Back with another episode coming to you from Davos Switzerland during the World Economic Forum 2022 conference, the Edge of NFT team brings you engaging interviews with key players in Web3 and beyond. Prominent names such as Medha Parlikar and Mrinal Manohar (CasperLabs), Alex Bornyakov (Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine), and Marcus Shingles (Exponential Destiny) join us to talk about exciting projects and developments in multiple areas. We’ll cover an array of impactful topics like tackling education and government funding, supporting humanitarian efforts, venturing into the nonprofit space and addressing the UN’s SDGs. Get to know a wide spectrum of exciting projects and prospects for NFT in this informative episode. Don’t miss out.
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Edge Of Davos Part 2: Feat. Medha Parlikar & Mrinal Manohar (CasperLabs), Alex Bornyakov (Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine), Marcus Shingles (Exponential Destiny)
We’re here in Davos, Switzerland coming to you from the World Economic Forum Convention that happens here every year. We’re going to bring you some of the sharpest minds and global leaders telling you what they think about what’s next and how they’re making it happen. In this episode, we’re going to transition from one interview to the next to give you that feeling that you’re here with us transitioning from one engaging conversation to the other. Stay tuned, sit back, relax, and enjoy.
Welcome back to Davos. This is our second day here. We are excited to keep the excitement rolling. We’re here at Blockchain Hub doing some interviews. We’re going to talk to some members of the Casper team. It’s looking to be a great interview. Let us have them each introduce themselves. Let’s start with you, Medha.
I’m Medha Parlikar. I’m the CTO and one of the Co-Founders of CasperLabs. We’re the company that built the Casper Network and turned it over to the public Casper association who are now stewards of the network. I’m happy to be here.
I’m Mrinal. I’m one of the Co-Founders and CEO of CasperLabs. I’m a computer scientist who went to Wall Street. Now I’m reformed.
It’s apropos, too, because we have here in Davos an experience like the old guard in the traditional finance and the non-traditional interacting daily. It’s a big deal that you guys decided to do this house. It’s been incredible to be a partner here. The hospitality has been amazing. The lattes have been critical. The croissants have been on point. I would love to hear the genesis story about the Blockchain Hub. Why did you do this? How did this come to be? Why was 2022 the year to pull this off?
Davos is where we have government financial and enterprise leaders. There is a slightly anarchistic streak sometimes in the blockchain. I view it as an augmentation of the system, not a great replacement. If you think about any big technical innovation, it seems disruptive at first and can be disruptive, but it usually ends up being an augmentation. You still go to the grocery store even though you can order bananas on Amazon, but having that option is great. Having an option of self-sovereign money is great. That message doesn’t come across enough that this is an augmentation.
It’s something enterprises and governments need not be scared of. We purpose-built our blockchain to be government and enterprise-friendly. That’s why we called it the Blockchain Hub and not the Casper Hub. We thought it’s important to have educational content for these world leaders in both government and enterprise to learn about blockchain technology in general and what we can offer as a Casper Network in particular. The Blockchain Hub is an educational endeavor more than anything else.
One thing I have realized from meeting your incredible team here is you have this interesting mix of folks that come maybe from the blockchain space, but also other folks that come from traditional business in Cisco and companies like that. What is it like to build that type of culture and for that team to rally around planning this event?
I will differ Medha on this because Medha is the one who has had the most enterprise chops here. I was a Wall Street guy. I did work in software, but it was more buying, selling, and managing than anything else. When we started the company, our ethos was blockchain is a technology. We’re looking for great engineers and builders, which means you don’t need to have a blockchain background.
Davos: Blockchain is a technology you can teach someone about. You can’t make someone a great engineer. You can’t give someone great experience, but you can educate them about blockchain.
It’s a technology you can teach someone about. You can’t make someone a great engineer or give someone great experience, but you can educate them about blockchain. That culture permeates both internally within our organization and also externally when we face the external world, which is why educating people about blockchain is so important to us.
People have asked us about how we built the team like, “I talked to someone on your team that doesn’t have a blockchain background.” I was like, “That’s fantastic. We need those people. In the industry, if it’s all the same people, then how do we make this industry bigger?” I’m totally on board with that.
That’s exactly right. Our engineers come from all kinds of traditional software companies. These are the core developers that built the Casper Network. They took a traditional software focus when they built the protocol. Even the developer workflow is much like software as it has always been built. They didn’t step outside of the workflow that they were used to.
We feel it is going to make it easy for non-blockchain developers to onboard onto the system because it’s going to work exactly the way that other software always works. From the smart contract engine itself to the workflow for building contracts, it’s going to feel much like Web 2.0 and the software the way we have always written it.
