrencies, I don’t think any nation in the world is going to say: ‘no we can’t have financial instruments because these are new technologies’. We have spoken to politicians, banks and central banks. Once you see the power of technology and understand that it can protect systems better, it is easy. I am fully confident that this country will embrace profound technology.
How are you building a stronger developer community in India?
We will train software engineers to be developers on blockchain software. We will take people from different companies and hand-hold them to help speed up blockchain. We will also do venture investing in India. We have built infrastructure tools that allow developers to build blockchain systems. We just finished a hackathon and an education programme in India.
The Indian government is looking at blockchain to improve education and land records. Are you engaged with them in any way?
We are in the early stages of a land-title registry system, on top of which you can tokenise ownership of real estate. People can potentially invest in tiny pieces of real estate and hopefully, more people will get exposed to that asset class. We have a team that does a lot of supply-chain work and are in discussions for a project with the agriculture industry. Additionally, in one of the states, we are working on microlending project.
Where do you see the confluence of IoT, AI and blockchain over the next five years?
It is an evolution from internet technologies — the web one and web two. Now, we are embarking on the web three world (that will have) trusted transactions, automated agreements on infrastructure like Ethereum and other decentralised protocols. As we see more internet of things (IoT) usage, more software agents can transact through blockchain with legally-enforceable agreements. There is a project open law, under which you can create these agreements.
There are companies like Facebook and Google that are building artificial intelligence (AI) systems that are too narrow an arms race. We are going to retain a lot of high-value data — financial data, health information — but we are not going to share that data with Facebook and Google. It will be available in data marketplaces and everyone will be able to use that data for their purpose.