We see that theme at the larger level in bringing all these things to the public that we need to make it easy for them. There’s another level that you’re demonstrating here for developers. Why make them learn something new if they don’t have to make things easier? On that note, let’s talk about what you guys have been building. Let’s talk about some specifics.
We have been focused on building the Casper Network. It took us about two and a half years to build Mainnet. Mainnet was launched on March 31st, 2021. It has been in production for about several months. Our focus was to create features that we ourselves would use as technology leaders in a large technology organization. That’s where I come from, 25 years in Web 2.0 and Web 1.0 technologies. I looked at the blockchain landscape when we founded the company and couldn’t find a public protocol that I would use that gave me flexibility, power, and control.
I needed to service customers being service to regulatory requirements or my investors. I have to innovate even if I’m using blockchain technology. I needed to be able to continuously upgrade software on chain, get business intelligence and analytics through an ETL process, and build and test my contracts using the same processes that software has always been built with. When we looked at those protocols in the space, we didn’t find that. That’s what we set out to build. Casper has got fantastic granular permission schemes and features that all the stakeholders in an organization would need before they approve a protocol platform in their infrastructure.
I appreciate you reaching back to your experience in Web 2.0. For folks reading and even for myself, can you give a little bit of context on how that experience in Web 2.0 informs what’s going on in Web3 with you? That’s a lot of experience you have under your belt. There are similarities and differences.
Having an option of self-sovereign money is great. Click To Tweet
Web3 is an extension of Web 2.0. I look at the blockchain protocol separate from cryptocurrency. I think of HTTP Web 2.0 as an information protocol. You see a lot of information out there on the internet. I see blockchain as a trust protocol. Any information that passes through the blockchain can be trusted. I see it as an augmentation to Web 2.0, not a tear out and replace. By that extension, blockchain has to become part of a larger application infrastructure.
I understand Web 2.0 infrastructure well from the back-end architecture and infrastructure involved in Web 2.0 systems. I can understand how to integrate blockchain technology into that application stack. That’s what Casper does well. Our engineering team also hails from that era as well. They understand how to build large, scalable backend production systems. The Casper Network is purpose-built to work alongside those Web 2.0 production systems.
I would love to zoom out a little bit more. On the show, we go well beyond the conversation about NFTs. There are so many business problems that can now be tackled with this technology and the convergence of technology that’s now available, including what you guys have built in Davos. People are talking about some of the biggest problems in our society, from what’s going on in Ukraine to the economy, and the agricultural challenges we’re having across the food tech world.
I would love to understand more about the business problems that you guys are solving. I have heard bits and pieces of some of the interesting projects that you’re working on. If you could elaborate on that and what you think Casper is good at tackling when it comes to that this century’s challenges.
I’ll cover some. I’m sure Medha will have even more. Instead of talking about specific companies, let’s talk about specific use cases. Let me abstract them and then give an example of how you would use them. One thing that we are excited about is track and trace. Any item, how it moves either through a supply chain or if it’s a patent or IP, how it goes from one owner to the other, bring that back to some of the biggest problems we have. We know we have a food supply chain problem in the world, especially with Ukraine being such a big supplier of wheat.
I was hearing from a senior world leader that we might have only twelve weeks of wheat inventory left in Europe. There needs to be a solution to that problem. If we had a worldwide blockchain-based food supply management system, because each country keeps track of its stuff on its own, and it takes experts to come and aggregate this. You could have a snapshot of core fundamental commodities like wheat, rice, etc. If you don’t have them, people start starving and then the pitchforks come out. You got to solve that problem.
If I did not have European bread and I was in Europe, I would not be a happy camper.
That’s track and trace. You can extend that to lots of things. An airplane manufacturer feels much more confident about putting this engine together because I know where every single part of that turbine came from. Putting the wrong piece into a turbine can have pretty disastrous consequences. Track and trace is something we like. Another thing is digital certification. NFTs are part of that. The way we think about NFTs is their digital certificates. We take that concept further where we say the real value of it is A) If it can be a digital certificate of something that has real value, for example, a watch, the whiskey cast we auctioned, or a piece of art.
Davos: There’s an opportunity here where you can take an NFT and enhance it with added value and features later on. You can take brand marketing to the next level and deepen your engagement with your customers using this wonderful technology.
In the second layer, if we talk more about NFTs or some unique features is add intelligence to that. I’ll give a specific example. Vincent van Gogh died a pauper. His estate never made any money, but people who have traded his paintings have made hundreds of millions of dollars. What if there’s an NFT backing each of the paintings? 1) You’ve solved the authentication problem. 2) You could tack on every time it’s resold, 10% goes to Vincent Van Gogh’s estate.
It solves the problem of artists and people not being properly compensated. You could add any level of intelligence. You do the same thing with a house. Your house has an NFT. You can sell portions of it to let people stay a few months. Every time it’s resold, there’s automatic value added. If you do a refurbishment, the house value gets re-slotted. It’s up to your imagination. Those are two big ones. Medha, any others are your favorites?
If you dig deeper into track and trace, there are interesting things in the food supply that become important in terms of the quality of the food and the standards. The European Union has different standards for food than the United States and has clarity around which resources you can use for Europe because they need to be compliant. One of the revolutions in the computing industry was this notion of just-in-time manufacturing.
If you order a computer from Dell and they assemble it after you’ve ordered it, you can take that even one level further and get even more transparency and more real-time information about your supply chain. That is a good example. Similarly, there are also innovations in ticketing, coupons, and customer loyalty programs. There’s even an opportunity here where you can take an NFT and then you can enhance it with added value and added features later on. You can take brand marketing to the next level and deepen your engagement with your customers using this wonderful technology.
As co-founder of a food tech company that had to deal with sourcing consistent ingredients across five different regions, it was mission impossible. The grades of different types of products that you don’t even realize are graded and the nuance of those grades and the definitions of those grades, it’s complicated. Organic is not always the best quality. There’s a lot to it. It sounds like complex problems like this you guys are trying to solve.
We also might have some interesting things for you to share with us that people will be excited to hear. Before we go to that. You’re so in on what’s going on. Give us a little bit of a projection into the rest of 2022 from now, anything that you could share about the way that you’re thinking about the future from this point forward.
I tend to prefer more outlook only because I’m fairly confident it’s going to be somewhat like what I say in a few years, but I don’t know when. Stuff happens faster or slower. There will be a formalization of the blockchain industry. There are going to be more standards around financial instruments, what they look algorithmically, and what data exchange looks like. If you think about it, the internet only works because every piece of infrastructure can talk to each other because there’s TCP/IP.
We don’t have TCP/IP in the blockchain. I don’t know whether it’s half a decade or a decade, but I see more formalization, which means there will be significantly better interoperability. As a result, adoption goes fast. The second big thing I see, and one of the biggest challenges in blockchain and what is so under-penetrated is huge UX improvements. For us who are crypto natives, MetaMask looks fine. If I give it to my grandmom, it’s equivalent to asking her to do brain surgery.
We think about NFTs as digital certificates. Click To Tweet
Ethan tried to onboard one of our friends to get on our spirit season. It took an hour or two.
Luckily, it was a rewarding purchase.
You ended up winning one of the Nicole Buffett Limited Edition Spare Coin. It worked out for him, but what an effort.
The internet only took off after the web browser made it simple. You type the name of the thing you and you get there. Before, if you had a shell account, it was so complicated. Two more things I see on the horizon, we’ll have a lot more regulatory clarity in the next few years, which will be good. Either way, it ends up. Blockchain is one of those things that will always survive. If one country doesn’t adopt it now, it’s good for another country to now become the hub. It’s antifragile that way, but some clarity would be great. It’s hard to know whether what you’re doing is right or wrong.
Finally, there will be a lot more expenditure, especially from the government and enterprise side. That’s lagged. It has been funded as a community so far. It has had its pros and cons. There’s been a lot of self-sovereign entities but you have a limited set of funds, where the kingmaker is in the space and that’s so against decentralization. The spread of enterprises and governments funding real use cases will make this industry more serious.
In the next few years, I do see enterprises moving into having production projects running on hopefully on a Casper Mainnet as well as others. I do see that they are much more interested in adopting public blockchain infrastructure. There’s a lot of education that’s happening in the space. We are proud to be at the forefront of that. The first thing a lot of our customers that we speak with are asking is, “Educate me on blockchain.”
“What is the difference? How should I use it? What are the use cases?” As a community, we should all be striving to educate everybody we come in contact with on the merits of permissionless, public blockchain protocols, the trust that they provide, and the right way to use them. We want to optimize these valuable resources to use them properly. I see a lot of education and adoption happening.
To your point on education, that is one of my pet peeves. It’s this hammer and nail problem. They’re like, “Blockchain, use it for pretty much X anything.” It’s not an appropriate technology for a lot of things. It’s always going to be computationally more expensive. It costs more processing cycles than centralized consensus. It always will. It’s not an appropriate technology for a lot of things, but for the things it’s appropriate at, it is powerful.
Davos: As a community, we should all be striving to educate everybody we come in contact with the merits of permissionless, public blockchain protocols, the trust that they provide, and the right way to use them.
We know you guys have a lot of things you’re cooking up. You can’t share probably too much about it, but I always ask people to at least tell us what you can’t share. It’s a little of a sneaky way of getting you guys to share some interesting news, but I hear there’s something cool that you guys are cooking up that you like to share. It’s some breaking news.
We are in the user-acceptance testing portion of a brand new NFT standard that we’re coming out with, which is pretty revolutionary in this space. I don’t think there’s any other protocol out there that has this NFT standard. Because Casper contracts operate regular software, you can install and configure your NFT contract the way you configure regular software.
We have an NFT standard that will allow you to create NFTs that are not transferable, non-burnable, have mutable metadata or non-mutable metadata, upgradable, and non-upgradable. You do this at install time. It’s a no-code NFT solution that will enable you to create any NFT you want. You get a binary web assembly. When you run the transaction, you specify the modality in which your NFT contract is going to run.
Is that compatible with other Layer 1 solutions?
It is not. It’s this purely Casper-specific thing. Casper is the only protocol that has a contract package manager which is similar to other software that you see on your computer or if you go to GitHub and you’re looking for open-source software. This notion of package management is common in the tech space, but it’s not common on blockchain.
Theoretically, if someone else did something around that type of thing, it could be compatible with the standard. You guys are pioneering brand new ground that works well for enterprises.
You can imagine that I have somebody in my marketing department who want to create all different kinds of NFTs. Maybe they want to create tickets. They want to have NFTs that are associated with the ticket. They would create one NFT contract for all my tickets, and then they could create another NFT contract for all of the images or all the brand-related coupons. They have different properties.
My tickets would be transferable and coupons would not be transferable. I can do this without having to write any code. All the other protocols which you see are 6, 7, 8, and 9 different NFT standards, then you have to hire a developer to change that code to meet your business needs. You don’t have to do that with the Casper protocol. You can do it without writing any code at all.
NFT is not an appropriate technology for a lot of things, but for the things it's appropriate at, it is powerful. Click To Tweet
What’s the timeline for the full implementation of this new standard?
We are in our final user acceptance testing. We plan on ruling out our first partner soon. It was validating when we met with these partners that have been at the forefront of NFT technology. They have been working with a lot of Fortune 500 brands. When we looked at their interface, they had to work around all of the deficiencies. We said, “That’s already in the contract.” They said, “That’s amazing because we have had to work around it.” They have had to build up a whole bunch of layer of infrastructure to solve what we solved at the contract level.
Can you possibly speak to what one of the first adoptions of this technology will be? Is that not public information yet?
It’s not public information yet but soon.
We’ll check it. You guys have a busy Davos experience. There’s a lot going on. I’m excited to be part of this experience with you and continue to do some media here. Thanks again for your hospitality. This is a wonderful meeting point for community and connection co-creation. I wish you a great experience. I hope this was a fruitful first time doing this in Davos.
Before we run too, if you want to send anybody to links, websites, or a particular project, make sure you get that in.
You can find us on CasperLabs.io or Casper.Network, You can find all the information about both the open-source network as well as CasperLabs, which is us. Thanks so much for having us. This was a fun conversation.
Our pleasure. Thanks a lot.
Davos: During the first day of war, we started this crypto fund of Ukraine, which managed to raise to more than $60 million in crypto. What is interesting about NFT is that some people started to donate. Instead of giving Bitcoin, Ethereum, or Tether, they started to donate their NFTs.
I’m coming to you from the Ukraine House, where there are lots of interesting activities going on and lots of support for the country. I’m going to be speaking with Alexander Bornyakov. We’re going to talk a little bit about Ukraine and what’s going on with NFTs and crypto in the space. Why don’t you introduce yourself, Alexander?
My name is Alex Bornyakov and I work for the Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine. We take care of country digitalization, moving all government services online, teaching people digital scales, also developing IT industry startup ecosystem and venture ecosystem, including crypto and NFT. During the first day of the war, we started this crypto fund of Ukraine, which managed to raise more than $60 million in crypto. What is interesting about NFT is that some people started to donate. Instead of giving Bitcoin, Ethereum, or Tether, they started to donate their NFTs.
Eventually, so far, we have got more than 300 NFTs on the Ethereum account. One of them is crypto pan-NFT. It’s for sale for 90 ethers, but we’ll see about that. If someone wants to buy it, all the money from this purchase is going to help humanitarian costs and help Ukraine to find this brutal aggression from the Russian Federation. There are a number of others. We have created a special account on OpenSea where we listed all these NFTs that were donated and offered them for sale.
All this money are going to help Ukrainians both the refugees and who stayed in the military. After weeks of the war, we started enormous amounts of requests. People are starting and doing different NFT collections in order to sell those NFTs and aim those funds to humanitarian costs. We even created a special website called Donate.TheDigital.Gov.UA where you can see all the NFT projects that we support. There are ten different projects. In fact, it’s even more. There’s even a huge sale of $8 million NFT.
There’s a famous artist from Ukraine that created a picture. They sell it and then they also direct money for some charity fund. We managed to create a whole community of NFT collections and projects around the situation. The Ministry of Digital Transformation supports some of them that made any partnership. We generally support everyone. It’s a call from the heart of people who wanted to support Ukrainian no matter what in the way they can.
We decided to focus with the partners on one special project they want to talk about called Meta History of War. It’s a museum of war. It’s a brilliant concept. I personally admired the idea of preserving the memory of the war in the blockchain using NFTs. Starting from day one, the artist takes news from Twitter and from a trusted source, for example, associate press. He paints an art associated with this news. For example, when Russia crossed the border, there was news on Twitter like Russian forces crossed the border. Artists took this news and wrote a picture of a child sleeping.
Every NFT looked like a painting with a screenshot of the Twitter news. Each day has several news and they put in chronological order like day 1, day 2, and day 3. Every day contains a couple of NFTs, which you can purchase, keep this memory with you, and preserve because it’s in blockchain. You cannot twist it. You cannot change it. It’s also important because Russia wanted to change Ukrainian history for decades. They won’t be able to do this because this is all in blockchain. This collection is not final because war is going on. It’s several days of this museum arts.
Is that the MetaHistory.Gallery? Is that the web link?
Continue to work with Ukrainian businesses. Continue to support Ukrainian startups and people from Ukraine who want to do business with the rest of the world. Click To Tweet
Yes. We supported this on a government level. We have our advocates. Britanny Kaiser is helping a lot. This museum is completely new. I have never seen this before. It is the first time in human history someone made a museum online on a blockchain that would help by NFT. If you buy NFT, it’s like you go into a real museum. There are souvenirs you can buy and keep the piece with you. Somehow, it’s reflected in your mind and your heart, and you touch your soul. This is a great example of history moving from offline museum to online.
That’s a beautiful story. We encourage people to check those projects out. I would love to get a little bit of context, too, on your history of being involved in digital transformation within Ukraine. How long have you been involved? What has it been like seeing this boom in NFTs and crypto that has been going on in the past and how has it become such a part of a conversation of what’s going on in Ukraine?
I joined Ministry in late 2019. Before joining, I was a private entrepreneur doing my own project in IT. I was familiar with crypto. When I joined, one of the major tasks for us is we put in front of ourselves that we need to do everything to make crypto NFTs legal in Ukraine, because it was in a great area. Eventually, after a few years, we managed to put this into Ukrainian legislation, pass the law through the parliament, and now Ukrainians can hold crypto as an asset. This is an asset and completely legal in Ukraine.
Later on, when we started to see that NFT starts kicking in, we even changed a little legislation on the way because this asset is never in our mind when we started this back in 2019. It’s quite interesting how quickly it was developing. Even during the time of war, our president signed this bill on virtual assets. This is a strong signal that Ukraine wants to be on top of technologies and top of the world.
I’m not sure if everybody knows, but Ukraine is one of the top countries in the world according to Crypto Adoption Index from Chainalysis. They estimated more than 5 million wallets in Ukraine. A huge number of Ukrainians know how to deal with crypto. We have a powerful blockchain community. We were working closely with the business community to enable crypto in Ukraine. They are doing great and are behind many right projects that almost everybody knows.
It has been impressive to see the outpouring of love and support for Ukraine. We’re happy to be here and be a part of it. I’m happy for all of the grassroots movements that are going on the promenade here. I’m lucky to run into you and be able to capture this moment. We would love to get your personal perspective. There are so many people that want to help out in whatever way they can. If you have any recommended ways, let us know, so that word can get out there.
Most of our top government officials are asking for weapons for help with the big things. Please continue to work with Ukrainian businesses and continue to support Ukrainian startups and people from Ukraine who wants to do business with the rest of the world. Russia blocks the majority of the Ukrainian economy with this war. Ukrainians know how to provide for themselves.
We’re looking for opportunities and new markets. We can completely reshape our economy. This is a great help from the Western country and for the Western world if we start working more with the Ukrainians. There are millions of refugees that need donations. Please feel free to buy those NFTs. This way, you can also support refugees and the people of Ukraine. Thank you so much.
Davos: Even during the time of war, our president signed this bill on virtual assets. This is a strong signal that Ukraine wants to be on top of technologies and top of this world.
Thank you very much. I hope that inspires some action. It is inspiring. We have seen people who had their dev teams in Ukraine be impacted by this. There is a reason they had their dev team in Ukraine. There are some great developers and resources. I appreciate it.
I’m back at Davos hanging out at the Crypto House. It’s a lively scene with lots of interesting personalities running through it. I’m here with Marcus Shingles who we’re going to be fascinated to get some insights from and find out what he’s up to. I’m going to let Marcus introduce himself and tell us where he’s coming from.
I’m based in the US. I split my time between Los Angeles and Jackson, Wyoming. I’m here in Davos because I’m part of the expert network for their World Economic Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution. I’m currently doing a blockchain research project with Henning Diedrich who is a well-known blockchain engineer around food supply chain traceability. By way of background, I come from the professional services field.
I was a Partner at Deloitte Consulting, leading the innovation practice with emerging tech. I then left Deloitte to take the CEO position at the XPRIZE Foundation. That’s a nonprofit that does global competitions. I went on from there to do a stint at Bain Management Consulting before getting into my role where I’m responsible for designing a smart city in Chiang Mai, Thailand on 15 square miles as part of an aerotropolis, an airport in a city.
I have been hired to oversee that whole development around sustainable energy, e-government, DAOs with blockchain, water sustainability, waste management, and education. It’s a pretty comprehensive thing. What I’m most excited about is I run a nonprofit that I founded with a group of young people from low-income communities that I have been mentoring for years. We’re doing some exciting things with the United Nations around metaverse and related. That’s my latest.
In response to all that, the future is here, you’re living in it, and creating it potentially. That’s exciting. You gave a lot of context for where you’ve come from in terms of your background. I’m curious. I would describe you as a bit of a futurist in terms of all the things you were involved with, maybe a technologist. Is there a moment that you weren’t and you made a transition? How was the progress of you getting involved in this change media stuff?
I don’t know if the futurist label fits me so much. I’m not being derogatory about futurists, but usually, most futurists don’t have the handcuffs of pragmatic implementation. Ideas are easy. The execution is hard. I’m an operator, working at firms like Deloitte or Bain, or even my own management consulting businesses. I have always had to start a project to finish it as a major initiative. You can hear a lot of people talking about NFTs, blockchain, DAOs, e-government, or whatever it might be.
I’m usually the one on the hook that has to implement a large-scale implementation to go through the real pain and struggles of trying to do that. It also separates the hype from reality when you do that. I’m a forecaster of where technology’s going in understanding it well, whether it’s AI, robotics, 3D printing, VR, blockchain, or what have you. I also am more pragmatic in terms of what can be used to do real things, even innovative, disruptive things. I push the limits, but it’s understanding what’s ready for prime time versus something that sounds sexy and neat, but it’s not implementable for a while.
Ideas are easy. The execution is hard. Click To Tweet
It’s a struggle. The amount of struggle that goes into that is probably far underappreciated.
I’ll give you a good example. It’ll segue into a passion project I’m doing with my nonprofit. Years ago, I was doing a lot of work around metaverse and virtual reality. This was before Zuckerberg changed his name from Facebook before it got popular. Not a lot of people were talking about this, but it was obvious to me and to my peers who have been in the space for a while that there was this inflection point that was starting to happen.
The technology, the hardware was hitting an inflection point where something that was not working good to do virtual reality have all of a sudden, scaled to a point where it was exceptional technology or at least an inflection point to where it was ready for prime time. It wasn’t making you sick. The field of view was much better. Oculus came out with a price point that made sense. When that happened, that’s when the Oculus 1 came out.
How do you separate hype from reality? If you started to use those headsets, they are primarily consumption environments. You were gaming. Even in a business setting, you were using it to be shared something that someone else created for you. If you wanted to create, there were no tools to do that. COVID came along and the demand for companies to want to build stuff went way up. The VCs started to put tons of money into these platforms to make them production environments, not just consumption.
On top of that, the development environments themselves went from technical coding type of development environments, and skilled technical resources to where during COVID, the platform started to produce functionality, almost as you see in PowerPoint. You could get into a virtuality space. Rather than having a graphic design artist build you something in some sophisticated software package, you could get in there and start using the features and functions of the software to build the space.
If I wanted to build this restaurant in virtuality a few years ago, it would have cost me $100,000 and would take me a while to do it. I need specialized skills. Now one of my team members from Exponential Destiny, the nonprofit I run was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, a first-generation high school graduate, getting into college. They could put on that headset and without having the technical skill like coding skills which not everybody has, especially if you’re coming out of a public school and a low-income community. They’re not getting that type of education.
He or she could build out this whole environment through just a creative mindset and understanding of the sophistication of the tool and the features. Just like you can be a power user in PowerPoint or Excel and use pivot tables It is the same thing. When I started to identify that the skillset was being democratized, I started to atrophy myself from the big consulting firms that I was working with and instead hire young people from low-income communities that I had been mentoring since they have been fifteen.
There was this first group that I co-founded my nonprofit with, which I said, “There is something pretty crazy happening. I have told you a lot about blockchain, NFTs, and all this stuff going on. Samantha, you’re an art major. That’s not your thing. You’re not going to learn that stuff admittedly. You could if you wanted to, but you don’t. It is not where your interest is. Here’s the good news. Virtual reality has gotten to a point where you can get in there and create things for companies that let them do things in magical ways, whether it’s training, education, learning, sales, or marketing. You can create any environment you want.”
Davos: We’re looking for opportunities and new markets. We can completely reshape our economy. This is a great help from Western country for the Western world if we start working more with the Ukrainians.
“It’s happening now. I guarantee within a few years, every business, every company, and every person will have a website in the metaverse. Every brand will have an immersive and experiential model that they have. If we start now, you’ll be way ahead of the curve and relevant.” That was in 2020. Now that Facebook change their name to Meta and everybody is talking about it, these young people are way ahead of the curve.
The nonprofit we run is quickly using this window of opportunity to train as many young people or adult learners who are in economically-stressed situations and don’t have the skill set to get a job in the new economy. We see this as an opportunity to pull them into that immediately and get them skilled in this. That’s what we do.
We see that leapfrog capability all across the Web3 space, whether it comes to the individuals and their access. We see people in the Philippines having access to income through a game like Axie Infinity, or the ideas of bringing property ownership onto the blockchain, bringing accountability and immutability to spaces where there’s not that existing infrastructure like the courthouse and the deeds and the record-keeping that we have in more established nations. Tell me a little bit more about your involvement in the UN and your experience here in Davos.
I’m officially working with the ITU, which is a specialized agency of the United Nations that’s responsible for AI, internet connection, and all that. If you look at the UN as a whole, that one group that’s responsible for all the digital tech is the ITU. When I was CEO of XPRIZE, we launched the AI for Good Summit. Many people are familiar with that. It’s done well and it’s still going. They asked me to do the opening keynote at their Digital Transformation Summit in Geneva, Switzerland at the UN at their ITU Summit on February 28th, 2022.
It was a three-day summit. This was the first session. For that opening keynote, I brought the six young people from South Central Los Angeles. They showed up with me on stage. There’s nothing more compelling than me talking about the sustainable development goals and the opportunity of the metaverse to lift people out of poverty and give economic opportunity to people, the SDGs.
I don’t want to be the guy from California saying, “This is easy.” I had the young people get up and do most of the presentation. For example, Juan who is on my team stood up there and said, “I worked at Target stores as the retailer stocking shelves. I followed Marcus on a project that he invited me in to shadow him because he was helping a consumer product company, use the metaverse to experiment with using VR to do training and education.”
When that project ended after several weeks, the CEO of the client said, “Marcus, we want to move forward with your recommendation and your advice that we should set up a department. We see the potential here. We know we’ll grow into it. It’s evolving. We have 200,000 distributors and we need to train them. It’s COVID. We would love to start scaling this. Do you have anyone you would recommend that we can hire to help us run this department?” I’m like, “Why don’t you hire Juan?” They’re like, “The nineteen-year-old? We love him, but we didn’t want to steal him from you.” I’m like, “That’s the whole idea. Employ him please.”
He has told that story and now he leads the VR department at a global consumer product company. We could do all that all day long. The key is you have to be the first one out there. In a few years, everyone will have this skillset and it will be a commodity. The key is to be relevant now to adopt the skillset now. Whenever we find an opportunity to do the leapfrog, we have somewhat of a responsibility to say, “Who in society needs to do leapfrog now?” It’s probably the ones that if they don’t get this leapfrog, they’re going to be behind forever.
You have to be the first one out there. In a few years, everyone will have this skill set. It will be a commodity. The key is to be relevant and adopt the skillset now. Click To Tweet
Let’s go to schools that are under-resourced and don’t have the right funds. Let’s work with their students to get them in this space. In my nonprofit, we were doing commercial projects like that consumer product company, but we pivoted because where would a young person even be more relevant to a client? It’s if that client is a high school because they’re young themselves. We work with the sixth-largest school district in the US in Broward County. We’re doing a project on the West side of Chicago.
We approach the school. We raise all the money. We go into the school and say, “We raised X dollars to come in, get you headsets, and then take you through a six-month process to help you create a new curriculum and educate people using this magical skillset using software that’s essentially free, low cost on the software, and a headset that costs $300.”
You as teachers and students will be able to build experiences that you couldn’t build before to do education and learning. Whatever the topic is, whether it’s traditional stuff like Math and Science or Florida chose, “How do I make healthy decisions for when I have a budget on how I eat?” Their issue was obesity and diabetes. Students tune out when we talk about this.
You can’t show them our PowerPoint presentation or lecture them about it. We may be built for them a virtual supermarket and gamified. This is tough you can do. All those experiences were designed and built by other 19 and 20-year-olds that are in the profession. When we get done with the high school, they have a curriculum that they can now do themselves. They’re not dependent on us. We then hire the seniors that were part of the high school for the next school.
I wouldn’t say that I came from the least privileged background, but I did come from a background where I had to work pretty hard. I got a scholarship from the Chicago Scholars Foundation out of high school. Luckily, they sought out students like me and gave me a scholarship. I didn’t even know about the scholarship application process. Finding these folks and taking a minute to say, “You need this and you can do something with this,” and having people in the know share that is powerful. We want to make sure that we share exactly how those people can get involved.
Thanks for that. There’s something fun we did. When we did that UN speech on February 28th, 2022, we ended the topic by announcing with the support of the UN’s ITU agency, a global competition. As the former CEO of XPRIZE launching global competitions, I know a thing about how to run a prize model. We’re going to crowdsource the world by asking them to form a team. You can have 2 people on a team, you and a friend, or you can have up to 6 people on the team.
You can choose anyone in the world you want to be on your team. Find team members, then go to the 17 SDGs. Pick the SDG that resonates you with the most out of the seventeen, zero hunger, no poverty sustainable consumption and production, whatever the SDG is. Start attending Exponential Destiny’s webinars, where we’re going to coach you on how to get into the software and create stuff. It’s not rocket science. You have eight months to build the most fantastic thing that your imagination can come up with that builds empathy, awareness, and education for that SDG.
We’re not asking you to solve the SDG. We’re saying create something that’s so engaging and magical with your imagination using all the powers of virtual reality and all the tools here. Even if you introduce NFTs and other things into the model, make it so that it’s sticky and engaging. It has this wow factor, but also it educates people on this is the challenges or opportunities with this SDG.
Davos: Virtual reality has gotten to a point where you can get in there and create things for companies that let them do things in magical ways, whether it’s training, education, learning, sales, marketing. You can create any environment you want.
Teams have eight months to put that together. We’re going to pick the top winners out of 2 age groups, 14 and 18-year-olds and the 19-year-olds and above. You pick the age group you’re in. If you come in as the top winner when we do the evaluation, you’ll be on the UN stage with us at the next IT summit on May 2023 where the Secretary-General of the ITU, that whole group and I will be presenting you with the award. Plus, we’re raising hundreds of thousands of dollars around the whole model.
For example, Jessica Alba is the CEO of The Honest Company besides her career as an actress. Nick Vlahos and Jessica Alba provided us with $30,000 for the 1 SDG that’s important to them, sustainable consumption and production. We have done similar with the other SDGs. We’re going to continue to raise funders to get each SDG covered.
We anticipate that if you’re the overall top winner, you’re going to get upwards of $30,000 to $50,000. Even the top in just your SDG, we’re already accruing the sponsorship funds to where we’re getting to $5,000 to $10,000 per SDG per age here. We hope to hit that target, if not more. There’s an incentive that you might win money. The goal is to have fun, be part of a community, and learn a new skillset to try to express something about a sustainable development goal.
Remember, this is a nonprofit thing. It’s not commercial. I received no compensation whatsoever from the whole model. It’s www.SDGMetaversePrize.org. People can find out all the information. This is the time to register. My team and I are going to Rwanda to be part of the Global Youth Summit that they’re having. They’re going to have 4,000 young people virtually and about 1,000 in person. We’re using that as the kickoff for teams to start to register. That’s how people can get involved.
Thank you so much for sharing that with us. We’ll be sharing that with our audience. We’ll put it out on socials. We’ll make sure people get involved and are happy to be a part of what you’re cooking up.
Thank you. I appreciate that.
We have been privileged to talk to these world leaders here in Davos, Switzerland. Thanks for joining us on this journey.
We have reached the outer limit at the show. Thanks, everyone, for exploring with us. We have got space though for more adventures on this starship. invite your friends and recruit some cool strangers that will make this journey also much better. How? Go to Spotify or iTunes. Rate us and say something awesome. Go to EdgeOfNFT.com to dive further down the rabbit hole. You can also come and participate in EdgeOfNFT.com/Discord and get to know the community. Jesse will be in there with a special podcaster tag. Lastly, be sure to tune in next time for more great NFT content. Thanks for sharing this time with us.
- World Economic Forum Convention
- Blockchain Hub
- Medha Parlikar – LinkedIn
- Mrinal Manohar – LinkedIn
- Nicole Buffett
- Ukraine House
- Alexander Bornyakov
- Britanny Kaiser – LinkedIn
- Crypto Adoption Index from Chainalysis
- Marcus Shingles – LinkedIn
- Deloitte Consulting
- XPRIZE Foundation
- Bain Management Consulting
- Axie Infinity
- International Telecommunication Union
- Good Summit
- Digital Transformation Summit
- Chicago Scholars Foundation
- The Honest Company
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